Opinion: Government gambling ban doesn’t go far enough

Updated on 15 January 2020 | 2 Comments

Scratchcards and lottery tickets are forms of gambling too, so why aren't they included in the ban?

At the moment, if I want to open an online account with a bookie, I can use my credit card to put funds into the account which I can then use on everything from backing horses to playing a virtual fruit machine.

That's about to change however, as the Gambling Commission has announced that from 14th April would-be gamblers will be unable to use credit cards to fund their punts.

Cutting out credit cards

It’s no secret that depositing funds in an account with a bookie using your credit card is a terrible thing to do just in terms of the interest you’ll pay, as it begins being charged from the moment you make the transaction – much like a cash withdrawal  rather than enjoying the usual 30 day grace period that comes with normal credit card purchases.

But it also allows those with a problem. or who are at risk of developing a gambling problem, an easy way to keep topping up their accounts, and therefore chase winning bets, without it having an immediate impact on their bank balance.

The banking trade body UK Finance reckons that around 800,000 people in the UK use credit cards to gamble, while a separate study from the Commission found that almost a quarter (22%) of online gamblers who have used credit cards to fund their habit are classed as being problem gamblers.

The hope is that by banning credit card use, problem gamblers will not be able to run up astronomical debts on cards through their habit.

While it won’t solve the problem, it should at least make it harder for gamblers to get deeper into trouble.

The ban is a step in the right direction

I’m someone that thoroughly enjoys a gamble every now and then. I grew up in a family where horse racing was (and still is) regularly on the TV, and have at some point had an account with most of the big online bookmakers.

So I don’t welcome this ban through some misplaced hatred of all gambling, but from having seen first hand just how easy ‒ and dangerous ‒ it is to use a credit card to fill up your account and gamble on credit.

Hell, I’ve even done it myself, at a time when I knew I was getting close to my overdraft, but wanted to stick a wager down.

It is a staggeringly easy ‒ and quick ‒ thing to do.

It’s absolutely right that gamblers should be unable to use their credit card to fund their habit. If you reckon you’re onto a winner in the 3:40 from Newmarket, then you should have to use your own funds to back it, not money from your credit card.

But the truth is that there is a problem with the ban, thanks to a peculiar exemption.

Best bank accounts for going overdrawn

Scratchcards are still gambling

The credit card ban doesn’t apply to non-regional lotteries that are run for good causes. 

So pop down to your supermarket to pick up a few entries to the main National Lottery draw, and a couple of scratchcards, and you’ll still be able to use your credit card to foot the bill so long as you buy another product too.

The Commission argued that otherwise there would be a “disproportionate burden on retailers” to refuse to allow the sale of a scratchcard alongside a more comprehensive shop, if the shopper is looking to pay by credit card.

To me, that just isn’t good enough.

We need to recognise that scratchcards and the like are still gambling, and still offer those with a problem the opportunity to rack up significant card debts. Making them buy a packet of loo roll or a newspaper at the same time is an absolute nonsense of a safety net.

Just last year, Camelot ‒ which operates the National Lottery ‒ pulled its £10 scratchcards after recognising they were “over-indexed” among problem gamblers.

While the Gambling Commission argues that scratchcards have much lower rates of problem gamblers than other forms of betting, the reality is that there are still decent numbers of people buying scratchcards who have an issue.

If scratchcards and lottery tickets were included in this ban, rather than being exempted like some form of ‘acceptable’ gambling that can be done on credit, then it would help some of those problem gamblers from making their own issue even worse.

To me, that's well worth making retailers have to ask shoppers to separate their groceries from their betting.



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