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U.K. Labour Party Announces Anti-Gambling Plans If Elected

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In a recent spasm of activity designed to torpedo their own chances for capturing Downing Street from the evil, wicked Tories, the Labour Party has issued an extensive proposal for further regulating gambling activity in the United Kingdom. These plans, announced Thursday, Sept. 20 by Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson, would be implemented should the party prevail in the next elections.

Photo of Tom Watson of the Labour PartyTom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

New Restrictions on the Agenda

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Their plan begins with the idea of seriously annoying online gamblers by blocking them from using their credit cards to place bets. In a world where governments everywhere are trying to encourage the use of easily-trackable digital methods of payment as opposed to the use of anonymous and hard-to-tax cash and crypto-currency, this seems like a relatively counter-intuitive step in their cunning plan for a new cashless utopian society.

Labour has also crunched the numbers and come up with the surprisingly precise figure of 433,000 for the number of "problem" gamblers in the UK. Given that the entire population -- man, woman, child, and other -- is only 66,000,000, this seems like an extraordinary percentage of Britons who cannot resist the call of the one-armed bandit. Once you exclude minors and those segments of the population that do not gamble at all for various reasons ranging from poverty to religious objections, it is clear that Labour's leadership regards this as an exceptionally great challenge to the health of the nation. This is indeed how they characterize their proposal-- as a public health necessity in the face of a vast epidemic of people losing the deed to the Family Seat when Man U doesn't score first.

Like all great challenges, the solution to this pressing emergency on offer from government employees is.... more government. Oh, and more taxes, of course. To be precise, what they want to do is to throttle the opportunities for so-called "in progress" gambling by regulating into oblivion those gambling adverts which air during the contest itself. Their preferred prescription couples this prohibition with a proposed 1% tax to help the many NGOs which cater to the needs of problem gamblers redecorate their offices and then counsel their clients with whatever residue of funds remain after completion of the project.

Labour Party Wants to Fight Problem Gambling

Black Market to Grow?

Black Money Bag

Naturally, this may seem like a cynical take on what is obviously a well-meant effort to deal with a growing problem which is being exacerbated by ever-expanding technology. Yet their proposal to add taxes, ban ads, and restrict the use of non-cash payments can honestly lead only to the one solution which would be EVEN WORSE than the current highly-regulated UK gambling environment-- namely, to drive an ever greater share of the overall gambling pie into an underground that is immune to regulation, taxation, and bureaucratic hectoring. It would also be immune to the necessity of running an honest wheel at the unregulated roulette table.

Now, we here at ProfessionalRakeback know that unregulated does not necessarily equal disreputable. Indeed, we're partners with several fine online gaming providers that are unlicensed by the United Kingdom yet transact freely and honestly with Britons. They include Americas Cardroom, Sportsbetting.ag, and Nitrogen Sports.

Online Gambling Sites Active in the U.K.Some of the Fine Gaming Sites That Serve the U.K. Without a License From the Gambling Commission

Yet, the gambling addicts whom Labour is supposedly safeguarding against the harms of their habit can hardly be expected to search out only trustworthy destinations for getting their fix of betting action. Indeed, the whole foundation of Labour's arguments – and the whole idea of gambling licensure in the first place – is that customers need to be protected from evil, manipulative corporations. By driving business toward gray market operators, Labour's scheme would contradict the entire premise of its justifications.

In short, Labour has identified a problem that is apparently in need of being turned into an even bigger problem. There are, of course, other potential options for dealing with this alleged crisis.

Labour Exaggerating Their Case?

Logo of the Labour Party

So the first question that needs to be addressed is: how big a problem is this, really? If the Labour Party figures are exaggerated, then their solution isn't needed. On the other hand, if their figures are reasonably correct or perhaps even understated, then one has to question if their proposal is properly tailored to meet the emergency. For the nonce, let us assume that this research is correct and that a growing number of Britons have a severe gambling problem-- particularly a severe problem with instant gambling-- that cries out for action.

Restricting "in progress" advertising may be a gentle step in the right direction, but is it enough to mitigate what they themselves term an emergency? What seems worrisome is the idea they apparently espouse that an unstoppable lustful proclivity for instant gambling action may be okay but that deliberately encouraging it in the middle of the contest may be going a bit far. Is this really the proper remedy for such an announced emergency? If this is such a huge problem, wouldn't a total prohibition on this entire type of in play gaming action be a superior remedy?

And what about the way in which Labour chooses to help the unfortunate sufferers who nevertheless get themselves in financial trouble despite their inability to view encouraging advertisements? A 1% tax on gambling revenues may, again, be a gentle step in the right direction, but what are these funds going to be used for? Admonishments from social workers. Does the Labour Party have any statistics to back up the idea that this may prove to be an effective measure to curtail future addictive behavior among a large segment of those 433,000 unfortunates it identifies as being at risk?

Yet, if this is truly a problem, what other remedy might prove more efficacious in real world application? As mentioned above, it would be quite easy for the government to sweep away this looming problem of addiction to instant gambling-- provided of course that they were willing to forego their own no-doubt-substantial share of the revenues which accrue from such activities (which they, quite obviously, are not going to do). The idea of announcing something as a public health emergency and then allowing the emergency to continue so long as additional revenues are extracted from the malign activity in question reeks of both hypocrisy and ineffectiveness.

As for the funds collected, why do these funds need to be expended upon the largely fruitless plain of counseling and treatment? What percentage of gambling addicts can truly be turned from their path by such means? Would it not be better to apply these funds to the amelioration of the true victims of a gambling addiction? How about dedicating these resources to the unfortunate spouses and children of problem gamers who may have to go without food, rent, or utilities?

Overregulation Par for the Course in UK

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Even if these latest overzealous designs of Labour with regard to gambling don't come to pass, there are still plenty of other groups in the United Kingdom that appear to be committed to rendering harsh judgments against online gambling organizations.

Organizations That Have Certain Powers Over U.K. Gambling CompaniesSome of the Agencies Whose Rules U.K. Gaming Firms Must Follow

Just look at the United Kingdom Gambling Commission, which in June fined 32Red Casino an incredible £2 million for failing to protect a single individual with a gambling problem. As extravagantly high as this penalty was, it was nowhere close to the largest fine ordered by the UKGC. That dubious distinction is held by 888, which was punished to the tune of £7.8 million in August 2017 for “failing vulnerable customers.”

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is very active also, proclaiming ever-tightening directives that gambling firms must comply with or else have their marketing efforts deemed unacceptable. In April, a PokerStars ad spot was deemed to encourage reckless betting because it showed a man making a big bluff. The ASA felt that viewers might get the impression that bluffing for all of one's chips is the only skill needed to prevail at the poker tables.

In May, the ASA found fault with m88.com because this online casino was displaying attractive graphics on its website to promote fairy tale slot machines. The watchdog agency said that these graphics were likely to appeal to children and were thus not OK. We're left wondering how m88 could have accurately showcased these particular slot titles without using such pictures.

Even if a gaming enterprise can navigate the minefield of laws, regulations, and oversight bodies to achieve a level of success in the U.K. market, it had better not achieve too much success. This is because it might come under the watchful gaze of the Competition and Markets Authority, which is ready to strike out against possible monopolistic practices. This is what happened to PokerStars and SkyBet despite the fact that most observers feel that the combination of the two entities doesn't pose any realistic risk of becoming a monopoly.

The Bottom Line

Blue Thinking Man

The truth is that gambling, like all other human activities, cannot be eliminated from society. It is always going to be with us in both its benign aspects of sporting excitement as well as in its darker face of human addiction and ruin.

To allow a government to vilify what is, for the vast majority of people, a harmless pastime in order to create easy jobs for people with university degrees, who ought to be able to make their own way in life, is itself a form of gambling. The bet is simply that one more layer of non-productive bureaucracy can be ladled upon the output of the nation without doing sufficient harm so as to imperil the commonwealth as a whole. At some point, the proponents of an ever-expanding government are going to lose that bet for everyone involved.