The Gambling Commission finally said something of substance yesterday by informing the BBC that the need for an ombudsman should be discussed. During yet another but familiar horror story aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ consumer programme the regulator, described by many prominent MPs as being ‘toothless’, informed the show that the debate needs to be had as to how such horror stories involving clear Social Responsibility and Money Laundering failings can be properly resolved, rather than hanging out mentally ill people to dry and making their recoveries worse.
The case study on the show would have been a shocking listen to if you had no idea about how vulnerable disordered gamblers are treated at the expense of exploitation over profit, however it was all too familiar for most of us. A brave lady shared her story of how her disordered life was permitted to be exacerbated by clear failings from the Kindred owned online gambling site, Maria Casino. Funding her addiction through drawing out payday loans, selling jewellery and lying to family members to get even more money, she also used a family member’s credit card to rack up thousands in debt.
Her journey of recovery involved her accessing the data from her disordered gambling life with Kindred via a Subject Access Request. In that data she saw that internal notes from Kindred employees suggested that the open source checks they made of her showed she owned a home valued at £380k, which couldn’t have been further from the truth, whilst she scrambled to pay her rent as a waitress earning just £1k per month. In August 2017, long after pumping several thousands of pounds into the slots, the notes showed that she played the online casino for hours upon end and finally triggered the Kindred staff to email her and ask for her source of funds, something which should have been much sooner to have complied with money laundering regulations. Sending her waitress’ wage slip, the company suspended her account.
The waitress’ average deposits were a staggering £6k per month with a loss of £22k over 12 months. Kindred’s deflection message, clearly pointing blame at the individual to absolve themselves of accountability, told the BBC show ‘responsible gambling sits at the heart of everything they do as a business’. What these words show is that the industry and many arms of it, squarely put the blame on the disordered gambler over their legal requirements to protect their customers from harms associated to gambling disorder.
What’s even more remarkable about this case was that Kindred, via their legal team, threatened to sue the customer because she had used her mother’s credit card to gamble with, after she complained to them about the clear exploitation that she had suffered. The attempts Kindred and the majority of the other online gambling companies (some do take accountability) take to shirk their failings is remarkable and shows why now is the time to create a completely industry-linked free ombudsman. Whilst, for once, The Gambling Commission has finally said something of meaning, the truth is that it won’t be down to them to create the ombudsman because they’ll be overhauled whilst it happens.
Interestingly a brave previous disordered gambler has taken the fight to Kindred and is currently in the small claims court against them. The twitter user called ‘action_against_unibet’ @VIPmistreatment, is providing regular updates of the case on the social media platform. The sad reality is that it’s going to take someone that has the mental resolve and knowhow to change things for the better and create the much needed case law that has so far been missing for the past decade.