Gambling Consumer Complaints – A cycle of unaccountability
The gambling complaints process for those who have the misfortune of having to seek a resolution for social responsibility failings by a gambling operator is essentially designed to confuse and frustrate. This blog will look to highlight why a gambling ombudsman is urgently needed to impartially make judgement on thousands of legacy cases where individuals have been exploited by gambling firms, who tend to favour profit over consumer protection.
Neither the Gambling Commission, IBAS, the many approved ADRs or the gambling firms have any desire to currently help individuals who feel they have been exploited when vulnerable. My belief is that all these organisations purposely know there is a cycle of unaccountability in the process of consumer complaints. From personal experience, it becomes like “complaints pinball” where you are passed back and forth between regulator, gambling firm and arbitrator and none of them have a desire, nor remit and apparent resources to help. The only way to ultimately resolve is via the courts, with gambling operators clearly believing that many consumers do not have the funds to take a complaint this far. For an industry that apparently contributes £14 Billion to the UK economy, not having an approved complaints process for social responsibility failings is appalling.
More than 800 hours complaining
For over 18 months I have personally dealt with a major gambling operator seeking a resolution to a social responsibility dispute where the firm ignored an active self-exclusion and instead allocated VIP status as a way to help when I was depositing £5,000 at a time and showing £60,000 of losses in a short time. Over £1 Million in bets were permitted without any checks or bank account details shown. More can be read on this dispute on on my first blog titled, ‘The Secrets behind VIP schemes’ . I estimate over 5,000 emails have been sent and approximately 800 hours of my time allocated to this.
Nobody can help you
I’ll now look at each of the key organisations in the complaint process, highlighting how at each stage there are major obstacles in place to make it difficult for the consumer.
Gambling Firm – This will be the first port of call for many. After initially dealing with customer complaints for a period of time, you may find yourself directed to the responsible gambling team. The key point here is that no matter the number of emails you send, staff are trained to be a brick wall of deflection. Standard responses, copy and pasted text are all used to put the blame back onto the consumer and if you do actually make valid points referencing the LCCP, these points tend to get ignored. At an early stage you will be advised to go to IBAS as the approved ADR when you reach deadlock but this is actually wrong. Even the legal departments of these firms will send letters threatening cost recovery or stating that breaches of licencing codes is not the matter for the courts but the Gambling Commission. They’ll suggest going to IBAS, knowing they aren’t licenced to deal with these type of disputes.
Gambling Commission – the key here is that whilst the UKGC will gather case evidence, they will not get involved in an individual dispute. Complaints handling is not something they will look into no matter how much evidence is put to them. Only when money has been stolen does the consumer seem to see an investigation take place. Having personally exhausted the UKGC’s tier 2 complaints process and provided a multitude of evidence identical to cases where firms have been fined, absolutely nothing is done and in the end you are told to stop contacting them. Hardly helpful from a regulator looking to raise standards.
IBAS – this organisation is not even permitted to get involved in responsible gambling disputes. The gambling firm know this is the case, but even in legal letters will seek to direct you to IBAS continually. All that will happen is that IBAS take ages to access your complaint and you are put back to the Gambling Commission or betting firm, who may even have the audacity to send you back to IBAS again. It is only in the case of a contractual dispute can IBAS look at such a dispute and duty of care and social responsibility disputes do not fall in their remit. There is the point made of their site if an operator has been fined previously and it later emerges your complaint was against them, they may then take on the complaint but as yet there is no evidence to suggest they will do so or are actually qualified and experienced to do so.
ADRs – There are a group of approved alternative dispute resolution bodies that are meant to be able to help consumer and Gambling firm the costly process of going to court. The reality seems to be that these dispute firms are handling no more than 10-12 complaints a year. Many file nil returns to the UKGC. Even when identifying one of these ADRs who would take my case, the gambling firm was simply permitted to not reply.
The need for an ombudsman
In summary, a gambling ombudsman is urgently needed that is impartial and able to look at the legacy of harm from things like dangerous VIP schemes. The complaints process is a maze of confusion where there is no way out and the attempt is to exhaust the consumer. The court process is clearly the only way that disputes get resolved.
Whilst costly for the consumer, gambling firms clearly think that individuals will not take their complaints this far when looking for redress. With many individuals now using the court process, these are very interesting times for those with responsible gambling complaints.