A staggering 41% of bookmakers allowed a 16-year-old child to place a bet with them, as part of an undercover investigation carried out by the Gambling Commission in conjunction with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.
As such, the seven on-course bookies out of the seventeen that were approached as part of an Age Verification test at Royal Ascot will now have their licences reviewed by the authority.
In a statement released by the UK Gambling Commission, the firm’s executive director, Richard Watson, said:
“These licence reviews show how strongly we feel about underage gambling.
“Every single gambling business must protect children from gambling but the on course bookmakers results have remained unacceptable.”
Watson went on to point out the consistent failings of the on-course bookmaking sector to challenge the age of punters who look underage, with regular breaches noted following Think 21 testing and underage gambling investigations.
“Pass rates have failed to meet the standards expected and the sector has consistently performed to levels below those we see in other gambling and age restricted products,” he confirmed. “By way of example, over the past four years the on-course sector has a pass rate of around 35% for Think 21 testing.”
Sympathy for Busy Bookies But No Excuses for Breaches
The fact that two out of three on-course bookmakers are failing to challenge punters who fall under the Think 21 remit is worrying to say the very least; particularly at a time when the welfare of bettors of all ages is coming under more intense scrutiny.
At events like Royal Ascot, where more than 300,000 are in attendance, it is possible for one or two underage punters to slip through the net as busy bookies look to take as many bets as possible as the horses go down to post.
Other tracks, such as Doncaster, have previously trialled a system where punters that are verified as 18 or over are given an official wristband, however the trial was said to be unsuccessful with various instances of sabotage as cunning youngsters ‘borrowed’ a wristband from an older friend or sibling.
But in truth, there really should be no excuse for not meeting basic regulatory requirements – especially when the penalties are so severe.
Many on-course bookmakers are sole traders who rely on their betting activities for their income, so breaking the rules is a risk they really ought not be taking.
The Gambling Commission has a range of powers available to them which they can use both in cases of serious one-off offences and persistent breaking of the rules.
These range from a simple warning as to future conduct, attaching conditions to a bookies’ licence, or amending their existing terms, suspending a licence and even revoking a licence to trade completely.
Perhaps worst of all, on-course bookmakers who are found to have seriously breached age verification rules can expect a hefty financial penalty – less than ideal for a sector already battling hard to stay relevant in an age of online betting.