CMA Investigated More Gaming Firms for Predatory Marketing Practices

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The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) continues to put online gambling companies on notice, as early this month it announced that notified “a number of” online gaming companies, warning them that they need to fix some of their customer-unfriendly withdrawal policies.

Here is the brief announcement from the CMA’s website:

1 March 2018: The CMA has launched enforcement action against a number of online gambling firms in respect of practices that may place unfair obstacles in the way of people withdrawing their money (whether as part of a promotion or not).

Issues of particular concern that we have raised include:

  • Daily, weekly or monthly limits on withdrawing funds that appear unreasonably low;
  • Potentially arbitrary short deadlines on the time customers have to verify their identity as a condition of withdrawing funds, sometimes providing for forfeiture of consumer’s funds if missed; and
  • Dormancy terms that allow firms to confiscate funds or impose apparently excessive charges after a certain period of inactivity.

We will update our case page on a regular basis as the investigation progresses.

A bit more than a month ago, the CMA announced that it had come to an agreement with William Hill, Ladbrokes, and PT Entertainment in which the three online gambling companies would adjust their marketing and promotional practices to make them less, frankly, predatory.
The investigation and subsequent notification and agreements with the gaming companies stemmed from boatloads of customer complaints. Of note, the companies often did not allow customers to withdraw their own deposited funds or winnings if they had not unlocked all of an associated deposit bonus or the time limit on the promo had not ended yet.

Additionally, the terms and conditions – particularly the playthrough requirements – for bonuses were often very hard to find or even understand. Sometimes the terms could change mid-promo (though I’m guessing this is rare – I have never experienced this, personally).

CMA Project Director George Lusty said at the time:

Gambling always carries a risk, but players should never face unfair restrictions that prevent them from getting at their money.

Firms mustn’t stack the odds against players, by putting unfair obstacles in their way, or making it difficult for them to stop gambling when they want to.

The CMA is here to make sure businesses’ terms and practices are fair for their customers. We welcome the commitment from these leading firms to address the problems our investigation uncovered, by making important changes to their terms and conditions.

We now expect others to follow, and look forward to the Gambling Commission’s continued work to make sure all operators in this sector play fair with their customers’ money.

The companies against which the CMA launched its enforcement action have not been named. One might guess that they will be when and if they come to an agreement with the CMA, similar to how it worked with William Hill, Ladbrokes, and PT Entertainment.

In the end, the CMA can’t really do anything to the gambling companies if they don’t comply, but the UKGC can. Said UKGC program director Ian Angus:

“We support the CMA’s investigation – gambling firms should not be placing unreasonable restrictions on when and how consumers can withdraw money from their online gambling accounts. While the CMA continues its enquiry, we expect all online operators to look closely at the terms and practices they have in place and consider if they are fair on their customers.”

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