Research for the Betting and Gaming Council has uncovered the shocking scale of black market gambling in European countries. The findings come from industry research and a PWC report for the BGC as the government finalises its work on the upcoming Gambling Review.
In just two years, the number of British punters using unlicensed sites has more than doubled from 220,000 to 460,000 users, as well as the amount staked increasing significantly.
Research of comparable markets has shown:
- Norway has introduced a state monopoly for all gaming coupled with restrictions on stakes, affordability checks and advertising, which resulted in a black market that now accounts for over 66% of all money staked.
- In France, where online casino games are also a state monopoly, black market gaming accounts for 57% of all money staked.
- In Italy, where betting and gaming advertising is completely banned, the black market accounts for 23% of money staked.
- A 2020 Royal Decree in Spain put a near total ban on gambling advertising – leaving Spanish players unaware of where to bet safely – the black market in Spain now accounts for 20% of all money staked.
- In 2020, Denmark placed tight restrictions on legally licensed operators offering customer loyalty rewards such as bonuses. As a result, the Danish Tax Authority warned of a possible 9% increase in the black market share.
- In Sweden, a national survey found 38% of consumers who had chosen to self-exclude from legally licensed operators reported still being able to bet online with unlicensed operators – circumventing any player protection measures
As the growth of these sites has rocketed, black market sites’ revenues in Norway have more than tripled since 2010 and French black market revenues have almost doubled since 2015.
The report by PWC said: “This analysis suggests that the UK has a more ‘open’ online gambling market and currently has a smaller unlicensed market share than our European benchmarks.
“Whilst it is not possible to isolate the impact of individual regulatory characteristics, the above assessment suggests that jurisdictions with a higher unlicensed market share tend to exhibit one or more restrictive regulatory or licensing characteristics.”
Former general counsel at the French gambling regulator, Rhadamès Killy, said: “When we introduced our regulations in France in 2010, we analysed that the black market was the most extensive in the European states where the statutory regime was the most restrictive.
“A balance is required to effectively regulate without promoting the black market – I believe that balance is best struck when targeted restrictions focus on support for those at risk, but not excessively hinder or punish the wider public.”
A 2015 report comparing online betting in France between licensed and unlicensed (black market) sites concluded: “Gambling on unlicensed sites is associated with more intense gambling patterns and more gambling-related problems compared to licensed sites. Findings demonstrate that gambling activities carried out on state licensed sites are associated with less overall harm to gamblers.”
This latest research by the BGC backs similar studies across Europe that consistently show a link between stricter regulations – and a surge in black market activity.
BGC chief executive, Michael Dugher, said: “We support the Gambling Review but there is a real danger that it leads to the regulated industry being smaller and the illegal black market growing substantially.
“This research is stark about the dangers of the black market, we have to learn lessons from abroad, and make the right choice at this dangerous crossroads.
“BGC members alone employ nearly 120,000 people and pay £4.5 billion in tax in the UK. The black market, of course, pays no tax and employs no one in our country.
“Any shift to the unsafe black market would also jeopardise the £350m a year which our members currently give to horseracing in sponsorship, media rights and the betting levy – financial support which has proved crucial during the pandemic.”
As a strict condition of their license, UK operators in the regulated industry adhere to high standards including strict ID and age verification checks, no betting on your credit card – except for National Lottery gambling products – and participation in self-exclusion schemes. Regulated operators also offer important safer gambling tools like setting deposit limits and time-outs.
The BGC is calling on the government to consider targeted measures which protect vulnerable gamblers – not a blanket approach which could force the vast majority who bet safely onto the black market.