On-course bookies rail against ‘severe’ age-verification penalties

Members of the racing industry have expressed concerns over the UK Gambling Commission’s ‘absolutely horrendous’ decision to make seven on-course bookmakers pay what amounts to 2.5% of their gross profit for an entire year, as a penalty for allegedly allowing a 16-year-old was able to place a £5 bet at Royal Ascot 2019.

The seven bookmakers affected have been granted a week-long appeal period whereby they can call for a ‘more appropriate’ punishment. The suggested fines have been set at 2.5% of gross gambling yield, the amount retained by a bookmaker after payment of winnings but before deduction of any expenses. 

Reported in The Guardian, a number of trade representatives and bookmakers have expressed that the suggested penalties were disproportionate to the offence, explaining that the UKGC has been more severe on a series of small businesses than they have been on the larger, off-course firms.

Robin Grossmith of the Federation of Racecourse Bookmakers said: “We think the penalties are absolutely horrendous. This is a misdemeanour, of course, and none of those involved have denied it, but it’s Royal Ascot, you’re flat-out busy. For that fiver taken, one of these men is looking at a fine of £7,600. We’re quite shell-shocked by this.”

At the time of the initial announcement that the seven on-course bookmakers would be having their licences reviewed by the UKGC, Grossmith emphasised that the FRB has established a long-term relationship with independent test purchase service Serve Legal.

The partnership with Serve Legal supports on-course bookmakers in enforcing the current Think 21 policy. Grossmith also explained that the FRB would also roll out four nation-wide seminars in collaboration with the UKGC and Serve Legal. 

Christopher Hudson of the British Racecourse Bookmakers Association, which has also used Serve Legal, told SBC that the proposed punishment as ‘severe and disproportionate’: Our lawyers have been engaged with the Gambling Commission for some time on these alleged offences. Questions have been raised to the GC on the evidence leading to these charges. Currently, those bookmakers charged have a right to appeal. 

“We will not comment further on this matter or the severe and disproportionate proposed punishment  and other relevant issues pertaining to non-remote and on course bookmakers until the appeal process has been exhausted. During which time the industry will continue its commitment to the prevention of under age gambling.”

Back in 2014, the UKGC organised a similar age verification test at Ascot which found that all 20 bookmakers tested served a 16-year-old without asking for proof of age, and subsequently received a written warning. However, 17 bookmakers were ‘tested’ at Ascot in 2019, 10 of which asked for identification.

“It’s scary,” Mick Williams of the Association of Racecourse Bookmakers told the Guardian. “You’d think there’d be a procedure in place: a warning for the first offence, a fine for the second and then at some stage a possible suspension of your licence. But there’s none of that. They’ve spent seven months thinking about it and have come up with this.”

Meanwhile Star SportsSimon Nott described the UKGC decision as an ‘absolute outrage’: “If someone has a problem with gambling, that suggests they have the compulsion to do it on a regular basis. I’m guessing that very few that suffer use the racecourse bookies as their primary betting medium.

“Even less so if they are under age and at premier festival meetings. It’s hardly even arguable. So why did the Gambling Commission consider entrapment of racecourse bookmakers at Royal Ascot as a valid exercise? A meeting where the target is exceptionally busy and I’ll hazard the ‘punter’ is dressed to impress and not in school uniform. The bookmakers are an easy target is the obvious answer.

“Ascot and other racecourses can in future age verify everyone that buys entrance and issue a wristband so everyone who needs to know a person’s age can be confident at a glance that they are old enough.

“Do the GC really think that there’s still a problem with children gambling on course being served by rotten egg bookies? If they do, a much better test would be to send an obviously underage person in for a bet on a desolate Wednesday in February. My money is on not one having their bet accepted, sadly that’s probably why they don’t.

“There isn’t a problem with underage gambling on-course, to fabricate one then hit hapless layers with a monster fine equal to 2.5% of their gross profit is an absolute outrage.”

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