Following a CMA investigation, gambling firms must now stop unfair online promotions that trap players’ money.
As part of a major overhaul of how the gambling industry operates online, three leading operators – Ladbrokes, William Hill, and PT Entertainment – have formally committed to change the way they offer bonus promotions to ensure players can always access and release their own money.
These landmark changes must now be adopted across the sector. Firms not doing so will face regulatory action from the Gambling Commission. The CMA and the Gambling Commission have been working in collaboration to improve conditions for players gambling online.
The changes come in response to an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to make sure the sector was not breaking consumer protection law, and mean players can be sure they can withdraw their own money when they play as part of a bonus promotion.
The firms involved have also agreed to be more upfront and clear in the terms and conditions of their bonus promotions. In particular, the changes mean:
• Players won’t be required to play multiple times before they can withdraw their own money.
• Gambling firms must ensure that any restrictions on gameplay are made clear to players, and cannot rely on vague terms to confiscate players’ money.
• Gambling firms must not oblige players to take part in publicity.
The promotions under particular scrutiny are designed to attract players onto casino-like gaming websites by offering bonus funds when players put in their own money.
The CMA found that certain terms in these promotions were likely to be ‘unfair’, in breach of consumer protection law, and could mislead consumers. There was particular concern people could be made to play for longer than they had bargained for before being able to withdraw their own money.
These problems were found to be common across the £4.7billion online gambling sector and in October 2016 the CMA launched an investigation, in collaboration with the Gambling Commission, to tackle the shared concern around transparency and fairness.
The Gambling Commission has made clear that firms across the whole sector must promptly adopt similar changes to address the concerns identified.
George Lusty, Project Director, said: “Gambling always carries a risk, but players should never face unfair restrictions that prevent them from getting at their money. Firms mustn’t stack the odds against players, by putting unfair obstacles in their way, or making it difficult for them to stop gambling when they want to.
“The CMA is here to make sure businesses’ terms and practices are fair for their customers. We welcome the commitment from these leading firms to address the problems our investigation uncovered, by making important changes to their terms and conditions.
“We now expect others to follow, and look forward to the Gambling Commission’s continued work to make sure all operators in this sector play fair with their customers’ money.”
Gambling Commission executive director, Sarah Gardner, said: “We back the action taken by the CMA today. Gambling firms must treat their customers fairly and not attach unreasonable terms and conditions to their promotions and offers.
“We expect all Gambling Commission licensed businesses to immediately review the promotions and sign up deals they offer customers and take whatever steps they need to take, to the same timescales agreed by the three operators, to ensure they comply.
“Operators should be very aware that we will continue to work closely with the CMA to ensure customers are getting a fair deal across the gambling industry.”
Further enforcement activity by the CMA in the sector is ongoing. The CMA will continue to look at obstacles facing customers trying to withdraw their money after gambling online – whether as part of a promotion or not.
This includes considering terms that force players to withdraw prize money in small instalments over a long period of time, and terms which allow firms to confiscate funds if they haven’t been played with for a few months.