Heading to the races? You might need your payslips

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With the biggest week of UK racing taking place at Cheltenham this week, many occasional bettors are likely to be preparing to have one of their first flutters of the year.

Event organiser The Jockey Club reported a whopping 280,000 racegoers over the four-day event last year and OpenBet, the platform that took bets for leading bookies such as William Hill, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, SkyBet and Betfair, processed bets worth more than half a billion pounds.

But leading gambling licensing law firm Poppleston Allen has warned that punters might be asked for more than just money when they go to place their bets this year, thanks to the increasing trend among bookmakers to carry out affordability checks on their customers.

“Since last year’s major racing events took place, we’ve seen a rise in bookmakers undertaking affordability checks and asking players to provide documentation such as payslips and bank statements to prove they can afford to gamble,” said Felix Faulkner, solicitor at Poppleston Allen.

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“A recent study of more than 1,000 bettors carried out by YouGov for sports betting community OLBG found that 22% had been asked for payslips, bank statements or similar documents by at least one bookmaker[i].

“If a betting establishment asks a customer for financial information and they are unable or unwilling to provide it, the company is well within its rights to refuse to take their bet. Bookmakers have a legal responsibility under their operating licence conditions to minimise the risk of customers experiencing gambling harm. If they have concerns a customer might be trying to bet more than they can afford, it is advisable they refuse the bet.”

Gambling companies are regulated by the Gambling Commission, which provides guidance that suggests that they should consider customers’ affordability when interacting with customers. However, the guidance does not set limits or thresholds at which gambling companies need to ask for proof customers can afford their gambling.

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There have been credible rumours that the forthcoming government White Paper on gambling reform will propose mandatory limits, but the publication of this has been repeatedly delayed due to changes in government departments.

Faulkner said: “There is an element of uncertainty in the market at present. The current Gambling Commission guidance[ii] for premises-based operators, which applies to on-course bookmakers, states that Commission research found some operators had set ‘inappropriately high’ thresholds in the past.

“However, at present there are no hard and fast rules on what is an appropriate level that should prompt bookmakers to ask customers for proof their gambling is affordable to them. This has resulted in gambling companies setting their own rules on when it is appropriate to carry out financial checks on customers and this has led to some differences between bookmakers.

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“It remains to be seen how the various on-course bookmakers will interpret the guidance this year. In practice it can be difficult for them to work out who can afford what if there is a race starting in one minute and there are 20 people waving money at them to put a bet on, however compliance with licence conditions is mandatory and operators should always act responsibly.”

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