Gambling Commission in Shake Up of Alternative Dispute Providers

By Simon Wright, Last updated Aug 9, 2019

On the 7th August we published news that the UK Gambling Commission intend to make changes to their Licence Conditions and Code of Practice, which will come into force later this year on 31 October.

With the Gambling Commission releasing the news of these changes, as an attempt to make gambling online safer and also fairer for players. (Their words.)

Max Drayman, Casinomeister’s Complaints Manager was asked to spend some time examining the text released by the UKGC which details the changes which are to be made. As such below are our observations and concerns listed as to how they actually affect you, the player, and the Alternative Dispute Providers.

Improving ADR for Consumers?

Under section 1.10, it states: “In 2019, we will consult on a change to our Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) for gambling businesses. This change would require businesses to only use [ADR] providers who meet both the requirements of the ADR Regulations and our additional requirements.”

Furthermore, under section 1.14 titled Our objectives in issuing the standards and guidance, the following is mentioned: “Our objectives in implementing these additional standards are to … ensure that gambling businesses only use ADR providers that comply with these requirements …”

And (much) later under “introducing the new standards”, section 7.6:

“This change would require gambling businesses that we license to use only ADR providers who meet the requirements of both the ADR Regulations and our standards.”

Having digested the highlighted text from the Gambling Commission, the conclusion that could be reached is that the UKGC is now barring licensees from using ADRs that have not been approved by them. However, this apparently is not the case and is an area that The Pogg looked into at great depth at the end of May earlier this year.

Furthermore The Pogg earlier this week received further clarification on this matter from the UKGC.

The Role of the ADR Provider

Section 2.16 states: “The ADR provider … should identify the key issues and seek additional information from either party to the dispute to clarify information they have already supplied. … It would not be acceptable for the [ADR] provider to undertake an investigation that went beyond clarifying the information supplied by the parties to the dispute.”

This statement shows that the Gambling Commission is formalizing their position against ADRs being pro-active in determining the veracity of the claims and evidence presented by the parties in a dispute.

Any experienced ADR will have developed professional skills and knowledge. Often that means having a good sense for whether the scenario being given them by the player or casino is a legitimate and plausible case.

Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not, and it is not uncommon that outside evidence — player history (including previous complaints), a casino’s business structure, etc. — is required to get to the heart of the matter and thereby make a fair and reasonable decision.

The UKGC is disallowing their ADRs any such effort and/or expertise: “Take what is given and go no further” is the bottom line.

ADR Regulations – Requirements for ADR Providers to Disclose Evidence

Section 2.19 states the following: “The ADR regulations require a provider to disclose to a party to a dispute on request the arguments, evidence, documents and facts put forward by the other party …”

Casinos cannot share information with an ADR and expect that information to remain confidential. Any and all evidence must be shared with the player on request, barring that related to official AML investigations and the like.

In particular a casino attempting to defend itself against multi-account fraud will find that any information they provide to the ADR will end up in the multi-accounter’s hands, thereby effectively training the multi-accounter to up their game.

Needless to say, casinos won’t share this kind of information because it’s too valuable to them in the ongoing battle against player fraud.

They’ll likely just pay the multi-accounter and send them on their way. In effect the UKGC is handing multi-accounters an “every day is Christmas” free pass to commit as much account fraud as they are capable of mustering.

Disputes and Regulatory Matters

Section 3.9 has the following text: “If the [ADR] provider is unable to [deal with a dispute] the only other option available to consumers to seek resolution is to take the matter to court. “

This makes it important for [ADR] providers to ensure they consider as many disputes as possible.”

The UKGC has taken the decision that ADRs should accept as great a level of risk and/or resource drain as they can bear in order to satisfy the consumer’s needs. Making the consumer’s needs an ADR’s responsibility is highly questionable.

Anti-Money Laundering

Of late over the past few months, many iGaming operators have been subjected to a variety of penalty packages from the UKGC, which have arisen due to identified failings in their anti-money laundering systems in place.

High profile brands such as Ladbrokes Coral, who were hit with a £5.9 million penalty package and the Jackpot Joy Group owned Gamesys have been subjected to these measures dished out by the UKGC.

Section 3.10 covers this and what information is to be made available  to the ADR.  Indeed section 3.10 covers a multitude of areas which we cover directly below.

The UKGC states that: “The ADR provider does not need to know whether the gambling business has submitted a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) … and the gambling business should not disclose this information to the provider.”

ADRs will be making decisions on a dispute that may well be completely wrong, and indeed irrelevant, because of an ongoing SAR investigation. The fact that this will reflect poorly on the ADR is apparently no concern of the UKGC’s

Furthermore Section 3.1 states: “Relevant considerations could include whether there is an ongoing police or criminal investigation, or the suspicion has been reported to the authorities.”

If the ADR is explicitly to NOT be told when there is an ongoing SAR then how could they know of an official investigation?

In practice a SAR is required to initiate such an investigation so the ADR would, by the UKGC’s own directive, be ignorant of it. How is the UKGC not giving conflicting directives here?

Moving on and still covering section 3.10, the issue of irregular betting or match fixing is covered. The UKGC is equating “irregular betting” with match fixing. This is a very different interpretation than that used by most casinos where “irregular betting” is taken to mean any betting pattern that the casino doesn’t approve of.

In this particular instance the UKGC is, or could be, doing the industry a great service by effectively disallowing the wide-spread abuse of terminology like “irregular betting” and/or “bonus abuse”.

Rigged or unfair whereby the Gambling Commission states: “the ADR provider could consider information held by the gambling business, for example, to establish whether a game has been tested, recent evidence of ongoing monitoring of the RTP, or an audit record of a gaming machine.”

Game fairness and RTP verification is a licencing issue and should properly be the responsibility of the licencing body and/or its agents. Expecting the ADRs to obtain fairness verification whenever a player cries “rigged game” is totally unrealistic and an abdication of the licensing body’s basic responsibilities.

Gambling when players are ‘self-excluded’ is also covered by 3.10 with the UKGC stating: “The ADR provider’s role does not include considering whether the [gambling] business’s self-exclusion policy is effective — this is a requirement of the business’s licence and is a matter for us.”

In practice almost all self exclusion issues boil down to whether the operator acted responsibly and had effective SE measures in place so the UKGC is in effect saying that SE complaints are their problem.

Kudos to them! Quite right and good on them for finally taking responsibility for SE issues.

“… multi-operator self-exclusion schemes are in operation for both online and land-based gambling sectors. … complaints related to these schemes are a matter for us.”

Again, kudos on them. ADRs cannot and should not have to deal with complaints related to the multi-operator self-exclusion schemes that the UKGC itself recommends and promotes.

Decisions and Resolutions

Moving on to section 3.12 which covers ‘Decisions and Resolutions’ and this point: “If the outcome involves a payment for the consumer, the ADR provider may also consider factors such as:

  • Reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses caused by the dispute … the provider should consider whether reimbursement is appropriate.”

Asking ADRs to call upon gambling businesses to pay such costs is highly questionable. Without very clear directives from the UKGC to the casinos regarding such matters, the UKGC is putting the ADRs in the position of having to justify such decisions to the operators themselves.

The UKGC is again abdicating its responsibilities here. There should be explicit guidelines in the LCCP and the ADR would then simply ask the operator to comply.

Anything less is likely to be unworkable.

Section 3.13 deals with the general principles for considering compensation whereby the UKGC “expect ADR providers to take into account the following general principles when considering whether to award compensation. … The ADR provider may look at whether a dispute has had a considerable emotional or other impact on the consumer … For example: … stress or physical or mental suffering … inconvenience … damage to a consumer’s reputation …”

Max an ADR of 12 years’ experience comments: “I can assure the reader that no ADR in the business is qualified to assess such things AND this is an open invitation for spurious and fabricated “hardship” claims.”

These are matters for mental health professionals and ultimately the courts to decide, not ADRs. The UKGC expectations here are not only ignoring reality for the convenience of brushing these delicate issues off on to the ADRs but they are throwing the ADRs under a bus:

Casinos will demand detailed justification for any such expenses they face and ADRs are neither qualified to do that job nor do they have the resources to fight that fight. One can’t help but think that the UKGC is just throwing this against the wall to see if it sticks, with no regard for the ADRs on the front line who will suffer the consequences of such a misguided attempt.

With the UKGC also stating: “We expect [ADR] providers to apply a consistent approach to determining the amount of any compensation awards …”

Max was pretty quick in knocking this for six, commenting: “LOL. If there were any justice to be had here the ADRs would, in a highly uncharacteristic collective voice, inform the UKGC that they “expect” the UKGC to provide a blueprint of said “consistent approach”.”

“The UKGC hasn’t because they are not mental health professionals and they are not the courts. They simply aren’t qualified to do this, and neither are the ADRs.”

The Gambling Commission also stated that: “The amount of any compensation awarded is at the discretion of the ADR provider and is not subject to appeal within the ADR process.”

Which is further expanded on in section 3.14 and 3.15, where they say: “ADR providers in the gambling industry may wish to agree an approach to compensation with each other. “

“By producing these principles, we aim to ensure that any future awards made follow a consistent approach.”

With  Max in response commenting: “I don’t think it’s too far out of line to say that this is the UKGC wielding a large broom to sweep this whole ‘compensation’ issue off its doorstep and onto the ADR’s. Shame on the UKGC for its blatant dereliction of duty.”

Vulnerable Consumers

Lastly Section 5.14 covers the issue of vulnerable consumers, with the UKGC stating: “Providers will need to consider if the language the consumer has used in raising their dispute, or in any of their other communication, indicates that they might be vulnerable or need additional support.”

“Providers may also need to consider whether, for example, the consumer needs additional support or alternative means to contact them. “

“Whether there are indications that the consumer’s gambling behaviour puts them at risk of being harmed by their gambling, or presents a risk that others (such as family members) may be harmed.”

On this point, Max again was pretty clear in his view, commenting: “Again the UKGC is asking ADRs to do something that is more appropriate for a government agency such as Social Services or the like. Add this to the general dereliction of duty mentioned earlier.”

Simon Wright

Simon Wright has been both a player and an observer of the online casino industry for over 15 years. His knowledge of the online casino industry – to include sports is massive. Not many folks have the experience or his knowledge about online gambling. His adoration of football is also noted. He has painted his house blue (Chelsea) and annoys his neighbors with local football songs on game days.

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