The Gambling Commission has issued a stern warning to online bookmakers on upgrading gamblers to the highest gambling status i.e. VIP status. According to the regulator, online bookmakers must carry out extensive affordability checks before upgrading their customers to VIP status.
Gamblers who are deemed VIP enjoy benefits such as free bets, bonus schemes and special offers when they bet with larger stakes. The gambling regulator warning comes in the wake of numerous complaints about gambling companies tempting problem gamblers to gamble recklessly.
According to information obtained by BBC via the Radio 4 ”You and Yours” program, gambling addicts are encouraged to gamble away their winnings after being given VIP status. Many addicts have been on record on BBC about their increasing gambling debts after gaining VIP status.
One such gambler, Joe, was on record recently accusing Vernons.com of encouraging him to gamble away his winnings. Joe, who is currently suffering from depression, won £60,000 on betting website www.vernons.com. Instead of getting an instant payout, the company delayed paying his winnings while purporting to verify his account. Meanwhile, Joe was made a VIP member on the site.
Joe believes Vernons encouraged him to gamble away his winnings by sending him betting prompts after making him a VIP member. Joe confesses to visiting the Vernons site over 100 times a day and placing bets at 3.00am sometimes on league matches he knew nothing about. In his correspondence with BBC, Joe admits to feeling out of control with everything.
After winning £60,000, Joe lost everything and ended up accumulating £30,000 in debt. Vernons.com has since paid off all his debt after his story was aired by ”You and Yours”. According to Betsson Group (the company that owns Vernons.com), Joe’s case predated the company’s acquisition of Vernons.com. The company, however, settled Joe’s gambling debts but failed to discuss the specifics of his case.
Gambling companies usually offer VIP membership to players who gamble large amounts of money. VIP members get perks such as a VIP manager who manage their accounts. VIP membership also comes with benefits such as free tickets to concerts and football matches.
Joe isn’t the only problem gambler who has been on record. Another gambler, James, developed a gambling problem after Bookmaker 888Sport gave him VIP membership one year after opening his account. James is currently in debt after his gambling behavior spiraled out of control. James ended up £40,000 in debt after taking out payday loans to fuel his gambling habit.
According to James, 888Sport had a reward scheme for its VIP clients that would see him earn £500 for every £20,000 spent. James confesses to feeling very exclusive as a VIP to the extent of gambling irresponsibly. Although James alludes to feeling ”encouraged” to gamble, 888Sport has been on record stating that they enquired on his spending on multiple occasions. According to a 888Sport spokesman, James confirmed he was comfortable with his bets and activity levels multiple times.
James confesses to lying about his comfort levels because he feared 888Sport might close his account.
Gambling commission stance
According to the Gambling Commission, online gambling firms aren’t doing enough to stop irresponsible gambling habits among their customers. According to Sarah Gardner, Executive Director of the Gambling Commission, gambling operators are capable of doing more to protect customers given the fact that they collect a lot of customer data such as; failed deposits and cancelled withdrawals. Gardner believes operators have a responsibility to use such information to protect customers as opposed to merely facilitating their gambling.
The Gambling Commission is taking a tough stand on operators who may have violated the commission’s guidelines in the past. Such companies may face penalties in the future. According to a recent statement by the commission, safeguarding consumers isn’t optional. The commission also stressed the fact that VIP programs must not come at the risk of causing gambling-related harm.
The Gambling Commission isn’t the only body taking a tough stand on gambling operators. The CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) has announced tougher restrictions on gambling ads which offer free bonuses and urge gamblers to bet during live events. These measures have been announced to protect vulnerable gamblers.
The new measures will take effect on 2nd April 2018. According to the committee, ads which encourage repetitive play or create an unnecessary sense of urgency i.e., those with ”bet now” messages will be restricted.