Punters Welcome Return of Racing

Sports punters in the UK were celebrating on Monday as horse racing returned following a two month hiatus during the coronavirus lockdown.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced last week that racing was set to return, under strict conditions, and the first fixture at Newcastle on Monday proved to be a hit with punters. Many bookmaking firms recorded a significant boost in takings as racing fans had their first bets on English racing for several weeks, although the course itself was closed to spectators.

A range of betting companies said that there was a significant upturn on the usual Monday turnover. According to a spokesperson for Ladbrokes, turnover levels increased significantly. Those findings were echoed by leading betting exchange Betfair, which reported matched betting volumes of around £1 million per race, which was a significant increase on the normal level for comparable races.

Pat Cooney, of Bet365, also highlighted the benefits of 72 hours declarations and the absence of non-runners among the 120 horses entered on the card:

“It was helped by the fact that, at the time of the first race, we had 120 runners and no non-runners. With 72-hour decs, and then the sport getting the go-ahead, punters have had a long, leisurely look and we were very pleased with the levels of business. It’s certainly not a forgotten product.”

Live sport has largely been absent from the television screens of UK sports fans for the last two months, although there was been an increase in French racing in recent weeks, and Monday’s action included two well-supported races at Deauville.

The BHA has announced a provisional schedule to make up for some of the events that were lost during the last two months, which includes the peak of the Classic season, including the build up to the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. The schedule remains subject to government advice, and strict social distancing and other measures have been imposed for the foreseeable future.

British Racing Plots Return

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has set out of the details of a provisional fixture schedule for June, July and August as racecourses plan to resume activity from the start of June.

The governing body for racing in Britain, has also published its list of technical guidelines for all participants and staff to enable racing to resume behind closed doors this summer.

According to the plan, racing will take place in England from 1 June in conformity with the UK Government’s provisional timetable which will see the return of sport behind closed doors. Racing had initially been suspended on 18 March after plans for closed doors meetings were abandoned.

In total, 292 scheduled meetings are set to be held in the three months up to the end of August with the first at Newcastle on 1-2 June and Kempton Park also featuring on June 2. Many of the season’s big fixtures, including Glorious Goodwood and the popular York Ebor meetings, are unchanged from the original schedule. It has also been announced that 72-hour declarations will apply to all races.

The BHA have said that fixtures in Scotland and Wales have only been provisionally scheduled, and will be confirmed only after further consultation with the regional governments on timescales.

Resumption will also be conditional upon the government agreeing to the easing of restrictions as part of step two in the UK coronavirus recovery strategy. This stage includes the return of professional sport and a range of other cultural events, and the BHA explained that government guidelines demand that participants take extensive actions before the resumption.

The guidelines set out by the BHA include a list of individuals permitted to attend meetings as well as extra rules on screening, protective equipment and social distancing. They have been drawn up with the help of officials from Public Health England and a range of chief medical officers. They were drawn together with the guidance of BHA Chief Medical Advisor, Dr Jerry Hill.

In their announcement, the BHA said they were working to the government guidance on the return of elite sports published thus far and will be flexible if the guidance changes. Speaking about the resumption, the Chief Regulatory Officer at the BHA, Brant Dunshea, said that racing had been able to draw on considerable experience of combating bio-threats:

“Our trainers, jockeys and staff carry out their roles in a highly disciplined way because working with horses always carries risks. I am very confident they will adapt quickly to this new set of measures designed to protect them from transmission of the virus.”

UK Gambling Commission Criticised by Industry

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) is under fire again, this time from law firm Mishcon de Reya, over changes made to its responsible gambling measures, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawyers said that new provisions set out by the commission presented operational challenges to the companies asked to introduce them, and that the process was carried through in contravention of licensing rules that say such alterations should only be introduced after consultation.

According to the lawyers, the new fresh guidance should be taken into account and shouldn’t be mandatory for gambling operators, but they expressed concerns that the UKGC is likely to regard these changes as requirements when it comes to enforcement.

The UKGC changes include demands that operators review their thresholds and triggers that they use to track the vulnerability of their customers, in order to make sure that they are reflecting the changed circumstances of many consumers going through the current lockdown. The changes require a reset for early warning signs in the areas of increasing time or money spent on gaming.

The commission has also asked for procedures to be put into place to continually monitor the gambling companies’ customer base, with the purpose of identifying customers whose patterns of play, spend or behaviours have changed in recent weeks. Alongside these measures, operators are being asked to apply affordability assessments, limiting further play until these are complete.

Speaking about the changes, the law firm said that many in the industry would regard this as another example of the regulator applying stringent rules in the absence of any evidence to suggest that there was a significant increase in problem gambling. However, they also stressed that it was important for individual firms to comply in the short term:

“For the time being, licensees should take steps to implement the new measures. In the current political climate and in the interests of potentially vulnerable consumers, the industry needs to continue to act responsibly and be seen to be doing so.”

Lockdown Criticism for Australian Gambling Companies

Online gambling operators are behaving greedily during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to a leading anti-gambling organisation.

Consumer data has shown that Australians have increased the amount of time they are spending using online gambling sites and one campaign group, the Alliance for Gambling Reform, have criticised the trend, calling on the government to bring in an online gambling advertising ban.

Speaking about the problem, Tim Costello of the Alliance, said that the advertising was targeting particularly young men who were bored, and pointed out that the UK sports betting industry had made a voluntary agreement not to advertise during the lockdown.

According to figures produced by analysts AlphaBeta and Illion, online gambling in Australia rose by almost 150% between April 26 and May 3. At the same time, consumer spending in general had risen 13% although it was still 7% lower than the pre-pandemic level. That boost in spending was believed to have been down to the one-off $750 support payment issued by the Australian government.

Since April, figures show that online gambling spending has varied, but has remained above 30% of normal spending. The data also shows that men are spending more money than women.

But according to Mr Costello, there is a silver lining to the pandemic, as it means that video poker (known as pokies in Australia) venues are closed. In fact, he estimates that Australians have saved as much as $1.5 billion since the lockdown started and is hopeful that this could have a long term effect:

“I think a lot of those people won’t go back. For the first time they’re saying ‘I’ve paid my rent, I’m not feeling ashamed of myself.'”

Online gambling usually makes up only $1.2 billion out of the $24 billion lost by Australians to gambling every year, with pokies responsible for $14 billion.

Confusion in German Betting Market as DRC Continues to Operate

A prominent German jurisdiction that holds responsibility for the awarding of online sports betting licences is continuing to accept licence applications while awaiting an appeal against a court ruling.

The Darmstadt Regional Council (DRC) is still accepting sports betting licence applications even though a court ruling earlier this month prohibited the council from continuing to offer licenses. The authority, which is based in the state of Hesse has filed an appeal with a federal supreme court seeking to overturn the decision of the Darmstadt administrative court.

The DRC have said that they will not issue licences until the appeal is heard but is continuing to accept and applications and review them, so that they will be able to issue licences quickly if their appeal succeeds. As of February, over 50 betting operators had applied through the DRC or had expressed a desire to do so.

The DRC was one of a pair of authorities given responsibility for sports betting licences back in January under the terms of the Third State Treaty on Gambling. But the process was suspended after Vierklee, an Austrian betting company, said that the process lacked transparency. Their claim was that the process also discriminated against operators from outside Germany. The DRC has appealed against the ruling through the Kassel Administrative Court.

The Third State Treaty on Gambling, which came into effect at the beginning of January, is designed to cover the period until the long-debated Fourth State Treaty comes into effect on July 1 next year. That legal framework will authorise online casino and poker games for the first time in Germany. Currently, sports betting is the only form of legal online betting, but the complicated legal situation in Germany has resulted in confusion for punters and operators alike for a number of years and the DRC licencing controversy is only likely to add to that confusion.

New Limits for Gamblers in Finland

Finland’s Ministry of the Interior has adopted an average loss cap of €500 for all gamblers in the country amid concerns over the risk of gambling harm. This cap will apply to Veikkaus, which is Finland’s sole gambling operator, offering online casino services.  

Online gamblers will now be subject to a monthly loss limit of €500. If that level is reached they won’t be able to gamble for the rest of the month.  Finnish officials have decided to introduce these steps to reduce possible gambling problems that may occur during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Average loss restrictions had been at €1,000 before those temporary regulations but the new rules will tighten the limits considerably. According to the government, the rules will apply to all online slots, online bingo, instant winning games and table games with the exception of poker. They are expected to be enforced from Friday May 1 and will remain in effect until at least the end of September.  

Veikkaus has also announced that it will place its raffle draws on hold until further notice. The producer is currently looking to concentrate on its main lottery products.  Finland’s monopoly gambling company acknowledged that online casino revenue has gone up after land-based outlets were shut down following the introduction of compulsory social distancing measures.   

One of Finland’s neighbours has also applied limits. On the other side of the Gulf of Bothnia, Sweden has also placed provisional limits on online gambling.  

Minister of Social Security Ardalan Shekarabi last week announced that weekly gambling will be capped at the equivalent of a little over £400. Digital bonuses will also be capped, and players will also have to set limits on their play time at the casino. Sweden’s limits on online casinos are set to remain in place until at least the end of 2020.

GambleAware Hits Target

The UK gambling sector charity Gamble Aware has revealed its list of contributors for the last year, with the £1.46 million donated by GVC Group topping the list.

In total, there were donations from 956 organisations, most of which operated in the gambling sector. These amounted to a total of £10.1 million, which was just in excess of the charity’s aim of £10 million following their failure to hit that amount last year.

Ladbrokes Coral owner GVC was one of only three operators who gave a seven-figure sum, with Flutter Entertainment, which owns Paddy Power Betfair William Hill giving £1 million each.

GambleAware asks all businesses who profit from gambling in the UK to donate at least 0.1% of gross gambling yield, or if their gross gambling yield is less than £250,000, then to donate at least £250. The charity also received £1.4 m through three regulatory settlements agreed by operators and the Gambling Commission during the year.

The largest of these payments was from Gamesys, which paid £690,000 after it was found to have failed to prevent gambling harm while also breaching rules on UK money laundering. LeoVegas, meanwhile, paid a fee of £600,000 in 2018 for violations related to false advertising. Playtech also paid a penalty of £155,000. In a statement, the industry group the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) said it was delighted to see its members contributing funds to support healthier gambling:

“We are pleased that our members have stepped up their funding of GambleAware along with a range of other charities to increase the help and support available to those at risk.”

The BGC added that it would step up its commitment research, education and treatment towards safer gambling in the future. Their statement said that their largest members had gone further and committed an additional £100 million towards education research and treatment

Call for Credit Card Ban in Northern Ireland

A politician from Northern Ireland has called for the region to fall in line with the rest of the UK and ban the use of credit cards for online betting.

Kellie Armstrong, an MLA from the Alliance Party, who speaks on community issues, has said that credit card gambling is particularly dangerous as it enables people to gamble with money they don’t have. She was speaking a day after new rules regarding credit card gambling came into effect in the rest of the UK.

The rules were introduced by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) following a period of consultation last year. Originally announced at the end of 2019, they came into effect on April 14. The rules ban all gambling companies from accepting credit card payments. They also restrict e-wallet payments that use credit cards as the original source.

With the exception of purchasing scratch cards and National Lottery tickets from physical venues, customers in England, Wales and Scotland are now restricted to using debit cards or cash physically deposited into an account in order to gamble.

But the rules will not apply in Northern Ireland. Unlike the rest of the UK, where gambling is regulated under the Gambling Act 2005, gambling in Northern Ireland is governed by a much older legislative instrument, the 1985 Betting Gaming Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order. Politicians and stakeholders in Northern Ireland have called for the updating of this legislation.

Armstrong emphasised that during the ongoing pandemic lockdown, online gambling has become more popular than ever, leading to more people using gambling sites, which required a legislative response to protect individuals at risk:

“We now need a similar law for Northern Ireland. Understandably, most resources are targeted towards combating Covid-19, however, we need to tackle the problem of addiction and helping gamblers stay safe.”

Warning for Lottery Players in Michigan

Lottery game players in Michigan have been warned to be on their guard against a scam that has targeted the state.

The Michigan Lottery has issued the warning to the public after identifying a scam that promises a big prize, but first requires a fee or the handing over of sensitive information.

The initial contact comes in the form of an email, letter or phone call that informs the player that they have won a large lottery prize. If the victim agrees to hand over a fee, they are asked to send a check, go through an electronic funds transfer or arrange a meeting to collect the money. Alternatively, victims have been induced to hand over sensitive data that can be used in identity fraud.

On some occasions, scammers have returned to the original victim, asking for more money, claiming that this is due to processing fees or other costs. The ongoing lock down during the COVID-19 crisis is likely to increase concerns that isolated individuals could fall prey to such scams.

In their advice, the Michigan Lottery warn people to apply common sense, particularly in cases where they are offered prizes for lotteries that they haven’t entered. Michigan residents were advised to use the official lottery site to establish whether any promotion, prize or lottery is legitimate, while those who feel they have been the victim of a scam are advised to get in touch with their local law enforcement agency.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in the state voted to extend the existing state of emergency for another 23 days. The previous state of emergency, which grants Governor Gretchen Whitmer extensive powers, ran out this week. All of the state’s gambling facilities have been shut down, a measure that affects over 19,000 employees and could cost over $1 billion in lost economic activity.

Gambling Industry Urged to Improve on Age Verification

The UK gambling sector has been urged to improve its standards on age verification, as a result of research into the problem.

Gambling organisation GambleAware commissioned the research, which was carried out by polling agency Ipsos MORI and the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing. According to the findings, the regular exposure of children to gambling promotions can change their perception of gambling as an activity. The report found that 41,000 followers of gambling company social media accounts in the UK were under-16. And an alarming 17% of the followers of e-sports gambling accounts were estimated to be underage.

Speaking about the findings, the CEO at GambleAware, Marc Etches, said that gambling was an adult activity, but the research shows that it is becoming a part of normal life for many children and young adults, with potentially serious results:

“This constant exposure to it through advertising and marketing, or via close friends and family, has the potential for serious long-term implications for children and young people.”

Etches went on to say that there was a need for social media giants to improve their tools for age screening, and for companies to make better use of the existing tools. He also emphasised that problem gambling was a public health issue, that can have a serious impact on mental health, and flagged up the support available through the National Gambling Treatment Service.

The report came up with a range of recommendations, including the idea that the gambling industry should put more emphasis on the need to produce clear and more effective safe gambling campaigns. It also suggested that more effort needed to be put into education programmes, and that advertising technology be significantly improved to prevent young people being exposed to gambling adverts.