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Rumoured plans to increase the thresholds for affordability checks in the UK are a “matter of process”, safer gambling campaigner Matt Zarb-Cousin told NEXT.io.

The UK government is reportedly set to announce an interim industry code featuring increased thresholds for so-called affordability checks this week.

Nick Luck said yesterday in his daily podcast that sources had indicated hard affordability check thresholds will be set at £5,000 per month and £25,000 per year for the upcoming interim industry code.

This compares to a £2,000, 90-day spend threshold originally floated in the government’s April 2023 gambling white paper.

The rumours followed on from an article in the Sun by racing broadcaster and writer Matt Chapman, in which he highlighted a “dramatic late change in government policy on affordability”.

These would be the second, higher tier of checks, which could involve requiring customers to upload bank statements or other documents to prove they can afford to gamble at a certain level.

Critics fear this could have the effect of pushing bettors to the unlicensed market, with fears felt especially in the racing industry which relies on the Horserace Betting Levy for a significant portion of its funding.

While government and the Gambling Commission (UKGC) claim the checks will be as seamless as possible, some have argued a fully frictionless approach is impossible using existing technology.

Pilot study to explore data sharing

The industry gained a concession in February when UKGC director of research Tim Miller announced there would be an affordability pilot prior to a wider roll-out.

Miller said the pilot thresholds would be set at a higher level initially to smooth implementation, followed by a lowering of the thresholds at a later date.

Matt Zarb-Cousin told NEXT.io that the pilot will aim to learn how best to calibrate data sharing practices and ensure the process is as frictionless as possible.

The thresholds themselves would be set through the Commission’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LLCP).

Zarb-Cousin said this “wouldn’t be a political decision – unless a Labour Government or the current government decides to reopen the issue and row back from the white paper.

“I think it would be premature for those trying to resist affordability checks to claim any victories here. This is very much a matter of process,” he added.

The UK’s racing industry has been at the forefront of the anti-affordability checks campaign.

The Jockey Club CEO Nevin Truesdale submitted a petition to halt the checks, which eventually led to a debate on the matter in parliament.

Minister doubles down on affordability

While many MPs said they agreed with the criticisms around affordability, gambling minister Stuart Andrews said the government would not pull the checks.

He argued they would help solve the Commission’s current ad-hoc approach to affordability and that the majority of checks will indeed be frictionless.

Zarb-Cousin added he believed racing has made a strategic error in choosing to lead the anti-affordability campaign.

He said: “They are the vanguard of resisting reform. Is that really where racing wants to be long term? I think that’s a very awkward place for it to be, to be honest.”

A spokesperson from the British Horse Racing Association (BHA) also commented to NEXT.io on the rumoured higher thresholds.

They said: “We will not comment on speculation. As we have previously made clear, the BHA has repeatedly raised its concerns with the government on several gambling-related issues.

“These include the restrictions already being placed on punters by betting operators and the need for greater clarity over interim arrangements.

“We have also demonstrated the impact this is having now on fan engagement and the sport’s income.

“We have also highlighted the risk to the sport’s finances presented by the Gambling Commission’s proposed ‘financial risk checks’ regime.

“We will continue to ensure that racing and punters’ voices are heard at the highest level of government.”

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