There is an ongoing battle in Great Britain now between betting companies, the racing industry and government. It is a result of a Gambling White Paper published by the UK Government in April 2023 that sets out proposals for affordability checks on gamblers. Operationalised, a regulator will have the ability to use data to instigate “background checks” on punters betting on sports outcomes.
Those in favour of these checks argue that they are required in a digital age where gambling on a smartphone or tablet device is possible 24 hours a day, and the incidence of problem gambling is on the rise. A recent study in Ireland by the ESRI finds that 1 in 30 adults in Ireland suffer from problem gambling.
Those opposed to the plans – especially plans to introduce blanket affordability checks on all punters – argue this is another example of government overreach into private, individual matters. Calls for blanket checks have been largely met with opposition by those in the betting and racing circles, who argue these checks will have a detrimental impact on both industries. A petition is currently available online to convince the government not to proceed with these plans.
This battle, between the racing industry and government, is nothing new. 300 years ago, Britain faced a similar crisis. The Financial Revolution – circa 1700 – led to the widespread printing of money, and an increase in both the money supply and velocity of money in the economy. This was greatly assisted by the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694.
At the same time horse racing was starting to flourish under the reign of Queen Anne. English people turned to gambling in large numbers, primarily for leisure, especially as greater amounts of money began to flow to lower socio-economic groups for the first time.
By the early decades of the 1700s, gambling was widespread across England. The authorities became concerned and sought to change the direction of society. One such way to reduce the incidence of betting among the public was to curtail the number of horse races, by increasing transaction costs.
In 1740 Parliament passed an Act that sought “to restrain and prevent the excessive Increase of Horse Races”. The terms of the Act included a clause that stated:
“No person was allowed to enter, start, or run any race horse, mare or gelding for any race, unless the animal so entered was the bona fide property of the person by whom it was entered. No person can enter more than one horse in any race. No Plate can be run for under the value of £50. Any infringement of this stipulation was liable to a penalty of £200; 5-year-old horses to carry 10st each; 6-year-olds to carry 11st; 7-year-olds to carry 12st. Owners of horses carrying less weight than that stipulated to forfeit £200.
The Act proved to be highly ineffective, and racing continued to flourish. The Jockey Club was established in 1750. Despite not working, the legislation remained in place until 1840 when it was repealed by Parliament.