Tackling the issue of UK self-exclusion

Harrison Sayers asks three industry executives about self-exclusion in UK gambling. Jack Symons, founder of Gamban, tells us why he saw it necessary to create his own self-exclusion software. Tracy Damestani, Chief Executive, National Casino Forum, explains how SENSE has long looked after those looking to avoid land-based casinos. Fiona Palmer, CEO of GAMSTOP, gives an update into the effectiveness of the UK’s National Online Self Exclusion Scheme. Self-exclusion in the UK is separated into all the major segments of the gambling industry. These include bookmakers/ betting shops, casinos, bingo venues and online gambling. All gambling operators in the UK are already permitted by law to provide self-exclusion as an option for their customers. With over 23 million gamblers in the UK and 6% of them partaking in a self-exclusion scheme, this could greatly help the nation’s problem gamblers and improve the image of the gambling industry. Penalty packages raised by the Gambling Commission reached £18m in the UK during last year, including a £1m fine for SkyBet’s “weaknesses in self-exclusion facilities.” The operator allowed for 736 self-excluded customers to open and use accounts, around 50,000 self-excluded customers received marketing material or a push notification on an app, and a staggering 36,748 self-excluded customers didn’t have their money returned to them following account closures. Richard Watson, Interim Executive Director at the Gambling Commission, claimed the fine should “serve as a warning to all gambling businesses,” and perhaps it will. The decision to cut the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals to £2 in 2020 proved that if the UK gambling industry continues to ignore warnings of failing to protect vulnerable customers, then a push back from both members of the public, politicians and the Gambling Commission will follow. This can include increased fines and in the most extreme cases, the removal of licenses. Currently, there is no one-stop-shopfor self-exclusion across all the UK’s gambling verticals. If one wishes to be banned from bingo halls, they must go to the Bingo Association’s website. Those looking to be barred from the country’s casinos must sign up to the SENSE scheme. Online gaming punters rely on GAMSTOP. If you simply want to be excluded from a single premise, such as an arcade or betting shop, be prepared to bring passport-sized photos and hope you meet a helpful member of staff. Self-exclusion software As a result of the numerous self-exclusion schemes endorsed by the Gambling Commission, more expansive self-exclusion software systems have been created by those who believe problem gamblers are not being effectively prevented from gambling. One of those pieces of software is Gamban. It allows its users to block online gambling sites and apps from a range of operators and industry segments. Jack Symons, Founder and CEO of Gamban, told Gambling Insider: “Self-exclusion is the process by which an individual can ban themselves from a site, or in some cases, a network of sites under an operator, restricting access to the online gambling platform. This has come to be a requirement of operators and, although a necessary option, the way it tends to be implemented is inherently flawed. “In the first instance, problem gamblers can often bypass their own self-exclusion. A new email address and a common name can enable self-excluded gamblers to re-register and continue betting. “However, even if a player observes the self-exclusion, what’s to stop a self-excluded individual from moving on to one of thousands of other online gambling sites? “From a player’s perspective, there isn’t much that differentiates one gambling site from another, so excluding a problem gambler from one platform does not tackle the issue, especially as operators are vying to attract new players with sign-up bonuses and incentives. Industry-wide self-exclusion requires operators en masse to sign up and participate. Alas, not all operators do”. As Symons points out, there is currently a need for software such as Gamban’s, because of the failing of the current schemes which are endorsed by the Gambling Commission. However, even the GamCare website and Gambling Commission websites acknowledge that the “responsibility with sticking” with self-exclusion still relies on individuals. In such a large and well-established regulated gambling market such as the UK’s, you would be forgiven for assuming that software such as Gamban would be redundant. But the sad truth is that despite hefty fines such as SkyBet’s and the well reported amount of problem gamblers in the country, the Gambling Commission and operators have failed in establishing an effective, expansive method of self-exclusion that covers as many verticals as effectively as software such as Gamban’s. Land-based casino self-exclusion One of the oldest and most expansive self-exclusion schemes in the UK is SENSE, which is used to enforce self-exclusion across the UK’s land-based casinos. But even then, there are still aspects of the scheme which are currently being reviewed and improved. Tracy Damestani, Chief Executive, National Casino Forum, told Gambling Insider: “The casino sector launched its self-exclusion scheme, SENSE, in 2015, making it the first multiple-operator scheme in Great Britain. “When a customer enrolls on SENSE, they agree to their details being shared with every casino operator, and they agree they are not allowed to enter any casino in the country for a minimum of six months. Any attempt to enter a casino during that period is logged on the centralised database and customers automatically remain on the database unless they ask to be removed from it. “A total of 44% of customers remain excluded and had not returned to casino gambling two years after enrolling on the scheme. Effectively, they seem to have stopped gambling in UK casinos completely." Playing Safe, run by independent academies and industry experts, wants to conduct more research into customers’ experiences of using the scheme. There are practical challenges to be overcome for this to happen. Once a customer has enrolled on the scheme, they cannot be contacted directly – and these are being investigated. “Playing Safe wants to ensure the right support is given to customers returning from SENSE and has made this a strategic priority. This ties in with the sector’s wider approach to promoting responsible gambling. SENSE is an important tool, but should be seen in conjunction with other important initiatives being piloted by operators. For example, a pioneering data analytics program, developed with the Canadian research company, Focal Research, is currently being trialed by five operators, allowing them to identify gamblers of interest. “Regulators want to see an increased focus on pro-active and pre-emptive intervention strategies, identifying customers who might be at risk and helping them before they encounter problems. We are helping operators develop a toolkit that will allow them to do this and self-exclusion is only one part of the casino sector’s multi-faceted responsible gambling strategy.”

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"SENSE is an important tool, but should be seen in conjunction with other important initiatives being piloted by operators."

Online self-exclusion

The UK’s National Online Self Exclusion Scheme, trading as GAMSTOP, was established in April to “provide a centralised self-exclusion process for UK consumers on behalf of British-licensed online gambling operators.”

The need for GAMSTOP has long been apparent, with more than 280 online gambling companies in the UK, some with multiple websites, all previously requiring separate self-exclusion requests. Its introduction marks the beginning of a new era for self-exclusion schemes in the UK. Finally, there is a truly expansive scheme that is able to secure the support and cooperation of a large amount of operators, which should help it to function more effectively than previous and existing schemes which have failed to do so.

Fiona Palmer, CEO of GAMSTOP, told Gambling Insider: “GAMSTOP currently enables an individual resident within the UK to exclude themselves from a large list of participating operators and soon from all online gambling offered by British remote licensed operators via a single website. This means that with one registration, taking a few minutes to set up, the consumer will be blocked automatically from the full list of participating companies.

“Consumers register with GAMSTOP via the dedicated website. Once registered, they are able to select a minimum duration of six months, one year or five years to be excluded. Their identity is then confirmed by asking particular questions, which only they will know. It is difficult – and fraudulent – to register on behalf of someone else because of this stage of the registration process. Once they have passed the identity check, they will be excluded from the list of participating companies which appear in the footer of the site and is regularly updated as more companies join the scheme.

“Consumers will not be able to remove their self-exclusion while the minimum duration period is active. Once the minimum duration has elapsed, the exclusion will remain in place until the consumer either returns to GAMSTOP to request for it to be removed, or the data retention period is exhausted.”

Upon receipt of a response confirming that an individual is registered with an active self-exclusion on GAMSTOP, operators are required to block the individual from being able to transact on their sites and remove them from all marketing lists.

Palmer said: “Throughout the development of GAMSTOP, extensive qualitative research has taken place to help understand the types of people who will use this scheme and this has helped shape the design of the website. The GAMSTOP website was switched on to consumers on 25 April 2018 and is currently operating as a multi-operator scheme until the Gambling Commission invoke the licence condition which will make it mandatory for all GB licensed operators to be involved.”

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