I’ve made no secret that I have signed a small number of NDAs and I’ve also felt torn by doing so. Aside from the NDA I have posted below, the others were signed when I was very much early on in my journey of recovery. My finances were in ruin, with two large overdrafts and a 10k loan to pay back within 15 months.
NDAs are not really that common because people like me are rarely successful in seeking redress for wrongdoings within the gambling sector. We heard from Kenny Alexander, CEO of GVC give evidence at the Lords whereby he stated his company had signed just 28 of them the previous year. Interestingly, Bet365’s John Coates stated that his company don’t deal in NDAs. Whether that is because his company simply don’t give any redress to any case presented to them or because they do give redress but just don’t have the NDAs attached is something to think about. I suspect it’s more likely to be the former but who knows. So whilst the 28 NDAs that GVC admitted to may rise eyebrows, maybe the eyebrows should be as equally raised to Bet365’s lack of them.
When I signed the NDAs, as far as I was concerned, that was the end of that particular chapter for me and allowed me to move on with life, finally knowing my finances were sorted out and I wasn’t going to waste any more on gambling and being exploited ever again. The very first NDA I had presented to me was quite an extensive document of some 15 pages plus. Written by a top lawyer of course but I had the ability to scrutinise it myself. Whilst I expected to see a clause to state that I couldn’t publicly discuss the case and that I would forfeit the settlement sum if I did, I didn’t expect a further clause to exist that as well as that, if I breached the NDA in any manner I would be sued for 150% of the settlement sum. Naturally I told the company where to go and that particular section was removed. It angered me and insulted to me think that if I inadvertently slipped up and mentioned this particular company on social media for example, I’d effectively become bankrupted and placed into a more perillous financial position than I was even at the worst periods of my gambling. I had the mental strength and knowhow to deal with these companies and their threatening ways, most others don’t.
The NDA below is from a company I have openly discussed via Twitter and radio 4’s You and Yours consumer programme. The original case I presented to the company, Aspire Global Communications, a UK Gambling Commission licensed company, back in early 2018 was ignored by the company. Like many other of the cases I presented to various companies, they too were either ignored, brushed aside or at the extreme, had their legal teams to formally ‘inform’ me that their responses were final and to desist contacting them further. I did so and duly presented the cases to The gambling Commission, including the case with Aspire Global, this being in the spring of 2018. We all know what happens after that….nothing of course. The case involved me spending my wages at the end of the month during a very long session with Aspire’s ‘Karamba’ site. I deposited £1800 during this time and my argument was that there should have been checks based on the clear harm markers that were shown. Money Laundering laws demand that source of wealth checks and interactions are completed, throughout the lifetime of a customer’s account. We all know that this simply doesn’t happen, perhaps now things will finally change. In additional to the interaction issue, I was also sent marketing emails and text messages after I had self-excluded with Karamba, clear breaches of the Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practices (LCCPS) which are the branches of the Gambling Act and are meant to be adhered to and enforced by the regulator. Despite extensively challenging The Gambling Commission, to the point I had instigated the first ever Parliamentary Ombudsman review of the regulator’s handling of my cases, nothing got done. As with so many of us, battling on with the fallout of a disordered life, I just parked the issue and forgot about it.
Over a year later I then stumbled upon a news story that Aspire Global had been fined by The Swedish regulator in relation to sending self-excluded customers marketing material. I decided to re-engage with the company in June 2019 to see whether they’d finally acknowledge my case. To my surprise, they did and offered me a refund of the £1798 I had spent with them. There was no acknowledgement of wrongdoing of course and no consideration of compensation either. I didn’t expect it. The remaining 28 days of that particular month, when I lost this money over a period of several hours, were horrendous for me, just like many other log months in my life. I debated whether to accept and sign the NDA with my partner and we reluctantly agreed to and have some much deserved time off on some staycations with my daughter, who had been deprived of holidays by me throughout her childhood.
You’ll notice within the NDA that the onus is all upon me and how I act relating to the terms of it. There’s nothing to say that should the company fail me again, if they were to send me more marketing material, then they would be held to account. In hindsight, I of course should have insisted upon this but in all honesty, I never for one minute believed that this would have been needed.
Unbelievably however, just a month after signing the NDA, I received yet a further 2/3 marketing texts/emails from the company to me again. I made the company aware, spoke to a director on the phone for an hour, who apologised and told me that he had sent a company-wide email about my case to his staff and that he had ‘learned valuable lessons’ from the case. I asked him at the end of the call whether he would be complying with a requirement to report the entire case to The Gambling Commission. He indicated to me that this wasn’t something he knew about and would defer this to his compliance team. Bit strange for a director of a company to not know he was compelled to report the case to the Gambling Commission I thought! I talked about the case on Radio 4’s consumer programme and again, parked the matter. However, at the beginning of the CV19 crisis, I received a further two marketing messages from the company. I contacted them repeatedly about the issue but did not receive any responses whatsoever. Hence why I have decided to publish the document and raise awareness that there really isn’t much accountability going on within this industry, even when it takes such persistence and mental strength get some form of ‘refund’.
I also had an issue with Betfair last week whereby I got a promotional email from an affiliate. The default advice from both their customer service team and a Non-Executive Director of the company (all done via Twitter) was just ‘unsubscribe’ and a subtle accusation that because I wasn’t on Gamstop this is why it’s happening. For me this epitomises the industry’s onus of placing ‘responsibility’ on the individual. They both also said that this was the affiliate marketing company’s issue not theirs. When I assertively pointed out that me being on Gamstop or not was irrelevant due to what the actual LCCP’s stipulate, they finally agreed to look into the matter.
Firstly, I encourage anyone struggling with disordered gambling to sign up to Gamstop. It simply wasn’t around in a few years back for me and now I have completely secure measures in place to ensure my likelihood of relapsing is minimal. I do not get triggered by emails or text marketing in the slightest. So quite simply, if I receive them when I shouldn’t, I’ll be calling the companies out. I know that if someone like me still gets these texts and emails, many thousands out there that have self-excluded previously, will still be getting them and they’ll become drawn back into potentially catastrophic episodes of disordered gambling. They won’t know about LCCPs and they’ll probably look at themselves I the mirror after losing their money and blame themselves for their ‘stupid’ actions. If anyone wishes to accuse of me of not taking ‘personal responsibility, then you should really read up first about the extensive measures I took to try and combat this disorder.