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The closure of bank accounts has been in the national news a lot of late thanks to the experiences of Nigel Farage with Coutts (an offshoot of high street banking firm Natwest).
While Farage is no doubt the most high profile person to have had their account closed by high street banking firms such closures have also affected the betting industry as raised by Bill Barber in the Racing Post last week with a number of racecourse bookmakers commenting on how their accounts have been closed in recent times.
For background Nigel Farage would be classed as a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) and more at risk to blackmail etc. than most and Coutts themselves have been fined in recent years for various reasons, including in 2012 for failings related to potential money laundering.
With that in mind it’s understandable that the banks approach may be more stringent than the law needs it to be but racecourse bookmakers being caught up in issues relating to account closures seems to be an odd one.
From the bank’s viewpoint they probably think that an environment and business that mostly conducts transactions in cash and which has no accurate way of tracking and tracing the majority of its customers could be susceptible to use in illicit activities.
However it’s notable that all UK bookmakers have to apply for various licences, go through any number of checks and have to prove they are of good character etc. before being granted a licence.
Such licences are not given out without extensive research, criminal record checks and the like.
The attitude from the banks suggests that they may not understand how racecourse bookmaking works or they don’t trust the various checks and licences that are needed before setting up as a bookmaker.
Given the lack of understanding of how bookmaking works, both from a practicalities standpoint and from the view of how expensive it is to set up and trade from those within the racing and gambling industry it would come as no surprise to find out the banking sector has little clue how it works.
This is interesting as no other industry seems to have been singled out for such treatment, even those where there’s a high proportion of cash transactions such as car dealerships and building firms which in some quarters already have a reputation of sorts.
As pointed out by Anna Wolffe from the Federation of Racecourse Bookmakers (FRB) in the previously mentioned article a lack of an explanation or warning with regards to account closures is a major concern and potentially leaves racecourse bookmakers in a vulnerable position with large sums of cash on their person or in their homes when not there, particularly if unable to deposit in another bank account.
Betting shops regularly handle large sums of money which is then deposited elsewhere (with the post office in my experience) as do other businesses such as travel agents and estate agents with both as likely to be susceptible to fraudulent and dishonest practice as racecourse bookmakers are.
Looking ahead to the future it could be possible to open up accounts with other banking establishments, however if more than one or two take this attitude towards bookmaker accounts then it’s not a suitable solution as accounts will continue to be closed.
It would be interesting to see if any/many have an account with Weatherby’s Bank. While their main line of business banking seems to be for racehorse owners, breeders and the like one would hope they’d be understanding of the need for the whole racing industry to have access to a bank account and they’d be well positioned to accept accounts from racecourse bookmakers.
However their lack of branches is likely to cause issues with regards to depositing funds in a business that is heavily dependent on cash transactions.
I’d hope that there would be representatives of the banks available to discuss with the likes of the Federation Of Racecourse Bookmakers and the Association Of Racecourse Bookmakers so that reasons can be established as to why these accounts have been shut.
All legitimate, legal and heavily licensed businesses should be entitled to a business account and while it only seems to be one or two banks currently it could cause major potential issues for the industry should this continue.
While I hope this isn’t part of government and some parts of societies war on gambling the cynic in me feels that the lack of any explanation for the account closures, the lack of any request for extra proof or evidence of where cash has come from or where it is going means that there’s every chance this is part of a new approach towards a highly regulated business that some want to see abolished.