We were impressed!

This week people involved with ‘Justice for Punters’ met with Sarah Harrison (CEO) and two of her senior colleagues at the ‘Gambling Commission’ (GC) head office in Birmingham.

The meeting lasted for 90 minutes; covering a wide range of topics about the present gambling market.

The observations put forward by ourselves were primarily based on the plethora of private emails sent to our website since it was launched during March 2016.  We also used online and traditional media sources to inform the discussion.  The media coverage of gambling issues during 2016 has never been greater.

We are an organisation that wants the gambling market to be ‘fair and open’ so, in theory and hopefully practice, we certainly have some objectives that match those of the GC.

Not unsurprisingly much of the discussion concerned the investigations that are presently being undertaken into the gambling industry.  These are offering one of the first ever opportunities for gambling customers to have an input into how the future market will develop.  This opportunity must not be missed.

Both parties seemed to agree that the ‘Competition and Markets Authority’ (CMA) investigation into unfair terms and conditions (T&Cs) being used by online gambling companies was a priority.  We were keen to point out that it is not just the unfair T&Cs that are of concern to customers.  Just as important are the missing T&Cs that hide practices like the reality of gambling being restricted or unavailable to those who try hard to win whilst sports betting, even when they are small stakes ‘fun’ punters (a plague at present based on our inbox).  As many know this is achieved by companies using extreme forms of risk management.  This redefinition of the word gambling must be addressed urgently or contracts that consumers agree to when ticking the T&Cs boxes must reflect clearly that winning based on any logical approach is not allowed.

The other T&Cs we concentrated on were those that affect not paying out (again a plague at present based on our inbox), speed of pay out, incorrect payouts and dormant account charges, e.g. account verification issues and changing odds on bets after the event.  This list of topics relevant to T&Cs is not complete; we did briefly cover other things.

Customer profiling was another important topic that was addressed.  Concerns were shared about overt and covert data collection and some data analysis that gambling companies perform.  Whilst much of this is legal, when the data collection is hidden and analysis in completed in certain ways, it does contravene UK and EU data protection laws.  This must be addressed and stopped like it would be in any other industry.

We also discussed the GC’s initiative “A two-way conversation: our plan for communicating with consumers.” (see: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/Press/2016/Gambling-Commission-starts-two-way-conversation-with-consumers.aspx).  Our impression was that this is going to be an important project for the GC over the coming months and years.  They do seem very keen to establish communication channels with consumers and consumer organisations that do not have financial and other conflicts of interest within the gambling market.  A major challenge for the GC is; where are these organisations?  The following paragraph is our opinion on this.

Historically, gambling consumers have not had a well funded organisation to represent them.  This is still the case and unlikely to change in the near future.  This has led to the gambling companies completely dominating the ‘corridors of power’ using their huge lobbying budget.  This needs to change urgently or ‘people in power’ have to be relied on to fully recognise this historical, present and probable future lobbying bias within the gambling market.  Without defending the people involved too much, this is a pretty impossible task and it will adversely affect the fair evolution of the gambling market if not addressed.

We did discuss ‘problem gambling’ briefly, but we do not see our expertise as being in this area.  We do hope the charities involved with these issues get the opportunity that we had this week or have already had it.

Finally, we would like to thank the GC staff for their time.  Hopefully, this initial meeting will lead to regular communication with them in the hope of achieving our mutual aim of gambling being ‘fair and open’ in the near future?

Important editor’s notes:

  1. You may wish to download the ‘Justice for Punters’ advisory leaflet on the CMA investigation. See: https://justiceforpunters.org/competition-markets-authority-investigation-online-gambling-companies/
  2. You may also wish to email info@justiceforpunters.org outlining how unfair or missing T&Cs have adversely affected your consumer rights when betting? We will make sure the GC receive your experience/s, whilst ensuring anonymity, for them to pass on to the CMA investigation.
  3. ‘Justice for Punters’ has no funding except that provided by its founder whose only previous connection with the gambling market, until two years ago, was as a ‘fun’ punter. The people who attended the meeting at the GC took a day out of their working week to be there without pay and did not receive expenses of any type.