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SkillOnNet – Responsible Gambling Failures

Posted by THEPOGG on Dec 18, 2017

During the course of a recent complaint (https://thepogg.com/complaint/playojo-ignored-permanent-self-exclusion/) it has come to our attention that the SkillOnNet white label platform provider and UKGC license holder have employed a Self-Exclusion system that we believe fails to meet their license requirements, appears to intentionally channel vulnerable users in a manner intended to ensure that they select the weakest possible protection offered by the license and actively misleads the player as to the protections they’ve selected.

The specifics of the complaint in question are that the player had Self-Excluded at DrueckGlueck.co.uk on the 4th of August 2016. They were subsequently allowed to open an account and play over an extended period of time at PlayOjo casino.

Having looked at the Self-Exclusion system in place at these properties it is our opinion, based on feedback we’ve received from the UKGC, that this system is not compliant with the UKGC LCCP (http://live-gamblecom.cloud.contensis.com/PDF/LCCP/Licence-conditions-and-codes-of-practice.pdf). Our specific concern is with the requirement detailed below:

“5 Licensees should take all reasonable steps to ensure that:

a the minimum self-exclusion period offered is of a duration of not less than 6 nor more than 12 months;

b any self-exclusion may, on request, be extended for one or more further periods of at least 6 months;

c the self-exclusion arrangements give customers the option of selecting a self-exclusion period of up to at least five years;”

…..

f where a customer chooses not to renew, and makes a positive request to begin gambling again, during the 7 year period following the end of their initial self-exclusion, the customer is given one day to cool off before being allowed to access gambling facilities. Contact must be made via phone or in person; re-registering online is not sufficient;”

Given that this player had signed up at a second operator on the same license our initial concerns were with point f – as far as we could determine the required 24 hour cooling off period had not been enforced and the player had not been contact directly. Having re-registered at a separate provider on the same license we could understand the difficulties a white label license holder may have identifying this type of situation, by the time the account is identified the damage may already be done, but the LCCP does appear to explicitly address this issue. As such, before drawing any conclusions we decided to look for clarification from the UKGC directly.

Before approaching the UKGC it seemed prudent review the function of the Responsible Gambling tools being offered by SkillOnNet. As such an account was registered with PlayOjo and we looked at the section within the player account that allows for the imposition of differing restrictions. Below is what we found with regard to Self-Exclusions:

Seeing the above a secondary concern was raised: points 3.5.4.5.a-c all define that players have to be offered a range of possible Self-Exclusion options from a minimum of 6 months extending to at least 5 years. The above pictured tool does not provide any options to the player and does not define the length of exclusion that will be activated when the player submits a Self-Exclusion request.

Having reviewed the communication the player had with the PlayOjo team the system appears to be set to register a 180 day (6 months) Self-Exclusion and this would only be extended if the player directly contacts support to request this. There are multiple problems with this system:

1) Inadequate information – While engaging this system, nowhere before an exclusion is placed is it made clear to the player the length of exclusion they are selecting, nor does it inform players how they would go about implementing a more robust protection than the minimum levels this feature automatically implements until a single message at the very end of the procedure that is not accessible again after the message is dismissed:

The above is the only mention we could find on the PlayOjo site of exclusions longer than this standard 6 month period being available other than a single line in the operator’s terms and conditions:

“20.3.1 We offer

• a) A cooling off period of 24, 48 hour or one week

• b) A temporary Suspension for 1,2 or 3 months

• c) A Self Exclusion for minimum 6 months and maximum of 5 years

There is no information included in the Responsible Gambling section of the PlayOjo site whether logged in or not explaining that any exclusion longer than 6 months is available.

So short of having dug through the terms and conditions document or already having actively engaged a Self-Exclusion and read the alerts afterwards, the user would be uneducated as to the availability of option other than the undefined Self-Exclusion feature.

2) Actively misleading the player – The next issue is that the SkillOnNet system actively misleads the player as to what has been enforced. Below you’ll find the email that was issued to the complaining player at the time of their Self-Exclusion at DrueckGlueck:

[Please note – we highlighted the word “permanently”, the formatting of this word was the same as the rest of the text in the original email.]

The explanation provided by SkillOnNet for this particular email is that the account is Self-Excluded permanently unless the player takes “proactive action to lift the restriction” after their 6 month Self-Exclusion period has been passed. However, by license definition this is a 6 month Self-Exclusion not a permanent Self-Exclusion.

By the LCCP all Self-Exclusions are required to run for a period of 7 years after the chosen period has ended unless the player “makes a positive request to being gambling again”. While SkillOnNet may be extending Self-Exclusions indefinitely rather than for 7 years without a positive request being made to begin gambling again (an action we would support), this is not the same as the expectation that is created in the user with the use of the word “permanent”, which would suggest a Self-Exclusion that can never be lifted. Under the definition being used by SkillOnNet, a 6 month Self-Exclusion is just as permanent as a 5 year Self-Exclusion and users would have no reasonable way of knowing the difference between these “permanent” Self-Exclusions.

3) Intent – Unfortunately, having looked that the Responsible Gambling section being offered by the SkillOnNet platform, it is our opinion that this feature has been designed and implemented in a manner that is specifically intended to channel those users that wish to implement a Self-Exclusion towards selecting the most basic and minimal possible exclusion options. When we select to implement the other account restrictions tools below is what we were presented with:

Cooling-Off

Temporary Suspension

In both of the above features it’s clear to see that a selection of options are being offered. This demonstrates that there’s no technological barrier to providing users with options. Yet when the user selects ‘Self-Exclusion’ they are provided only a single option, of the minimum possible length and protection and with no information about the length of exclusion or the possibility of longer exclusions other than a small dismissable message provided at the very end of the exclusion process.

Given the options provided for both Cooling-Off and Temporary Suspension there’s no reason that similar options could not be offered for the Self-Exclusion option and we can only view the construction of this system, specifically with regard to the absence of appropriate options in the Self-Exclusion section and the timing and restricted accessibility of information informing users that there is any possibility of higher levels of restriction, as a cynical effort to increase the likelihood that the most vulnerable of users will select the lowest level of protection that UKGC licensed operators are required to offer. Even if the final message encouraging users to contact support if they need to extend the exclusion period does technically meet the LCCP requirements – and to be clear we do not believe this to be the case – in our opinion this system has been implemented in a manner that is outwith the spirit of the regulation and as these regulations are specifically set out to protect at risk and vulnerable individuals we feel this practice has to be viewed as abhorrent in its very nature.

As stated above we sought guidance from UKGC on this issue, but redacted the information provided to them so as not to identify the licensee. The feedback we receive indicates that:

1) With regard to the 24 hour cooling off period, this may be a breach of license conditions but it would depend on the details of the situation. One of the potential examples where this may not be in breach of license was to question whether it could be argued that the player only Self-Excluded at one particular brand. In this specific instance that is not the case as the user was provided with information at multiple points that the exclusion is license wide, including in the email pictured above.

2) With regard to the Self-Exclusion options being offered – the UKGC were provided with the screenshots displayed in this article and indicated the regulator did not feel that this tool was compliant with regulations as licensees are required to offer Self-Exclusions ranging up to at least 5 years.

The above is guidance only – we have paraphrased the communication received from the UKGC and this cannot be considered a final ruling on this issue. Only the UKGC can determine whether or not this system is compliant or not after reviewing the full function of the system directly.

At the point where the UKGC provided this guidance they also requested to know who the licensee was. Up till this point we have withheld this information. Our reasoning for doing this is that our immediate priority was to seek a resolution for the complainant who sought our help and passing this information on at this point may damage our ability to continue a conversation with the operator. In our opinion this player is entitled to a refund of their losses and while there appear to be far broader issues with the Responsible Gambling features being implemented by SkillOnNet that we feel require review by the UKGC, our first priority is to try to help the player that has approached us. As such we provided PlayOjo the information we had gathered above and explained our position on this situation and provided information regarding the feedback we’d received from the UKGC. PlayOjo have now responded stating that they disagree with our conclusions, indicating that they will not be actioning any refund to the player in question and will wait to hear from the UKGC if relevant. That being the case we have now forwarded on this licensees information in full to the regulator.

To our mind, as we’ve made clear above, this system has been set up to actively lead users to select the minimum possible levels of protection. While technically there are longer exclusions available information about longer exclusions is being presented in a manner that is, with a generous description, difficult to locate. The structure of this system alongside the dismissive response we received from this group, in our opinion, strongly indicates that this is a conscious policy decision and we would suggest that it is likely the uptake of any Self-Exclusion longer than 6 months is far lower with this group than with other groups that make a concerted effort to inform users of the varying Self-Exclusion options that are available. This policy ensures that vulnerable individuals who have already identified that gambling is hazardous to them are allowed to re-engage with a self-destructive activity at SkillOnNet run services in as short a time as possible.

As an industry gambling already has a bad reputation. Responsible participants in this industry should be actively looking to ensure that at risk consumers are given the support they need to avoid detrimental behaviour patterns, not manipulated into taking the bases minimum level of protection the industry is required to offer in the hopes of further profiting from their illness in the future.

Casinos currently running on the SkillOnNet license:

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