As this year’s gambling review starts to take shape, the topic of ‘affordability’ has risen high on the agenda with the help of the Gambling Commission, APPGs, and think tanks. But in a country that espouses both civil liberties and socially responsibility, who decides how much is too much to spend on gambling? Or are affordability checks simply a step too far?
The term was first mentioned back in the regulator’s 2018 review of online gambling, and has gained traction since then with anti-gambling campaigners, who see it as a way to reduce the gambling related harm that can happen to the 0.6 percent of the population that are recorded as problem gamblers. While there are currently extensive ‘know your customer’ practices in the the industry that aim to detect potential risks of problem gambling, the affordability checks suggested by groups such as the Gambling Related Harm APPG would see customers spending over £100 on gambling products have to divulge personal financial information to spend any further. The Gambling Commission suggests “the most relevant way of assessing how much consumers may have to spend before beginning to experience harms as a result of their gambling is through discretionary income”; income after both tax and spending on necessities such as food, travel and housing.
But why should a group of MPs – many whose party is not in power – decide how much is too much for anyone to spend on anything? And why should a regulator – one that said group of MPs called “not fit for purpose” – decide which customers shouldn’t spend any more? Ultimately, the DCMS will have the final say on affordability in this year’s gambling review, but their decision may be a litmus test for society as a whole. Are we ready to accept that the government can decide how much we spend on legal goods and services based on our current financial status? Or has our hunger for social responsibility gone too far?