Watching the film Jurassic World on television over Christmas in a stupor of mulled cider, mince pies and Quality Street, it seemed a barely credible plot that someone would choose to create a dinosaur like the Indominus Rex which is so perfectly designed to put their entire venture at risk. But then, in a moment of Christmas clarity as startling as the arrival of Marley’s ghost, it became apparent that the UK gambling sector is doing just that.
In the film, the Indominus Rex is created as a new attraction to satisfy the visiting public’s insatiable demand for something new and exciting. The creature’s DNA is a mix of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor, cuttlefish (for camouflage) and various other hazardous species. The result is a large, efficient, violent predator which inevitably escapes it confines and wreaks havoc.
Going into 2019 the UK gambling sector is being complicit in creating a monster equally dangerous to the sector’s survival in order to satisfy the demands of politicians, regulators and opponents.
Consider the genetic components of gambling’s “compliance carnivore” in 2019:
1. A voluntary advertising ban during pre-watershed, live, televised sport.
2. Major banks – including Barclays, Halifax and Santander – enabling customers to restrict payments to gambling services.
3. The creation of a sector-wide database which lets customers exclude themselves from accessing online gambling.
4. A tax increase of six percentage points for remote gaming in 2019 purely to make up a shortfall in tax from another area of gambling which was curtailed for political reasons.
If the above operating parameters were offered to an entirely new business sector, it would not seem like an appetising offer for investors: limiting the means of promoting your services; banks creating means to prevent customers from sending you money; offering tools to customers to let them stop using your services; and if you do manage to take money from customers a tax rate based on political posturing.
The share prices of those gambling firms with a reliance on the UK market have fallen heavily over the last year. The bloodbath could have been even worse, had the US Supreme Court not thrown them a lifeline in the form of a story to sell investors about the prospects for US sports betting.
The Indominus Rex of the film is finally defeated by the heroine releasing the Tyrannosaurus Rex from its enclosure and the two predators battling it out to the death. The final scene shows the T.Rex surveying its kingdom, reinstalled as the top predator.
For gambling, its own T.Rex is the spectre of illegal or unlicensed gambling in the UK. Underground gambling might not be “released” as consciously or deliberately as in the film but the combination of operating parameters listed above could contribute to its emergence – an unintended consequence of trying to create the perfect compliance carnivore.