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A ban on promotions including so-called “free bets” would push almost a third of punters to the black market while sucking millions out of horse racing, new data released shows.

Anti-gambling campaigners have demanded the Government introduce a complete ban of punter promotions in its upcoming reforms of the Gambling Act – despite a staggering 69% of customers saying they should be allowed.

New research conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Betting and Gaming Council found as well as 69% of punters saying free bets should be allowed, 63% said they found promotions a valuable part of their hobby.

Worryingly almost one in three punters (28%) said they would consider black market betting if ministers ignored their popularity and forced through a draconian ban.

As well as driving punters away from the regulated industry, analysis conducted by the BGC found the move would hit the horse racing Levy for approximately £5m a year, in a double blow on the industry.

Punters must request promotional offers when opening an account with a regulated betting and gaming operator in the UK and can stop receiving them at any point they choose.

Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “Promotions and offers are part of the customer experience for any vibrant industry, including our intensely competitive sector, which supports 119,000 jobs and brings in £4.4bn in taxes to the Treasury.

“Blanket bans on offers would be anti-punter and would severely degrade that customer experience, punishing the overwhelming majority of punters who bet safely. Problem gambling is 0.2 per cent. Imagine the outcry if supermarkets were forced to ban offers and promotions for beer and wine? We see no difference to our industry.

“A draconian ban would damage a sector which tens of thousands rely on for their livelihoods, by turning punters away from the regulated industry into the arms of unsafe, unregulated black market gambling, where the numbers using such sites has doubled in recent years and the amount bet is in the billions. These sites have none of the safer gambling tools the regulated industry employ.

“A move like this would also hit the horse racing levy for £5m, but the loss of punters to the unregulated black market would undoubtedly also hit other regulated funding for racing such as media rights and sponsorship.

“We support the Government’s ‘evidence-led’ approach to gambling reform, which is why any changes should be carefully targeted to protect vulnerable players and those at risk, not the vast majority who bet safely. Ministers should shouldn’t be sticking their nose into how people choose to spend their own money, and the last thing they should be doing at this time is damaging business and sport.”

Black Market gambling has more than doubled in just two years, from 220,000 users to 460,000 and the amount staked there is now in the billions of pounds.

Banning free bets is the latest proposal suggested by the anti-gambling lobby that could hit horse racing revenues after blanket affordability checks.

These means tests, which would compel punters to produce personal financial records like bank statements before they are allowed to bet as little as £100 a month, could suck up to £100m a year out of horse racing, according to industry experts.

In total, the regulated betting and gaming industry contributes around £350m annually to horse racing in the UK through the levy, media rights and sponsorship. This funding was vital during the pandemic. But there are growing concerns new measures being considered by the Government could jeopardise this vital funding.