The UK Gambling Commission All But Banned Free Bets – Now What?

Changes are set to be implemented across the betting industry during the course of 2018.

Following a joint investigation by the Gambling Commission and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), it was found that online gambling businesses are partaking in what was described as “unfair terms and misleading practices”.

The particular area that the CMA and the Gambling Commission were looking into was related to promotions, with free bets and bonus funds provoking ire from the subsequent report.

Free bets and bonus money is often used by bookmakers to entice new customers. With so much competition out there between betting brands, they are a top way to appeal to punters.

The aim of the CMA and Gambling Commission prove was to “examine possible unfair practices around gaming sign-up and free bet promotions”, with customers long guessing that betting firms have been using these to pull the wool over their eyes.

But as we know, free bets can be a very useful way to get one over on the bookies. If they were to be taken away entirely, it would have a radical impact on the way the gambling industry works. So what will change as a result of this investigation into betting terms and conditions?

Reading the small print

One of the issues surrounding this probe from the Gambling Commission and the CMA regards the terms and conditions that are attached to these free bets and promotions. There are many sites that give regularly updated lists of UK bookmakers and their free bets. all these sites now fall under the new laws and are required to be very careful. You should find detailed information on each free bets terms and conditions else they could face punitive charges.

Put simply, individuals signing up for betting accounts are highly unlikely to take the time to read every detail contained within the small print. These documents are vast and it is very easy to simply scroll to the bottom and tick the box to indicate the whole thing has been read.

This is not just the case for the gambling industry, of course. Everything from buying a new washing machine to downloading an app on to a mobile phone includes terms and conditions, but it is rare people take the time to read all the way to the bottom.

This means that betting companies can insert all sorts of unfair clauses within the terms and conditions for free bets in full awareness that customers are unlikely to spot them and refuse to continue signing up to get a new account.

Go to any betting website and their free bet sign-up offer is usually presented in huge letters, designed in such a way that it is the first thing that will catch the eye of a new visitor. Signing up usually takes a matter of minutes and you can quickly be placing your first bets on a platform.

What the CMA/Gambling Commission investigation found

The probe by the Gambling Commission and the CMA found a number of issues with the way free bets are offered on gambling sites, not just with how terms and conditions are presented. One of these was regarding customers being able to withdraw a deposit balance, as well as any winnings generated from deposits.

This will be a familiar story to anyone who has spent a lot of time on betting websites. They are only too happy to take your money when you make a deposit, but it can be a different story when you come to make a withdrawal out of your account.

Typically, a betting firm may ask you to submit documents in order to prove you are the owner of an account – even though this was not ever needed to set the account up in the first place. This delaying tactic can be extremely frustrating for a customer who is simply trying to access the money they have won fairly and squarely from the bookmaker.

Consumer protection law is a complicated area and bookmakers seem to have been taking advantage of this over the course of the last few years. It is clear that the way free bets are offered by bookies is going to have to change a lot, which will impact on a lot of people.

Gambling Commission executive director Sarah Gardner said: “It is of paramount importance that consumers are empowered to make informed choices about their gambling and that the information available about their rights is correct and clear to them.”

What will change following the CMA/Gambling Commission investigation?

Gardner suggests that identity checks – so often used by bookies to stop customers from withdrawing firms – have to be updated. While they have a part to play to stop money laundering, it is clear they have been abused by some gambling companies.

Terms and conditions could also go through a big change to make it clearer to users exactly what they are going to have to do to unlock the various promotions being offered. Typically, bonus funds have to be played through a certain number of times before being withdrawn, but often customers do not realise this is the case when they sign up to get a new account.

The CMA noted in its November report that it will publish further guidance as soon as “enforcement activity into a number of gambling operators” has been completed.

It is therefore clear that gambling companies are going to have to make some big changes, but they will certainly try to do this in a manner that is not too noticeable for regular users.

Another area that is coming under an increasing amount of scrutiny is the number of gambling advertisements that are shown on television, particularly during big sporting events.

A recent piece of research found that during a Premier League match that is being broadcast live, it is typical for there to be 20 or more adverts shown for a range of gambling companies. In Australia, a rule change means that gambling firms can only advertise during sporting events after the watershed, in a bid to avoid normalising gambling culture to young people and children.

What next for gambling companies?

With the total gross gambling yield of the Great Britain gambling industry standing at a whopping £13.7 billion for the year to March 2017, it is obvious there is an awful lot of cash at stake.

More than 100,000 people in the country are employed directly by the gambling industry and nobody wants the whole sector to be shut down, resulting in those individuals losing jobs.

But reform may be necessary to ensure gambling is safer and fairer for everyone who likes to place a bet or two, whether that is on the football, horse racing or any other sport.

Free bets have always been a great way to get one over on the bookies, but gambling companies will have explain exactly what they are offering to punters in a much clearer way.



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