Gambling firms have once again come under fire by regulators, this time for the VIP schemes they offer to customers. Such schemes have been heavily criticised for their role in incentivising members to lose significant sums of money. As, while being made to feel special, very often VIP members are offered free gifts at the very same time they are racking up huge debts.
A report in The Guardian discloses that the operators involved have no plans to check their loyalty schemes and are in fact hiring dedicated staff to develop the programmes further still. The report cites two brands, both run by GVC Holdings, Gala Bingo and Foxy Bingo, that are both in the recruitment process as we write.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs the Gambling Related Harm APPG and is calling for tighter curbs on VIP memberships, says;
“These [job] adverts are yet a further demonstration of the industry paying lip service to safer gambling measures. The Gambling Commission must undertake an urgent review of the operation of VIP accounts and the inducements which gambling companies use to entice customers to gamble.”
Operator Helped Gambling Addict Hide His Habit
Not only are firms showing no desire to curb their behaviour, but in one case, a major operator stands accused of actually helping a dad of two hide his disastrous habit from his wife by lying to her.
Flutter Entertainment’s batting exchange site Betfair is said to have aided the VIP gambling addict in hiding losses of up to a £10,000 a month by informing his wife that he had won them in a competition elsewhere. This is a problem as, according to the UKGC, lying about gambling or hiding it from others is one of the first signs of addiction.
In the meantime, while the heavy bettor amassed debts of over £100k in a year, Betfair continued to bombard the player with cashback as well as corporate tickets to select sporting events such as Royal Ascot. The customer, who lost an entire year’s annual salary in one particularly brutal year, was also regularly awarded a 10% refund on losses to put back into his Betfair account.
When the VIP player accepted the invitation to attend the races, he informed the bookmaker by email that he would be bringing his wife along for the afternoon. Explaining further that his wife was unaware of the level of gambling he was then into, his VIP Account Manager then replied that there was no need to worry as they regularly assist customers to cover up their gambling and that she would inform all attending staff to behave as though the tickets had been won elsewhere.
The bettor claims that, in two years, Betfair reached out to him once when he received a solitary email asking if he felt comfortable with his level of betting, to which he responded positively.
The customer, who does not wish to be named, said;
”It has been a disaster which has ruined my life. I’m still recovering from it now. Earning £100,000 a year would put me in the top 1 per cent of earners and would still mean me gambling my entire salary away.
The fact I was asking them to hide my gambling from my wife should surely have been a sign that something was wrong.
But not only did they not intervene, they actively helped me carry on the lie and on the day told her we were there because of luck of the draw that I’d won a competition. All they cared about was that I kept gambling my money away, or more specifically that I kept gambling it away with them.”
Originally designed to reward, or encourage, their most loyal bettors, bookmakers offer VIP schemes to their highest spending customers for their repeat business. Rewards often come in the shape of free bets, refunded losing bets, special offers and tickets to sporting events, like in the case above.
Officially, there is no issue with VIP schemes so long as big spenders have the means, something that bookmakers are required to ensure to avoid players falling into financial ruin. Betting operators are also required to recognise signs of financial stress such as when deposits bounce or punters place chaser bets to recover lost funds.
However, the UKGC has warned that operators are not doing enough to prevent problems occurring and, as outlined above, are in some cases encouraging it.
In 2018, Kindred online casino brand 32Red were fined £2 million for granting, without a background check, VIP status to a problem gambler who deposited over £750,000. And in 2016, a pre-GVC Coral were forced to payout £880,000 after one of their VIP members lost £850,000 in its high street bookmakers and online.