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UK Gambling Commission addresses a thorny issue

The UK Gambling Commission has addressed a perennial area of conflict between online gambling operators and players – bonus abuse.

Long story short, operators need to fully and with clarity disclose the terms and conditions attached to bonuses, but it is of equal importance that operators clearly describe their understanding of the term “bonus abuse” without resorting to typically nebulous “not in the spirit of the bonus”, an over-used and way too loose definition that infuriates and frustrates players.

The Commission was prompted to focus on the problem following a major bonus bust up between hundreds of players using TGP Europe Limited (TGP) and Fesuge Limited (Fesuge) online gambling facilities.

The operator of these companies is based and licensed in the Isle of Man and additionally licensed by the Gambling Commission, regulators who collaborated in the matter.

During the Cheltenham festival in March this year TGP and Fesuge promoted bonus offers on four remote gambling brands: FUN88, TLCBet, 12Bet and 138.com. The offers were subject specific terms and conditions as well as TGP and Fesuge’s general terms, and proffered bonuses for new sign ups and for existing customers.

TGP and Fesuge assessed that a large number of bets violated one of their terms, specifically:

“In the event that we suspect that you or any other player is abusing or attempting to abuse a bonus or other promotion, or is likely to benefit through such abuse we may block, deny or suspend, withhold or cancel the account of any such player, including your account if we determine that you are involved in such.”

TGP and Fesuge took the decision to suspend over 5,000 accounts, notifying the Commission of the action as a key event.

It was as well that they did, for a deluge of over a thousand player complaints followed at the Commission and at the Independent Betting Adjudication Service.

TGP and Fesuge’s handling of the process was acknowledged as leaving much to be desired; the companies accepted that the terms on which their decision was based were too ambiguous and lacked clarity …and did not include a clear definition of what they defined as bonus abuse.

To their credit, the companies cooperated fully with a Commission enquiry, identifying shortcomings on the contentious decision and instituting remedial measures within the companies.

More pragmatically, they lifted suspensions on player accounts and began to allow withdrawals by players, along with commencing a process through which the stakes of all customers affected, whether or not they won or lost their subsequent bets, were refunded.

Regarding the plethora of player complaints, the companies elected to reach voluntary settlements with the majority of aggrieved players to avoid a lengthy adjudication process at regulator level. These settlements were approved by the regulators.

Finally, TGP and Fesuge agreed to pay the Commission a GBP 7,000 fee to meet the costs of the Commission’s investigation into the issue.

Summing up the issue, the Commission said in a statement this week:

“We consider that this case provides valuable learning for remote and non-remote operators. Operators offering bonus promotions in the normal course of business and at major events must ensure that their terms and conditions comply with the requirements of the Consumer Rights Act and the LCCP. They should take a proactive approach in assessing their policies and procedures to ensure compliance.”

The statement underlines the particular clause in the CRA which asserts:

“A term is unfair if contrary to the requirement of good faith, it causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations under the contact to the detriment of the consumer”.

The Commission suggests that operators should ask themselves a number of questions before an offer is made:

* Are the circumstances in which, and conditions subject to which, the benefit is available clearly set out and readily accessible to the customers to whom it is offered?

* Is your position on bonus abuse, and how it will be applied, clear and transparent to consumers?

* Are you satisfied that none of the terms on which gambling is offered are unfair terms within the meaning of the Consumer Rights Act 2015? Once you have satisfied yourself that none of the terms are unfair, make sure that you comply with those terms.

* Ensure that an accurate summary of the contractual terms on which gambling is offered is available to customers and is set out in plain and intelligible language.

Read the full Gambling Commission report here:

http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/PDF/public-statements/TGP-and-Fesuge-public-statement-January-2017.pdf

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