Gambling company VIP schemes face ban

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The UK Gambling Commission is set to enforce a ban on the VIP schemes run by betting and casino companies, with some ministers describing the concept as ‘immoral’.

Popular with most of the large gambling companies, a VIP scheme sees a manager being assigned to a client deemed to be a VIP, so they can provide a one-to-one service, offering them extra bonuses and promotions.

Customers who are classed as VIPs are usually the highest spenders. The proposal to ban this offer is part of the UK government’s Gambling Review, with critics of these types of schemes insisting the tactic is only helping to fuel problem gambling.

The industry regulator, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), had already brought in measures where bookies and casinos had to check that a customer could afford what they were spending on their betting before being offered the VIP service.

The UKGC was set up to safeguard customers to ensure gambling is fair and safe, and it licenses all the major bookies and casinos. In fact, it has made gambling in this country one of the safest industries in the world, with sites like STS Bet in the UK operating with a big emphasis on responsible gambling.

Despite their efforts, the gambling commission has been accused of not going far enough to protect players.

Former Conservative party leader, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, has campaigned on this issue for years, saying it was “high time” VIP managers were banned. And he may have won the argument with an outright ban on the VIP practice believed to have achieved ministerial support.

Duncan Smith welcomed the news, adding that VIP schemes were an “atrocious abuse, forcing people into debt.” He also said that “they are deliberately driving gamblers to worse debt”.And when questioned about the UKGC’s claims that they have better regulated the VIP practice, DuncanSmith described the claim as “rubbish”.

The UKGC had been expected to ban VIP managers last year when they brought in new industry rules but instead chose to tighten the regulation and make it harder for people to qualify for the scheme. This led campaigners to question the relationship between the industry and the UKGC, saying the new regulations were“weak and vague”.

Some of the biggest bookmakers in the UK, such as Paddy Power and Ladbrokes, have been handed huge, multi-million-pound fines in the past for “targeting” so-called gambling addicts, but now VIP programs face much tougher regulations.

Entry to them for anyone under 25 years old currently requires senior sign-off from administrators at the betting or casino operators. There is additional monitoring on the customer’s account, too. However, the Government is now planning to use its Gambling Review, which is set to overhaul the 2005 Gambling Act, to go further with the regulations.

The review, which may also include plans for punters to share their wage slips with betting companies to prove income, is due to conclude to form a white paper later this year. A department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports spokesperson said: “The consultation on the Gambling Act Review closed in March, and we are carefully considering responses that provided evidence and views including those on advertising practices.”

However, a spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council has defended the VIP schemes. He said: “The BGC, working with the Gambling Commission, has already taken tough action on VIP accounts, including the introduction of a strict new code of conduct which has seen the number of players enrolled reduced by 70 percent.”

Gambling companies must now assess whether there is previous evidence of harm or addiction and make a senior manager personally responsible for any invites to their VIP schemes.

VIP programs typically require customers to spend a minimum of £1,000 per month and can be very lucrative for companies.

Entain, which owns Ladbrokes, admitted it takes 38 percent of deposits from just over one percent of its customers, while Paddy Power and Betfair last year took a fifth of its revenues from just 0.6 percent of customers.

Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission chief executive, said: “Our enforcement work has identified too many cases of misconduct in the management of VIP schemes, and this is the last chance for operators to show they can operate such schemes appropriately.”

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