Sky Bet Fined £1m For ‘Failing To Protect Vulnerable Customers’

If you’ve been following the news from the betting industry, or indeed reading these blog posts, then you’ll know that the talk of the town has surrounded what will happen next over Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. The reason that’s relevant here is that it’s felt that FOBTs are too readily accessible for people that might have a problem controlling their gambling, leading to the government deciding whether or not more can be done to help such people out. Yet it’s not just with FOBT machines inside betting shops that it’s felt some companies can do more to protect their more vulnerable customers, as Sky have just found out to their detriment.

There are numerous ways that bookmakers can help to protect people, with one of the most common being allowing customers to put themselves into ‘self-exclusion’ if they feel as though they’re perhaps gambling too much or spending too much time looking at odds and gambling offers. The Gambling Commission have introduced stringent rules to protect such people via the use of self-exclusion and when companies fail to follow these rules then they face appropriate punishments as a result. But what are the punishments and what, in this case, has Sky Bet done wrong?

What Sky Bet Did Wrong

The Gambling Commission has fined Sky Bet £1 million for what it said was ‘failing to protect vulnerable customers’, largely because they didn’t do enough to stop people who had requested to be excluded from being able to bet from then going and opening a duplicate account and betting with that one instead. If you self-exclude then you shouldn’t be able to login to your account, place bets or deposit any money, so the fact that some customers were able to open a separate account meant that they were essentially able to circumnavigate the self-exclusion barriers. This was the case with seven-hundred and thirty-six different Sky Bet customers.

Unfortunately for Sky Bet, that’s not where the problems ended. Around fifty-thousand people excluded themselves, meaning that they shouldn’t have had any communication from the gambling company. Yet Sky Bet still sent them marketing emails, push notifications through their mobile app and text messages with offers within them. There were also more than thirty-six thousand customers who didn’t get their account balance returned to them after they had voluntarily opted for self-exclusion.

What The Gambling Commission Had To Say

Gambling CommissionThe programme director of the Gambling Commission, Richard Watson, called this a ‘serious failure’ from Sky Bet, which affected ‘thousands of potentially vulnerable customers’. He also intimated that other companies should sit up and take notice, saying, “the £1m penalty package should serve as a warning to all gambling businesses”. That fine will mostly go to charities with socially responsible purposes, the Gambling Commission confirmed.

The Commission takes the safety of gambling customers seriously, as it demonstrated in 2017 when it fined 888 just shy of £8 million for similar failings, albeit on a more serious scale. Back then more than seven-thousand people who had opted for self-exclusion were still able to access their accounts, which is obviously significantly worse than having to set up entirely new accounts. That might explain the less severe penalty this time around, although Watson re-affirmed the Commission’s determination to protect people when he said, “Protecting consumers from gambling-related harm is a priority for us and where we see operators failing in their responsibility to keep their customers safe we will take tough action”.

How Did Sky Bet Respond?

Sky BetTo give them their due, Sky Bet did immediately recognise the issue and reported it to the Gambling Commission as soon as they realised what had happened. The chief executive of the Leeds-based company, which is owned in the majority by CVC-Partners, Richard Fint, admitted that they ‘needed to do more’ to stop people who had opted for self-exclusion simply being able to open up a new account and keep on betting. Speaking to the BBC, Mr. Flint said, “In this case, we didn’t make it sufficiently difficult for people to open up duplicate accounts, and for that, we’ve apologised, it’s not good enough. We could and should have done more. It is embarrassing for us”.

Though a system was in place to stop customers from opening another account with their real information, there was no way of stopping them from providing false information and then calling the Sky Bet customer services line and changing their details to the real ones, verifying that information where necessary. Mr. Flint was at pains to point out that Sky Bet hadn’t made any money from the incident, donating £1 million to charities and increasing resources in order to ensure that customers could ‘gamble safely’. The company has a team of more than sixty people who have the job of monitoring accounts for unusual behaviour, so their will no re-double their efforts to stop anything like this from happening again.

Is It A Major Issue?

Figures released in November of 2017 suggest that more and more people are turning to self-exclusion as a way of stopping themselves from getting into financial trouble through gambling. According to the research, around one million people self-excluded in 2016. It’s believed that about two million people in the United Kingdom are either already problem gamblers or at risk of becoming so and the Gambling Commission declared that this number is ‘not reducing’. They’re figures that will worry gambling industry experts, given that they’re trying hard to clean up their image as an industry that doesn’t care about consumers. Mr. Flint himself has long been one of the most vocal people regarding gambling firms doing more to protect the most vulnerable customers.

A trainee accountant called Matt spoke to the Victoria Derbyshire show on the BBC about his own gambling problem, confessing that is was difficult to open up to friends about it as ‘they were involved in gambling too’. He blamed the integration between football and betting, with adverts on in between every segment if you watch a match. The fact that Sky Bet currently sponsors the Football League ties in with that idea. Matt said, “I couldn’t watch a game of football without having a bet on it”.

Moving forward, the Gambling Commission wants to make it easier for punters to exclude themselves across the board from all gambling companies. At the moment, if someone wants to self-exclude then they’ve got to login to each and every of their bookmaker accounts and inform them of their decision. Obviously that’s essentially just asking for trouble, so plan has been announced to centralise the process. It’s called ‘Gamstop’ and all gambling operators will be required to sign up for it by the Gambling Commission. Punters will be able to head there, confirm that they want to stop betting and all companies will be informed of their decision.