Affordability checks – a can of worms?

Affordability checks – a can of worms?
Simon Wooldridge
by Simon Wooldridge Last updated:

Since the very first mention of the controversial background affordability checks, there’s been a growing resistance from both industry and players. A recent development has revealed the true extent of this response, and it doesn’t paint the UKGC in a particularly flattering light.

What checks?

Just in case you’re not up to speed, here’s where we’re up to with regards to financial checks:

  • April 2023: The Gambling Reform White Paper was published by the Gambling Commission (UKGC). It included proposals that certain individual players be subject to background affordability checks.
  • July 2023: The Commission held consultations regarding the checks, and decided to go ahead with them.
  • Mid-late 2023: Elements within the British gambling industry start to kick back.
  • November 2023: Nevin Truesdale, CEO of The Jockey Club, launches a petition against the checks. By the end of the month 100,000 signatures sees Parliament compelled to debate the issue.
  • May 2024: The UKGC’s Andrew Rhodes explains and elaborates on how light-touch and in-depth checks will function.
  • June 2024: A Freedom of Information request leads to the reveal of widespread player dissatisfaction.

As it stands, customers with a “net deposit of more than £150 a month" will be subjected to light-touch checks. These are intended to be "frictionless".

More in-depth background checks will be applied to customers who lose significant sums in a short period of time. These may require them to provide proof of affordability such as payslips.

UKGC vs. Racing Post

The back and forth between opponents of background checks and the UKGC is characterised by exchanges that have been made between the UKGC and the Racing Post.

The Racing Post first voiced concerns early on, suggesting that players’ privacy would be compromised, and that this move may harm the industry.

In response, UKGC CEO Andrew Rhodes published an open letter, claiming that the publication had “provided readers with imbalanced stories about the ongoing financial risk consultation”.

Rhodes explained that the Commission had penned a letter to readers of the Racing Post, which the publication had refused to publish, thereby denying the Commission a chance to “clear up misunderstandings”.

The UKGC stated in its letter that “just 3 percent of accounts would undergo financial risk assessments”. Also, “just 0.3% of account holders would ever be asked to directly provide the additional financial information [and] 99.7% of customers would not.” 

There’s no denying that this is a tiny minority. The Commission is, by implication, making the case that the inconvenience to these few is outweighed by the benefit of the harm prevention.

In November 2023, The Jockey Club, supported by the Racing Post and others within the industry, launched a petition against the proposed affordability checks. The petition received more than 100,000 signatures triggering a commitment for it to be debated in parliament. 

The government’s official response stated, “We are committed to a proportionate, frictionless system of financial risk checks, to protect those at risk of harm without over regulating. The Gambling Commission will set out plans in due course.”

Scandal reveals players’ reactions

In 2023 however, the UKGC refused to release the results of a survey that assessed players’ reactions to the background checks.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request was filed, but the UKGC refused to reveal the data, claiming that “no outstanding public interest”. This set off alarm bells at the Racing Post, who reported on the failure.

Another FOI request was filed and, in June 2024, the results of the survey were revealed. The true extent of players’ dissatisfaction became very apparent. No one likes a cover-up, particularly when there's a civil liberties being suppressed element to it. 

Here are some key takeaways from the 12,000-respondent survey:

  • 42% would refuse an operator additional requests for information on affordability.
  • 22.5% would stop gambling with an operator if it made such a request.
  • 14% would comply and complete extra assessments.

Pretty damning.

Moreover, the fact that the UKGC deemed this stark data not to be of public interest indicates they have been holding their cards unreasonably, perhaps even illegally, close to their chest. 

Dan Waugh, advisor to the Racing Post, commented that the UKGC “was clearly reluctant to share this information at all”. He added that this “raises doubts, which have been expressed before, about the extent to which the Gambling Commission is in earnest”.

A punter's view

Slot Gods spoke to retired Daniel F, a keen racegoer and punter, from just outside London:

I am not impressed with this whole new area of gambling affordability checks. When I log into my Tote account and try to add funds I receive the following warning: 'We have set you a deposit limit until we can complete our safer gambling checks.' Why? I should be the only person setting any limits on my accounts or spending. I've been betting at race courses, in football grounds, in the bookies and now online for about 40 years. And always 'safely', never wagering more than I can afford. I don't want some algorithm or government diktat telling me how much I can deposit or bet.

Honourable stand or overreaction?

The Racing Post’s concerns are valid and the privacy of players is crucial. It’s vital that responsible gamblers are not so inconvenienced that the British gambling industry suffers. 

But it’s not just publications and operators who have raised concerns about the checks. Punters have clearly expressed concerns. After all, it is their privacy that’s on the line. The now-released survey illustrates widespread dissatisfaction, to an extent that might even rock the industry.

The UKGC must retain credibility, impartiality and respectability, but it seems to have lost some of this over what seems like a conscious attempt to bury relevant data. For the Commission, misleading the industry could spell disaster. 

On the other hand, it could be argued that some have overreacted to the implementation of background checks, sometimes even misconstruing data. It would be easy to dismiss the UKGC’s impositions as Orwellian, and to overlook the importance of protecting players who need it. 

In order for the Commission to strike an all-important balance, it will need to ensure that results are in line with its predictions. If more than 0.3% of players are inconvenienced, or if parameters are to shift without consultation, there’ll likely be hell to pay.

The Racing Post’s efforts are admirable, and they have demonstrated that the industry, and the players who make it all happen, have concerns and want to be heard. Nevertheless, the background checks are coming, with the pilot test scheduled to begin in August. 

Moving ahead, the UKGC should consider re-thinking elements of their plan, such as the parameters that trigger checks, as well as how they treat data. Teething problems should be expected.

I'd wager that we haven't heard the last of this one.

Simon Wooldridge
by Simon Wooldridge Last updated:

Simon’s long-term fascination with slots started with teasing 40p worth of change from the skilful spinning of 10p coins into a fruit machine in the last century. This has grown recently to a solid appreciation for the often dazzling artistry, imagination and mechanics of modern online slots.