A number of high profile changes in legislation are due to greatly impact the UK bookmaker and betting shop industry in 2019 / 2020, potentially transforming the way gambling is managed on the UK high street.
Firstly, the maximum wager for fixed odds betting terminal FOBTs will be cut from £100 to £2. This news has been strongly opposed by UK bookmakers, who predict that the maximum stake cut will force the closure of many brick and mortar stores, endangering thousands of jobs.
Secondly, to counteract the treasury losses brought by the maximum stake cut to FOBTs, the government is planning to introduce point of consumption tax increase, from 15% to 21%. This increase, which is expected to take place in 2019, will prove another heavy blow to gambling operators.
The legislation changes are borne, in part, from legitimate criticism of the way the high street industry operates, consistently failing to move with the times and embrace new ways to control gambling addition.
As with other compliance issues arising in the past decade, technology can offer the most logical solution.
The current state of high street gambling self-exclusion
Self-exclusion is the process by which gambling addicts register voluntarily to be blocked from gambling. Digital self-exclusion is fairly well regulated with the Gamstop service, which allows people to self-exclude to all sites licenced in Great Britain. It is clear, however, many offline self-exclusion systems are not as adequate, relying on people submitting passport photos to individual stores. This process is hampered by poor photographs, large lists of excluded people, staff intimidation and human error.
Shockingly, between April 2017 and March 2018, the Gambling Commission recorded that while there was 42,130 offline betting self-exclusions, there were also 18,409 self-exclusion breaches. One undercover investigator found that he was able to place a bet in 19 of 21 bookmaker facilities in which he was self-excluded. This is a clear representation of the scale of the self-exclusion management issue.
Is facial recognition technology the solution?
Facial recognition technology has long been used in gambling environments for security, even being used in some casinos abroad to control gambling addiction. To be used effectively in high street bookmakers, the solution would have to be:
Accurate – With recent news stories bemoaning the lack of accuracy in major deployments of facial recognition technology, many in the industry have discounted this as an effective solution. There are, however, many use cases of facial recognition being used with exceptional accuracy to register individuals if used in the right way. As the individuals would give their consent to be self-excluded, this would also avoid any GDPR issues and automate the process of recognition for store staff.
Cost effective – With the prevalence of betting shops on the UK high street, the solution would have to be cost effective and require minimal infrastructure disruption to be deployed across an entire store estate.
Universal – The main reason the current system of self exclusion fails is its limitation to individual or small groups of betting shops. Storing facial data of self-excluded individuals in one database would ensure (as with the digital Gamstop service) individuals could be excluded from betting shops company wide.
The future for high street bookmakers
The ability to prove to the government the industry is taking radical steps to control gambling addition using technology could lead to a step change in the way it is being regulated and may even reverse FOBT legislation. Considering the way in which facial recognition technology has developed in recent years, it is not impossible to imagine a future where all UK betting shops, perhaps even under the umbrella of the Association of British Bookmakers, use a nationwide database of self-excluded individuals to control gambling addition on the high street and stop leaving breaches up to chance.