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Newmarket MP Matt Hancock frustrated by minister’s response to gambling debate

Newmarket MP Matt Hancock has called the Government's plans for affordability checks on gamblers a mistake and urged it to stop and look at the issue again during a Parliamentary debate on the issue.

It had been triggered by a petition calling for the controversial checks to be scrapped, which had gathered more than 100,000 signatures.

The former health secretary, who expanded gambling clinics and brought in reforms to fixed odds betting terminals in his time as culture secretary, told the packed Westminster Hall debate: “Horse racing is the UK’s second largest sport.

Matt Hancock MP
Matt Hancock MP

“Five million race goers annually, over £4 billion for the economy and untold soft power. In Newmarket, 7,000 people are employed in and around horse racing. A quarter of a billion pounds goes into the local economy.

“But we know that 26 per cent of those betting have already experienced an affordability check ahead of these proposals officially coming in and we've seen that the betting turnover on racing fell by £900 million in 2022-23.”

Mr Hancock suggested a carve out for racing to exempt it from the checks, as is the case with gambling on the National Lottery.

“I would recommend to the Government that they separate out games of chance, where there is no skill and where there’s guaranteed loss, from horse racing,” he said.

“We are falling into the trap that because something has to be done and this is something, then this has to be done,” he said, adding: “The current proposals are going to lead to worse problems, not better.”

Stuart Andrew MP, the minister with responsibility for gambling, made it plain affordability checks were still on the way and insisted these would be a significant improvement on what he called the onerous, ad-hoc and inconsistent checks gambling firms were carrying out at present.

He said the promise of what he called frictionless checks would be delivered, without burdening customers in all but a handful of cases

After the debate Nevin Truesdale, chief executive of the Jockey Club, said: “No one’s against solving problem gambling issues but it’s got to be done proportionately and that came through very, very clearly, which I think was good for us, and there were a lot more speakers in favour of where we’re coming from.

“Stuart Andrew laid out his stall at the end about it being frictionless, if he can make that work remains to be seen. The detail is what is important, it’s about implementing it sensibly and proportionately and that is absolutely up to the Gambling Commission now.”