Report on the Westminster Hall debate on affordability checks

28 February 2024

The Westminster Hall debate took place yesterday afternoon, running for the maximum allotted time of three hours and attended by significantly more MPs than is normally the case for these events. A total of 16 MPs specifically mentioned the horse racing industry in their speeches. If you would like to watch the debate, a recording of the proceedings is available here
The debate was opened by Christina Rees (Labour) on behalf of the Petitions Committee, who confirmed that she had spoken to many stakeholders prior to the debate, including the Jockey Club, the Betting and Gaming Council, Gambling with Lives and the Gambling Commission. She also stated that the racing industry believes that affordability checks are “inappropriate” and will push punters to the black market; she also noted that many stakeholders held the view that various forms of gambling are very different and should be treated as such. That was a subject that was revisited a number of times in the debate, with many MPs pointing out the differences between betting on racing (considered a game of skill) and online slot machines and other games of chance, which allow rapid play and a statistical certainty of losing money.
ROA Board Member Philip Davies, Matt Hancock, Laurence Robertson and Conor McGinn all made passionate addresses in support of the racing industry and punters, as did many other MPs with racecourses and training establishments in their constituencies. Most of those mentioned the detrimental impact of affordability checks on the financial stability of racing and on the Levy and urged the Sports and Gambling Minister to state that the Government would reassess these checks for the good of the industry. Most MPs also noted the contribution that racing makes to the rural economy and the hospitality industry. There were also mentions of the significant investment that racehorse owners make to the sport and the forecast that the if the affordability checks are imposed unchanged, racing’s finances could reduce by as much as £50m per annum over the next five years.
Defending stricter affordability checks, Carolyn Harris and Paul Blomfield noted their potential protection for those who struggle with problem gambling. Blomfield seemed to indicate that this debate had become solely about racing and sought to discuss predominantly gambling harm. He claimed that arguments about the gambling black market reminded him of the tobacco’s industry last attempt to prevent regulation.
Steph Peacock, Shadow Minister for Sports and Gambling, gave a measured response, reiterating her concerns for gambling related harm, in addition to her support for the racing industry.   
Rounding off the debate, Stuart Andrew, Sports and Gambling Minister, stated that the Government fully supported the racing industry and announced that following wide concern, the Gambling Commission will not now require gambling companies to consider an individual’s personal details as part of the checks. He commented: “I am clear that we must ensure that these checks do not adversely affect racing, or those who work in the sector or interrupt the customer journey. They also must not push away high net worth individuals such as owners and trainers that invest in the sport." 

Westminster Hall debates do not involve a vote on a particular action or decision, but the aims are to raise awareness of an issue, often as part of a wider campaign, seek to influence government policy, and to put the views of backbench MPs, opposition parties, and the government on record. It was pleasing therefore, that the Minister recognises the investment owners make to the industry and that whatever changes are introduced, will be designed so as to not have an impact on your investment in the sport.

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