Online gambling firms could be banned from sending promotional material to customers amid concern from the industry regulator about “unacceptable” flaws in a system designed to help problem gamblers bar themselves from betting.
In a letter obtained by the Guardian, the Gambling Commission warned the industry trade body, the Remote Gambling Association, of failings in betting websites’ new GamStop self-exclusion scheme.
The commission’s executive director, Tim Miller, said he was “yet to see proper evidence of the effectiveness” of GamStop, which was scheduled for launch by the end of 2017 but has suffered delays.
A test by the Guardian on Friday revealed what appeared to be flaws in the technology, which works by collecting personal details from the problem gamblers who sign up and sharing the information with websites so that they can lock those customers out.
It proved easy to register with several websites simply by changing the surname on the account, even when details such as mobile phone number, email and home address remained the same.
The commission said it was also concerned that GamStop did not synchronise its list of registered users with companies’ promotional mailing lists.
This means addicts could still be bombarded with adverts, a problem that has been a common feature of several recent regulatory rulings against gambling companies such as SkyBet and LeoVegas.
Miller told the RGA that it was “unacceptable that currently GamStop does not interact with marketing lists in that way”.
He said the commission was ready to demand that firms do not send marketing messages to people who have signed up to either GamStop or another self-exclusion scheme, or risk losing their licence.
Given that GamStop currently does not offer this feature, the requirement would be a de facto ban on direct marketing.
A spokesperson for GamStop, funded by online gambling companies, said the system was still being fine-tuned and would be reviewed to see whether user details could be safely linked to marketing lists without compromising personal data.
Several major firms are yet to sign up GamStop, which will become a condition of holding a gambling licence once the commission believes it is ready.
The commission’s warning to the industry comes just days after the government said it would reduce the stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2.
In a report accompanying the decision, the sports minister, Tracey Crouch, warned the online gambling industry that it should not “take its foot off the pedal” in tackling addiction and could face new regulation if it failed to act.
The Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who led the campaign to reduce the maximum stakes on FOBTs, said GamStop’s flaws showed online firms should now face more scrutiny.
“It never fails to amaze me how laissez-faire the industry is when it comes to offering support to prevent harmful gambling yet manages to make sure ways of making money for the industry are as effective as possible,” she said.
“They must learn from the lessons of reducing the stakes on FOBTs that their stalling and hesitancy to any meaningful exclusion for problem gambling will not be tolerated.”
Amid delays to GamStop, alternatives have emerged that use different techniques.
The digital bank Monzo recently launched a feature that allows customers to block transactions with gambling companies, while Barclays offers a similar service, although only for credit cards.
The former addict and gambling campaigner Matt Zarb-Cousin has launched an app called GamBan that allows people to self-exclude at source by installing software that prevents their phone or computer accessing betting sites.
Zarb-Cousin, a former spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn, said: “GamStop has been delayed several times now, and it’s no surprise it’s been a logistical nightmare given online gambling companies don’t want to have to request ID when a customer signs up, which is surely the only way self-exclusion can be properly enforced.
“The delay is costing problem gamblers dearly, so in the meantime operators should look at offering addicted customers software that blocks all gambling sites.”
Source: The Guardian