Online gambling is becoming increasingly popular but what are the gambling operators doing to prevent addiction? Quick Loans Express explores…
Online Gambling in the UK
In this article, we consider the online gambling industry and measures to identify and prevent problem gambling.
The Gambling Commission recently sent a warning letter to all 195 UK online operators about their failure to protect vulnerable problem gamblers. The letter also told them to review their procedures for spotting the signs of problem gambling. If they didn’t comply, they faced the very real possibility of being investigated and being punished with fines and/or the loss of their licence.
In this article, we examine the issue of online gambling beginning with what the statistics tell us about the industry itself and the number of problem gamblers in the UK. We look at what online gambling sites have already done as well as proposed changes. Are online operators really doing enough or is gambling addiction something that can’t be prevented?
Online Gambling in the UK
Online gambling in the UK has grown by 150% since 2009. The gambling industry in the UK was worth £13.7 billion in 2016 according to the Gambling Commission. A third of all revenue (£4.7 billion) is gambled online. The CMA (Competition & Markets Authority) estimates that 6.5 million Britons regularly use these sites.
Problem Gambling Omline among Britons
First of all, what’s the difference between someone who enjoys the odd ‘flutter’ and a problem gambler? The definition of a problem gambler is someone whose gambling compromises, disrupts or damages their familial, personal and financial situation.
According to research, 1.4% of Britons are problem gamblers while 6.4%(or 2 million people) are at risk of becoming problem gamblers. Many gamblers can not afford to fund their addiction and may have to turn to same days loans for bad credit. What is the industry itself and regulators doing to address this serious problem?
Addressing the Issue of Online Gambling Addiction
A number of measures have already been put into effect to help gambling addicts.
Gamblers who feel that they have a problem can choose to self-exclude themselves from gambling sites – effectively they’re banning themselves. At the moment, they have to do this at every single site. However, from Spring 2018 gamblers will be able to do so through the Gamstop scheme. All operators will have to offer this single-registration scheme to its users.
The industry code of practice for advertising gambling sites was made tighter in 2015 after a review. New measures include a watershed and including a link to the site of the organisation, BeGambleAware which offers help to problem gamblers. However, these are recommended rather than compulsory.
Criticism of Online Gambling Games Operators
Despite these changes in the industry, people still worry that they are not doing enough. Let’s look at two key areas.
Use of Promotional Offers
The CMA is investigating the use of misleading promotions by online operators because they might be breaking consumer law. One of the aspects that particularly concerns organisations working with problem gamblers is the terms and conditions of these offers. Often gamblers have to play several hundred times within a set period to claim their winnings. This can actively encourage users to gamble more because they can’t walk away without losing their winnings.
Another worry is that the marketing of special offers targets explicitly ex-gamblers. Many felt that it was difficult to resist the temptation when they were trying to quit.
Operators & ‘Duty of Care’
One of the concerns of the Gambling Commission is that online operators don’t pick up on the signs of problem gambling although they have a responsibility to do so. The Commission said that there was no intervention despite the evidence from the frequency, duration and sums of money gambled.
Sites can use research carried out in August 2017 by PwC (and commissioned by the charity Gamble Aware)when they look fro problem gambling. These include:
- betting up to £98 a day (compared to £14 for occasional gamblers)
- gambling between the hours of midnight and 4 am
- repeated gambling throughout the week rather than just on Saturday nights
One of the reasons highlighted by the Commission for the lack of ‘duty of care’ was that staff training was inadequate. Not only was there ignorance about the signs of problem gambling but even a lack of understanding of the definition of a problem gambler.
Proposals to Block Access to Gambling Addicts
Changing the marketing and terms of promotional offers and better staff training would do a lot to improve the situation for problem gamblers. However, some proposals go further. What else has been suggested?
One proposal has been that online gambling sites would have to carry out affordability checks in certain circumstances, much like the ones in the instant payday loans industry. New FCA regulations to that industry changed the payday market rapidly.
The Remote Gambling Association called the suggestion ‘well-intentioned’ but said that no business is able to undertake that level of intrusive assessment. He obviously knows nothing about affordability checks carried out by loans online payday lenders.
What Happens After Identifying Problem Gamblers?
Once online operators have put measures in place to spot problem gamblers, they can then limit or block access to their site. This could start with sending an instant pop-up message to individual customers as a warning about the duration of their gambling or the sums bet. The next step could be to freeze their account. To be effective, there would have to be a system which would allow different gambling sites to share this information in real time.
With the odds already in their favour, gambling sites can make billions every year. If they chose to do so, they could do a lot more to protect the vulnerable and limit the harm to gambling addicts who may take out loans online to fund their addiction. However, as we’ve seen in many other industries, nothing is done because the bottom-line is that it’ll affect their profits.
This is a short-sighted view since if they continue to drag their feet, then regulators will be forced to step in. One thing is sure. When regulators intervene, the measures are harsher than if an industry chooses to self-regulate.