UKGC Again Warns Online Operators Over Unfair Withdrawal Restrictions
Like a recurring theme in a long-running play, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) is again waving the punishment hammer and threatening online gambling operators who continue to apply unfair restrictions to customers’ withdrawal requests. The latest rumbling of thunder from the Gambling Commission comes just days after the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority announced it had reached an agreement with two such operators who have been found in continuing violation of the UK’s consumer-protection codes.
According to the UKGC, “The CMA has published enforcement action against two gambling firms, which have now committed to make changes that ensure customers are not unfairly prevented from withdrawing their money. All gambling firms are now required to adhere to the standards set out by the CMA.” That referred to the action taken by the CMA against online-casino operators Jumpman Gaming and Progress Play. Both of those operators had forced customers to make withdrawals in installments rather than in one lump sum, as any reputable site with customer deposits held in escrow should be able to offer.
This latest episode, cracking down on practices which the UK’s regulators have long since deemed illicit, came with a repeat warning. Simply put: “Online gambling businesses are required to remove unfair restrictions placed on customers withdrawing money from their gambling accounts or face action by the Gambling Commission.”
Paul Hope, Executive Director at the Gambling Commission, offered this: “We are committed to raising standards for consumers in the gambling sector to ensure they are getting a fair deal. We’ve already been working with the CMA to tackle unfair online gambling promotions, and today’s announcement will improve how customers are treated.
“In July, we announced new rules (1), which will make it quicker and easier for the Commission to take action for breaches of consumer law. That includes taking action where firms breach the principles laid out by the CMA. We support the action taken by the CMA and expect all online gambling businesses to take immediate action to update their practices in line with these, or face action by the Commission in the future.”
Perhaps Jumpman Gaming and Progress Play were making a last-moment grab while the grabbin’ remained good; the sharpened rules given the UKG even more enforcement powers won’t take effect until the end of next month. That’s still no excuse for the generally seedy appearance of trying to force customers to take a withdrawal on an installment schedule. That’s the sort of runaround one would expect from some lowly Curacao site using customer deposits to pay for the site’s operating expenses, hoping it all works out in the end. Such practices have zero place in a top-level regulated regime such as that in the UK.
The episode may also have spurred the CMA to issue a pair of new guidelines, one aimed at consumers and the other at operators. There’s really nothing new in these, despite the apparent need as perceived by the CMA and UKGC to keep pounding the lessons home until they sink in. The consumer-targeted online publication, titled “Online gambling promotions: advice for gamblers”, the CMA notes plainly that gambling businesses can’t enforce unfair terms. The CMA also offered this list of things consumers should be watching for:
What you should expect of gambling companies
- The terms and conditions of promotions should be clear and given to you in good time
- You should know what to expect and have the information you need to properly decide if a promotion is right for you
- You should be free to walk away from online play at any time, and keep what is left of your deposit and the winnings you’ve earned from play with your deposit
- Gambling sites must make it clear if you are playing with your own money, or with bonus funds that are subject to more restrictions
- Any restrictions on how you can play with bonus funds, for example, any restrictions on the size of bets, must be made clear to you
- You cannot be required to take part in publicity
- If the sites offer a free bet, they can’t change the deal once you have started playing
- Online gambling companies shouldn’t confiscate your money because you haven’t logged on or played on their site for a particular period of time, but they can charge cost reflective fees after 12 months of inactivity as long as these are clear and they attempt to return your money first. Online gambling companies are obliged to confirm your identity but they can’t confiscate your money where you have not provided ID documents within a particular period of time.
Over in the CMA’s parallel do’s and don’ts publication for operators, it’s back to the same old drumbeat. The do’s generally have to do with continually referring the terms of all offers and conditions, rules governing deposits, withdrawals, and bonus offers, and so on.
The don’ts are more pointed, and mostly very brief, perhaps making another not-so-subtle point:
- If you offer customers a ‘free bet’, don’t change the deal once they have started playing
- Deny customers access to their own money or place maximum limits on the amounts they can withdraw -including their deposits and winnings earned from their deposits
- Attach complicated or unfair play restrictions to customer deposits
- Require customers to take part in publicity
- Confiscate customer funds where they haven’t provided identity documents within a particular period of time or after a period of inactivity
Operators have less than two months to take the UKGC’s message to heart; the agency has been shoring up the industry for several years in the face of significant consumer complaints and a general sagging of trust in the sector. As a result, the UKGC license has become one of the hardest to acquire in the industry and likely the best indication that an online casino is fair and trustworthy. The sector generates almost £5 billion in annual business in the UK, and the reigning in of unfair practices was, to many onlookers, long overdue. The Gambling Commission has built up several years’ worth of energy aimed at reshaping the sector, which means these waves of crackdowns and general rules-tightening won’t be slowing down any time soon.