Is a Gambling Ombudsman Now a Formality for the UK Betting Sector?

Ombudsman DefinitionAs has been well documented on these pages, the UK Government is currently taking a long, hard look at their Gambling Act legislation.

The general consensus is that it does not accurately reflect the industry it is meant to govern, with the speed of technological innovation occurring at such a pace that the 16-year-old set of rules are all but redundant.

Problem gambling remains a hot topic for debate, as does the spectre of potential affordability checks – it is rumoured that ministers are considering introducing these checks to confirm that punters can afford to lose a specified amount per month, with £100 floated as a possible watershed.

While not directly linked to the consultation, the government will also be considering the role of the UK Gambling Commission – their official regulator that is, to some, not quite up to scratch in terms of upholding the values of the industry.

It’s certainly not impossible that a replacement – or, at least, a separate entity that could monitor the work of the Commission – will be introduced. We will know more when the review submits its White Paper, expected by the end of the year.

And so, perhaps, we will soon be saying hello to the UK’s first ever official gambling ombudsman.

Power to the People

Plenty are considering the potential of an independent body that’s sole task is to keep tabs n the sector and ensure the needs of the ‘customer’ are met.

Michael Dugher, the chief of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has also suggested that an ombudsman could be exactly what is required. In an impassioned posting on the BGC website, he wrote: “We hope the government will look favourably on our calls for a Gambling Ombudsman to be established as soon as possible following the conclusion of the gambling review, which we strongly support.

“The BGC and its members recognise the need for further change in our industry and a new Gambling Ombudsman would be a step forward in customer redress – I’m proud to be giving it our backing.”

The BGC is a membership body that represents betting shops, online bookmakers and casinos, so it’s in their best interests to ensure that operators are viewed in the best possible light.

It can be very difficult for punters who find themselves locked in a dispute with a bookmaker to get the independent help that they need. Right now, there is no body designated to deal with complaints and disputes – and it’s rare for the Commission to step in as a resolution service.

There is the Independent Betting Adjudication Service, although there are question marks about the effectiveness and visibility of that organisation.

A number of stakeholders in the sector have called for an ombudsman to be introduced, including the former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson and the Horseracing Bettors’ Forum.

What Would a Gambling Ombudsman Do?

In theory, the gambling ombudsman would have one primary function – to act as the direct point of contact for punters involved in a dispute with a betting firm.

They could act as a resolution service, without customers having to jump through numerous hoops to get action taken, and perhaps even have the regulatory powers to enforce compensation payments and/or bet settlement where the evidence points at such.

There is also a concern about data transparency, particularly if affordability checks are introduced. How would betting sites determine whether a punter is ‘suitable’ or not? Payslips? Bank statements? Tax returns? And how would this data be stored?

There is, clearly, a need for an independent body to act forcefully and quickly when there’s a dispute between a punter and their bookie, and a new government-approved organisation could be exactly the answer.

How Do Punters Complain About a Bookmaker?

If you are locked in a dispute with your bookmaker – perhaps they are refusing to settle a bet as a winner? – this is the process you should follow.

All betting sites will have a customer support team, and you should really go through them first – being sure to keep a paper-trail, which is why emails are actually useful in these situations (albeit it’s a slower medium than phone or live chat support).

If that doesn’t solve the matter, the Independent Betting Adjudication Service should be your next port of call.

If you believe that you have been misled by a betting firm’s promotional material, i.e. on bonuses or a specific promotion, you can also try the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

If you want more information, the complaints page of the UK Gambling Commission website is also a useful resource.