UK Gambling Commission Hits Bookmakers with Major Fines for Underage Betting: Is It Too Much?

Regulatory measures continue to tighten in the United Kingdom and many gambling operators are paying the price for such changes. Just a few weeks ago, we reported that the UK Gambling Commission announced that further player protections are in the works as credit cards will be banned regarding gambling spending. The change goes into effect in April, when credit card transactions related to gambling will be null and void. Now, we have learned that seven on-course bookmakers have been hit with a shocking fine after allowing underage gambling to take place during the Royal Ascot.

For those not in the know, the Royal Ascot is one of the most revered horse races around the world, attracting only the finest horses that compete for millions in prize money. It also one of the most popular races from a betting standpoint, which brings in tens of millions in wagers alone. Earlier this year, the Gambling Commission ramped up the punishments for underage betting by setting a huge fine on seven bookmakers who reportedly allowed younger players to place bets on the event.

A total of seven bookmakers are being forced to pay 2.5% of their gross profit for a FULL YEAR after the Commission found them guilty of allowing underage betting during the 2019 Royal Ascot. This comes off the heels of reports that all of these bookmakers allowed a 16-year-old to place bets on the race, which is well under the permitted age of 18.  

What should be mentioned here is that the 16-year-old in question placed only a £5 wager on the race at each sportsbook. This is essentially pocket change when compared to the massive bets that are placed on a regular basis with such bookmaker. Representatives for the bookmakers have went on record, stating that they feel the fines were disproportionate to the offence and out of line with action taken against online firms.

Does The Punishment REALLY Match The Crime?

In most instances of underage gambling, especially in the United States, the operator pays a small fine and works to do better to avoid the issue in the future. Fines can range from as low as 4-figures to as high as 6-figures depending on the circumstances. Some in the gambling industry feel that this particular fine set by the Commission regarding the Royal Ascot is an example of how fines are starting to get out of hand.

Based on the percentage that have now been levied in fines, you would think that the bets being taken by this underage gambler must’ve been in the tens – if not hundreds of thousands – of dollars (in this case, GBP). However, as mentioned above, the bets being taken by this teenager was only £5 (albeit at 7 different bookmakers)!

When news of the fines came out, Mick Williams of the Association of Racecourse Bookmakers stated that “it’s scary to see and one would think that a procedure would be in place to give a warning for the first time something like this happens and then a fine the second time.”

The Commission has not commented on the issue as they say it is an ongoing case. However, they have pointed to statements by Richard Watson, the group’s executive director, who stated in 2019 that “every gambling business must protect children and the results of on-course bookmakers’ have remained unacceptable.”

For now, the argument will continue. Are operators doing enough to protect young people from gambling? Is the UK Gambling Commission going too far and being unfair when it comes to on-course bookmakers when compared to online operations and high street chains? It is certainly an interesting discussion and one that can be seen from both sides.

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