However much governments endeavour through licensing laws and regulatory measures to get to grips with the gambling industry, the murky waters are inevitably going to be difficult to navigate. Finding a balance that is to the benefit of both operators and customers is easier said than done and, with the ink barely dry on the UK government’s Gambling Review, the problem of unlicensed gambling is, not surprisingly, a big talking point.
Indeed, it’s so serious an issue that the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has urged the UK government to “consider targeted measures” to address the matter. And there’s certainly justification in being concerned about black market operators. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) the number of people in the UK who gamble on unlicensed sites is more than double the level it was two years ago, having increased from 220,000 to 460,000. Furthermore, the amount wagered on black market sites runs into billions.
Such figures are worrying for those in the regulated, legitimate part of the industry. BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher believes the current state of play is a “dangerous crossroads” and that the Gambling Review could lead to the (regulated) industry suffering at the cost of the black market making significant gains.
Different countries experience different levels of black market gambling, and there are, of course, different reasons as to why and how the problem manifests itself, depending on how they set out their proverbial stall in the first place, and what measures are undertaken. Referencing the numerical implications of unlicensed operators in the UK, BGC members alone employ almost 120,000 people, amounting to £4.5bn ($6.1bn) paid in tax in the UK. The black market, on the other hand, contributes nothing to the UK workforce, and pays not a penny in tax.
Comparing the UK’s gaming industry with European markets, the BGC points to France, Spain and Norway as countries whose regulatory measures have resulted in an increase in the numbers playing on unlicensed sites. In Norway, for instance, 66% of all money wagered is via black market gambling accounts. According to the BGC, the figure is 57% in France and 20% in Spain.
Evidence has suggested over the years that (European) countries with the most restrictive online gambling regulations have a higher prevalence of black market operators. Former Counsel for the French gambling regulator, Rhadamès Killy: “A balance is required to effectively regulate without promoting the black market — I believe that balance is best struck when targeted restrictions focus on support for those at risk, but not excessively hinder or punish the wider public.” This is mirrored by the BGC’s not wishing to see “a blanket approach which could force the vast majority who bet safely onto the black market.”
And where in all of this is the typical punter? While the rules and regulations are the responsibility of the government and advisors, and influenced by the operators themselves, it could be argued that the ultimate choice as to where to play is with the individual. This is indeed true, but it would be unfair to burden people with the responsibility of effectively scrutinising and even policing every operator that dangles in front of them promises of juicy deals in ostensibly legitimate online environments. We don’t live in an ideal world and must therefore accept that undesired and potentially harmful elements will find their way through the cracks. The veritable conundrum for governments – especially in the UK, where gambling and betting in all forms is a universally accepted and well-received part of everyday life – is to find a balance that protects the vast majority of players while simultaneously enabling them to enjoy their gaming/betting experience in a setting that isn’t so restrictive as to send them underground.