Some on-course bookies who operated at Royal Ascot in June 2019 were left reeling after the Gambling Commission handed out heavy fines to seven operators who failed an underage betting test.
The test itself involved a sixteen-year-old who would attempt to place a £5 bet at seventeen separate bookmakers at the Royal meeting. Those who accepted the bet without an age verification challenge failed the test. This was carried out by the Gambling Commission in conjunction with the local authority governing the Ascot area, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.
The fines given equate to 2.5% of that bookmaker’s annual gross gambling yield, not just that generated from the raceday or even meeting where the breach took place. The gross gambling yield is the amount income left once any payouts from winnings have been removed but before other costs have been accounted for.
This has been viewed by racecourse bookmakers as unduly harsh, with the fines exceeding £7,000 in some cases.
Federation of Racecourse Bookmakers chief Robin Grossmith has said:
“I think these guys are being used as an example that everybody else says ‘good God, this could happen to me’,” he added. “There are fines of £7,000 and £5,000, which to me seem very harsh for taking a £5 bet from somebody.
“There are 400 on-course bookmakers and I’d say 398 of them, that’s excluding Corals and Ladbrokes, are all small family businesses. That sort of penalty we feel is very harsh and at this moment in time we’re not sure how they reached those figures, what they based it upon.”
We would all agree that theses breaches are unacceptable, children and vulnerable people must be prevented from gambling. But, are these fines in proportion with other age restricted product purchases and are the Gambling Commission doing enough to guide bookmakers?
Are the Fines Fair?
One thing that can’t be argued is that a sixteen-year-old should not be allowed to gamble, be it on-course, online or in betting shops. There should be a test system in-place to ensure this and there should be sanctions in place for those that don’t apply the laws.
However, is applying a flat 2.5% fine to the annual income of bookmakers really a fair way to administer these rules?
If we look at other similar products such as alcohol or tobacco, the Gambling Commission sanctions of over £7,000 dwarfs them. These can vary from borough to borough but remain roughly the same across the country.
Let’s look at tobacco. For selling cigarettes or other similar products to someone under the age of 18, the maximum fine that can be imposed is just £2,500. That is for a product which could lead to a lifetime of addiction and health implications.
Alcohol again is lower than the highest fine the Gambling Commission handed out here, with a maximum fine of around £5,000 in place.
For betting shops the maximum fine for allowing underage gambling is again around £5,000. We would argue that a sliding scale based on turnover up to this point would be a more appropriate sanction.
Robin Grossmith added:
“In this case there don’t appear to be guidelines and they have carte blanche to set their own parameters, and I’m not sure that’s fair,”
Again, underage gambling must not be allowed, but a fairer and clearer penalty system would benefit all involved. Preventative measures such as awareness courses or making betting rings age restricted areas would also be welcomed.