The UK’s competition watchdog has launched a probe into whether online gambling sites are breaking the law via misleading promotions.
On Friday, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announcing an investigation of “potential breaches of consumer law, including misleading promotions and unfair terms, being used by firms to block players’ payouts.” The CMA said it was prompted to act after the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) raised similar concerns.
Nisha Arora, the CMA’s senior director for consumer enforcement, said the CMA was “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.” Arora said the CMA would work closely with the UKGC during its investigation.
The UKGC’s CEO Sarah Harrison said she had concerns that betting operators’ terms and conditions “appear to bamboozle rather than help the customer make informed choices.” Harrison said too many of the UK’s estimated 5.5m online gamblers felt like “the deck is stacked against them because of an obscure condition that they did not properly understand.”
The probe will focus on whether online gambling promotions are too difficult to understand or may in fact be unachievable. The CMA will also look at whether bookies attempt to prevent players from withdrawing stakes and any winnings.
The CMA said it recognizes betting operators’ right to close any punter’s account, cancel bets or amend odds after bets are accepted due to the odds having been inaccurately set. But the CMA will examine the fairness of the terms the bookies rely on to make these changes.
The CMA says it will require evidence from online gambling firms and is also soliciting UK punters to relay first-hand accounts of perceived shady behavior by bookies.
In response to Friday’s news, Remote Gambling Association CEO Clive Hawkswood said it was the CMA’s job to point out operators’ shortcomings but insisted there was “no reason to believe that there are widespread failings” in the industry and “it would be wrong to pre-judge the outcome of an inquiry that has only just begun.”
The CMA probe is the latest barbarian at the gate of the UK gambling industry. Earlier this month, reports surfaced that the government was planning to implement a total ban on daytime gambling TV advertising. In September, rumors spread that the government was planning a review of the fixed-odds betting terminals in betting shops. Just this week, online bookies learned they would have to pay 10% of race betting revenue to racing stakeholders.