The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced enforcement action and has written to a number of online gambling firms in respect of terms and practices that may place unfair obstacles in the way of people withdrawing their money (whether as part of a promotion or not).
The CMA has particular concern about:
- daily, weekly or monthly limits on withdrawing funds that appear unreasonably low
- potentially arbitrary short deadlines on the time customers have to verify their identity as a condition of withdrawing funds, sometimes providing for forfeiture of consumer’s funds if missed
- ‘dormancy’ terms that allow firms to confiscate funds after a certain period of inactivity.
Ian Angus, Programme Director at the Gambling Commission said: “We support the CMA’s investigation – gambling firms should not be placing unreasonable restrictions on when and how consumers can withdraw money from their online gambling accounts. While the CMA continues its enquiry, we expect all online operators to look closely at the terms and practices they have in place and consider if they are fair on their customers.”
The CMA will update its website on a regular basis as the investigation progresses.
The failures relate to Skybet customers who had self-excluded from gambling. Self-exclusion is a tool used by consumers who feel they are having trouble controlling their gambling and request that the operator refuse their service.
Weakness in Skybet’s self-exclusion facilities 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 did not have their account balance funds returned to them on account closure.
Richard Watson, Programme Director, said: “This was a serious failure affecting thousands of potentially vulnerable customers and the £1m penalty package should serve as a warning to all gambling businesses.
“Protecting consumers from gambling-related harm is a priority for us and where we see operators failing in their responsibility to keep their customers safe we will take tough action.
“Skybet reported the issues to us quickly, cooperated with us and has taken this investigation seriously.”
Read Bonne Terre Limited t/a SkyBetting and Gaming public statement for more information.
Statistics show that industry profits (1) from the sector have grown 10% to 4.7bn in the last year, and public participation has increased from 15.5% in 2014 to 18.3% in 2017. It is estimated that nine million people across Britain gamble online.
Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission Chief Executive, said: “Britain has the largest regulated online gambling market in the world and we are continually looking for ways to make it even fairer and safer for consumers.
“The proposals we have announced today are intended to protect children better, reduce the risks to vulnerable consumers and build on the measures we already impose on operators to know their customers and intervene at an earlier stage before consumers experience harm.”
Tracey Crouch Minister for Sport and Civil Society said: “We are committed to ensuring the gambling industry is safe and sustainable. These proposals for additional regulations will strengthen the controls already in place and further safeguard children and vulnerable people from the risks of online gambling.”
Proposed changes and action include:
- Further protecting children by banning operators from providing free-to-play demo games until a consumer’s age has been determined
- Improving the speed and effectiveness of age verification processes
- Ensuring operators set limits on consumers’ spending until affordability checks have been conducted
- Tackling unacceptable marketing and advertising and unfair terms, and improving complaints and disputes procedures
- Strengthening requirements to interact with consumers who may be experiencing, or are at risk of developing, problems with their gambling.
The review also identifies five areas where the Commission is undertaking further work during the coming year.
The Commission is going to:
- Assess the effectiveness of the current tools available to consumers to manage their gambling
- Review gambling product characteristics to identify whether particular features pose greater risk of harm than others
- Review our requirements on the protection of customer funds and consider whether there are sufficient protections around dormant accounts
- Consider whether gambling on credit should continue to be permitted
- Consider whether we need to make changes to ensure that consumers can withdraw funds more easily.
Read the Gambling Commission Review of online gambling.
Notes to editors
- This figure relates to the gross gambling yield (GGY) – the amount retained by operators after the payment of winnings but before the deduction of the costs of the operation.
- Read Professor David Forrest and Professor Ian McHale analysis of play among British online gamblers on slots and other casino-style games, commissioned by GambleAware. We worked with thirteen operators to supply the underlying dataset and are in the process of making sure it is fully anonymised and accessible. Once we’ve finished this process, it is our intention to publish the data.
- Find out more about social responsibility.
- More information about how we regulate the gambling industry.
- Useful statistics on the gambling industry.
Journalists can contact our press office on 0121 230 6700 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
BGO Entertainment Ltd has made formal commitments to change the way it offers bonus promotions to customers playing online games.
The commitment follows a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation, in collaboration with the Gambling Commission, to tackle shared concerns about unfair terms and practices within the gambling sector.
Ladbrokes, William Hill, and PT Entertainment gave similar commitments in response to the CMA’s concerns that certain terms in these promotions were likely to be unfair, in breach of consumer protection law, and could mislead their customers. On 1 February, the Commission warned operators to take immediate action to meet consumer law requirements and make changes to their promotions.
BGO has also separately agreed that it will not include terms which could be used to unfairly change promotions after players have opted in. We also expect operators to remove any similar terms they may have by 3 April 2018.
Details of the commitment are set out in the CMA release.
Ian Angus, Programme Director at the Gambling Commission said: “It’s very important that consumers feel that the odds are not stacked against them when they gamble and we expect all online operators to look closely at their terms and practices to ensure they treat customers fairly.
“We will soon commence a programme of compliance activity and if necessary we will not hesitate to take robust regulatory action.”
At the heart of the advice is an aim to reduce the risks that consumers, especially those that are vulnerable, face from gambling.
The advice makes it clear that action from Government, the Commission and operators is needed.
Recommendations from the report include:
- The FOBT (B2) slots stakes should be limited to £2
- The stake limit for FOBT (B2) non-slot games (which includes roulette) should be set at or below £30 if it is to have a significant effect on the potential for players to lose large amounts of money in a short space of time
- Banning the facility for machines to allow different categories of games to be played in a single session
- There is a strong case to make tracked play mandatory across machines categories (B1,B2,B3)
- Extending to category B1 and B3 machines the kinds of protections, such as player limits, that are in place on FOBT (B2 machines)
- Working with the industry and others on steps to make limit-setting more effective – this could include ending sessions when consumers reach time and money limits.
It is up to Government whether to implement the Commission’s recommendations which have been provided through a letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Gambling Commission Chief Executive Neil McArthur said: “We’ve put consumers at the heart of our advice – advice which is based on the best available evidence and is focussed on reducing the risk of gambling-related harm.’
“In our judgement, a stake cut for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals alone doesn’t go far enough to protect vulnerable people. That is why we have recommended a stake cut plus a comprehensive package of other measures to protect consumers.
“We have proposed actions that will tackle both the risk of harm and provide solutions that are sustainable in the longer term.”
Review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures – formal advice.