Bookmakers to face inquiry over customer treatment

Account restrictions, promotions and withdrawal issues under review

PICTURE: Steve Nash Bookmakers probed over customer treatment By Bill Barber 6:56AM 21 OCT 2016

THE competition watchdog on Friday launched an investigation to examine whether online gambling companies are potentially breaking consumer law in the way they treat customers.

Working with information supplied by the Gambling Commission and others, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has contacted a range of operators to demand information about their use of potentially unfair terms and conditions and misleading practices.

The move comes in response to concerns raised by customers on issues such as cancelling bets, altering odds after bets have been accepted and offering misleading sign-up promotions.

The CMA is also asking people who use gambling sites and have experienced such issues to provide them with further material.

CMA senior director for consumer enforcement Nisha Arora said: "Gambling inevitably involves taking a risk, but it shouldn't be a con.

"We're worried players are losing out because gambling sites are making it too difficult for them to understand the terms on which they're playing, and may not be giving them a fair deal. We are now investigating to see whether firms are breaking the law.

"Around 5.5 million Britons gamble online and they must be treated fairly. We've heard worrying complaints suggesting people may be lured into signing up for promotions with little chance of winning because of unfair and complex conditions. We're now working closely with the Gambling Commission to examine this more closely."

'More progress to make'

Expectations that the betting industry would face an investigation of its use of terms and conditions have grown this year.

Gambling Commission chief executive Sarah Harrison told operators in a speech in September that they had "much more progress to make yet in the way they handle customer complaints, ensure advertising is clear, and develop the terms and conditions under which they serve customers".

Following the announcement of the investigation, Harrison said: "We expect the gambling industry to ensure terms and conditions are not unfair. However, operators are still not doing enough. I continue to have concerns that many of these appear to bamboozle rather than help the customer make informed choices.

"Gambling, by its very nature, is always going to involve risk but customers must have faith that if they win, they will not end up feeling that the deck is stacked against them because of an obscure condition that they did not properly understand.

"We approached the CMA to work with them to address issues in the gambling sector and we are delighted to have agreed a joint programme of work to ensure terms are fair and transparent."

Problem areas

The CMA highlighted it was concerned about complex and strict requirements linked to gaming promotions "that are difficult to understand and may be unachievable".

Other areas of particular concern included operators' "wide discretion to cancel bets or alter odds after bets have been accepted," and terms restricting players' ability to challenge a firm's decision.

Reacting to the news of the investigation, Remote Gambling Association chief executive Clive Hawkswood told The Times newspaper: "If there are faults on the industry's part then it's right that the Competition and Markets Authority shines a light on them and that we can collectively learn lessons from that. I don't believe the inquiry will find widespread failings.

"However, we will obviously co-operate with the CMA and stand ready to work with them and the Gambling Commission to implement any necessary improvements that are required."

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