Protect gamblers online, government urged


The government has been urged to regulate online gambling to ensure that customers are treated fairly by Paddy Power Betfair and the other big internet bookmakers.

Many aspects of the gambling industry that he said should be tackled in upcoming legislation were detailed in a report released yesterday by David Stanton, the junior justice minister.

The report, compiled by researchers at University College Dublin (UCD), noted that the lack of regulation around online gambling left players “vulnerable, without appropriate consumer protection”.

The report cited a study which found more than a third of online gamblers had disputes with bookmakers. The disputes included being locked out of accounts, a lack of help from staff, delays or failures in payments, not receiving bonuses, spam, software malfunctions and unfair software.

An investigation by The Times revealed that Paddy Power Betfair, Europe’s biggest online gambling company, is among bookmakers that boost profits by singling out, restricting and effectively banning successful gamblers. The Timeshas also learnt that companies build profiles of customers by using intrusive online trackers and social media background checks.

Paddy Power Betfair has said it is not in breach of any data-protection laws and that it restricts winning customers to offer better value to others.

The UCD report recommended that bookmakers should be forced to give customers detailed information about their betting history. It said that giving information on how much gamblers had lost in a session or over a certain time period would allow them to make better decisions and could reduce compulsive behaviour.

Paddy Power said in 2015 that providing customers with their gambling details “seemed fair”, but it has yet to commit to doing so.

The UCD report will be used to draft long-awaited legislation to bring Ireland’s gambling laws up to date. The aim of the report was to find emerging trends and issues in the gambling sector that needed to be legislated for but were not included in the 2013 Gambling Control Bill.

Crystal Fulton, the author of the report, was critical of the industry’s response to problem gambling and recommended a number of responsible gambling features to be considered by the government. “The services on offer to those with a gambling problem are sparse and most often funded by the gambling industry,” she said.

Dr Fulton said research had shown that “pop-up” messages could be used to interrupt gamblers showing compulsive behaviour. “Self-exclusion, limit settings, and pre-commitment systems have been shown to reduce problem gambling and have become more prominent in recent years,” she said. “However, more needs to be done.”

Many of the existing restrictions, designed to limit exposure to gambling for vulnerable or underage people, had not been effective online,” she said. “While there has been further restriction on advertising gambling, this does not always extend to online adverts or promotions through social media which can be used to send positive messages about gambling.

“Multiple gambling activities are available online, through social media, and through apps with little regulation, increasing the exposure to those at risk.”

The government has been criticised for inaction on the delayed Gambling Control Bill. The bill, which was put forward in July 2013, has not progressed since November that year.

Mr Stanton has been given responsibility for the 2013 bill by Frances Fitzgerald, the justice minister. He has said he will break it down into smaller pieces so that some areas can be legislated for as soon as possible.

The department has not yet indicated which pieces could be removed from the bill, but a number will be included in a miscellaneous bill later this year.

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