Is Self-Exclusion an Illusion?

By MaxD, Last updated Jul 29, 2020

As the Complaints Manager at Casinomeister I have my finger on the pulse of the player community — sort of. Actually, what I really have is an earful of what is troubling a fair cross-section of players at any given time. Over the years that has varied: sometimes non-payment predominates, other times it’s been RTP reporting, and lately it’s been issues related to self-exclusion and Responsible Gaming.

Let’s begin by defining our terms:

  • self-exclusion (SE) is an explicit request by a player to a casino, or casino group, to be barred from playing at that casino or group of casinos.
  • Responsible Gaming (RG) is a code of conduct related to player care expected of a casino licensee, usually by the licensor. To date, the UKGC is the only body that has formally defined Responsible Gaming practice.

Judging from what I see in my in-basket, the bulk of player complaints these days, and for the past several months, are SE and/or RG related. Needless to say, it’s usually the case that when there is a major shift in the nature of player complaints then there is something, somewhere, driving it. Often, trying to put your finger on the actual cause is a matter of making an educated guess. Other times, there is a rather more obvious line between between cause and effect.

In their official statement of 20 January this year entitled “Online operators required to participate in multi-operator self-exclusion scheme …” the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) announced that

“all online gambling operators must participate in the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme GAMSTOP. … Operators must do everything they can to minimise the risk of gambling related harm. That is why we expect the industry to create safe products, know their customers, understand what they can afford to gamble with and identify when they are experiencing harm and step in.

Call me a cynic if you must, but it seems that as soon as the UK government made casinos responsible for UK players SE and spending habits the nature of the complaints we receive shifted in a big way toward SE and RG. If those complaints were largely legitimate issues from players genuinely trying to get a grip on their gambling habits then I’d have no quarrel with any of it but that has not been the case. A significant majority of SE and RG related complaints I’ve seen in the last 6 months have been misguided at best, and most have been downright dubious and fallacious.

The misguided issue is relatively easy to deal with: if you are playing at a casino that is not licensed in a jurisdiction that has a clear SE policy and enforces it then an SE-related complaint against that casino is likely to go nowhere. Not enforcing SE policy effectively means that SE doesn’t exist in that jurisdiction. In this circumstance it’s fair to say, as hinted in the title of this piece, that SE at a casino in that jurisdiction is an illusion because there is no one to police or enforce SE policy.

The problem, of course, is that all casinos want their players to believe they are practising “Responsible Gambling” and are happy to throw a little something into the Terms about SE procedures to make it look good. But do they enforce their SE policy? Do they honour a player’s SE request for as long as they say they will? Is the player’s SE applied to all casinos within a given group? And what if they don’t? Is their licensing body going to hold them to any of it?

To the best of my knowledge, there are only two licensing jurisdictions that actively enforce a legitimate SE policy at this time: Kahnawake and the UKGC. Kahnawake’s SE system has been in place and operating smoothly for years. In fact, it was the first in the industry to do so in a serious way, starting in 2012. What makes Kahnawake’s SE system “serious”? They administer and enforce it themselves! They are the licensing body and they are the SE administrator and enforcer. It works beautifully and has been the gold standard SE system in the business since it started.

The UKGC has been a different story. They struggled for years with the SE issue: first it was something their ADRs were supposed to handle; then it wasn’t, but there was no other option available; then all SE issues were supposed to be forwarded to the UKGC itself but they made it clear that they wouldn’t handle individual cases, meaning players still had nowhere to turn for aid with SE issues.

Finally, this year, the UKGC put forth the GAMSTOP policy which effectively hands the day-to-day operation of SE in the UK off to a third (private) party. As far as I know, the UKGC still accepts complaints regarding SE but their “no individual cases” policy remains in place, meaning they look at cases for informational purposes only, presumably to keep tabs on the system and the UKGC licensees.

And how effective is GAMSTOP? Reliable sources say “it works” and I don’t doubt that it does if the player is committed to working with it to make it work. I know for a fact that GAMSTOP is easily circumvented if the player wishes to do so. And that begs the question of whether it is fit for purpose. Insofar as players who do not try and circumvent the system are properly blocked by the system I’d say GAMSTOP deserves a “thumbs up”.

As to whether the GAMSTOP approach is sufficient … I’d have to say that the system at Kahnawake, for instance, is much harder to circumvent and thus it could be argued that it’s a better, more effective, system. That said the player base of UKGC licensed casinos is, at a guess, at least an order of magnitude larger than that of Kahnawake so that has to be taken into consideration.

Another issue with GAMSTOP is that GAMSTOP itself has become a target for unscrupulous affiliates. Do a search for “GAMSTOP” and you’ll see a disturbing number of sites on the first page offering methods to circumvent its and/or listing casinos not registered with GAMSTOP.

While this is certainly the work of “bad men” and not GAMSTOP’s fault it is also a fact of life. And given that it is relatively easy to circumvent, you have to ask yourself at what point should we start to question the whole GAMSTOP model. Sure, it works when everyone involved follows the procedure by the book, but is it enough? Is it robust enough? Is it really a proper solution or is it just a half measure?

Another disturbing trend that’s come to light, is that supposedly reputable casino operators themselves have been caught doing as little as possible to honour player SE. For instance, recent PAB Complaints at Casinomeister have shown that operators who are licensees at the UKGC will happy ignore their client’s SE at casinos they have licensed elsewhere, knowing full well that the client has SE’d at their UKGC casino.

For example: player self-excludes at Casino X which is licensed at the UKGC. Player then goes to play at Casino Y which is licensed in Curacao, for example, but is owned and operated by the same group that does Casino X. Player complains that their SE was not honoured but the casino people simply say “different license, not our problem”. Maybe they are within their legal rights to do so but this reveals that they are obviously only paying lip service to the SE principles.

For the record Malta is working to join the list of SE-enforced jurisdictions in that they’ve issued “Preliminary Market Consultation” papers in 2018 and 2019 regarding “A Unified Self-Exclusion Systemfor the Gaming Industry in Malta”. My understanding is that for now they rule on SE complaints individually.

I had mentioned earlier that there were a good percentage of dubious or fallacious SE complaints coming through. To make a long story short, the UKGC threw open the barn doors when they said “we expect the industry to … know their customers, understand what they can afford to gamble with and identify when they are experiencing harm and step in”. At that moment every chancer and fraudster in the online scene — and they are many — was handed a “get out of jail” card and invited to have a go at any UKGC casino they wished to target.

While it’s true that, in time and with effort, many of those cases can be dealt with, the bottom line is that it’s a scammers paradise these days directly because of the UKGC fobbing off responsibilities to the casinos that almost anyone can claim they are failing to meet. Since there is no downside for the scammers to give it a go, many are.

Whatever the UKGC’s motives for their actions, the point is that they are again ignoring the realities of the industry and the repercussions of their actions. One might be forgiven for asking “Why did they do it?” “That”, as Hammy Hamster was apparently fond of saying, “is another story”.


I started in the online gaming biz in 1998 as a content writer for the late, great (aka “WOL”). Those were the Wild West days of the online casino scene when everything we did was a first so “content writer” morphed into whatever the day called for: games reviewer, rules “guru”, casino critic, self-appointed industry watchdog, a “Dear Max” advice column, and finally forum manager (aka “head chaos monkey”). WOL was sold to Cryptologic in 2001 and went through a fairly rapid sequence of management changes resulting in me being made redundant in 2007. I was unemployed for roughly four hours before I joined Casinomeister to aid with, and eventually assume, the complaints department responsibilities. The service then was called “Pitch A Bitch” — “PAB” for short — which Bryan had originally started in 2001, also a first in the business. While the needs of the job were well established the actual process (now called “Player ArBitration”, still “PAB” for short) has evolved considerably over the years as dispute arbitration has grown to become one of the most important and called-upon player-facing functions in the business.

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