William Hill has warned of the dangers of the illegal online gambling market, stating that it’s a “growing problem” the UK must confront.
Back in December, PwC released a report on the unregulated online gambling black market, revealing that around 200,000 British gamblers visited unlicensed websites between 2018 and 2019.
The report’s release has sparked concern amongst the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) and various casino operators. They have warned that the UK Gambling Commission and the UK Government must prevent overregulation of the industry to avoid pushing users towards unregulated operators. However, the pleas have so far gone unheard.
Now, William Hill has become the latest operator to voice its opinion on the matter. As reported by CasinoBeats, William Hill Chief Executive Ulrik Bengtsson said in a letter to the Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group:
“We have long been concerned by the black market in gambling and the threat it poses to customers. We want everyone who gambles to be certain that the operator who’s taking their bets plays by the rules.
“The problem is, that’s not always the case, and that’s a problem for our customers, for us and for the whole betting industry. We are pleased that the government has rightly included this issue as an area of focus in the Gambling Act review consultation.”
Expressing his view on the black market, Ulrik said: “Criminals seeking to circumvent the regulated sphere and exploit the vulnerable are demonstrating increasing sophistication, complexity and capability which poses challenges to us to keep pace.”
The William Hill boss then highlighted his concerns of illegal operators, stating that they do not have any of the protections that licensed operators do, including age verification, anti-money laundering policies, or safer gambling tools.
“This is not a new problem,” he continued, “There have always been illegal bookmakers, in Britain and elsewhere. What makes the current black market threat so pernicious is its ability to exploit technology in order to make itself more available to gamblers. Now, a person on a legal betting site is only a few clicks away from a black market option.
“Everyone who gambles in Britain deserves protection from illegal operators. We must do all that we can to make sure that remains the case. We would encourage all our customers to report information about black market/unlicensed gambling operators to the Gambling Commission.”
The PwC report from December came with a stark warning from the BGC over the dangers of illegal operators. In a piece for Politcshome.com several weeks later, BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher praised the UK Government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005 but expressed concern that too much regulation could push players to unlicensed websites.
In mid-January, the UK Gambling Commission issued a response to the BGC’s warnings, criticising the PwC’s report for being inconsistent, the Commission stated that the concerns were “exaggerated”.
In a letter to the Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group, UKGC Chief Executive Neil McArthur said: “We know that licensed operators and their trade bodies are concerned about the impact of the illegal market, but our own evidence suggests that the impact may be being exaggerated.
“In any event, we are not convinced by the argument that suggests that raising standards in the licensed market will prompt consumers to gamble with illegal operators.”
The BGC then issued a response to the UK Gambling Commission’s comments, this time warning of the dangers of complacency as a second report by the PwC found that an increasing number of British players were turning to overseas and illegal websites.
The report found that the amount of money staked at unlicensed operators doubled between November and December 2020 and that the number of people from the UK playing at unlicensed websites increased from 210,000 two years ago to 460,000 at the end of December 2020.
Issuing a statement on the new report, Michael Dugher of the BGC took aim at the UKGC’s rejection of concerns regarding illegal gambling, saying: “I know this evidence is inconvenient to those who seek to dismiss and play down the threat of the black market, but there is a real danger of complacency.
“The UK risks sleepwalking into changes where the main beneficiary is the unlicensed black market. We all have an interest in getting future changes right, so [we] must take heed of this latest evidence and look at what is happening elsewhere around the world.”
The ongoing debate over the illegal gambling market comes as the UK Government continues its review of the Gambling Act 2005. The Government launched its review in December with a call for evidence that is expected to last until March, but the Government has already confirmed that the age limit for National Lottery games will increase from 16 to 18 this October.
Meanwhile, a report from the end of January claimed that a ban on gambling shirt sponsorships is “likely” as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet are in favour of the ban and are looking to make some major reforms. Other changes to the gambling industry could include stake limits, tighter verification checks, and more.
Earlier this month, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) proposed an increase in remote gaming licensing fees to provide the UK Gambling Commission with improved funding.
As we reported, the DCMS proposed the increase in licensing fees as part of a consultation and suggested that the changes could begin in October this year, with a 55% increase for all non-UK based operators. A 15% license fee increase for land-based operators in the UK was also proposed with a starting date of 2022, giving operators time to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.