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The UK Gambling Commission: if we look beyond the hype, what does it offer the player?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The UK Gambling Commission: if we look beyond the hype, what does it offer the player?

The developing matter of tightening online gambling regulation in the United Kingdom, which I last reported on in January, seems to be gathering pace. A few days ago, it was reported across the media that the minister in charge of gambling had announced the need for change:

Government announces UK gambling reform plans

All on and offshore operators selling services into the UK will in future have to obtain a licence from the Gambling Commission if they wish to continue offering online gaming to UK customers, John Penrose, Minister responsible for gambling policy and regulation, has announced.

"It means anybody based anywhere in the world who wants to sell gambling services to any consumer based in the UK will, in future, have to have a Gambling Commission licence," Penrose said.

"The current system for regulating remote gambling doesn't work", John Penrose added. "Overseas operators get an unfair advantage over UK based companies, and British consumers who gamble online may have little or no protection depending on where the operator they deal with happens to be based.

"We will create a level playing field, so all overseas operators will be subject to the same standards and requirements as those based in Britain, as well as being required to inform the Gambling Commission about suspicious betting patterns to help fight illegal activity and corruption in betting," Penrose concluded.

Coincidentally, on the same day Antigua-based company Bodog announced it had obtained a UK license, with no lack of the company's characteristic hyperbole:

Bodog gets UK gambling license

Bodog has become the first bookmaker to gain the correct approvals to operate under the new regulations. Bodog UK received the remote and non-remote gaming license from the UK Gambling Commission and the site will operate from Bodog.co.uk exclusively for customers in the UK.

Upon the news, Bodog UK CEO, Patrik Selin, said, "Holding a licence granted by the world's most robust and respected regulatory regime is a huge springboard from which Bodog UK can launch. The credibility and trust that the UK already enjoys in the online gaming industry is immeasurable. To be able to launch Bodog UK with these licences in place is a huge bonus for us and not only will it benefit our customers but will also allow us to attract the best talent in the industry to work with us."

Given that the UK is apparently "the world's most robust and respected regulatory regime", let's take a look at the resources they offer players with a complaint against an operation within its jurisdiction.

The way the UK Gambling Commission handles complaints against its operators is laid out on the How do I complain about a gambling transaction page. Here are the highlights; they don't make entirely comforting reading:

1. Disputes can be expressed orally or in writing and may occur in person, over the telephone, by letter, by email, or via online support.

2. Complain, to the licence holder concerned providing as much detail as possible. Ideally, you should keep a full record of the dispute.

3. The licence holder should investigate the dispute, escalating as necessary, following their internal complaints procedure and informing you of the outcome.

4. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, ask the licence holder to refer the dispute to their appointed independent third party for investigation.

5. The independent third party should then contact you in the course of their investigation

What is an independent third party?

The arrangements vary but all Gambling Commission licence holders who have direct gambling customers are required to have an appointed individual or organisation.

What happens if the independent third party does not find in my favour?

Normally that will be the end of the matter. We are unlikely to reopen the enquiry unless there is clear evidence that the licence holder has not complied with their obligations.

Can we help to get your money back?

Generally the answer to this question is no. We do not assist in obtaining a refund of stakes placed, or put into a gaming machine.

So, to summarise: once all internal avenues have been exhausted, the operator with whom the player has a dispute will appoint someone as an "independent third party" to look at the matter. This party's findings are considered final by the Gambling Commission, who will take no further part in the dispute. There is no option for appeal, and the player is left with nothing beyond bringing a legal challenge through the courts.

It seems astonishing that, to quote Bodog, "the world's most robust and respected regulatory regime" does not offer its own mediation service. All other regulatory bodies do, however inefficient they may be in practice. The UK Gambling Commission offers none.

I phoned the Commission to verify this. The "independent third party" can in fact be any professional person (I was given the example of a solicitor) the casino in question sees fit to appoint. Knowledge of the subject matter is not a condition of appointment, so complex cases can be adjudicated by people with no expertise whatsoever in the field.

What if the casino in question envokes that doyen of casino excuses for non-payment where no rules have been broken, "bonus abuse"? How is a non-expert supposed to even understand this, let alone judge it?

What if a player is accused, rightly or wrongly, of illegal use of multiple accounts? How does a non-expert go about investigating the situation?

How does a non-expert ever judge a matter where expertise is required?

I had also assumed that the UK Gambling Commission was a body of great integrity. But was this simply because it is based in my own country, a country where there is little corruption in comparison to other jurisdictions around the world?

There are a couple of things to consider on the upside:

1) The Commission may have the kind of regulatory structure that makes disputes unlikely in the first place. This is no help to the player once a dispute arises, but it's worth bearing in mind. I have no idea if this is the case, and based on what I've read to date I'm not about to assume that it is.

2) The UK legal system is solid, so the simple fact of being here subjects the casinos to a tight regime beyond the Gambling Commission. If the dispute is for no more than £5000, relatively straightforward court hearings, at little cost and in front of a judge, can be organised on the small claims track; I'm going to write a followup article on how to go about this.

Those two points do not take away from the fact that the UK Gambling Commission does not have an in-house disputes service, and that the dispute process they do offer appears weak and inefficient. How a regulatory body handles player disputes is one of the single most vital part of its operations. What a shame that "the world's most robust and respected regulatory regime" - Bodog's words, not mine - seems to fall so short.

1 Previous Comments

Great article Caruso, thanks for the info and call you made to clarify as well. I left Calvin a note on his Facebook page about your very informative post on the GPWA but he never replied back. Bodog Becky did post there on Facebook though after me, saying she really liked Patrik's photos in the article...clowns IMO...LMAO!

By Anonymous TheGamblingGuru, at 10:35 pm  

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