The Competitions and Markets Authority has announced that it will be launching a formal investigation into the UK online gambling market after the UK Gambling Commission received complaints from customers that claimed that online gambling sites had unfairly cancelled bets, altered odds, refused to pay out winnings, and pushed misleading promotions.
While operators do have the right to cancel bets or amend odds after the bets have been accepted, this only applies if the odds were inaccurately set. The senior director for consumer enforcement at the Competition and Markets Authority, Nick Ashora, said: “Gambling is by its nature a risk but it certainly 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.” Sarah Harrison, the chief executive of the UK Gambling Commission, expanded on this: “Gambling 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.”
The CMA will be examining the operator’s terms and conditions to determine that they adhere to the law. Earlier this year, several operators – including sports betting giant William Hill – faced accusations from Brian Chappell of justiceforpunters.org that they “use their terms & conditions to delay or even avoid payment on winning bets.” He cited a case where an anonymous bettor deposited £7100 into his William Hill account, and through a series of winnings, had an account over £13000 in profit within three months. But he was soon contacted by William Hill, and was told that his betting stakes were being restricted to a maximum of £50, and he was asked to withdraw his balance – which then totaled about £19600. But when the bettor produced the identification documents required to withdraw his winnings, William Hill declared them to be problematic and refused the withdrawal, while also notifying the bettor that his account would be closed.
However, on the day that the account was to be closed, the bettor deposited £10 into his account and placed a bet. This seemed a bit suspicious – why would the bookmaker refuse a withdrawal to a customer based on their ‘problematic’ identification, only to let them place another bet? Fortunately, things turned out for the best – the bettor received his winnings two days later. So were William Hill being deliberately difficult about paying their winners, or is Chappell just ignorant about how online gambling sites actually work?
The Remote Gambling Association’s CEO, Clive Hawkswood, said that there was “no reason to believe that there are widespread failings” in the online gambling industry and “it would be wrong to pre-judge the outcome of an inquiry that has only just begun.”
UK online gambling sites are heavily regulated by the government and must comply with Gambling Commission rules, but their terms and conditions pages are usually extremely detailed and lengthy. So, are customers really being swindled by the operators, or is it just a case of not reading the fine print?