The growth of online gambling has been welcomed by millions in the UK over the past decade, but there's no doubt that it's also raised more concerns over the risks and harm of gambling-related problems. Increasingly, organisations concerned with problem gambling, online bookmakers and big casinos have been focusing attention on reducing the risks.
Despite the increasing willingness for gambling brands to work with bodies to reduce the issue, charities and organisations continue to put more pressure on companies to take real-world action. The latest development has seen a UK national competition watchdog call on vendors to change their promotional offers, to increase consumer fairness and protect them from potential harm.
One of the UK's most prominent problem gambling organisations, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has publicised its view that online bookmakers and casinos need to be fairer to players when it comes to bonus promotions. In fact, it went a step further by stating that some online gambling promotional offers may break consumer protection legislation and potentially mislead online gamblers.
The CMA, one of the most respected bodies in the UK gambling industry, began its extensive investigation into online bonus offers late in 2016, responding to complaints made to itself and the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC). The concerning complaints revealed the fact that some gambling operators were seemingly invalidating bonus payouts based on obscure terms and conditions in the small print.
The CMA revealed in June 2017 that five online gambling brands were potentially guilty of violating consumer law. They included some major players in the industry – William Hill, Ladbrokes and PT Entertainment's TitanBet and Winner brands, companies affiliated with Playtech. Some good news to emerge from the issue is the fact that, according to the CMA, TitanBet and Winner have already "formally committed to change the way they offer bonus promotions to ensure players can always access and release their own money".
Under the agreed changes, the vendors will assure players that they won't need to wager multiple times before they can withdraw their own funds, restrictions on gaming will be made transparent to gamblers and brands won't be able to rely on obscure terms and conditions to take money from members, or force gamers to be part of any publicity campaigns.
The CMA is urging gambling brands to change their promotions and bonus offers to align with most of the recommendations by the end of February 2018, although they have until the end of July to ensure that their offers inform players that they're gaming with restricted money. The CMA isn't resting on its laurels, stating that the issue is a problem across the online gaming world. Indeed, investigations director George Lusty revealed that the CMA deems the problem to be industry wide and implores other brands to follow the example of the likes of William Hill and Ladbrokes, who are expected to comply.
To increase awareness of bonus problems, the organisation has released a video for consumers, making them aware of the situation and player's rights. In addition, the CMA's guidelines have been sent out to gambling companies, urging them to adhere to fairer offers. The CMA has warned gambling firms that its investigation is only going to gather pace during 2018, to ensure online gambling is safe and fair for consumers. The watchdog revealed that it is intent on tackling the problem of bookmakers and casinos forcing gamers to withdraw bonus winnings in small increments over a significant length of time, rather than in one transaction. Similarly, the issue of confiscating players' funds if they haven't played at a site for a long period of time is one the body wishes to put an end to.
The CMA has garnered significant praise for its campaign, including words of support from the UKCG's executive director Sarah Gardner, who proposed that the changes would elicit “real progress in making gambling fairer and safer for customers”. The regulatory body has itself warned its online licensees to act immediately and implement changes that meet the CMA's projected deadlines.
The CMA is helping to enhance the integrity of online gambling in the UK, redefining what is and isn't acceptable in terms of gaming fairness. With old and new casinos keen to comply, the gambling industry is set for a revolution whereby honesty and player care will rule.
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