Self-Exclusion – Why do Gambling operators choose to be the fools?
It’s somewhat apt that this blog is published on April Fool’s Day. What you are about to read about self-exclusion is however not a joke, tale or stretching of the truth. It is a genuine account of the lengths gambling operators will go to ignore a self-exclusion put in place, in pursuit of profit. The consumer to them is likely seen as the “fool” but with a raft of changes coming to the industry, it is such instances of non-compliance with social responsibility codes of practice that will likely prove problematic for them in future. For context, the scale of individual accounts impacted by legacy self-exclusion account breaches were more than 180,000 annually in 2018 according to self-reported industry data to the regulator. This number almost doubled from 95,000 in 2016 and many of those impacted will require rightful redress, due to the operators’ inability to identify gambling harm.
Operator ignores an active self-exclusion
The process of self-exclusion from gambling should be a means by which an individual is protected from the risks of gambling harm. By contacting a gambling operator, admitting to a gambling addiction and wanting a betting account fully closed should not be a difficult task for a gambling firm. From experience, this is not the case. Up to late 2018, with one of the biggest gambling operators in the UK and Ireland, it seems that self-exclusion certainly was indeed optional, and they’d stop at nothing to exploit an individual more. Email confirmation of a previous self-exclusion was effectively worthless.
An inability to match basic data
For the purposes of this blog, let me refer to myself as John Michael Smith. My username is John123. I decide that a few years back I wished to self-exclude and I contact a gambling firm requesting that my account John123 is closed permanently. This is apparently done and confirmed via email. All linked accounts should in theory be closed also and steps taken to ensure that I do not access the online betting platform again. Upon the acquisition of another gambling firm however, another account also John123 is identified. Self-exclusion is a joint responsibility of course, however as an individual with a gambling disorder, you’d think that when accessing the same gambling platform, you’d self-excluded from 3 years previous, with a username the same, there’d be no way you’d get back in. How wrong could this be. In fact, self-exclusion is completely ignored, and VIP status was ultimately granted in my case, with free bets and invites to some of the biggest sporting events in the UK.
To get around this clear “match” – the gambling firm simply added another digit to my username. John123 becomes John1234. Despite being self-excluded, it was now possible to bet over £1,000,000 using just an e-wallet. No bank account or ID was ever asked for. No affordability checks were ever done. I have contested this many times with the firm in question, who acknowledge this would not be permitted in “today’s environment” – I am puzzled why it was ok in as late as 2018?
You would think that for such a big industry, that gambling firms would be able to do a basic data match. After all, with a whole host of profiling checks that go on for things like a consumer’s device ID, IP address, sharing of data with third parties and CRM systems tracking every single bet – surely someone who has reappeared on a betting site after self-excluding with the same details, they’d be stopped right?
Personal details exactly the same
Here are some of the details that still meant one of the sophisticated gambling firms could not apparently identify, despite matching with my self-exclude account
· Same email address used as that I self-excluded
· Username the same, however with John123 matching, John1234 was created
· Same Forename, Surname and date of birth
· Same address as a prior one on my self-excluded
It seems that if the “forename” field in a customer database also includes your middle name, in this instance self-excluded account forename = John and new account self-excluded forename = John Michael, then that means that a gambling firm has no obligation to do any further checks. The forename and surname matched, the username effectively matched, my date of birth matched. My account address matched with one they’d taken £10,000s of payments for previously, yet allegedly there is no capability to “match” self-excluded gambling accounts on those who may have lapsed.
In systems like Excel, you can easily take 5 minutes to match x2 datasets with a fuzzy lookup for matching customer data. It’s inconceivable that a major gambling firm with huge technological capabilities to monitor absolutely everything about you, can not match self-excluded gamblers who may be at risk.
The future of self-exclusion
The conclusion that can be reached is that monitoring of an individual is only done when there is a real risk of significant harm. In my experience, I had lost £10,000s before. Clearly a blind eye was turned by the operator who permitted a self-excluded individual to gamble once more for another 5 years. Over £100,000 was deposited using borrowed money. Over £60,000 was lost when made VIP with no checks. For an industry that talks so much about raising standards, the protection of self-excluded individuals is key. Thankfully in 2020 there is now GamStop and Gamban and this does not happen again.