Problem gambling hit the headlines in the UK again this week as it was reported that the government is investigating the use of credit cards to place bets online with a view to introducing a ban.
Culture, Media and Sport secretary, Jeremy Wright, has called for a meeting with banks and bookmakers following a recent UK Gambling Commission report which indicates that between 10% and 20% of deposits for betting online are made through credit cards. That amounts to around £8.6 billion in deposits.
The UK GC will also begin gathering evidence around the issue in February, with the possibility of legislation to follow.
There are 340,000 problem gamblers in the UK, which is 1.2% of the gambling population and there is a huge amount of support in the public, media and politics to see stricter rules brought in to prevent more people falling into addiction.
In 2018 several measures were already introduced to service this aim, including a reduced cap on the maximum stake allowed at Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2 to come into force in April 2019, a ban on betting advertising during live sports events after the 9pm watershed, and an industry-wide self-exclude scheme for problem gamblers (GAMSTOP) that is still under review.
So is the next step really going to be a ban on the use of credit cards for gambling? Is this a necessary measure to curb the growing problem of gambling addiction in the UK, or is it a step too far and an infringement of our civil liberties?
Well, the arguments for a ban are clear.
Gambling with credit is not the same as gambling with your own money which makes it very dangerous for anyone with an addiction. It is so easy to apply online and within minutes qualify to receive a card in the post. And when you do have one, the delay between spending the credit and receiving the bill can make it feel less risky – after all the money is not coming straight out of your account.
The consequences can be a swift build-up of unmanageable debt, with no way to pay it off.
But what of the other side to the argument? Could a ban be avoided?
Of course, libertarian gamblers will quickly argue that consumer rights are the cornerstone of the free market and a ban on the use of credit cards anywhere is an infringement of these rights. After all, we wouldn’t ban the use of credit cards to buy alcohol or in any other circumstances, so why should the ban apply here? We are all individuals with free will and should be free to make our own choices.
And would a ban even be effective?
For a hardened gambler there are plenty of ways to get around the restrictions. Using an eWallet funded with a credit card would be one way. It takes minutes to set up an online account and transfer money onto it using a credit card. Then the customer is free to place a bet with Skrill or play at a UK Paypal slots site without being affected by the proposed restrictions.
And in any case banks are already devising alternative measures that empower the customer to limit spending at online betting and casino sites. In December 2018 Barclays announced an initiative that allows customers to block certain categories of transactions from leaving their accounts, including gambling transactions.
Other banks are likely to follow with similar features this year.
And what about the responsibility of the gambling operators themselves? They should also take more steps to ensure problem gamblers are spotted and excluded based on analysis of patterns of play and deposits.
The government has been keen to emphasises this point, as Jeremy Wright has said: “Gambling operators must step in and act when people are showing signs of risky gambling. Their licenses are at risk if they do not.”
So it is clear that there are plenty of alternative options to help curb gambling addiction in the UK without banning credit cards.
But despite all the arguments to the contrary, and whatever your view, it seems more than likely based on these recent reports that as part of a holistic approach to tackling the gambling addition problem in the UK we should be prepared to see a ban on credit card deposits coming in 2019.