Join our community of smart investors

Gambling Commission to decide on online stake limits

Shares in listed bookies have tumbled, despite regulations being widely expected
Gambling Commission to decide on online stake limits

Shares in many of the UK-listed gambling companies tumbled after the Gambling Commission’s chief executive told the government’s Gambling Industry Committee it would decide whether to limit online gambling stakes in the next six months.

The gambling sector has been facing increasing regulatory pressure in recent years, with a £2 limit on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) introduced April last year, leading to the closure of hundreds of betting shops, followed by a ban on using credit cards to gamble in January this year. Limits on online gambling are seen as a threat to the sector in the UK, as the push to establish compelling online offerings has been a key part of companies’ strategies for growth.

Shares in both GVC Holdings (GVC) and William Hill (WMH) were down 7 per cent following the news, while Flutter (FLTR) and 888 (888) were down 2 and 3 per cent, respectively.

Industry association the Betting and Gaming Council said it was “working hard with the Gambling Commission and with the government on their review to ensure effective regulation”.

A spokesperson for GVC said a limit on online betting stakes would do more harm than good by driving people away from regulated operators and towards black market operations. They also noted the “great strides” being made to improve responsible gambling tools, technology and data analytics. 

“A recent NHS Health Survey found that problem gambling in the UK has actually declined in recent years” it said, adding that finding further improvements was a key priority.

In spite of this, gambling has been increasingly viewed as a health issue in the UK, with Claire Murdoch, the NHS’s head of mental health calling on the industry to take action on cutting gambling addiction. There had even been speculation responsibility for the sector would be shifted from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to the Department for Health by the current government, but no action has yet been taken.

Broker Goodbody noted that if a limit on stakes is proposed, it may not be as low as that imposed on FOBTs due to the higher level of data available for online gambling compared with potentially anonymous punters in retail stores. It added that the news “highlights the need for operators to be as diversified as possible be it geographically, by product or by channel”.