In recent years online gambling has considerably overtaken offline gambling in its market presence and with the increasing affordability of mobile devices it is a sector that is instantly and permanently available to the customer. This gives rise to considerable problems for customers with a tendency to compulsively gamble and this in turn creates a responsibility for operators to protect such vulnerable players. This is where the term Responsible Gambling was spawned.
Responsible Gambling is becoming a more and more commonly referenced term in the gambling sector and by definition it relates to the schemes, guidelines and policies employed by an operator in order to help vulnerable players recognise their own weakness and to empower them to take control so that their gambling habits do not impact negatively on their lives in myriad ways. This could be by facilitating complete blocking of gambling services or by setting limits with operators that enable them to gamble within the limits of their personal finances.
Should you find that you are affected by some of the issues raised so far then it is of vital importance that you access all means of support available to you with immediacy. Various support groups and gambling regulators exist to act in the interests of gamblers and most reputable gambling operators offer tools to facilitate sensible and non-harmful gambling habits in their customers. With the increasing media attention falling upon problem gambling there are more and more places that you can access support to help you gain back control of your life and many problem gamblers have managed to get their lives back on track using such agencies.
Since attitudes to responsible Gambling vary widely according to the various gambling license providers, levels of support also vary from operator to operator. Unfortunately, as with all industries, some online gambling operators (many of them completely unlicensed) prey on vulnerable gamblers in order to increase their own profit margins. This is why it is vitally important that the first thing any gambler should do is check that the operator they are considering signing up with holds a license with a reputable regulator no matter how tempting a bonus or other promotion may sound. Only now that extreme pressure, and in some cases considerable fines, have been applied to operators in the gambling sector has the industry been spurred into taking action to protect the most vulnerable players.
To help you make more informed, and therefore less damaging, decisions about the operators you should be playing with we have put together a comprehensive list of what the most significant regulators expect of their licensees in terms of their responsibilities to players:
UKGC – Any operator in possession of a UKGC license is being held to the highest requirements in terms of facilitating responsible gambling and protecting vulnerable players. We have outlined, for your convenience, the various tools that all UKGC licensed operators must offer to their players but bear in mind the fact that, since the UKGC are a governing body for the United Kingdom, these stipulations are ONLY mandatory for UK CITIZENS:
Time Outs – If a player feels that there is an elevated risk that they will make poor decisions in relation to gambling for a period of short duration – perhaps a brief period of unduly high stress that will abate – operators must act on a player’s instruction to suspend their account for a specified short period of time ranging in length from 24 hours to 6 weeks. Players should be aware that under UKGC stipulations, once they have put a Time Out in place it cannot be rescinded until the full period of time, initially put in place, has lapsed. On completion of the Time Out the affected player’s account will automatically re-open without further action from the player. Vital information regarding Time Outs is that their enforcement applies ONLY at the single operator with which the original Time Out request was made – they will not be carried over to cover sister properties on the same license.
Self-Exclusions – If a player feels that they require a more stringent and longer length restriction on their gambling, then a Self-Exclusion is the correct choice. Varying lengths of Self-Exclusion can be applied ranging in duration from 6 months to 5 years (or longer if required). As with Time Outs – once in place - Self-Exclusions cannot be rescinded and will run for the full duration that the player initially set. It is the operator’s responsibility to ensure that players under Self-Exclusion are no longer subject to receipt of marketing communications from them within 48 hours of the Self-exclusion being applied. When the period of Self-Exclusion ends the affected player must take “positive action” to re-connect with the gambling services offered by the operator or else an automatic period of a further 7 years will be added to the original Self-Exclusion term. If a player does take “positive action” to reactivate their account, then once the Self-Exclusion ends, a further 24-hour cooling-off period will be applied before the player’s account will be re-opened. Unlike Time Outs, Self-Exclusions must be carried over to restrict play at any other properties sharing a license with the operator at which the player originally requested the Self-Exclusion.
Deposit, Loss and Session Limits - While the UKGC do not specify that Deposit, Loss or Session Limits must be available for players they are a welcome additional support mechanism. If a Deposit or Loss Limit is placed, under UKGC regulations, it will, like a Time Out, only apply to the specific operator the player originally sets it at.
MGA – In terms of stringency The Malta Gambling Authority are just behind the UKGC when it comes to enforcing strict Responsible Gambling policies that their licensees must comply with. Players residing in ALL jurisdictions besides the UK are subject to these regulations if they sign-up to an operator in possession of an MGA license. As far as we have encountered thus far, facts in relation to the scope of the MGA license requirements are not readily available on the internet but having had fairly extensive experience of working with this agency on issues related to Responsible Gambling, we can confirm that the MGA's expectations of operators regarding Responsible Gambling policies, are not dissimilar to the UKGC's. They too require Self-Exclusions to be implementable if players request such a restriction and they expect the restriction to be extended to Self-Exclude players from all other venues that share their license.
The biggest difference between the Responsible Gambling policies enforced by the UKGC and the MGA is that under MGA regulations, any Time Out or Self-Exclusion restrictions placed by a player can be rescinded at any time during the selected exclusion period, but a 7-day cooling-off period is applied before the player’s account is reactivated after the initial re-activation request has been made.
Like the UKGC, the MGA do not stipulate that offering Deposit and Loss Limit restrictions is a necessity, they welcome the inclusion of them; unlike the UKGC, if a Deposit or Loss Limit is placed then it will be rolled out across all operators on the same license.
Other Regulators – We have extensive experience in the gambling sector and through the years we have found that other gambling regulators are reluctant to specify what their expectations of license holders is when it comes to Responsible Gambling policies. Many of the other regulators specify that their operators should have a Responsible Gambling policy in place but give little or no guidance as to what the scope of it should be. It is vital that players know that those operators displaying licenses from regulators in: Curacao, Costa Rica, Cyprus and Antigua and Barbuda, in the main, may well have Responsible Gambling policies that are inadequate and unfit for purpose. Operators that hold: Alderney, Gibraltar, The Isle of Man or Jersey licenses will probably enforce stricter Responsible Gambling policies though it is still likely to be problematic to specify definitively what the rights of players are.
Luckily for players many of the more reputable and forward-thinking gambling operators are now trying to support vulnerable players as much as they can and as such they are developing tools to aid such players to make informed and non-harmful decisions connected to their gambling choices. Listed for you are some of the most up-to-date developments in the Responsible Gambling provisions made by progressive operators. PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE ARE NOT tools that are required by any of the license providers – they are merely additional player friendly tools on offer by SOME providers across the different regulators.
Deposit Limits – In the interests of protecting players that are prone to spending more than they can truly afford when gambling, lots of gambling providers have programmed their systems to allow players to set an absolute and definitive maximum amount that they can deposit with an operator during a specified period of time. Such limits are only put in place at the actual operator the request was placed at – they will never be rolled out for enforcement at all properties sharing a license. In some cases, the player can set these limits themselves; in others the player must make such a request via Casino Support.
Session Length Limits – Thankfully this sort of limitation is being seen increasingly more often on the sites of reputable operators. Basically, as the name suggests, this particular tool enables players to predefine their maximum session length, most commonly in a 24-hour period, but sometimes over a week or a month too. Once again, this sort of restriction applies only with the original operator at which it was set, and it will not be extended to restrict other properties on the same license.
Loss Limits – In the same way as Deposit Limits restrict the amount of money a player can deposit over a specified period, so too do Loss Limits restrict the amount of money a player can lose over a specified duration. These limits are similar to deposit limits but instead of restricting money deposited they restrict the amount a player can lose over a defined time. Players must recognise the nuances associated with this type of restriction: Loss Limits do not take account of any winnings that are accrued during the defined period of limitation. For example, if a player limits their losses to £200 per week having deposited £100 and then having gone on to win another £1,000, then that player will be able to lose back their entire balance and then an additional £100. Even withdrawing their winnings will not prevent further losses being sustained since they will be allowed to make further deposits until a negative balance of -£200 stands for that week. Loss Limits are generally based on a player’s starting balance as opposed to the highest balance reached.
In instances where a player believes they may be a problem gambler and then goes on to seek assistance from their gambling provider in gaining control over their habit, they are asking a private business to assume responsibility for their personal actions: this is a unique situation in the world of business. Essentially, as soon as a restriction of one sort or other has been placed on a player’s account, the gambling operator placing the restriction takes financial culpability for subsequent losses sustained beyond the point of restriction. It is therefore, essential that players in this situation make their needs completely transparent to the assisting operator so that they can afford the best protection possible in individual instances.
As an organisation with a complaints management remit, we receive innumerable complaints centering on players who have requested an account “closure” and are looking to recoup losses sustained post closure request and implementation. Operators receive frequent demands from customers to “close” their accounts for a variety of reasons that are in no way connected to problem gambling – often as a result of frustration or discontent with the service received – sometimes even as an attempt to strong-arm an operator into offering a larger bonus or other incentive to retain the customer. Logically then, an operator that is not in possession of other significant supporting evidence which unequivocally allows them to determine that the player is showing compulsive gambling tendencies, will make the account closure as requested, but not under their Responsible Gambling policies. In such cases operators are in NO WAY liable for losses that occur if such an account is re-opened. Players cannot expect operators to be mind-readers – they must give clear indications of their compulsive gabling tendencies when requesting that their account is closed if their expectation is that the operator will be liable for their losses beyond this point should they manage to reactivate their account against Responsible Gambling policy stipulations. In essence a player cannot expect an operator to assign a closure request to a problem gambling habit.
Vulnerable players must make their compulsive gambling tendencies apparent to an operator when requesting an account closure using vocabulary that clearly identifies them as a problem gambler who needs help to control their impulses under the operator’s Responsible Gambling policies. Using terminology such as “Self-Exclusion”, “Time Out” or “Problem Gambler” is the ideal. Without irrefutable proof that a player has a gambling problem, from that player’s own mouth, a complaint further down the line may be difficult to uphold. This is because it comes down to a judgement call, based on subjective evidence, whether that player has displayed enough of the high-risk behaviours associated with problem gambling for the operator to have categorised them as a player that needs help under their Responsible Gambling remit.
It is imperative that players make it absolutely clear at first point of contact with an operator that they have problems with gambling to gain the help they require.
Another frequently made player error linking to Self-Exclusions is in relation to the stipulation that operators must ensure that there are no subsequent sign-ups by a Self-Excluded player at other properties sharing their license during the period of Self-Exclusion. It should be made explicitly clear that under Responsible Gambling procedures operators are expected to go to reasonable lengths to impede Self-Excluded players from re-registering with them in order to access gambling provision. To be clear, if a Self-Excluded player tries to re-register at an operator using alternative details to the ones entered on their original account (the one under exclusion) then it would likely be beyond the operator’s duty of care to identify this new account as being held by the already Self-Excluded player before this player manages to access gambling services again. In the same way, if a player has had funds returned under an operator’s Responsible Gambling remit, and the same player has been made well aware of the scope of their Self-Exclusion reaching to all properties sharing a license, then an operator is unlikely to hold the same level of accountability if a player manages to wilfully re-activate their access to gambling services.
Vulnerable players must recognise that a Self-exclusion is not a means of avoiding taking any responsibility for their actions because they have a gambling problem. A Self-Exclusion implies an equal commitment to curtail problem gambling by an operator and an affected player. An operator pledges to try and halt any attempts a vulnerable player makes to gamble; a player pledges not to try and get around their exclusion by signing-up with new details. If a player fails to honour their pledge, then they are unlikely to recover losses just as an operator failing to uphold their pledge would be subject to action by their regulator.
No one is denying that, engaged with responsibly, gambling can be an enjoyable pastime – it only remains enjoyable as long as the losses sustained remain within the player’s comfort zone and do not have a negative impact on other areas of their life. To this end, it is vital that a vulnerable player minimises the likelihood of high-risk behaviours by not putting themselves in precarious gambling positions. With this in mind there are certain negative mindsets you should be careful to watch out for:
- Gambling should never be considered as a possible avenue to replace or generate income. Gambling providers run their establishments to make profit by offering a leisure activity for their customers. The games offered by online gambling providers are not weighted to favour players over operators. Of course, from time-to-time, a player will win money, but in the main the house has the edge. Common sense therefore dictates that the more a player engages with the gambling services, the more they will lose to the house. It is fun to win, and such occasions are worthy of relishing because they seldom occur, hence why gambling cannot be relied upon to provide a steady source of income.
- Players should establish a firm limit for losses and stop playing once this limit has been reached. The outcome of a bet is random – it cannot be predicted – never use money to gamble that you need to maintain your finances from day-to-day. If placing that next bet means that a player cannot feed themselves or their family for the rest of the week then they should never risk that money. The most likely outcome is that the money will be lost and will not be recovered by throwing good money after bad.
- Periods of gambling activity should be kept brief. Though gambling can seem like fun at the start of a session – a player will tire as the session proceeds and this can lead to poorer decision making and larger loses. One poor decision then leads to another and suddenly a player can find themselves sustaining bigger losses than they meant to and that they cannot afford. By ensuring that you keep your sessions short you ensure that you only play when you are fresh and do not allow any losses you may sustain to overtly impact your mental state.
- Never play to hit a target. Players who continue playing beyond the point where they would otherwise have stopped in the hope of reaching a pre-defined balance or 'round number' all too often go on to lose what they have won back to the house. The best advice to players would be to stop gambling if they hit a win that will enable them to do something positive with the money to enhance their life away from gambling.
- Never chase money that has been lost. Statistically, if a player has already lost enough money to make them feel uncomfortable, then continuing to play to try and recover this loss is more likely to end with the player losing more money than recover the loss. Stop the session, accept that the money is gone and wait until you have more truly disposable income before revisiting a gambling provider.
For your convenience we have republished the diagnostic survey created by GamblersAnonymous to help players accurately assess whether they have a problem with gambling. If you find yourself answering “Yes” to seven or more of these questions you should consider taking action to ensure you remain in control of any gambling you do engage in.
Firstly, any player that feels that their gambling habits are becoming harmful to them should install BetBlocker on each of their internet capable devices: mobile phones, desktop computers, tablets, laptops etc. It is strongly advisable that all devices are covered. BetBlocker comes in the form of an app and is a filtering software that facilitates the blocking of any device it is installed on from accessing thousands of online gambling websites. Each player is in control of setting the time they wish to be excluded from such operators for and BetBlocker is absolutely free to use no matter how many installations a player makes.
In the interests of transparency, it is vital to state that ThePOGG.com funded and developed the creation of BetBlocker and of course we are immensely proud of it: there is always going to be a lack of impartiality when we compare it to other filtering softwares – this cannot be avoided. Other filtering softwares do exist in the marketplace but the vital difference is that BetBlocker does not charge a fee for its services to already financially vulnerable players. Since other filtering softwares generally charge a fee per device this can quickly become prohibitively expensive for players. ThePOGG.com receives complaints from problem gamblers every single day and most are at pains to emphasise how financially challenging their life is as a result of their gambling habits. We really want to empower those players to get their lives back in a positive place by offering a tool that they can install on as many internet ready devices as possible without it being to their financial detriment.
Here is a list of some of the other filtering softwares currently on the market:
Of course it is important to recognise that all filtering softwares are fallible but installing any filtering tool that will impede a problem gambler’s ability to access online gambling services and is unquestionably a step in the right direction. It is one of the first steps towards regaining control of your habits and your finances.
The next important step on the path to regaining control of a runaway gambling habit is to seek help from an organisation that specialises in advising and supporting those that feel their life is being negatively impacted as a result of their gambling habit. A list of National and International organisations is listed below for your convenience:
Gambling Therapy – This organisation has international scope and it provides help to both gamblers and their friends and family members.
Gamblers Anonymous – Another organisation with international scope, but this time it facilitates meetings which enable problem gamblers discuss their specific issues in order to overcome their addiction. The meetings are closed in order to maintain confidentiality so that participants can be as candid as possible. Gamblers Anonymous offer several country specific websites to help you find meetings in your area.
>GamAnon – This is the sister organisation to Gamblers Anonymous – its modus operandi is to target its advice and support to the friends and family members of persons afflicted by problem gambling.
QuitGamble.com - This is a service that is currently free and offers resources and a support community for those experiencing gambling addiction or whose lives have been impacted by gambling addiction.
BeGambleAware.org – This organisation is at the forefront of problem gambling support groups in its sector at the moment. BeGambleAware.org is a charity and they are funded by donations made from thise in the gambling industry.
GamCare – This organisation is one which affords support and advice for those that have a problem with gambling but also for their friends and family members too. Funding for the help this service provides comes from its parent organisation: BeGambleAware.org.
Gordon Moody Association – This organisation is one which provides residential help and support for those subject to problem gambling issues.
Below you'll find other organisations with a specific remit to help with gambling addition:
If you represent a Problem Gambling help body based in another country please get in contact with us at [email protected] and we will be happy to include your resource on our list.