Customer Complaints Against UK Operators Up 5,000 Percent in Five Years, That’s Probably Healthy, Regulator Says

Posted on: August 12, 2019, 03:13h. 

Last updated on: August 12, 2019, 06:04h.

Complaints by customers about UK-facing sports betting companies have skyrocketed by almost 5,000 percent in the past five years. But Neil McArthur, the chief executive of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) , says that is probably a good thing.

UK betting
UKGC Chief executive Neil McArthur says the rise in complaints suggests the British public is demanding more of its betting operators. (Image: UKGC)

Figures obtained by BBC current affairs program Panorama, which aired Monday, reveal there were an extraordinary 8,266 complaints to the regulator in 2018, compared with just 169 in 2013.

But the comparison is not like for like. The UKGC only began regulating online gambling for UK customers directly from 2014.

Previously, operators were regulated by a number of jurisdictions that had been whitelisted by the UK government, which means that, prior to 2014, customers would have had to petition regulatory bodies in whitelisted online gaming hubs like Malta, Gibraltar, and the Isle of Man with their grievances.

Regulation in Action?

And while the number of complaints may have increased since the UKGC adopted direct oversight of the betting industry, McArthur told Panorama he believes this may be the result of regulation in action, rather than an alarming dip in standards.

We are pushing the industry to know its customers, and part of this is actually, possibly, a good sign, because it’s suggesting that consumers are demanding more of the gambling operators,” he said. “And I would encourage them to continue to do that.”

According to Panorama, most complaints are related to bookmakers refusing to pay out on bets or allegedly failing in their social responsibility duties.

But if customers are becoming more demanding of UK betting operators, so is the UKGC. The regulator has significantly ramped up penalties for non-compliance over the past few years, dolling out multiple millions in fines.

Systematic Failure

Last month, the commission imposed its second-highest fine ever, £5.9 million ($7.1 million) on Ladbrokes-Coral, for the bookmaker’s “systematic” failure to implement KYC (know-your-customer) and AML (anti-money-laundering) procedures.

The UKGC flagged seven cases between 2014 and 2017 where Ladbrokes Coral had failed to identify and interact with at-risk customers. These included one gambler who lost £98,000 ($119,000) in less than three years, while having 460 attempted deposits declined by his bank.

Another lost £1.5 million ($1.8 million) over a similar period, despite exhibiting behavior that should have raised alarm bells, such as logging into his betting account ten times a day.

GVC, which acquired Ladbrokes Coral last year for £3.2 billion ($3.8 billion) after the infractions took place, is at the head of a charm offensive, which the industry hopes will curb further regulatory reforms that could restrict industry growth and innovation.

Amid calls for the imposition of a mandatory betting levy to fund problem gambling programs, the five biggest operators, led by GVC, have pledged to increase the voluntary levy tenfold, from 0.1 percent of gross gaming revenue to 1 percent over the next five years.

This would ultimately increase the fund from the £10 million ($12 million) raised last year to £100 million ($120 million) a year by 2024.

The UKGC has said that, collectively, gambling charities need around £70 million ($85 million) a year to provide the necessary staff, research, and treatment to better understand and combat problem gambling.