Home Money Gambling industry rakes in £15bn a year – but regulator Andrew Rhodes says he’s relaxed

Gambling industry rakes in £15bn a year – but regulator Andrew Rhodes says he’s relaxed

by Elijah
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Gambler: Andrew Rhodes' interest in betting has become

Gambling industry rakes in 15bn a year but regulator

Gambler: Andrew Rhodes’ interest in betting has become ‘more professional’ since becoming head of gambling watchdog

Andrew Rhodes likes flutter. The head of the Gambling Commission, which oversees bookmakers, casinos, arcades and the National Lottery, has just had “a bit” of success in Cheltenham, landing two winners on opening day.

He didn’t go to the popular horse racing festival, even though many of those he regulates were at the weeklong gathering. He wasn’t watching it on television from his office in Birmingham either. He’s too busy for that. But Rhodes, 56, makes no secret of his passion for punting.

“I’m not a big player, but it’s something I’ve been doing for a long time,” he says in his lilting Welsh accent. “I’ll never be able to make a living at it, but I’m moderately successful.”

His interest in betting has become “more professional” since he became chief executive of the gambling watchdog two years ago.

He cannot play the National Lottery due to his role in granting and managing the license that the Czech company Allwyn has just acquired from Camelot. You can’t even bet at bookmakers or play slot machines.

“There’s often a sad scene on the south Wales coast where my kids can be on the 2p machines and dad is sitting on a bench outside like he’s some kind of scoundrel.”

His profile among the gaming community also makes him an occasional target. He recalls: ‘I remember walking into a William Hill betting shop in Manchester and someone recognized me and attacked me with his opinions. It was unexpected but we had a nice chat.’

There would be much to discuss. Bet365 boss Denise Coates has caused a stir after paying herself £271m, despite the gambling giant suffering losses last year. The sector rakes in £15bn a year, but Rhodes does not see himself as a profits regulator.

“The industry can earn all it wants, as long as it does so in accordance with the objectives of the licence, if it does not target vulnerable people, if it does not come from crime or because the terms and conditions are unfair.”

Anti-gambling campaigners say a lack of regulation has allowed gambling to proliferate, especially online, leading to skyrocketing rates of harm, addiction and even suicide, especially among young people.

MPs recently called for children to be protected from the “bombardment” of gambling adverts on football pitches. One study found 7,000 messages about gambling on billboards, jersey sponsorships and television ad breaks in six games on the opening weekend of the season.

The industry questions any direct link between sports advertising and harm to the game. He also opposes affordability checks: scanning gamblers’ bank accounts for signs of problem gambling. But the Government’s game plan outlined last year wants stricter rules. So where is Rhodes located?

“Our goal is to ensure that any advertising is ‘responsible,’ so that gambling is not presented as ‘a way to solve problems, make money or relieve stress,’ he says. “But it’s a difficult topic, as is sports sponsorship”.

What about the link between advertising and gambling harm? Once again, he protects himself: ‘No one has really been able to demonstrate a causal relationship between advertising and problem gambling. We know that advertising has a greater effect on people who already have a gambling problem.’

Where would he be on the spectrum between a pitched battle on one side and a ban on the other?

“My role is to be impartial and not have a strong opinion in any direction,” he insists, adding that his approach is always guided by evidence. He gets excited about his topic.

“The UK probably has the most liberalized gambling industry in the world,” he says, insisting that bans would drive operators underground, with no protection for gamblers and “rampant crime.” He notes that 44 percent of the adult population (22.5 million people) gamble at least once a month.

1710650355 808 Gambling industry rakes in 15bn a year but regulator

1710650355 808 Gambling industry rakes in 15bn a year but regulator

Gambling has long been a widespread leisure activity and the vast majority of people have no problems, Rhodes says. He accepts that some have “horrendous problems” that have “terrible consequences”, although one of the biggest problems is predicting who will succumb.

Rhodes was the first in his family to go to university, in Swansea, where he later joined the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

He went on to become chief operating officer of the Food Standards Agency and chief operating officer of the Department for Work and Pensions before heading up the Gambling Commission. His job is to ensure that the game is fair, open and clean. He will also raise the planned £100m tax on operators (1 per cent of gross profits) to treat gambling addiction. He resembles the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in acting as judge, jury and executioner, issuing licences, enforcing compliance, imposing unrestricted fines and removing traders’ right to trade.

‘In the last three years we have taken action against 46 operators to the tune of £103 million in fines. We are taking serious steps to ensure that policies and procedures are followed,” Rhodes says. Some companies appealed, but “none were successful,” he says, adding: “We have been very successful in cracking down on illegal Facebook lotteries.”

Like the FCA, the Rhodes report covers money laundering. He says: ‘The game has always been quite touchy. There is still a lot of money at stake. That is why there are strict controls on the origin of funds.’

One of the reasons he wants to see fewer gambling adverts on football grounds is that he and his teenage son are “huge” Swansea City fans and attend a lot of home games, so “it’s an issue.” Quite complicated”.

He also chairs the Championship club’s charitable foundation and played a key role when The Swans replaced betting company YoBet with the local university as shirt sponsor in 2020. He says: “I was operations director at Swansea University at the time , so I was on the other end of that deal!’

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