At Resolver, we see a continual influx of complaints about gambling companies exploiting their consumers or not abiding by industry guidelines.
Unfortunately, gambling is one of the “wild west” sectors that can be incredibly hard to navigate as a consumer and where it is challenging to hold firms to account. There is no gambling ombudsman, and as a result it can be difficult to complain about bad business practices in this sector.
As well as the lack of adequate protections, we see the reality of the dire situations people can end up in when they are taken advantage of by aggressive marketing strategies and a lax approach to consumer rights like self-exclusion.
In this article, we will share some advice from organisations that support gamblers and their loved ones, and are campaigning to bring greater awareness of the impacts of the gambling industry.
As well as exploring what the law is, we also give some top tips on how to keep yourself safe while gambling online, what protections already exist, and how to make a gambling complaint.
It may surprise you to know that the laws governing gambling have not been updated since 2007 – before smartphones made 24-hour access to online casinos and sports betting the new normal. Today online gambling is the biggest source of revenue for the gambling industry and has created a new set of concerns for citizens and society.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) just published a white paper that gives the outline of new regulations on gambling. This review of gambling regulations has been preceded by a number of high-profile cases of vulnerable users pushed into financial ruin, depression and even suicide.
Some of the measures that the white paper suggests include tougher affordability checks, limits on how much users can spend on online slots, slowing down online casino games, and curbing “free spin” and “bonus” offers.
While some of these reforms could be promising there have been lots of critics from organisations and charities that support gambling addicts and their families. Gambling With Lives and The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute have both issued statements on how these policies are ‘watered-down’ and do not go far enough.
There may be some big changes on the way, including a gambling ombudsman. But until then, unfortunately, gamblers are still having to self-regulate and try to advocate for themselves against powerful firms.
Psychologists and social scientists have long observed how poverty, scarcity and deprivation increases the attractions of high-risk behaviours. (For recent research see the Critical Gambling Studies Blog or the Gambling episode of BBC’s Thinking Allowed programme)
The increasing popularity of things like the postcode lottery in the past year perfectly demonstrates how people who feel more financially precarious are prepared to take more risks.
In times of financial crisis, as inequalities deepen and inflation soars, so too does the appeal of a big win. This is why it has never been so important to look out for yourselves and your loved ones.
The first thing to recognise when thinking about gambling companies and betting sites is the unavoidable reality of addiction.
As GambleAware says on their advice page, you may think that placing an occasional bet is just a bit of fun. But this can very quickly become compulsive behaviour of trying to make money, win back a loss, or distract yourself from other worries.
Do not underestimate how addictive gambling is and how quickly and easily you can incur enormous losses.
Many organisations exist to help you think about why you gamble and ways you can get on top of it. The Gambling Commission website has a thorough list of organisations that can help. There are also charities like BeGambleAware (Helpline 0808 8020 133), GamCare (Helpline 0808 8020 133) and BetKnowMoreUK who can offer advice and support.
The biggest obstacle to improving the gambling sector is a lack of transparency on its subjective impacts on consumers. As well as gambling companies themselves downplaying the negative effects of their industry, for people who fall prey to the sector’s bad practices, feelings of self-blame or shame can stop them speaking up or and seeking support. And even when they do, social stigma around both gambling and addiction can prevent them from being heard.
If you are struggling with gambling, you must seek the support you need. There are more protections than you may think.
Most gambling websites have features that allow you to keep track of how much time and money you are spending, or set limits on how much you can bet. There are also organisations like GamCare who have special software that blocks access to gambling sites.
Many banks now offer the ability to limit spending on gambling. So if you feel that you are spending too much money, you can block gambling payments with your bank.
Age, ID and financial verification checks are designed to prevent young people from gambling or people incurring debts they cannot afford. Even though many see these checks as falling short, or not being comprehensive enough, in addition, every person has the right to self-exclusion.
Unfortunately, we often hear from people who have attempted to self-exclude and then have been allowed to use gambling sites again. This is an infringement on your rights and needs to be challenged.
So if you have tried to limit your spending or self-exclude, only to find marketing emails in your inbox, make sure you report this to the Gambling Commission.
There is no gambling ombudsman, but the Gambling Commission regulates and licences gambling businesses.
In the last year, big companies like William Hill have had multimillion-pound fines imposed on them for bad practices. Yet they are still far more accountable than many of the thousands of online casinos and betting websites.
Most of the people getting in touch with Resolver support about a gambling complaint have experienced bad practices with online casinos, bingo or betting sites that are not based in the UK, have no customer service process, and may not even be properly licensed.
My time working in CS at Resolver has taught me to never use websites like this. You may win big, but as soon as you want to withdraw your winnings you will find that there is no record of it, your account has been cancelled and the company is uncontactable.
Unfortunately, in these cases there is nothing we or the Gambling Commission can do. So before you play, check whether they have a Gambling Commission licence. If they are on the public register, you will be protected by consumer and gambling protection rules in Great Britain. The public register will also allow you to see if they have ever had any regulatory action taken against them.
As they say, the house always wins. Gambling companies would not be profitable if it was possible for consumers to ever win back what they spend. You may win big once, but the addictive nature of betting makes it highly likely that you will soon be back trying to cut your losses.
As many gambling charities and organisations point out, the advertising strategies gambling companies use are extremely aggressive.
Remember, inflated promises of what you may be able to win are designed to minimise awareness of the risks and make you feel more confident to pull you in. In particular, be wary of “free spins”, “free bets” or bonuses – these are designed to suck you in deeper than you may otherwise be willing to go.
The Gambling Commission cannot resolve or make decisions on complaints regarding gambling-related transactions. So while they can offer some advice and support, consumers have to make gambling complaints themselves.
If you want to make a gambling complaint, you should first read up on the common types of complaint and see their step-by-step guide on how to complain on the Gambling Commission website. They also have a helpful video explaining what your rights are.
We have worked with the Gambling Commission to ensure that Resolver has up-to-date contacts for hundreds of gambling sites. Our rights guides and free service will be able to take some of the stress and strain out of making a gambling complaint.
If you have any thoughts on this topic, or any other consumer issues you would like us to cover, feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org