Gambling is a source of entertainment and for most people, they can enjoy the occasional flutter or game without it turning into a problem. However, those who become addicted, need an extra level of protection – but who's providing it?
Whether it be a casino, online bingo website or placing a bet on the football, gambling companies have a duty of care towards their customers.
The Gambling Commission was established under the Gambling Act of 2005 and assumed full powers in 2007 when it took responsibility from the gaming board for Great Britain.
Keeping crime out of gambling
Ensuring gambling is conducted fairly and openly
Protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling
In 2003 the Association of British Bookmakers introduced an account of good practice in its Code of Social Responsibility.
This was added to deal with issues relating to responsible and underage gambling and to cover areas such as advertising and promotion, age verification, staff training, customer communication and support for social impact initiatives.
As a result of the Gambling Act 2005, charities such as GamCare, GamAid and Gamblers Anonymous were founded to help anyone who feels that gambling is starting to cause personal, social, financial or health problems.
Gambling operators often offer deposit limits, self-exclusion, strict age verifications, breaks in play after prolonged losses and time warnings as a way of offering social responsibility to their clients.
Gambling operators have a duty to make sure that your funds are protected. They must include a section within their terms and conditions that states how it will deal with your money and how your funds will be protected in the event of operator bankruptcy.
Gambling operators must also offer online payment protection and make sure they use reliable and secure software to protect gamers personal and financial data. Players must be able to safely deposit, transfer and withdraw money when using the gaming website.
In 2016, the William Hill Group received a £6.2 million pound fine after it was found to have breached anti-money laundering and social responsibility regulations.
The business was found to have allowed ten customers to deposit large sums of money linked to criminal offences and leading to a £1.2m profit for the William Hill Group.
The investigation into this case showed that one customer was able to deposit £514,000 over 14 months. The staff assumed that the customer’s income could be £365,000 per year based on a verbal conversation they had with him.
They failed to question where the funds were coming from and it was subsequently shown that the customer was actually earning £30,000 per year.
He was funding his gambling addiction by stealing from his employer. This failed to adhere to one of the three objectives of keeping crime out of gambling.
William Hill Group had a responsibility in these cases to investigate where the players' funds came from. They should have also investigated whether they were problem gamblers.
Another goal that gambling operators have to follow is protecting vulnerable customers. Some players are unable to stop at one or two bets and can soon find themselves addicted.
Gambling operators must offer customers the chance to self-exclude, limit the amount of money they deposit or how much time they can spend on the gaming site.
There is also “reality check” which makes it possible for players to set a frequency to receive a display of the time passed since the session started and offers gamblers the chance to set a limit to their losses.
There is also the option to give a 24 hour period between decisions being made. For example, if a player sets a maximum deposit limit they would have to wait a further 24 hours before they are allowed to change this. This gives the customer time to consider if they want to increase that limit.
Gambling operators must also display information about organisations that can offer support to players who feel their lives are being affected by gambling.
Online operators, in particular, must make all steps necessary to make sure that sure that underage gambling activities don't take place on their websites and that the laws protecting individuals who have not reached the legal age are respected.
Operators must present clear registration processes for all players and mandatory verification steps must be followed to ensure the age of gamblers.
Of course, occasionally these safeguards fail. SkyBet was ordered to pay a £1 million penalty in 2018 for failing to protect vulnerable consumers.
A failure in the self-exclusion systems at SkyBet meant that:
736 self-excluded customers were able to open and use duplicate accounts to gamble
Around 50,000 self-excluded customers received marketing material by email, mobile text or a push notification within a mobile app
36,748 self-excluded customers didn't have their account balance funds returned to them on account closure.
The same issues were also found within 888 UK Limited. They had a technical failure which means that over 7,000 customers who had chosen to self-exclude were still able to access their accounts. The issue meant that those customers were able to deposit over £3 million into their accounts.
888 also failed to recognise signs of problem gambling displayed by an individual customer. The problem was so significant that it resulted in criminal activity. The customer staked over £1.3million, including £55k stolen from their employer.
During a 13 month period, the customer placed a large number of bets and accessed the site on average for 3-4 hours a day. 888 failed to interact with the customer, despite the frequency, duration and sums of money involved.
The Gambling Commission fined 888 UK Ltd £7.8 million.
Gambling operators have a responsibility to follow the relevant regulatory advertising codes of practice. These ensure that advertisements are factually correct and don't target underage or vulnerable gamblers.
Operators should also seek permission of the customer before sending direct marketing and remove customers who self-exclude from all marketing lists.
In 2017, the Gambling Commission fined ElectraWorks £250,000 for misleading consumers with adverts relating to free bonuses.
Gambling companies have a responsibility not only for their own company but to their customers. They must make sure that they stick to the rules and that those rules are understood by all parties, from the platform providers to the players.
It’s important for operators to ensure that gambling activities are kept as entertainment and not touted as an easy way to make money.
It should also be highlighted that players should not bet money they can't afford to lose and for safeguards to be in place to make sure that those who are betting high amounts are monitored.
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