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Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, says proposed gambling checks policy is a mistake

West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock used a parliamentary debate on the future of horseracing to spell out the devastating effects he said proposed affordability checks on gamblers would have on the industry.

During the debate, prompted by the government’s white paper, and the Gambling Commission’s gambling review consultation, Mr Hancock, who now stands as an independent MP, said the checks were counterproductive, damaging, and would drive people into unregulated gambling.

“The way that the Gambling Commission are bringing in these so-called affordability checks, makes people move from gambling on reputable platforms, into unregulated gambling. And this is having the opposite effect to the intention,” he said.

MP for West Suffolk Matt Hancock. Picture: Mark Westley
MP for West Suffolk Matt Hancock. Picture: Mark Westley

The former Health Secretary, who expanded gambling clinics and brought in reforms to fixed odds betting terminals while culture secretary added: “I understand the intention to tackle problem gambling, I have long supported that goal, but those who love to have a flutter at the bookies, or online, or at the race course, are being caught in this net.

“We need to make sure that the Gambling Commission supports gambling that people enjoy whilst also effectively tackling problem gambling, rather than driving people into the darker regions of the internet where they can get away from any regulation whatsoever.”

He said the number of customers using unlicensed betting websites had more than doubled from 210,000 to 460,000 in 2020 and that billions of pounds were now staked on unlicensed betting websites which don’t have support programmes.

“All of these problems drive down the amount of money going into horse racing, and that has two consequences. One, it means that there’s less prize money, which means there’s fewer horses coming forward, and the UK will lose its pre-eminent position with the tax revenues and the jobs and the prestige that comes with that,” he said.

“Second. It means less money for the problem gambling programmes that we know are needed to help the minority of people who have a problem and who need support.”

Mr Hancock described the plans as a really serious government policy error.

“The minister can already act on this simply by setting out that the current way affordability checks are being put in place is counterproductive. This policy has been a mistake and the minister needs to change it,” he said.