Operators warned over VIP status customers

Online bookmakers have been warned by the UK Gambling Commission that they must make much more stringent affordability checks before upgrading customers to VIP status.

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Most online bookmakers offer a VIP scheme. © UK Gambling Commission.

The Gambling Commission has warned operators that they are not doing their due diligence when it comes to making checks as to whether VIP players have expressed problem gambling behaviour, or behaviour that could lead to problem gambling in the future.

Complaints by both individuals and charities have been lodged that claim gambling operators are preying on and exploiting customers, by tempting them to spend more than they can afford through VIP customer schemes.

Gambling addicts have spoken with the BBC about the ways in which they were made VIPs at various online gambling sites and tempted with constant offers and encouragement to bet. One customer stated how he felt ‘groomed’ by an operator, which led to him losing over £30,000 and taking out loans to try to cover the debt.

Many operators offer a VIP customer scheme for players who have wagered or won large sums of money at the site. VIPs are then given their own manager who handles their account, often offering free tickets to football matches or other sporting events.

Sarah Gardner, executive director of the Commission, said:

Operators have lots of data on these customers, and this is the data they use to identify VIP customers in the first place… So [they should] use this data like cancelled withdrawals, failed deposits and people trying to use a range of different payment methods to protect consumers, not just to facilitate their gambling.Sarah Gardner, executive director of the UK Gambling Commission.

Gardner went on to warn operators that they can be fined for not following guidelines on safeguarding customers, saying:

What we are very clear about is that safeguarding consumers is not optional and rewarding customer loyalty through VIP programmes must not be at the risk of gambling-related harm, and operators have a real responsibility here.Sarah Gardner, executive director of the UK Gambling Commission.

The Commission’s warning comes amid changing advertising standards for the industry.

Yesterday, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), together with the Commission, announced stricter standards on the ways in which operators can advertise.

Central to the changes is how operators can advertise free bet and bonus offers, with the watchdogs looking to put an end to offers that convey no associated risk, encourage a sense of urgency in betting, or that trivialise gambling.

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