Martin Burlin: Can I have or can’t I have a cream cake?

Martin Burlin Bacta convention affordability checks
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That is the question. Industry veteran Martin Burlin was ill at ease at last week’s Bacta Convention, and it’s nothing to do with the cakes. Affordability checks rose like a souffle during the discussions, but it’s a half-baked idea as far as Burlin is concerned.


The answer to Bacta stalwart Martin Burlin is, of course you can have a cream cake. But it wasn’t actually a request from the long standing EAG chairman at the Bacta Convention last week, it was a simple yet delicious challenge to the authorities that affordability checks – or more accurately the principle behind them – is simply unviable.

And, under Burlin’s convention, unacceptable to a large swathe of the general public.

“The proposition of affordability checks raised its head once again in the Gambling Commission’s presentation to the Convention last week, and you just have to sit there and question: do they really understand?” he told Coinslot.

“Sarah Gardner addressed the regulator’s duty of care responsibilities and everyone in the industry recognises that role. And in fairness, she was quick to say that it’s a tool most fitting for the online gambling sector which is where the Commission’s real concerns lie. But despite the genteel nod of assurance that the regulator isn’t as concerned with us and the land-based sector, it’s of no comfort whatsoever. We all know where that will eventually lead.”

And Burlin’s experience is comprehensive in this particular arena: he’s seen all the bouts between the regulator and the industry, from the Gaming Board through to the Gambling Commission and most likely whatever body succeeds that.

And affordability checks is one overreach too many for Burlin. “Quite frankly, affordability checks are an absolute nonsense. There’s no mention of the logistics, which are totally impractical; the intrusion into people’s privacy; and the far reaching consequences of going down this road,” he explained.

“Has anyone ever answered the simple question satisfactorily: at what point does duty of care become state intrusion? We need to understand that the idea of affordability checks extends far beyond the gambling arena. Where will it take us: regulators telling ordinary people what we can and cannot do?”

“Can I have or can’t I have a cream cake? he pleaded. “Well, that’s my choice, but it might not be if the health authorities follow the GC’s line.”

Burlin’s observations have shifted the dial away from problem gambling and into the arena of civil liberties. “This notion of affordability will impact over 30 million people in an effort to target 200,000. There are better and more effective ways to challenge problem gambling and the industry is working hard to do just that. But frankly, affordability checks is not an answer and it’s an afront that it’s emerged as an option.”

Burlin’s argument is widely supported – probably universally in the industry and equally so around the general public. And it will certainly not gain currency amongst the more libertarian wing of the Tory government.

John White of Bacta shares this view. “I have met no one who believes affordability checks are practicable or helpful,” he told Coinslot. “Moreover, their prospective introduction is arguably more importantly a debate about civil liberties. Do we really want a society where the state examines what you spend and where, and on the basis of its view of your spending, requires you to give away further personal details?“

He added: “Whilst proposed with all good intentions you would be hard pressed to find anyone who thought it was a good idea. Would you like to be asked at the supermarket a series of questions about your behaviour and expenditure if you had put more than two bottles of gin on the checkout?”

Whether it’s cream cakes or bottles of gin, it’s actually gaming and gambling where the seed has been planted – but from tiny acorns….

Burlin again: “I think we’re suffering from a pernicious assault from people like the Commission and lobbying groups who are focusing on the one issue – and a very important one at that. But we all live in a big world and we must understand the broader consequences of our decisions. The industry is playing a positive and proactive role in driving safer gambling forward, but affordability checks could literally drive us back a century to the days when illegal gambling was rife. The whole irony of this ludicrous notion of affordability checks is that in its blind effort to protect people from harm, the Commission could be driving them into greater harm and risk by pushing gamblers with a problem underground.”

“And that’s the worst outcome for everyone.”


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