There has been much talk about the UK’s Gambling Reform, which was announced by the Government at the end of 2020. A review was launched so as to ensure that gambling laws are fit for the digital age of today. And throughout the proceeding months, numerous rumours have raised their heads, with people wondering what changes may be made in the end. The prime idea behind the review is to make things as safe as possible for players – something that many campaigners and players have noted as being quite lacking in recent times.
And one of the potential introductions to the new law may be a Gambling Ombudsman. The British Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has called on the Government to establish an ombudsman, so as to deal with any customer concerns. It also suggested that this should be a legal requirement for all UK licensed operators to become a part of, stating that an ombudsman would help in improving the service altogether. But does the UK actually need a Gambling Ombudsman?
What purposes would an ombudsman actually serve to the gambling sector? How would it all work? Let’s take a closer look at whether any benefits would come from this sort of enforcement.
BGC Looks to Drive Up Standards
The BGC is an industry body that was set up towards the end of 2019, and it had one primary mission – to drive up the standards within the gambling sector and also give a collective voice for the industry. This, it hoped, would help promote safer gambling in the process. It has been clear to see that some progress has been made by the organisation, but there is a lot more for it to do before the UK’s gambling scene can be considered revolutionary and impactful once again.
Some of the things that the BGC has introduced to the gambling scene include deposit limits, restrictions on betting advertisements displayed on the social media feeds of football clubs and an increase in the amount of spending on research, education and treatment services.
Its latest move to continue improving those standards has been to request a Gambling Ombudsman to be created. Can it be said that this will be as successful as former moves, though?
As it happens, this idea was floated around about two years ago. At that that, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson brought up the execution of such, and it then went on to be mentioned again in 2020 by the Social Market Foundation. Earlier on in 2021, it was down to the Horseracing Bettors Forum to put their own two cents’ worth in, also requesting that an ombudsman be created by the Government. This, it said, would ensure that everything surrounding horse racing betting would be in the interests of those partaking in gambling.
Of course, it is key to know what an ombudsman is and how it would affect the current gambling setup within the United Kingdom. Would have a large enough (and effective enough) impact on the industry so as to ensure another positive step forward?
What Does An Ombudsman Do?
If you haven’t ever heard of an ombudsman before, then it may be beneficial to you to learn about what one is for and how they operate. To put it bluntly, an ombudsman is a person who has been appointed to look into complaints about companies and organisations. This official person, or group of people as it may be, are independent. Therefore, they remain 100% impartial to the company or organisation that they essentially reviewing. It is due to this that they are able to make a judgement without taking anyone’s side and instead operate specifically to the law.
Now, while it is commonplace to try and resolve a complaint with the organisation itself prior to contacting an ombudsman, it’s always nice to know that there is a back-up in place, too.
When it comes to the gambling world, an ombudsman would listen to customer complaints and then decide upon how to proceed from there. As things stand for the time being, there are already protocols in place for bettors to make complaints about companies. In the first instance, it would be correct to try and resolve the issues with the casino or sportsbook directly. This means checking through any FAQs, terms and conditions, privacy policies and so on, depending upon the nature of your complaint.
Should you not have the capability of resolving the issue this way, then you can always contact the customer support team. Often times, they will be able to provide enough information or help to ensure you are left satisfied. In most circumstances, customers will find that they haven’t read through the T&Cs properly, and this leads to them crafting their own issues that wouldn’t exist if they had done so.
If the complaint is much bigger than the customer support team can handle, then it can be escalated up to a manager and beyond. Following on from this, if you’re still left feeling unsatisfied with the response given, you can take the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) route, with a secondary investigation being carried out by such. Some of these ADRs include IBAS, eCOGRA, ProMediate and ADR Group.
An ombudsman could be brought in to investigate your complaint should you not be able to resolve it through the standard casino or sportsbook complaints procedure. Alternatively, if the company is taking too long to investigate and come up with a response, you can turn to an ombudsman to check into this for you. Most ombudsmen are members of what is known as the Ombudsman Association.
Gambling Ombudsman Like A Financial Ombudsman?
The gambling sector of the UK deals with money on a daily basis, which makes it very similar to the financial sector. Therefore, it is likely that the introduction of a Gambling Ombudsman would operate in a similar way to this.
The work of financial ombudsmen provides them with a unique insight into how complaints arise and how they could be avoided, and it is also the case that this knowledge is often shared. This is handed out to regulators, businesses and advisers, and by sharing such information on individual issues, it is the intent of such to help businesses and consumer advisers in understanding and dealing with complaints as early as possible. In the long run, it is the goal to ensure companies can solve complaints without the involvement of ombudsmen in this way.
Ombudsmen in the financial sector cannot hand out fines to companies, and it doesn’t come up with the rules that businesses must adhere to, either. It’s also the case that it doesn’t monitor or regulate these companies to ensure that they follow the necessary rules. That rests firmly in the hands of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and in the gambling sector, this is the job of the Gambling Commission. However, ombudsmen do pass on information to the FCA, in much the same way that it would occur within the gambling sector if an ombudsman was created for it.
The primary role of ombudsmen in the financial sector is to sort out individual complaints between consumers and businesses providing financial services. Essentially, when a customer feels they have been done wrong to, the ombudsmen steps in to assist. In the gambling sense, it would be the ombudsman that would step in if a customer felt they had been done wrong by the gambling platform.
Further to this, an ombudsman is in place to try and resolve a complaint as quickly and as cost-effective as possible. This means that it hopes to stop such issues going to court for a hearing. Both sides (in the gambling sense, this being the player and the gambling company) will have an equal chance to tell their story, and then the ombudsman makes a judgement. It’s very rare that things will escalate as far as having to go to court, so that could prove to be quite helpful in the gambling world. After all, a man did just recently take Betfred to court and won £2 million after suing the company. Perhaps an ombudsman would have been able to resolve this prior to it getting that far.
Ombudsmen exist for various sectors already, not just the financial sector. There is an ombudsman for the energy sector – serving the UK’s gas and electricity – which independently handles disputes between energy suppliers and their customers. Escalated issues surrounding gas and electricity bills, problems from switching energy supplier, supply of energy to a home and more can be resolved through such. Other ombudsman services exist in the following areas:
- The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for Education – for the investigation of some school related issues in which the local council is usually the responsible body. This includes exclusion from school, infant class size appeals, school transport and more.
- Ofwat for Water Sector in England and Wales – for the resolution of disputes surrounding competition concerns arising within the water and sewerage sectors, disputes arising between two water companies over a bulk supply of water, charges or disconnection costs etc.
- Ombudsman Services for Consumer Goods – protecting you against faulty goods, poor service and problems with contracts.
- Furniture & Home Improvement Ombudsman – for customers of members within the retail, furniture and home improvement industries.
- The Property Ombudsman and the Property Redress Scheme – for the resolution of disputes between consumers and property agents.
- Pensions Ombudsman – to investigate complaints surrounding pension schemes and any decisions made by the Pension Protection Fund and the Financial Assistance Scheme.
- Motor Ombudsman – offering support and complaint resolution regarding vehicle sales, servicing of vehicles or repairs.
- Ombudsman Services for Communications and CISAS – offering assistance with resolving complaints about phone and internet providers.
The Pros and Cons of a Gambling Ombudsman
It is likely that if a Gambling Ombudsman were created by the UK Government, that it would have very similar powers as the country’s Financial Ombudsman. Therefore, if gambling fans had any issues that an online gambling site wasn’t able to resolve satisfactorily for them, they could turn to the Gambling Ombudsman for assistance with it. This would be a step to take in the hopes that a complaint wouldn’t go to court.
What are the pros and cons of having a Gambling Ombudsman in effect within the UK?
One advantage of having a Gambling Ombudsman in operation would be that customers feel much more confident in signing up, depositing and betting at such a site. After all, if an issue does come up, they have a route to take outside of the standard platform complaints procedure.
The ombudsman would review any complaint by the customer and look to satisfactorily resolve it. This would be much more of a possibility for the ombudsman to do as it wouldn’t be specifically limited by relevant law. A gambling company would definitely be on its own side, while the customer would only see their own argument. The ombudsman would provide a completely impartial judgement on the situation. The ombudsman could ensure that a satisfactory outcome is reached for both the customer and the gambling business.
Alongside this, the Gambling Ombudsman can forward all necessary information from individual cases to the Gambling Commission and work alongside it and gambling operators. This would try to ensure that any similar future complaints are dealt with effectively enough, reaching a satisfactory result swiftly enough and not requiring the ombudsman to step in as much. This caters to both the gambling company and the customer overall.
Perhaps one of the only downsides of using a Gambling Ombudsman is that it can take time for a final decision to be reached. This is the case in the financial sector, and that could certainly spill over to the gambling sector, too. Sometimes, individual cases can take between six and 12 months for a resolution to the complaint to be reached. At times, it can be even longer. Naturally, the length of time it takes to resolve an issue can be quite the issue for customers, and indeed for the businesses as well. And in the end, the ombudsman may come to a decision that doesn’t specifically suit one or both parties.