After eight (8) months of deep investigation the CMA (Competition and Market Authority) has come to the conclusion that many UK online bookmakers may have broken consumer law by not treating to their customers fairly and holding on to customer’s money.
The CMA regulates the entire sports betting sector (estimated at £4.5bn annual revenue) and started investigations on October of 2016, after more than 800 complaints from consumers. The CMA’s goal was to examine possible unfair practices around welcome bonuses and free bets that bookies usually offer to every new player.
Without actually going forward to naming the firms, the CMA said that customers did not take receive the expected offers. This is a result of alleged "unfair terms and practices" specifically high rollover amounts on short time periods. There are also some unclear terms that may sometimes go against the customer’ side.
Nisha Arora, the CMA senior director for consumer enforcement said: “We know online gambling is always going to be risky, but firms must also play fair. People should get the deal they’re expecting if they sign up to a promotion, and be able to walk away with their money when they want to. Sadly, we have heard this isn’t always the case. New customers are being enticed by tempting promotions only to find the dice are loaded against them. And players can find a whole host of hurdles in their way when they want to withdraw their money”.
For this investigation CMA co-operated with the UK Gambling Commission. Follow the conclusion of the investigation Sarah Harrison, Gambling Commission chief executive said: “Gambling operators must treat customers fairly – but some have been relying on terms that are unclear with too many strings attached. Whilst the CMA takes enforcement action on how consumer legislation is followed, the gambling industry should be under no illusion that if they don’t comply with consumer law, we will see this as a breach of their operating license, and take decisive action”.
Another matter that came up to surface and is scheduled to be investigated is the unfair practices that can prevent players from withdrawing from their betting accounts.
The lengthy KYC procedures have been labelled as a poor excuse by some complaining bettors. Betting sites are obliged by law to check their customers’ id, prevent money laundering or responsible gaming, however, this many times results into long withdrawal delays for players.
Sarah Harrison added about that: “Identity checks are an important duty on the industry to prevent money laundering and to ensure responsible gambling. Where operators haven’t met those obligations, we have taken clear action. However, those checks cannot be used as an excuse to unduly restrict legitimate customers from withdrawing their funds. If the CMA finds specific consumer protection failings in this area, it will add further cause for the Commission to review how fairly operators are treating consumers.”
A new Gambling Control Bill is expected to be introduced later this year. It will override the current legislation that dates back from 1956 and offer amendments to the 2005 Gambling Act.
According to information, the new Bill will offer a more transparent procedure for online betting firms licenses and impose a new tax specifically drafted for free bets. What remains to be seen is whether this could mean the end of free bets, promotions, bonuses in the UK.