Bookies Slam ‘Disproportionate’ Age Verification Penalties

Members of the racing industry have expressed concern over the’ absolutely horrendous’ decision by the UK Gambling Commission to make seven on-course bookmakers pay what amounts to 2.5% of their gross profit for the whole year, as a punishment for falsely enabling a 16-year-old to place a £5 bet at Royal Ascot 2019.

The affected seven bookmakers have been granted a week-long appeal period which enables them to ask for a’ more appropriate’ penalty. The proposed fines were set at 2.5 percent of gross gambling yield, the sum held by a bookmaker after payment of winnings but before any expenses were deducted.

A number of business representatives and bookmakers reported in The Guardian said the proposed penalties were excessive to the offence, explaining that the UKGC was more severe on a number of small businesses than on 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 have their licences reviewed by the UKGC, Grossmith stressed that the FRB has established a long-term relationship with Serve Legal, an independent test buying service.

The Serve Legal alliance assists on-course bookmakers in implementing the new Think 21 framework. Grossmith also clarified that, in conjunction with UKGC and Serve Legal, the FRB would also be carrying out four nation-wide seminars.

Christopher Hudson of the British Racecourse Bookmakers Association, who also used Serve Legal, has said the sentence suggested is ‘severe and disproportionate’: our attorneys have been working with the Gambling Commission on these alleged offences for some time. The GC has been asked questions about the evidence leading to those charges. All convicted bookmakers still have the 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.”

The UKGC conducted a similar age verification check at Ascot back in 2014, which found that all 20 bookmakers surveyed served a 16-year-old without asking for proof of age, and issued a written warning subsequently. In 2019, however, 17 bookmakers were’ checked’ at Ascot, 10 of whom requested 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.”

Elsewhere Simon Nott of Star Sports 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.”