The Gambling Commission’s recent calls for evidence and views from the industry and the public regarding upcoming changes to Great Britain’s gambling regulation has seen a number of professionals emphasize the potential rise of black-market gambling as a consequence of tightening regulations.
These claims have been largely backed up by a PwC report, which estimates the number of UK online gamblers using unlicensed operators to have more than doubled from 2018 to 2020, from c.210,000 to c.460,000 gamblers.
Later on, UK gambling firms have been accused of exaggerating the scale of black-market gambling in an attempt to influence the GC’s decision to introduce tougher regulations. The GC’s chief executive Neil McArthur commented that the report delivered by PwC is not consistent with their intelligence picture and lacked any evidence to show an increase in illicit betting. He added that GC’s own evidence suggests that the impact may be being exaggerated.
Simon Vincze, Casino Guru’s Responsible Gambling Projects Manager, has been keeping up with the heated discussion taking place in British media and looked into their data on player complaints to get an idea about the scope of the issue: “I understand the need for regulation in the gambling market and its usefulness in keeping children and vulnerable players safe. It’s something I deeply believe in and work towards in my position as well. However, it didn’t seem right to me to just disregard the negative effects of tightening regulations altogether.”
Casino Guru operates a casino dispute mediation service, in which players can complain about any online casino if they feel to have been mistreated, regardless of its license, and get assisted for free. After looking into their data, Simon discovered 666 complaints submitted by players from the UK, of which 145 is about casinos with a license from GC and 521 is about casinos without it. This means that 78% of all complaints submitted by UK players have been about operators without a GC license.
“Of course, this doesn’t mean that 78% of UK players gamble at foreign websites. Because of the generally lower quality of service and reputation of these operators, it can be expected that these players will run into issues more often, resulting in a higher proportion of players submitting public complaints. However, it is also a clear sign that there are UK players gambling at casinos without a GC license, and that there is quite a lot of them,” Simon commented on this data.
He also compared the British situation to what has happened in Sweden: “When gambling regulations get more restrictive, an increased proportion of players usually start looking for unlicensed operators to avoid those regulations. Sweden is a great example of this, where 40% of casino players and 34% of sports betters gamble on unlicensed websites or would consider doing so in future, according to a study published back in April 2020. Taking a look at Google search data, there has been a major increase in Swedish players actively looking for unlicensed casinos since introducing the country’s gambling regulations with a strong focus on player safety.”
“With tighter regulations being introduced in Great Britain, the GC should be aware of the possibility of an increasing number of British punters actively looking for unlicensed sites in attempts to avoid the strict regulations. These players then gamble on foreign websites without the strict limits present at UK-licensed ones, ending up more susceptible to problematic gambling habits as a result of lower responsible gambling standards of some foreign operators, on top of other negative qualities that can be present at these websites.”
Data from the PwC report suggests that 4,5% of UK players gamble at foreign websites, while 78% of all complaints submitted to Casino Guru by UK players are related to these foreign websites.
Simon commented: “Combining this data would suggest that 4,5% of players are responsible for 78% of all casino complaints, which would signify a huge imbalance. Of course, the numbers are based on different data and there may be other factors in play, but I think that the imbalance is there, and has to do with the fact that players gambling on foreign websites simply run into issues more often. These can range from unclear bonus terms and bad implementation of responsible gambling features all the way to unscrupulous casinos outright scamming players.”
“If an increasing number of players leave the regulated market and go for foreign alternatives, they may be subject to a higher risk of developing problem gambling and losing money to foreign websites, some of which can have unscrupulous tendencies. This seems like a good enough reason to seriously consider the risk of rising use of black-market gambling websites by UK players,” he added.
While the GC is examining evidence presented by stakeholders and working towards updated gambling regulation, it remains to be seen how the situation ends up being handled and what new rules get implemented. Only time will tell whether tighter regulation really does increase the use of black-market sites or not, and whether the benefits will outweigh possible drawbacks.