In a public statement (that can be downloaded below), it has been announced by the Gambling Commission today that Sky Betting & Gaming is to pay a penalty package of over £1 million for failing to protect vulnerable Skybet customers who had self-excluded from gambling, with the consequence that:
- 736 self-excluded customers were able to open and use duplicate accounts to gamble between November 2014 and November 2017 – in breach of LCCP Social Responsibility Code 3.5.3(1),
- about 50,000 self-excluded customers received marketing material by email, mobile text or a push notification within a mobile app – in breach of Social Responsibility Code 3.5.3(2) – and
- 36,748 self-excluded customers did not have their account balance funds returned to them on account closure – in breach of Social Responsibility Code 3.5.3(5).
The total penalty package amounts to £1,008,600, including a payment of £750,000 to charities for responsible causes in lieu of a financial penalty. In what should provide valuable learning for other operators, the financial penalty would undoubtedly have been higher had Skybet not:
- been proactive and timely in self-reporting of all issues identified,
- been open and transparent from the outset of the investigation and fully co-operative with the Commission throughout its investigation,
- initiated thorough internal investigations and taken proactive action to address identified failings and weaknesses, on which it fully reported to the Commission,
- provided demonstrable insight into the seriousness of its social responsibility failings,
- proactively divested monies that should not have been in the business (i.e. the GGY derived from duplicate accounts and closed account balances, rather than awaiting regulatory action, and
- made admissions of its failings to the Commission.
In terms of other “good practice” learning opportunity for remote gambling operators licensed by the Commission, the public statement suggests that they should consider the following questions to avoid similar issues arising in their businesses:
- How many details would a self-excluded customer have to change to be prevented from opening a duplicate account? Is it so sensitive as to pick up on spacing and case changes? Is your online registration system sufficiently robust?
- Do you make use of all information available, including complaints, to identify potential procedural weaknesses? Do your customer contact arrangements identify potential failings in your systems, so as to enable prompt investigation and remedy?
- How promptly are details of self-excluded customers removed from your marketing databases, including those held by affiliates?
- Are your data sets ring-fenced to prevent access to self-excluded customers’ details for marketing purposes? Are internal controls and restrictions sufficient?
- How promptly do you return funds to a self-excluded customer? To do so swiftly ensures you have active payment methods available to effect the return.
- Would you have complied with requirements to self-report these events to the Commission?
Richard Watson, the Commission’s Programme Director, has said: “This was a serious failure affecting thousands of potentially vulnerable customers and the £1m penalty package should serve as a warning to all gambling businesses. Protecting consumers from gambling-related harm is a priority for us and where we see operators failing in their responsibility to keep their customers safe we will take tough action. Skybet reported the issues to us quickly, cooperated with us and has taken this investigation seriously.”
For his part, Sky Betting and Gaming chief executive Richard Flint is reported as saying: “We have always taken responsible gambling and player protection very seriously, but this incident showed that we needed to do more. When we spotted the issue, we pro-actively notified the Gambling Commission and have worked to improve our processes to avoid this happening again. We could and should have made it harder for self-excluded customers to open duplicate accounts with us and for that we are sorry. We fully agree with the Gambling Commission’s findings and will donate the agreed sum to charities for socially responsible purposes. We want to reassure people that we have not made any profit out of this episode. In relation to account balances, wherever possible and practical we have returned the money to the people involved.”