UK authorities launch online gambling probe

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After concluding an initial review, Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an official investigation into potentially unfair practices by online gambling companies.

“Gambling inevitably involves taking a risk, but it shouldn’t be a con,” said Nisha Arora, the  authority’s senior director for consumer enforcement.

“We are worried players are losing out because gambling sites are making it too difficult for them to understand the terms on which they’re playing, and may not be giving them a fair deal. We are now investigating to see whether firms are breaking the law.”

Online gambling in the UK has grown 146% since 2009, and is now a £4 billion industry. An estimated 5.5 million Britons gamble online regularly.

The CMA has outlined three practices it is particularly concerned about:

  • Gambling promotions with complex and strict requirements that are hard to understand and perhaps even impossible to meet. Especially of concern are high wagering requirements that force players to play for longer than they had intended, and difficult conditions for withdrawing earnings.
  • Companies reserving too much discretion to cancel bets or alter odds after bets have been accepted. This is often because of mistakes made when the odds were first set. The CMA is investigating whether the terms operators rely on in cases such as this are fair.
  • Overly strict criteria for making complaints, especially overly brief time limits for players to bring a problem to the attention of operators.

The UK Gambling Commission is unsurprisingly taking an interest in the investigation. Chief Executive, Sarah Harrison, explained, “We expect the gambling industry to ensure terms and conditions are not unfair. However, operators are still not doing enough. I continue to have concerns that many of these appear to bamboozle rather than help the customer make informed choices.”

The Remote Gambling Association, which represents online betting firms, has promised to co-operate with the investigation and expressed no concern about the eventual findings.

A spokesman said, “There is no reason to believe that there are widespread failings. If there are faults it is right that the CMA shines a light on them and that we collectively learn lessons from that. However, it would be wrong to pre-judge the outcome of an inquiry that has only just begun.”

However unwelcome the CMA probe will be, the UK remains one of the largest markets for online gambling in the world and will doubtless continue to remain attractive to gambling operators.

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