On both a personal and professional level, I take the rights of horse racing bettors very seriously. Some of you will know that I am part of the Horseracing Bettors' Forum, a group created to represent the interests of UK racing punters. As well as that, I regularly feature content on geegeez.co.uk aimed at making players aware of their rights, and any potential abuses thereof. This post is in that vein, and I encourage you to read it and, if appropriate, to respond.
What is happening, and how you can help
About six weeks ago, and partly in response to the collective efforts of geegeez readers (thank you) as well as concerted lobbying by Brian Chappell's 'Justice For Punters' group, the Competition and Markets Authority announced an investigation into Online Gambling. According to the CMA, there is cause to review the practices adopted by bookmakers - and other gambling operators - with regards to terms and conditions and their fitness for purpose within the requirements of consumer law.
However, there is a problem, and it is this: there is a limited amount the CMA can achieve in their review without the written contributions of the general public.
Specifically, if you have been on the receiving end of any of the following, your voice needs to be heard. I quote from the CMA website:
We are especially concerned that players may be losing out as a result of:
- Being locked into complex and strict requirements linked to gaming promotions that are difficult to understand and may be unachievable.
- Companies having a wide discretion to cancel bets or alter odds after bets have been accepted, because they made a mistake when the odds were first set.
- Terms restricting players’ ability to challenge a company’s decision.
"Complex and strict requirements that are difficult to understand and may be unachievable"
The first point above, "Being locked into complex and strict requirements linked to gaming promotions that are difficult to understand and may be unachievable" refers to bookmaker (and casino and bingo operators') bonus offers, when it is less than clear that customers are required to 'roll over' their stake - i.e. play that amount multiple times - to qualify.
Examples of this might be a bookmaker offering a £50 "free bet" on signup, but where the customer has to play through/roll over the £50 three times before a withdrawal of the cash is permitted.
This is common practice, and it looks like the CMA don't like it. They are not the only ones. This verdict, handed down by the Federal Court of Australia in September last year, considered bet 365 to be "engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct" for one such account opening offer.
That was specifically in relation to the use of the word 'free' in promotional marketing. In this case, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (direct equivalent of the CMA in Oz) wrote on their website,
Some of the conditions the ACCC was concerned about included a condition where customers had to gamble their deposit and bonus three times before being able to withdraw any winnings. As a result, a customer who makes an initial deposit of $200 and receives $200 must then gamble $1200 before being able to withdraw any money.
So this then is one type of situation where, if you have historically felt you were misled into signing up to a bookmaker without realising the 'roll over' implications, you might want to write to CMA.
"Companies having a wide discretion to cancel bets or alter odds after bets have been accepted, because they made a mistake when the odds were first set"
The second point is interesting, not least because - ostensibly at least - it appears to challenge the time-honoured (and self-appointed) right of bookmakers to cry foul under the auspices of "palpable error". A palpable error is when a bookie makes what might be considered to be an obvious mistake. However, if a price is offered by a bookmaker - and accepted by a punter - then at least one half of the parties involved will disagree that the price offered was errant.
There are cases when I have a degree of sympathy with bookmakers who make a 'rick', but it is a valid challenge as to whether the customer should be held accountable - and, thus, not honoured in their wagering contract - for the mistake of the bookmaker offering the price.
IBAS, the independent arbitrators of individual bets, are the usual conduit through which recourse can be sought in such cases. But here, CMA appears to be specifically inviting those whose bets have been cancelled, or who have incurred revised odds, after the bet has been accepted.
Again, if you can prove this has happened to you, then CMA would like to hear from you.
"Terms restricting players’ ability to challenge a company’s decision"
And thirdly, and perhaps most commonplace of all, CMA would like to hear from you if you have been on the receiving end of a company's decision, which you were not allowed to subsequently challenge. For example, if you've had your account restricted or closed by a "trader's decision".
I don't think CMA actually want to stop bookmakers from being able to manage their liabilities from long-term winning punters, but perhaps (read, "unquestionably") it should be clearer from the outset - i.e. in the terms and conditions - that, if you make a habit of winning, your account may be closed or heavily restricted.
CMA goes as far as to say that such decisions by bookmakers are "inaccurately suggesting that other means of redress are not available". In other words, the implication is that bookmakers fundamentally do not have a right to say to punters that they [punters] have no right to reply.
If you've had an account closed or restricted, but there was no reference to such a possible eventuality in the terms of the restricting bookmaker, CMA need to hear from you.
Brian Chappell, who has undertaken an incredible amount of legwork in this area, has put together a short document explaining who should contact CMA and in what circumstances. It essentially follows the principles outlined above, but in a touch more detail. That report can be found here:
What now? / How to Contact CMA
The Competition and Markets Authority want to help British punters get a fair(er) deal in their online gambling pursuits. But, in order to do that, they need to understand both the scale and the scope of the issues facing punters.
CMA can only understand that if we - i.e. you and me - contact them and share our experiences
If you have something to contribute to the investigation, now is the time to do it. If you remain silent when you've been a victim of any of the above scenarios, you are essentially complicit in bookmakers conducting their business as they like.
That may seem like a harsh statement, but it is true. NOW is a unique opportunity to help shape a more even-handed future relationship between those who make and those who take bets on the sport of horse racing (and beyond).
Making your voice heard is as simple as clicking this link, writing your comments, and hitting send in your email program.
If you use gmail or another web-based email service, the email address to use is Gambling@cma.gsi.gov.uk
Again, let me be clear: if CMA do not receive responses, they cannot investigate and will have a reasonable right to assume there is not a problem with the terms and conditions of bookmakers.
It is up to us to ensure that they are made fully aware of the scale - and the scope - of missing or misrepresentative terms and conditions under which bookmakers in UK currently operate.
If you have any questions on this, please do leave a comment beneath this post and either Brian or I will do our best to offer an answer.
Thank you so much for your support in helping to make the UK betting landscape a more level playing field, with better understood terms, conditions and practices, going forwards.
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