Brits on Lockdown Betting on ‘Sports They Know Nothing About’ Triggers Call for Online Betting Cap

Posted on: March 23, 2020, 07:16h. 

Last updated on: March 24, 2020, 10:03h.

Concerns are growing among UK politicians that the widespread cancellation of sports events — coupled with the boredom associated with social distancing measures — is leading to gamblers betting on sports they “know nothing about.”

Russian table tennis
A sudden surge in interest in Russian table tennis and Japanese baseball in Britain has given politicians pause for thought. (Image: Gazprom)

In an open letter to industry trade body the Betting & Gaming Council (BG&C), a cross-party committee of MPs dedicated to examining gambling-related harm has called for betting companies to introduce a self-imposed £50 ($58) daily cap on online gambling.

“It’s pretty appalling that in the midst of all this difficulty and suffering, gambling companies are so desperate to ensure that those who gamble can continue to throw their money away that they direct them to all sorts of little-known and little-watched sports,” said commission Co-chair and former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith in the letter.

Too Much Table Tennis

So which sports can you still bet on? A glance at one of the UK’s market-leading online bookmakers Monday evening suggests it’s mainly esports, some horse racing from Fonner Park – which is currently trialing no-spectator racing – a smattering of Australian soccer games, and quite a lot of Russian table tennis.  Not a pretty sight for sports bettors.

But The Guardian has discovered that an internal email sent by a William Hill manager suggests staff “talk to … customers about what other things they can bet on – table tennis and Japanese baseball are proving very popular.”

As of Friday night, this interaction is no longer possible because all betting shops have closed by order of the government.

But studies suggest that people who are prepared to bet on obscure sports may be exhibiting problematic behavior.

Non-addicted gamblers tend to place bets because they are emotionally engaged with a sport or because they enjoy making what they at least believe to be an informed decision.

When their preferred sports stop, so do they. Betting on Russian table tennis, meanwhile, smacks of desperation, unless you’re really into Russian table tennis.

“In our clinics, some of the most harmful gambling is that which diversifies to betting on things our patients know nothing about,” said Matt Gaskell, Clinical Lead for the NHS northern gambling clinics in the letter.

Act Responsibly

Commission Chair Carolyn Harris MP (Labour) suggested a £50 limit would be a “clear demonstration that the industry is willing to act responsibly and do what they can to protect society and people’s finances at this dreadful time.”

UK betting shares were already under pressure prior to the coronavirus crisis because of a recommendation by the same committee to slash the maximum stakes on online slots to £2. But they’ve crashed following the widespread cancellation of major global sporting events.

Leading betting companies last week warned shareholders that profits could be expected to take a seven-figure hit in 2020.

The BG&C recently called for the government to include the betting industry in a £350 billion ($376 billion) financial relief package aimed at easing the hardships the crisis will inevitably impose on UK businesses and employers.

It may be that the industry must first agree to some major concessions for that to happen.