Lockdown boom for Online Gambling poses dangers of invitations to lodge ever more money and sneakily changed stakes
By Bart D Daly
An article by Conor Doyle about betting in bookmaker shops in Village last July damningly concluded that they are quite happy to let you place whatever money you want while you’re a losing player, but when you start to win, they shut you out.
Since bookmakers are closed during the lockdown, attention turns to the ethics of online bookmakers, which are going through a boom with unexpected new customers creating new risks other than the bet.
Perhaps reflecting heightened lockdown dangers, British betting regulator the Gambling Commission has just proposed that gaming companies carry out mandatory affordability checks on customers who lose £100 (€113.96) or more a month, to limit harm, sparking heated debate with the industry.
Bookmaking firms have, in recent years, promoted safe gambling with notices in bookmakers’ shops and notices on their sites under the slogan Responsible Gambling. Online gambling sites promote it to customers by email and have guides on their sites on this. In November 2020 they promoted Responsible Gambling Week.
However, the Irish bookmakers initiated this campaign following similar campaigns in the UK, which had been running for four years. Their sincerity is in question.
In gambling there are two parties: the punter and the bookie. For Responsible Gambling to work properly, it takes both parties to act responsibly, not one. My recent experience with one online gambling provider would indicate to me that in two areas bookmakers appear to believe that the Responsible Gambling falls only on the punter!
Punters will usually know how much is in their accounts. When they log on they will know this as it is visible. But bookmakers have automated dropdown boxes informing customers when their account is low and asking them if they wish to make a deposit. Punters do not need to be reminded of the state of their accounts. If they want to do a bet and there is insufficient money in their account, they will decide themselves to lodge more money. Being reminded by the bookmaker every time the account is low is inviting the punter to lodge more money. This is not responsible action by the provider: if a person has a gambling problem this constant reminder is an unfair advantage.
In contrast to Paddy Power, Boyle Sports also has a dropdown box when an account is low, but it provides an option in the dropbox saying, “don’t
show this message again”. This conforms with Responsible Gambling.
Large online bookmakers also have a gaming section with slot machines, poker, roulette etc. While it is a separate part of their sites, the same customer account is used.
I cannot generalise but write from experience with Paddy Power on the gaming section.
I then noticed that Paddy Power had changed the unit rate from 10c to €2. I complained immediately and the amount taken from my account was refunded “as a gesture”
From time to time Paddy Power send emails to customers offering them a number of free “spins” on one or more of their slot games in their gaming section. I believe the usual number promoted under this is 10 free spins. The 10 free spins are on a unit price of 10 cent per spin.
I received such an email on 26 December offering 10 free spins at the unit rate of 10 cent per spin. I availed of this and took the 10 free spins. After the tenth spin a pop-up box appeared stating I had used the free spins and from there on the cost of the spins would come out of my account.
After I saw and read the pop-up notice I continued for a few more spins and then stopped. I noticed my account had decreased much more than the cost of the few additional paid-for spins at 10c. I then noticed that Paddy Power had changed the unit rate from 10c to €2. I complained immediately and the amount taken from my account was refunded “as a gesture”.
I only lost €6 by this misleading practice but I felt it was unfair and in the interests of Responsible Gambling, it should be stopped.
I put it to Paddy Power’s Escalation Management that in the interests of Responsible Gambling they should include, in their drop-down box informing the customer that their 10 free spins were finished, notification that the rate per spin was being increased.
They responded stating that they were not changing their procedure on this and that in their view the “onus was on the customer to keep a watch on the rates”. This policy flies in the face of Responsible Gambling.
I wrote to Gary McGann, chairman of Flutter Entertainment plc, the parent company of Paddy Power and raised this with him, noting that with 13 million customers this would probably generate hundreds of thousands of Euro each year.
I asked the chairman to acknowledge receipt of my letter, sent by registered post, within seven working days but no such response or acknowledgement has been received. I stated if there was no response, I would be free to explore other avenues of address. PR of course is a big feature of Paddy Power with its laddish ads and sponsorship of the execrable new Ivan Yates vehicle.
Bookmaker shops in Ireland are regulated under the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 2013 with applications for and renewals for licenses made in the District Court. Paddy Power’s online gambling though is outside this structure and is governed by the Malta Gaming Authority.
We may presume an interest in Responsible Gambling has yet to crystalise in Malta.