True social responsibility involves some team-work

Betting Business, John Samuels, IBAS, social responsibility
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Following this year’s Betting on Sports Conference, IBAS’ John Samuels comments on the need for co-operation within gaming to truly tackle fraud and become a socially responsible industry.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]oo many operators still feel that their competitors aren’t playing fair on social responsibility. It’s time to ditch the dog-eat-dog attitude and work together to fight fraud.

An interesting time was spent at the recent Betting on Sports conference. Of particular note were the seminars dealing with money laundering, social responsibility and bonus offers.

Clearly there is always the possibility of a link or even areas for confusion when issues of money laundering and social responsibility are considered. For example, a suspicion of money laundering activity may instead be more a matter concerning problem and compulsive gambling.

But, and judging by some comments made by a few Betting on Sports conference delegates, it appears that a few organisations need to consider if the staff who deal with these two areas in a company should have a more joined-up management style, and should liaise, share information and work together more closely. Or, as some organisations do, have one compliance department or person to deal with all such issues.

Why should IBAS comment on this? Because it was surprising to observe that there is a lack of communication within some companies and, in some areas, a lack of communication and co-operation between companies.

Obviously there are commercial sensitivities and, quite rightly, fierce competition between companies for turnover, but we would suggest that there are some aspects of the industry where it is desirable that companies should work together.

Take the current hot potato of money laundering. Time and again one hears the cry from operators: “Of course we comply with social responsibility requirements and the proceeds of crime and money laundering regulations, but our customers just walk down the road to my competitor if I start asking questions.” Or: “I know that if I start asking questions of my customer, under the KYC requirements, he will just bet elsewhere.”

Clearly there isn’t much confidence in the industry that all operators are signing from the same hymn sheet! Many feel they are the only ones (or one of a few) who are taking social responsibility (and money laundering) issues seriously.

Again, why should IBAS comment on this?  The answer is that for some time now IBAS has been banging the drum about industry rule convergence. For example, how bets are to be settled when there is either an abandoned tennis match, related contingency issue, price error or Rule 4. But it has been, and remains, a long hard slog to get some agreement and to get the industry to act in unison on such matters.

Now the Betting on Sports conference has brought out into the open the industry debate on ‘free bet’ and ‘bonus offers.’ Almost always, these offers are aimed at new customers, but the consensus from those sitting on the panel at the conference was that these types of offers are becoming less effective in the battle to gain new customers. Indeed, some commented that the offers may even be a turn-off for many when the actual bonus terms and conditions are discovered by the customer.

One panel member described the situation as something of a cat-and-mouse game, with operators trying to attract new customers with seemingly tempting offers, and knowledgeable customers jumping from operator to operator trying to take advantage of the most lucrative deals.

However, and as IBAS has witnessed by its postbag, once the full terms of the offer (e.g. stake not returned on free bets, requirement to wager through many times the original deposit before any winnings can be withdrawn and before any bonus crystallises, restrictions on the type of bets that qualify, time constraints on when the bonus can be earnt etc.) are discovered by the customer, all that results is bad feeling and a sense by most customers that they have been misled.

The end result? Newcomers feeling that they have been hoodwinked and vowing never to venture into the world of gambling again, and knowledgeable customers having their belief confirmed that many offers are simply not worth much and are not worth the hassle.

IBAS is not therefore surprised that, only a few days ago, it was announced that the Gambling Commission had prompted the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to launch an inquiry into terms and conditions such as those that are in place for bonus offers etc.

IBAS has been highlighting the situation for some time, not least of all through these articles and with meetings with customer service representatives in the industry, but also through seeking regulatory guidance on associated disputes.

In fact, since the introduction of the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, IBAS has used the CMA’s own guidance notes on unfair terms to inform our adjudication process.

Notwithstanding the concerns that IBAS has felt regarding some bonus offers, the consensus at the conference being that many operators, who spend expensive resource time and much effort weeding out those with multiple accounts and other ‘bonus abusers,’ would love to cease offering such bonuses and free bets etc. But, they are reticent to do so for fear that another operator may snare a potential new customer from them.

A picture sweeps into mind of lemmings jumping off a cliff, and only because the other lemmings are also doing it. What a situation the industry seems to have gotten itself in to.

Regardless of what the CMA might conclude, what operator will be brave enough to lead the way and stop this bonus offering nonsense? And maybe instead revert to, or try, what customers are crying out for: a high level of good old fashioned costumer service.

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