Bookmakers warned: CMA will take action against unfair online promotions
The latest landmark changes in the gambling industry were announced on Thursday morning, with the Competition & Markets Authority cracking down on bookmakers who offer unfair online promotions that trap punters' money.
Three leading operators – Ladbrokes, William Hill and PT Entertainment, a subsidiary of Playtech that runs Titanbet and Winner – have committed to change the way they offer bonus promotions after pressure from the regulator, with all firms now having to adopt the changes.
Those in breach will now face regulatory action from the CMA, who have been working with the Gambling Commission to improve conditions for online gamblers.
A Ladbrokes Coral statement said the new rules would improve transparency, and the firm recognised "things had unintentionally gone too far".
It read: "It's never comfortable being in the spotlight on these sorts of issues but we're pleased that a way forward has now been identified and are committed to ensuring we meet the standards set."
The firms involved have also agreed to be clearer in the terms and conditions of their bonus promotions, and punters will not be required to place bets multiple times before they can withdraw their own money.
A statement from Hills read: "As one of the largest online betting and gaming brands in the UK, William Hill has worked with the CMA to ensure its concerns have been fully met.
"We welcome the standards and principles the CMA has outlined and we look forward to their adoption across the industry."
'Players should never face unfair restrictions'
Online bookmakers will also not be able to make punters oblige in taking part in publicity.
George Lusty, project director at the CMA, said: "Gambling always carries a risk, but players should never face unfair restrictions that prevent them from getting at their money.
"Firms must not 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 CMA said its work in the sector was ongoing and that it would continue to look at obstacles facing customers trying to withdraw their money after gambling online, whether part of a promotion or not.
That includes terms that force players to withdraw money in small instalments over a long period of time and terms that allow firms to confiscate funds if they have not been played with for a few months.
'Real progress' in making gambling fairer
The Gambling Commission said it would not hesitate to take action against firms that treated customers unfairly.
Executive director Sarah Gardner added: "The principles set out by the CMA today make real progress in making gambling fairer and safer for customers.
"Gambling firms must now ensure the terms applied to their promotions are clear, so customers can understand the deals they are signing up to and what they need to do to fully benefit from promotions."
The commission has also launched its own consultation on proposed changes to regulations relating to marketing and advertising, unfair terms, and complaints and disputes.
In response to the CMA's announcement the Remote Gambling Association said: "There are clearly lessons to be learned for some companies and we will work with the Gambling Commission and others to raise standards wherever necessary.
"We have already held productive discussions with the CMA and the commission to consider how best to achieve that."
Shares in William Hill rose by 9.6p to 319.6p by close of business on Thursday, while Ladbrokes Coral were down 0.90p to 169.10p.
Analysts at Goodbody said in a note: "While this morning’s announcement represents unwelcome headlines for the operators involved and the sector in general, we do not believe it will have a significant negative financial impact."
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