British Gaming Companies Under Fire for VIP Practices

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The United Kingdom’s Gambling Commission is mulling whether it should ban “VIP” programs after a report indicates British gaming companies may use rewards to entice customers who are highly likely to become addicted.

Victoria Square House, which is where the United Kingdom’s Gambling Commission is located. The Commission is considering a ban of VIP programs after a report found possible exploitation of a small percentage of its customers, (Image: UK Gambling Commission)

British newspaper The Guardian posted an article Thursday that revealed, using Commission data, to what extent companies rely on VIPs, an acronym for Very Important Customers. Those are individuals who wager significant sums and companies may lavish gifts like free bets or other inducements to keep them in the fold.

One betting establishment received 83 percent of its deposits from just 2 percent of its patrons. Another got 58 percent of its deposits from just 5 percent of its customers, while another took in 48 percent of its deposits from 3 percent of its players.

A Commission spokesperson told The Guardian that the regulatory body was willing to take a tough stand to protect consumers.

“Operators must improve their interaction with VIPs, and we have challenged the industry to make faster progress to improve how they manage their customers,” the Commission’s spokesperson said. “We have also taken robust action against operators who fail to protect consumers, and we will be even tougher if behavior does not change.”

In October, it was reported that Ladbrokes reached an agreement after one of its VIPs stole money from his clients and business partner. Ladbrokes paid nearly £1 million ($1.3 million) to the victims of Tony Parente, co-owner of a real estate company, in return for their agreement not to report the case to the Commission.

The Commission believes the gaming companies have about 47,000 VIP customers. Of those, 8 percent, or about 3,760, are considered to have a gambling problem.

New Gaming Bill a Possibility

The report is prompting lawmakers across the pond to push for changes. That could include an overhaul of the 15-year-old Gambling Act, which is the legislation that led to the Commission’s creation.

The sooner the better and reform has cross-party support,” tweeted MP Carolyn Harris, a Labour Party member in the House of Commons. “All the officers of @GRHAPPG (Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group) – MP @ronniecowan (Scottish National Party) and @MPIainDS (Iain Duncan Smith, a Conservative MP) and myself are acutely aware of this problem and ready to make sure we get a fit-for-purpose Gambling Act.”

A spokeswoman for the British-based trade group Betting and Gaming Council told The Guardian that the industry realizes it needs to changes its practices and will soon release a code of conduct to make sure they put customer’s best interests first.

Commission Calls on Better Customer Interaction

On Thursday, the Gambling Commission posted a video on its site detailing how gaming companies must now interact with customers who may be at risk of becoming problem gamblers.

In it, the Commission outlines that gaming companies need to look beyond just how much money and time a person spends gaming. The regulation applies to all operators, including online casinos, gaming halls, sportsbooks, and bingo parlors.

“Operators should tailor what they do to fit their circumstances, but compliance is not optional,” the Commission’s narrator said in the video.



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