The UK betting scene has evolved greatly over last few years. An area of particular focus has been the increased attention given to supporting problem gamblers. Industry statistics are worrying, with a reported 300,000 people in Britain considered as problem gamblers and another 540,000 at moderate risk.
It was fair to say that it was time to act and whilst the UK Gambling Commission had to be at the forefront of the change, they needed help. They have enlisted and also set up a number of organisations that now have a much stronger grip on not only spotting these problem gamblers, but also helping them as well.
What’s been impressive to see from the UKGC is that they have made the introduction and management of responsible gambling measures compulsory for bookmakers in the UK. The bookies must also provide funding for gambling charities and are required to make information on these charities available online and in their establishments.
In fact, the sanctions for not following these measures could lead to their license being revoked and essentially ending any business they have in the UK.
What Help Do Bookmakers Provide?
Bookmakers have actually been much more proactive over the last few years and especially now given that they are fully aware of the impact of problem gambling. Companies are on board with initiatives such as GamStop (see below) and have a number of measures in place themselves to protect their customers. These are tools all new and existing customers should be aware of, even if they don’t feel that they have a problem with gambling.
Something that betting companies brought in was the ability to set deposit restrictions on accounts. This is where they allowed the customer to limit their account to a certain amount either deposited or wagered every day, week or month. They would not, under any circumstances, be able to go over this mount. In most cases this takes 24 hours to change, so impulsive alterations can’t be made.
In fact, the latest process when registering new accounts sees this question be asked as soon as a new player signs up with that bookmaker. Some bookies are even limiting accounts initially and tracking spending, before then allowing players to increase spend.
Cooling off/Time Out periods
Other measures in place are cooling off periods for players. This involves customers setting time periods for which they are unable to gamble. The timeframe for this would range anywhere from 24 hours to over a month. During this time accounts are frozen and the player can’t place any bets during that period, hence giving them time to walk away and cool off.
Following periods of self-exclusion, which we cover later on, betting companies will often enforce a cooling off period for customers before they are allowed to gamble again. This gives them time, usually 24 hours, to reconsider signing back up to gamble.
New algorithms have also been trialled whilst playing casino products such as slot games which suggest or enforce breaks in play.
This is one that is relatively new, and bookies have stated that they have been able to limit some players who have been close to exhibiting behaviours of a problem gambler. The idea is that the bookmaker only allows them to bet and access the bookmaker for a certain amount of time each day or week.
They also limit the number of bets they can place, the amount they can deposit and the amount they can lose. For example, it might be 1 hour per week logged in, £10 in losses and £50 wagered.
This is designed to help people step away from a potential problem in a more controlled manner. The concept is actually not too dissimilar to how professionals help other addictions, often slowly reducing their activity over time, rather than stopping it all at once.
This is where a customer can self-impose a ban at a certain bookmaker. This is a longer term measure where the above tools have not been successful. The time periods for exclusion range from around 6 months to 5 years and once in-place these cannot be broken. Customers self-excluding will also be advised to do so from other operators using organisations such as GamStop.
Online Tools for Multiple Bookies
Although many customers will find the above measures with their chosen bookmakers a sufficient way to manage their gambling, a common criticism has always been that a problem gambler can simply sign up with another operator. There are now multi-operator tools to close this loophole.
GamStop has been one of the latest additions to the arsenal to help problem gambling. They are fairly new but already play a significant role. When launched as the National Online Self-Exclusion Scheme, bookamaker participation was voluntary, however as of March 2020, this has been made compulsory by the UK Gambling Commission for all UK licence holders.
GamStop works as a self-exclusion scheme, much like individual bookmakers use, but encompassing all betting sites licensed to operate in the UK. Customers that live in the UK who are concerned that they have become a problem gambler can sign up with GamStop who will add them to a database of players who will not be able to use a betting account in Britain. Each bookmaker must cross reference any new or existing customers with this database to ensure they are not active.
Before GamStop, if a player was reported as having a problem online, then they could self-exclude themselves from that bookmaker. The problem was that it was very easy for them to simply go and sign up to a new bookmaker and continue to bet on the same markets that they were previously betting on.
GamStop has been designed to create one big database of players. So, if a player is self-excluded with them, they are excluded from all sites even if they don’t have an account there. The idea is that it makes it very hard for them to just place a bet at any bookmaker when they are self-excluded from another.
The move to include GamStop is one that has meant that the whole sign up process has had to to change for both bookmakers and the players. Previously you would need to enter your name, email address and your home address, but the problem was that rarely were they verified, so it was easy to use fake details here.
The sign-up process, also referred to as ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC), requires a lot more information and you will need to provide proof of your ID and proof of address. Documents like passports and driving licenses will be the main forms of proof for this. Only when players have been checked will they be allowed to register an account with the bookmaker.
This process now means that any players that are linked on the GamStop system will instantly flag with the bookmaker. If they are a problem gambler, there account will be frozen, and they won’t be allowed to play.
How to Use GamStop
As with the self exclusion scheme, signing up to GamStop is a voluntary process for the customer. Players who realise they have a problem will be able to sign up to GamStop through their website.
To confirm exactly who they are they will need to provide:
- Their postcode
- Their date of birth
- A contact email address
Self-exclusion levels will be 6 months, 1 year or 5 years. It will be linked for each bookmaker so if they do try and sign up, it will show up. This will become active immediately however 24 hours is allowed for bookmakers to update their own systems.
Players will only be able to overturn this once the timeframe has elapsed. Following that they will go through a strict process to make sure that they are no longer at risk.
Even after successfully having accounts reopened again, you will be limited as to what you can bet and also monitored very closely by the bookmaker that you choose to play on. It’s now their role to make sure that you are betting responsively and it’s in their interests to do so.
If using GamStop, it is important to keep them notified of any changes of address as this may change how effectively a customer is picked up by the betting companies.
BetBlocker is a seriously powerful tool that has actually been made from a group outside of the UK Gambling Commission. Its community built, run and driven and claims to come from a team that have worked within and seen the issues that problem gambling can have first-hand.
The tool is basically a blocker that you can download for computers or mobile device that will block you from even entering over 6,500 gambling websites. It’s worth noting that BetBlocker actually includes a large number of sites that aren’t compliant with GamStop yet, so you could argue that, at the time of writing, they are the number 1 deterrent available.
The blocker works in just the same way an ad blocker would in that it blocks certain things from appearing on your device. The best thing about it though is that even though you delete the app or the program, the block will remain and there is no way that you can remove it or even lift a ban/self-exclusion until that period has expired.
BetBlocker also works as a parental control for other sites outside of gambling. You can select the sites and include either daily limits of time spent on site or a total ban from those that they should not be entering. Given that underage gambling is on the rise, it covers these bases as well.
The program is 100% free, ad free and will always be free. As we stated, this has been set up to genuinely help people. The app or the program is so hard to remove that BetBlocker will not actually assist you in doing so. In fact, even if you were going to sell your phone, the sites would still be blocked until the exclusion timeframe had elapsed.
It seems extreme, but in reality, it has to be. If there was even a small change for people to get rid of the app then it would be pretty pointless if they were able to remove it. It’s potentially going to be one of the best tools to fight problem gambling that is out there and whilst there is no link between BetBlocker and people like GamStop, we would not be surprised to see this come to fruition in the not so distant future.
Long Term Help
Although the role played by initiatives like GamStop is greater than simply just making sure that people can’t log in to online betting sites, the UKGC need to make sure that the people who have the problems are able to get the help that they need to fix their problems.
To do this the Gambling Commission and the betting companies work alongside a number of other charitable organisations in order to create a wider base to help people. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Gambling support (Gamcare, BeGambleAware, Big Deal, Gamblers Anonymous, Gambling Therapy)
- Emotional support (Samaritans, PAPYRUS)
- Debt Support (National Debt line, Step Change, Citizens Advice)
- Blockers (Gamban, Gamblock, Net Nanny, CYBERsitter)
The only way that the UK Gambling Commission and other organisations that we’ve spoken about already can crack problem gambling is if they are all pulling in the same direction. Over the past few years it’s probably fair to say that some bookmakers have been more proactive than others, which is not acceptable.
As a result, there have been some sizeable fines to some of the biggest names in the industry to make sure that they get on board, and fast. Here are some of the most notable:
888 fined record £7.8 million
In 2017 888 were found guilty for failing to protect vulnerable customers on their site. The problem occurred when the UKGC had got wind of players who were self-excluded still able to access the site and place bets via their online bingo site. The self-exclusion ban should be for all gambling products across that brand.
This wasn’t just a case of a few players being able to access to this loophole, instead a staggering 7,000 players had wagered £3.5 million. Alarm bells weren’t sounded until one player had manged to lose over £1.3 million alone, with £500,000 of that money being stolen from their employer.
Ladbrokes Coral fined £2.3 million
Ladbrokes Coral got their rude awakening when the UKGC were able to see that two players alone had wagered and lost over £1.3 million on their site. Both were highlight clear and obvious signs of problem gambling and it was Ladbrokes Coral who failed to react to this, allowing them to carry on losing their money.
As a result, the company, who are owned by Gala at the time, had to pay the players back their £1.3 million in losses and also invest £1 million to problem gambling charities as part of their fine.
William Hill fined £6.2 million
William Hill’s issues were down to a number of oversights on their part. The problems were three-fold for the bookmaker.
The first was a when a customer was allowed to deposit over £550,000 and the only checks that William Hill ran were a phone call where he stated that he earned over £300,000 a year. In fact, he only earned £30,000 and was later found to be sourcing the money illegally.
The next was a deposit of £150,000 made and then £110,000 of this money lost with next to no responsible gambling procedures followed up from the deposit or losses.
The final one was a £650,000 deposit that was initially flagged as potential money laundering. After William Hill ran their checks, they were satisfied that it was not money laundering and allowed the player to carry on for over 6 months before the account was suspended.
The fine for William Hill was £5 million and the remaining £1.2 million was their earnings that they were told to either pay back or invest into problem gambling charities.