The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority [CMA] announced last week that three online gambling operators who were under investigation for unfair promotional practices have agreed to change said practices to make them more consumer-friendly. The three operators – Ladbrokes, William Hill, and PT Entertainment – have all signed documents laying out what will now be expected of them.
The issue at hand has to do with deposit bonuses and how they are promoted and marketed. Anyone who has played online poker or tried their hand at online casino games in the past decade and a half (at least) is familiar with the banner ads: “Deposit $100 Get $100 Free!” or “25% Deposit Match up to $1,000!”
Of course, it is not as simple as that. There are playthrough requirements, withdrawal restrictions, and more. And that’s where the CMA’s problem with the gaming operators lies. When it launched an investigation last June, the CMA was concerned that “people often don’t get the deal they are expecting as the promotions come with an array of terms and conditions that are often confusing and unclear and, in some cases, may be unfair.”
The press release at the time continued:
Customers might have to play hundreds of times before they are allowed to withdraw any money, so they don’t have the choice to quit while they’re ahead and walk away with their winnings when they want to.
Even when players haven’t signed up for a promotion, there are concerns that some operators are stopping customers taking money out of their accounts. The CMA has been told by customers that some firms have minimum withdrawal amounts far bigger than the original deposit, or place hurdles in the way of them withdrawing their money.
“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,” CMA Senior Director for Consumer Enforcement Nisha Arora said.
“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.”
The bottom line of the agreement with the operators is that all playthrough requirements – the amount of gambling that is required to earn a bonus – must be very clear and easy to access before a player signs up and while the person is playing. Additionally, players must be able to cash out their original deposit whenever they would like.
The CMA’s summary of the rules is as follows:
• Players won’t be required to play multiple times before they can withdraw their own money
• Gambling firms must ensure that any restrictions on gameplay are made clear to players, and cannot rely on vague terms to confiscate players’ money
• Gambling firms must not oblige players to take part in publicity
UK Gambling Commission Executive Director, Sarah Gardner, chimed in:
We back the action taken by the CMA today. Gambling firms must treat their customers fairly and not attach unreasonable terms and conditions to their promotions and offers.
We expect all Gambling Commission licensed businesses to immediately review the promotions and sign up deals they offer customers and take whatever steps they need to take, to the same timescales agreed by the three operators, to ensure they comply.