The Campaign for Fairer Gambling comments on a news story about gambling type apps appearing on social media, which raised concerns that children are being exposed to ‘a risk of addiction’.
The bookies’ £100-a-spin Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are supplied by two companies: Inspired and SG Gaming. The latter was caught up in a scandal over the festive period, as it emerged in the Guardian that they were behind gambling-style apps on Facebook, fuelling concerns that children are being exposed to a risk of addiction.
Last month, the Gambling Commission warned that 60,000 children aged 11-16 are gambling addicts, and the type of games available to them are considered by experts to be the “number one risk factor” in developing gambling problems later in later. Free-to-play games often manipulate the odds to give the impression that winning is more likely than it really is – effectively grooming children by setting unrealistic expectations which entices them to gamble with real money.
The Gambling Commission found that children who played social games were more likely to gamble as adults, and that young people are more at risk of developing an addiction as the brain does not fully develop an ability to regulate risk until a person is in their 20s.
SG Gaming design games with children’s cartoon characters, like The Flintstones and OMG! Kittens, so a strong case can be made that this company is deliberately targeting children in breach of their license, which requires licensees to prevent harm to the young and vulnerable.
Online gambling companies were recently told to remove games that target children following a Sunday Times investigation, so there is no excuse for the regulator allowing SG Gaming to get away with this.
But thankfully for operators, it appears to be the season of goodwill at the Gambling Commission. Simon Price, the former boss of a Birmingham Dogs Home, was jailed for five years after defrauding a charity of £900,000 over a four-year period. During that time, he lost £700,000 on Betfair. But despite the funds being the proceeds of crime, Betfair either could not or did not confirm the source.
Betfair’s investors were involved in establishing FeatureSpace, a fraud detection company that is used by Betfair. FeatureSpace were commissioned by the Responsible Gambling Trust (GambleAware) in 2014 to develop a “problem gambling detection algorithm”. Using data to detect fraud is much more plausible than trying to detect problem gambling, as their attempt to do the latter clearly demonstrated. But it appears neither algorithm worked in this instance – perhaps they weren’t switched on!
This clear breach of two license conditions – to prevent harm to the vulnerable and to prevent an association between gambling and crime – did not elicit any sanctions from the Gambling Commission either.
But never mind detecting problem gamblers, let’s talk about instances where customers self-identify as problem gamblers when they ask to be self-excluded. According to The Times, online operators have been allowing these customers to gamble until they start winning – and only then do they stop them.
At present, a problem gambler would have to ask to self-exclude from each gambling operator individually, or download blocking software. Progress towards a single self-exclusion register – the National Online Self Exclusion System – has been slow, having been kicked into the long grass a number of times. When it eventually arrives, it will only apply to the operators licensed by the Gambling Commission. At the very least, the regulator and the sector need to come up with a way of preventing those already addicted, who ask to be banned, from accessing gambling.
Until then, the idea that algorithms can be used to identify problem gambling or gambling-related harm, and applied in the interests of consumer protection, is just a pipe dream. The Campaign’s view is the harms associated with certain gambling products are too substantial, which is why our submission to the government’s consultation, closing in three weeks’ time, will support a reduction to £2 a spin on FOBTs.