It may have seemed like an ordinary day, well as ordinary as the UK wide lockdown would allow, but Tuesday 14th April 2020 was a momentous day in the world of betting. As of this day, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) passed a law preventing anyone from placing bets using a credit card.
This ban didn’t come out of the blue either, since 2014 and the introduction of the Gambling Act in Great Britain, the UKGC has been monitoring the gambling market. A 2019 study by the UKGC showed that the UK has “the largest regulated online gambling market in the world,” generating £4.7bn gross gambling yield (GGY) each year. The commission found that the advancement of smart phones and tablets also had a large impact on the ability for people to gamble, which is to be expected as it is now something easily accessible, 24/7.
According to YouGov, whilst the initial coronavirus lockdown didn’t attract many new customers to gamble, it did result in those who already used the services trying new products. With live sports betting unavailable, almost a third of regular gamblers tried new fast cycle activities, like slots, instead. So despite the closure of high street facilities, people are still betting where possible. This, coupled with many people losing their regular income in the face of the pandemic, has driven people online to place bets more than ever in hopes of making some quick money. The UKGC, therefore, made the decision to ban the use of credit cards for gambling.
To the average person, this may seem like a random, inconsequential ban. If you have money in a debit account you can still use this to place bets so why would this be such a significant change to anybody adding to their deposits?
The difference with credit cards is that people are betting with money they may not actually have. Credit cards are precisely what they say on the tin; they are a form of credit. The nature of this, therefore, is that the money is not yours to spend — a fact that is often forgotten. Cards like this work essentially as a loan, you are borrowing money that you don’t currently have. Often this comes with a large interest rate, meaning you may never be able to pay that money off as you are constantly paying off the interest rather than the actual amount you borrowed. This can result in people ending up in large amounts of debt, which they struggle to pay off as they continue betting with minus funds in the bank.
It is not, then, a leap of the imagination to understand why the UKGC might wish to ban people using them to bet. Simply put, if you use a credit card you are betting with money you don’t even have, which can quickly put you in a bad spot if somebody comes to collect.
Within the same vein, it is illegal to take out a specific loan with the purpose to gamble it, banks can refuse loans in this case. Other places like PayPal will prevent you from adding money to your accounts if it comes from a credit card, any eWallet service will follow the same guidelines. This is to prevent them, like bookmakers, receiving large fines for breaking the rules. Of course, there are loopholes around this and this is a UK specific law so it heavily relies on the person gambling to not exploit these. But why would the UKGC want to enforce this anyway?
It is estimated that around 800,000 people were using their credit cards to place bets before the ban came in. Of this, approximately 22% were what are known as problem gamblers — those who are addicted to betting. This law is not designed to hinder people but rather to help them. Many people have heard the slogan “when the fun stops, stop” on adverts for betting sites and the like. Around 350,000 people in the UK are thought to be suffering from an addiction to gambling, this number has been on the rise in recent years and normally increases in times of hardship so it is safe to assume over 2020 this may have risen again.
Worryingly there are a large number of children between the ages of 11 and 16 who have gambled online, using stolen details to take advantage of the freely available apps on their phones. Whilst betting can be fun, particularly when live sporting events are involved, this hints at a need to take risks in order to gamble. Possibly showing that there is a whole new generation already beginning to feed an addiction to gambling, resulting in many people campaigning to make it a public health issue along the lines of smoking or obesity.
The UKGC’s predominant aim is keep gambling regulated so there is less risk involved for vulnerable people. This includes helping those with gambling addictions break free from their burden. Whilst for many betting is a fun pastime without too detrimental a consequence, those who struggle can resort to criminal activity and in extreme cases psychosis. Signs of an addiction include feelings of anxiety and stress around gambling, feeling an excessive ‘high’ upon winning and betting more than you can afford in hopes of chasing that aforementioned ‘high’. The latter of these has a clear correlation with using credit cards to place bets.
Since the credit card ban applies to all offline and online betting facilities, hopefully, this will help curtail the number of people falling into situations where they cannot pay off their cards and push those facing addiction towards finding some help.
For those of you with a credit card who are wishing to gamble, all is not lost. You can still play lotteries with credit cards as long as they are purchased with other items from a supermarket or newsagent. The reasoning behind this is that lotteries are for good causes and will have some protection in place for those who are more vulnerable. This includes the National Lottery.
So overall, the ban on the use of credit cards is should not be looked at negatively but rather a step to keep betting safe and fun for all involved. At the end of the day, this should never become an addiction but instead a pastime that you only play within your means. If you feel you are losing control of your gambling habit the best thing to do is seek help. All betting companies must participate in Gamstop, which is a self-exclusion scheme. This can help you stop gambling for a chosen period of time, all with the aim of helping you regain control. Ultimately, this is all a move towards safer gambling, which also means enjoyable and affordable betting for those involved.
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