New rules governing betting and gambling in the UK, aimed at protecting consumers and ensuring fair play for all, have resulted in a raft of fines being dished out by the regulator. It’s certainly the case that casino operators have been working hard to improve their standards and the services they offer, but it’s clear that there’s more work to be done.
The latest operator hit by sanctions is Swedish online casino and sports betting firm LeoVegas, which is having to hand over a hefty £600,000 to the UK Gambling Commission for breaches of advertising and marketing standards. Altogether, around a dozen companies with betting and gambling operations in the UK have been fined for not complying with the newly introduced regulations. Total fines to date are around £19.8 million.
Taking the LeoVegas fine as an example of what operators are doing wrong, the Commission found that the operators had published forty-one advertisements that misled consumers. It did this, the Commission said, by not including necessary offer limitations in their ads and by not presenting those limitations in a clear enough way.
Also irking the UK gambling watchdog was LeoVegas’ practice of failing to return funds in customers’ accounts when they closed them — over 11,200 customers were affected. Shortcomings were found in the marketing material sent to almost 2,000 customers who did not agree to receive it, and with customers access to new accounts without speaking to them first.
Commission chief Neil McArthur said the steep fines were all about making an example of operators that did not comply with the rules so that others would take note.
“The outcome of this case should leave no one in any doubt that we will be tough with licence holders who mislead consumers or fail to meet the standards we set in our licence conditions and codes of practice,” he said. “We want operators to learn the lessons from our investigations and use those lessons to raise standards.”
Changes to Rules
The commission has been cracking down on all kinds of live casino online operators since May 2017, but in October this year, a set of changes to how gambling and betting firms can operate in the UK came into force. As a result, it’s now easier for the Commission to take action against gambling firms that break advertising rules, including targeting ads at children or those that glamorise gambling.
Companies will also be responsible for any advertising failings by third parties they work with or their affiliates. With the changes, it’s quicker and easier to clamp down on breaches of consumer law, such as misleading practices of restrictions on withdrawals from winnings that are deemed unreasonable. Additionally, gambling and betting firms will be required to improve complaints processes and all complaints will have to be resolved within an eight-week period. Fines may also be given to companies that send spam emails or text messages to potential customers.
‘Customer Is King (or Queen)’
McArthur said as the rule-changes took effect at the end of October that the Commission put the customer first, as should every gambling firm operating in the UK.
“Protecting the interests of consumers is a priority for us and needs to be a priority for gambling operators,” he said. “These changes will protect consumers from irresponsible advertising and misleading promotions, ensure that they can withdraw their money more easily and will mean that firms have to deal with complaints more swiftly.”
The gambling watchdog — which was founded in 2007, is under the authority of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and whose motto is “Keeping gambling fair and safe for all” — has the power to suspend as well as revoke the licence of a live casino online operator. It can also issue warnings, attach conditions to a licence or remove some.