Monday, 12 August 2019

Panorama on gambling - wrong again

It looks like Panorama is going to have yet another pop at gambling tonight. Having dealt with fixed odds betting terminals, it now reports that people can bet much larger sums of money online - as I repeatedly pointed out when I was virtually the lone voice opposing the anti-FOBT crusade.

A BBC article promoting the show ('Addicted to Gambling') says...

High stakes betting machines have been banned from the High Street, but there are no legal limits for online games. That means customers can lose thousands of pounds in just a few minutes.

No kidding. If only someone had mentioned this earlier, eh?

The article - and I presume also the programme - makes a striking claim about the amount of money spent (or 'lost' as the BBC sees it) on gambling. It says that there has been 'a sharp increase in UK gambling over the past decade' and that...

The industry has expanded rapidly since the government relaxed restrictions on betting and advertising in 2007.

It also claims that...

Gamblers are now losing almost twice as much to the betting companies as they were a decade ago. Last year, punters lost a record £14.5bn.

How 'sharp' has the increase been since in the last decade? The Gambling Commission records a gross gambling yield (ie. money taken minus winnings paid out) of £8,365 million in 2008/09 which, adjusted for inflation, is £11,400 million in today's money. The figure for 2017/18 was £14,529 million.

That's a rise of 27 per cent in real terms. An increase, but not an especially sharp one and certainly not 'almost twice as much', as the BBC claims.

However, as anyone who is familiar with these figures knows, the totals from the last few years are simply not comparable with those from a decade ago. Until 2015/16, most online gambling revenue was not included in the figures. It wasn't until the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act of 2014 that remote gambling by UK consumers was regulated (and taxed) at the point of consumption, with any company trading on the British market having to hold a Gambling Commission licence.

This was George Osborne's way of taxing the offshore industry. Once introduced, billions of revenue that had not previously been recorded suddenly appeared on the books. In 2013/14, remote gambling spend was recorded at £1.1 billion. Two years later, it jumped to £4.2 billion.

Needless to say, this did not reflect a quadrupling of online gambling in Britain. All it showed was that a lot of offshore gambling spend had previously gone unrecorded because the companies were not based in the UK, did not pay tax in the UK and did not hold a UK gambling licence.

If you look at the Gambling Commission's figures, the step change between 2013/14 and 2015/16 is obvious. Click to enlarge.

For some reason, the Commission has switched from financial years to October-September years in the most recent year, but that's not important. The big picture is that gambling spend has fallen in real terms in arcades, betting shops, bingo halls in the last ten years. (Yes, you read that correctly - it has fallen in betting shops). Spending on the National Lottery has also fallen.

Gross gambling yields have remained about the same in casinos and have risen in the relatively small non-state lottery sector.

The only substantial sector that has seen an increase in real terms spending is online. That should come as no surprise, but we don't know the scale of the increase in the last decade because the figures are not comparable.

Has gambling spend increased in real terms in the last decade? Probably, but not by much, and if there has been a rise, it has come almost exclusively from online and we know that most online gambling spend was not recorded until 2015/16. The claim that overall gambling spend has nearly doubled is absurd. Panorama really needs to be put out of its misery.

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