Going Above and Beyond
The United Kingdom Gaming Commission has recently (last month) released their findings pursuant to one year after implementing the Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme, which is designed to ensure that casino operators are held to a higher standard over-and-above those required by licensing entities. The goal of the Alternative Dispute Resolution process is to gather feedback from players and to understand the varying player complaints, their frequency and how well the casinos handle those complaints.
The ultimate objective is to increase the integrity with which gaming outlets conduct themselves as well as to improve procedures to ensure that any player disputes are resolved in a more expedient, and fair, fashion. In addition to the fair treatment of current players, improved dispute resolution will also result in more potential players having a more positive opinion of the gaming industry, as a whole, which will make them more likely to play at the operators.
The fact of the matter is that there have been several bad actors out there in the world of online casinos (though most aren’t) and that, as a result, many would-be players are hesitant to deposit their money into online casinos, in general. The goal of the Alternative Dispute Resolution process is to ensure that all players are treated more fairly and to increase faith in the gaming industry. The recent UKGC report, which can be viewed here.
Explores areas that have been improved upon over the course of the last year (for participating casinos) as well as areas that remain to be improved upon. The first thing that the commission notes is that player confidence has fallen, significantly, in the last few years:
Our survey data tell us that 61% of respondents who gambled during 2007 thought that gambling was fair and could be trusted. By 2016, only 38% of respondents agreed. These figures should give operators cause to pause and ask why consumer confidence appears to be waning. The first place to look for the answers might be in what consumers are saying in their complaints.
These findings come as quite a shock to me, while I did understand that consumer confidence in the online gaming industry wouldn’t be 100%, the 61% number amazes me as does the 38% number. Of course, we do not know who the survey respondents were, as in, whether or not the questions were skewed towards people who had previously had complaints with online casinos. Furthermore, we don’t necessarily know what operators these respondents may have played at, as this survey appears to have been posed as more of a general question.
Either way, for the percentage of individuals who find gaming trustworthy to drop by 23% in fewer than ten years is a pretty extreme decline. Furthermore, it cannot be ignored that the respondents were all people, “Who had gambled,” during that time, so true confidence in the industry is probably even less when taking into account people who have a negative opinion of it to begin with, and who have not gambled as a result of that lack of trust.
The one thing that is certain about this finding is that the casinos need to come together, with or without the ADR and come up with some means to ensure that player confidence improves rather than continues to decline. As the UKGC points out, this would serve to benefit all operators who conduct their business in good faith, as more confidence leads to more players which is clearly a positive for the industry.
Personally, I tend to blame overly restrictive Terms & Conditions, as much as anything else, for this lack of trust. The simple fact of the matter is that the Terms themselves are enough to give players pause. For example, many terms do not allow a player to play on a, “Professional basis,” otherwise winnings (and sometimes deposits) could be forfeited, but how would an online casino know who is or who is not a professional?
Furthermore, the actual restrictiveness of the games permitted by the Terms & Conditions has also gotten worse, although, it does somewhat make sense for the online casinos not to want to hand a player an advantageous +EV situation. While that makes sense, there is little to no reason to incorporate what essentially amounts to threats in with those Terms & Conditions making the actual play more restrictive. In fact, some Terms & Conditions also state that they will publicize your information, such as identity and E-Mail address if, in their sole discretion, they find that a player has defrauded them. Again, for all we know, “Defrauded,” could simply mean finding some way to play with an advantage.
As with Brick & Mortar casinos, it is my position that players should not be penalized for finding ways to play with an advantage, whether that penalty is real or implied. The casinos have a responsibility, from a game protection standpoint, to ensure that players cannot play at an advantage to begin with. Using game restrictions, maximum bets while playing with a bonus, and increased playthrough requirements, that is easy enough to do. It’s simple math.
Speaking of numbers, another big number highlighted by the UKGC is here in the report:
In undertaking this review, we have looked at the information we receive from consumers via our contact centre, and at other data. In the last year we received nearly 77,000 contacts from members of the public. This is an increase of over 300 per cent on the last two years. It tells us that existing complaints arrangements in the sector are not meeting consumer needs.
Again, the goal of ADR is not so that the UKGC can continue to handle complaints on behalf of the gaming operators. In fact, the goal is just the opposite: The idea is that strict adherence to ADR will reduce the number of complaints that go to the UKGC, or comparable agencies (if adopted worldwide, or something similar) such that the gambling operators are more successful in resolving the disputes in a mutually satisfactory way on their own. Granted, not every one of these 77,000 complaints is correct (on the end of the customer) but certainly some of the customers have legitimate gripes against the casinos.
Ultimately, the goal is just to get the operators to do a better job in dealing with the customers in a fair way. Granted, the players are not going to be satisfied 100% of the time because, sometimes, the players themselves are flat out wrong. However, the idea is to pass the onus upon the operators to respond to complaints more efficiently, effectively and expediently for those customers who are not in the wrong. In most cases, one assumes that customers only complain to the UKGC in the event that they feel they have exhausted any potential for resolution with the operator themselves.
The Alternative Dispute Resolution, and providers thereof, are essentially agencies that are independent of both the licensing body and the operator, as explained here:
If the complaint is about the outcome of a gambling transaction, and the consumer and business cannot agree a solution, then a consumer can ask an ADR provider to look at it. We call this a dispute. The ADR provider will decide whether or not the business owes – and must pay – money to the consumer, or help the consumer and the business to come to an agreement.
The Commission approves ADR providers. We also accept reports from consumers about the way a gambling business is being run. We use this information to look at whether a business is meeting the conditions of its gambling licence. But we don’t investigate individual complaints, and can’t help consumers to get their money back. Nor do we change decisions made by an ADR provider.
Basically, the goal of the ADR’s is to act as an intermediary between the casinos and the players in the event that a mutual resolution to a dispute cannot be found between the two parties. To this effect, entities may apply for ADR status, and then the UKGC will determine whether or not to approve the entity as an ADR. LatestCasinoBonuses.com occasionally already behaves as such to a certain extent, as does the Wizard when a player clicks through one of our affiliate links at a Wizard of Odds APPROVED casino. That is essentially what is taking place. The casino is independently deciding to hold itself somewhat accountable to that means of dispute resolution if they are unable to satisfy the player themselves.
Ultimately, the UKGC (for any operators that are licensed through it) can look into situations to ensure that the licensing requirements are being met, in terms of complaint resolution and fairness, but they themselves do not intervene between the casino and the player. That is for the ADR’s to do. However, the ADR’s can report their findings on resolutions between player and casino to the commission, and if the commission finds that a licensed operator may be acting in bad faith, the commission can then launch their own investigation into that.
In terms of the ADR’s, it is the ADR’s (or, sometimes other sources) who can work on behalf of the players directly, at least as an intermediary, to attempt to come to a resolution between the players and the casinos. As mentioned, this was already happening, but the UKGC is seeking to more formalize the process by specifically authorizing ADR’s to act as intermediaries through casinos licensed by them. Granted, that doesn’t necessarily stop other interested parties from attempting to do so.
Furthermore, the approved ADR’s actually have a limited scope of the things they can handle, i.e. the “Gaming Transaction.” Any disputes that would take place outside of that limited scope, such as business practices, would be outside of the ADR’s who would have no agency to do anything about those either way. Essentially, the only disputes that they handle are disputes between the customer and the operator.
Unfortunately, in the early stages of this ADR process, it is not always clear, especially not to players, what an ADR can and cannot handle. For that reason, the UKGC has decided to undertake an effort to specify the role of the ADR’s to a greater extent.
The Commission has also highlighted the fact that the operators, at least those licensed through the Commission, are required by said license to make available all complaints that are submitted to them. Unfortunately, the Commission is not confident that this is actually taking place appropriately. That should not come as a surprise because a huge influx of self-reporting from the operators would likely result in the Commission taking a closer look at them. It would be like cheating on a paper and raising your hand and telling the teacher, “You’d better pay attention to me to make sure that I’m not cheating on this paper.”
Furthermore, the Commission (rather generously) seems to find that the operators may simply be unaware of under what conditions the information regarding complaints is supposed to be submitted. I say that this is, ‘Generous,’ because the licensing requirements say that data about complaints must be submitted, there are no qualifiers there.
The only question that could possibly be posed by operators is, “What constitutes a complaint?”
That question is another aspect of this process that the Commission intends to address. The operators are required, pursuant to their license, to provide information relevant to how to actually make a formal complaint. To put it bluntly, while the Commission found that all operators have that information available somewhere how easy that information is to find and how detailed the information is tends to vary from one operator to another. For that reason, the Commission is going to determine whether or not it needs to become more specific in how visible the information on how to make a Complaint needs to be, as well as to potentially formalize the specific information offered in order to standardize that process.
The Commission has also noted that, beginning this year, it plans to introduce a tool called, ‘Resolver,’ that has its own website, is separate from the gaming business, and can be used by consumers in order to make complaints.
Of course, this newly-introduced means of complaint resolution is only going to be adequate if:
1.) It is reasonably easy to use.
2.) It actually has any teeth.
3.) The process is understandable.
Therefore, I decided to pay a visit to the Resolver website, which can be found here.
And, the Main Page, easily enough, gives an individual the opportunity to search for a business front and center and name what business the complaint is about.
Essentially, it seems that Resolver helps you format your complaint, create a file for it and submit it to the business in question while helping you along the way, if needed. Additionally, the Resolver system tells you how to actually go about properly making the complaint, including what options/steps are available to you and you should be taking next. At least, that is what the website claims.
As always, I like to look at the Terms & Conditions to REALLY get to know what service is supposedly being provided to me.
The General Terms & Conditions do not raise any alarms for me whatsoever, all standard fare, read them yourself if you don’t want to take my word for it.
I have also read the Acceptable Use Policy, and again, do not see anything at all that raises a red flag for me. It’s just the usual stuff about not using the services for anything illegal, not Spamming, and that when using the service, you essentially only hold something out as fact if it is a fact and you only hold something out as your opinion if you are giving that opinion in good faith. (I.E. actually believe it)
I looked through all of the categories at the top of the Resolver Main Page and could not find anything that appeared to relate to gambling operators, particularly not online ones. I attempted to use the drop down, “More,” menu to see if they might be listed there, but that menu did not appear to do anything on this specific visit. Please let me know in the comments if you visit and it is working on your visit, particularly if gaming is included in the menu.
I decided to search for the company BetFair, who I emphasize I have no problem with, but I had to put a company of some kind in in order to attempt to continue.
I typed, ‘Betfair,’ in the searchbox, hit Enter, and...the site did absolutely nothing, so that’s good. I clicked on, ‘Energy Providers,’ just to check, and got taken to the relevant screen, so apparently that’s working. There is a link at the bottom of the page to the UKGC, but all that does is take you to the UKGC site. I typed, “Utility Warehouse,” (the name of one of the energy companies) into the searchbox and that accomplished nothing, so apparently, neither of the searchboxes plan to work on this visit.
A lot of good Resolver did me, hopefully they manage to get the searchbox working sooner or later.
Either way, a person could set up an account and essentially all Resolver does is formalize and make proper the best way to introduce your complaint to the business in question. It seems that they provide templates, but they do state in their terms that they are not in anyway guaranteeing a satisfactory result between yourself and the business, and essentially, that they have no actual teeth when it comes to the business.
As best as I can tell, Resolver seems to be roughly the equivalent of the Better Business Bureau on the side of the pond I’m writing from. Gag. I suppose one major difference might be that the BBB’s site generally seems to work.
Back to the Report
Unfortunately, I don’t see Resolver as being a resource that has any more teeth than the Better Business Bureau, if nothing else, it might serve to delay your resolution. If you believe that you have already exhausted every possible avenue in dealing with the gaming provider directly, and you still do not believe it has been adequately resolved, then I would much sooner try to determine if there is a casino rep on LCB rather than use the Resolver platform. That failing, I guess Resolver is better than nothing.
It’s important to remember that sites such as LCB (and a few others) are specifically designed, if not to directly handle stuff like this, to at least try to put you in contact with casino representatives who can help you. Furthermore, LCB already exists as a long-standing tool for User Reports and Scores so that casinos who do not perform well on a customer service basis will be found guilty in the court of popular opinion. Beyond that, casinos that outright screw the players will find themselves blacklisted over there and on our Odds site.
Eleven Alternative Dispute Resolution providers were approved by the Commission, unfortunately, the report also finds a lack of consistent resolution procedures and customer service standards across those eleven providers. The Commission is quick to point out that minimum standards must be in place for an ADR to be approved for that purpose, so it’s possible that some are simply not as good as others despite the fact that they are meeting the minimum requirements. Kind of like the operators themselves, right?
In fact, the Commission specifically points out in its report that the ADR standards do not necessarily invoke anything when it comes to customer service or decision-making requirements. In other words, the Commission essentially doesn’t have any requirements in place when it comes to meeting the satisfaction of the individuals who would be using the ADR’s to begin with...perfect.
Furthermore, the ADR providers have the ability to report their findings to the Commission, both on the customer side and the side of the operators, but that is apparently not always happening.
The Commission has decided that it might be a good idea to have a set of provisions that are more specific to the gaming sector as pertain to customer service, decision-making, dispute resolution and dealings with the operators for ADR’s in the future. Gee, you think so?
The Commission also plans to consider either reducing or limiting the number of ADR providers as the new standards to become a provider are rolled out. Of course, that’s really not going to accomplish much if the (presumably fewer) providers are still not doing what it is that they are supposed to be doing. Instead of having eleven providers that may or may not suck, the consumers will be reduced to fewer than eleven providers who may or may not suck.
From a consumer confidence standpoint, the Commission itself isn’t necessarily in any way useful. In their own words:
Consumers can report the way a gambling business is being run to us. We are not a complaints service and don’t investigate individual complaints. When we get a report about a gambling business, we don’t give out information about whether we will investigate the business. This can make consumers unsure of our purpose, or what we do with their information.
The long and short of that is that the Commission works with the industry, in general, and regulates the industry, in general. Your individual situation and what the casino may or may not have done to you is none of the Commission’s business, and if the Commission does care at all, they have no intention of doing anything about it directly.
If enough complaints come in that they decide to investigate an operator, you will never know whether or not your complaint had anything to do with that. Furthermore, you will not be directly informed by the Commission whether or not an investigation is taking place or has taken place. The Commission notes that, as a result, you as a consumer may not know what the Hell the point of their existence is.
Wait, what is the point of their existence?
Seriously, how can the Commission be surprised at the lack of consumer confidence in the Internet Gaming market when the Commission patently points out that it doesn’t do anything to resolve issues for individual players, and furthermore, the entities that do work towards that end are inconsistent!!!??? Worst of all, the Commission seems to consider the ADR process an improvement over whatever was in place before that.
In my opinion, so far, it seems like this concept of ADR is just a means by which the Commission enables third-party companies to do what they (the Commission) should find a way to do in the first place if they actually cared about the consumers in any genuine way. It’s just an ineffective agency delegating responsibility to an equally ineffective agency that is not being effectively monitored by the first ineffective agency.
I think I am starting to understand those low confidence percentages, now.
The conclusion to the Overview states it better than I can:
Our evidence has shown us that complaints processes in the gambling sector are not working as they should for consumers. In particular we are concerned about some areas where ADR providers and gambling operators need to make changes to the way they do things. We know that we also need to make improvements to some of our own processes.
Or, maybe I can state it better, let me give it a whirl:
The process sucks, so far our solution to the sucky process also sucks and we’d like it to suck less. We might do some stuff to make it suck less, but we’re not going to put all of that on ourselves, despite the fact that we ARE the regulator, because that would be a serious pain in the ass. Hopefully, these other sucky entities will try to suck less of their own accord, by doing things that are obvious to anyone, because that will give us less work to do. Having to work for these licensing fees really sucks, but we need casinos, so we need consumer confidence, otherwise we won’t make any money.
The problem here is pretty simple, one has flown clear of the cuckoo’s nest and the lunatics are running the asylum. At least it is in the casino’s best interest to at least minimally acknowledge the players whereas the Commission seems to be doing everything in its power to divest itself of that responsibility by way of this notion of ADR’s.
That’s not to say that none of the ADR’s are any good at what they are supposed to be doing, but whether they are or not, it should be pretty obvious why online casinos are more concerned about running afoul of sites such as LatestCasinoBonuses (and similar sites) than they are with running afoul of the Commission. The Commission essentially doesn’t do anything at all in response to casinos who may not be treating individual players fairly, and it is unknown how many complaints, or of what seriousness, are required to even result in the Commission ever investigating the casinos.
I’m not implying that the Commission doesn’t have any teeth at all. If it doesn’t, at least, it most certainly could. The problem that I have is that the Commission appears content to play as little of a role as possible in ensuring fair treatment of individual players, but at the same time, the Commission seems to lament the fact that player confidence is falling dramatically.
Well, unfortunately, if you tell me that you are not going to do anything about my problems, then my conclusion is that you are not going to do anything about my problems.
The only thing that casinos really seem to be currently liable to do is to point consumers with a problem in the way of one of the eleven ADR’s and then to state whether or not they will be using the ADR’s themselves. As mentioned earlier, the Commission has stated that they are not necessarily satisfied with the way that the ADR’s have reported the disputes, and outcomes, to the Commission. To that end, what is to stop the operators from essentially, “Paying off,” an ADR so that the ADR makes resolutions favorable to the operator in all but the most extreme of circumstances. Even if the ADR rules against the operator, what means does the ADR have to effectuate payment from the operator to the player?
In terms of specifics, Section 1.6 of the report states:
1.6 The increasing number and the nature of consumer complaints we receive through our contact centre, along with other data, gives us concern that current complaints processes across the gambling industry in Great Britain are not delivering a service that gambling consumers expect or deserve:
In 2016, our contact centre received 5,169 complaints from consumers about gambling, making up 76% of all contacts we received during the year. This was the first year that we have recorded consumer complaints separately from other enquiries, a decision we took as we became aware of the increasing number of contacts from consumers we were receiving.
The Commission has decided that maybe it is a good idea, as a Gaming Commission, to at least take note of how many complaints they receive that are gambling-related. Good call.
They also point out that the overall complaints process, given the sheer number of consumer complaints as well as the lack of faith consumers have in the gaming industry, points to the fact that the gamblers might not be getting good service. Again, good call. It must be required to have a minimum of three doctorates to work for the UKGC the types of incredible observations they are able to make.
Here is the entirety of the minimum standards for complaint resolution by operators:
- have a written complaints handling procedure
- make the information accessible on premises, or on websites, as appropriate
- have arrangements in place to refer to an approved ADR provider, and ensure that the services of any such provider are free to the customer
- record and provide to the Commission certain information about complaints, such as the number of complaints not resolved at the first stage of the complaints procedure, and the outcome of each complaint referred to an ADR provider.
In other words, the operators must have a procedure by which they take complaints which they can then divest themselves of by passing them off to an ADR at their choosing. Furthermore, the resolutions (or lack thereof) must also be reported to the Commission, which the Commission has already as much as admitted is probably not happening correctly. Of course, the Commission also seems to indicate that they may or may not actually choose to do anything about that fact.
With Commissions like the UKGC, who needs rogue casinos?
Of course, it gets even better: Section 2.5 basically gives the accused the ability to choose its own judge:
The consumer may choose to escalate their dispute to the ADR provider named in the operator’s complaints procedures. The consumer can choose to ask a different ADR provider to look at the dispute. Practically, this is only possible if the operator agrees to use a provider other than the one named. We are aware of cases where the operator has refused to deal with a different provider.
I mean, of course there is no potential for any unfair stacking of the odds against the consumer when it is the operator who gets to choose the ADR and refuse to work with any other ADR’s. How could there be? Perish the thought!
Is it not possible that the ADR will have a tendency to be more favorable to the operator lest the operator decide to discontinue using the ADR? Would it not be a better process for the operators, perhaps as a flat fee or on a percentage of revenue basis to have to contribute to an, “ADR pool,” and then the consumer could choose whatever ADR the consumer thinks is best and the casino has no choice but to work with the consumer and that ADR? Would that not possibly increase consumer faith in the overall complaint resolution procedure?
I’m not saying that the deck is absolutely stacked against the consumer in this regard, but it is something about the possible appearance of impropriety that I find particularly worrisome. It cannot be emphasized enough that the casino gets to choose its own arbiter.
Listen, you think I cheated you in a poker game? Okay, let’s ask my brother, whatever he decides is what stands. Do you agree?
If it’s for a ton of money, no need to listen to the ADR and you might have to take the casino to court anyway, per Section 2.8:
The ADR provider must tell both parties the outcome of the dispute within 90 days of receiving all the documents. Exceptions can be made if the case is highly complex, but if so, the provider must tell both parties how much longer they expect the outcome to take. Where the dispute concerns an amount of £10,000 or less, the decision should be binding on the operator if accepted by the consumer. Those over £10,000 need not be binding.
Thus, not only does the ADR have ninety days, given normal circumstances, to come to a decision, but that decision is not necessarily binding if it involves more than a certain amount. Furthermore, it says that the decision of 10,000 or less should be binding, now when I use should I take that to mean, “What ought to happen.” Personally, I would rather know that a decision by the ADR WILL be binding.
Hopefully, the amount is substantial enough that it is worth it for you to potentially wait for another three months, of course, that’s three months over and above whatever amount of time that you already tried to deal with the casino directly. All of that for a decision that may or may not be binding.
I was kind of wondering why certain casinos have greater wagering requirements for customers in the United Kingdom, I think I may have figured that out, now.
Even then, the only thing that the casino really risks losing is time and human resources. The fact of the matter remains that, by all appearances, the casino gets to choose their own judge in the matter and if the player doesn’t like it, tough biscuits. (I swapped, ‘Cookies,’ for, ‘Biscuits,’ because I’m culturally sensitive like that!)
Pursuant to Section 2.9, the ADR’s are also fairly limited in their scope:
ADR providers may reject complaints under certain conditions, for example, if the complaint is frivolous, or if the consumer has not tried to resolve matters with the operator.
ADR providers cannot consider complaints that do not relate to the outcome of a gambling transaction, such as complaints about service standards, breaches of licence conditions.
It is unknown to me whether or not reports rejected as, “Frivolous,” also need to be reported to the Commission, but I suspect that they don’t. Furthermore, the ADR, I presume, acts in its sole discretion in determining whether or not the complaint is frivolous. In other words, the judge that has been handpicked by the accused has the ability to summarily judge your case as frivolous which they may or may not have paid attention to to begin with.
In order for this process to have any chance, you MUST get as much as you can in writing. To that end, you should deal with Live Chat exclusively so that you can get transcripts of the chat logs E-Mailed to you, and also, make sure to keep any other E-Mails you may get from the operator in a separate and easily accessible file, as well.
Furthermore, the ADR may not have the equivalent of, “Subject Matter Jurisdiction,” over the complaint in question. In terms of service standards or breaches of licensing conditions, those would need to be reported to the Commission who, as we already know, may or may not decide to do anything about it. If they do decide to do something about it, rest assured that they will not inform you whether or not your complaint had anything to do with it. Also, if the underlying issue is in any way financial, the Commission will make no attempt to do anything at all for you.
In other words, the Commission could ignore a complaint because it is financial, and also because ignoring complaints seems to be what they do best, and the ADR can ignore a complaint because, in part, it may have to do with service standards or license breaches.
And, if not paying players in a timely fashion or operating unfair software constitutes a license breach...well, sorry about your luck. The ADR CAN’T do anything for you and the Commission WON’T, by their own admission.
Furthermore, the Commission has no authority to overrule an ADR’s decision, and at best, will maybe review it if they really don’t have anything to do that day:
Consumers may also report to us if they are not satisfied with the service they have received from an ADR provider. We will take this into account when considering whether the provider continues to meet the requirements of the ADR regulations. We are not able to change the outcome of a provider’s decision.
In other words, the court system is the only means of recourse for players who are dissatisfied after exhausting any potential remedies that may have been offered by the ADR. Of course, jurisdictional minimum claims (if applicable) notwithstanding, individual players are free to go to the court system without ever invoking an ADR in the first place. In fact, if an ADR rules against you and you do decide to take the casino to court, don’t be surprised if the casino presents the ADR’s findings as evidence on their own behalf. In other words, before you see a real judge you get to go to a judge of the casino’s choosing, and the findings of that handpicked judge could serve to hurt your case when you go before the judge who actually has legal authority to demand redress.
In short, for some people, going to the ADR may help you rather than hurt you. If you have an issue that involves a serious amount of money, then I would at least seek out a free consultation with an attorney in the field of gaming (or, at least, consumer law) to determine whether or not that attorney believes you have a case.
Before you do that, research the applicable gaming regulations pursuant to the Commission to determine if, in your opinion, the casino actually violated any of those. The more specific the questions you can ask the attorney, the more specific will be the answers that you get, so go in there prepared to state your case as well as you can. Granted, you could report any violations of the licensing regulations to the Commission, but we’ve already established whether or not they will even maybe think about possibly doing something about it depends on the weather that day.
Pursuant to Section 3.1, at least the Commission points out that disputes can invoke virtually anything relevant to the player getting paid or being treated fairly in terms of bonuses:
Disputes are a subset of complaints that specifically relate to the outcome of the consumer’s gambling transaction. They do not include wider concerns that may relate to the conduct of the gambling operation. As we stated in our 2013 Consultation on proposed amendments to LCCP, we consider that disputes relating to the outcome of gambling transactions include those, for example, linked to the application of bonus offers, account management, or the ability to access funds and winnings. These are all part of the overall gambling transaction.
It does bear mentioning that this invocation does not speak to software at all or ensuring a fair game, though those are items that are certainly covered in the jurisdictional licensing requirements. In the meantime, though, it is unknown whether or not an ADR would have the capability, desire or authority to even address such matters. To that extent, the ADR’s cannot necessarily take action in any matter that could affect a player financially.
Regardless of the nature or set of circumstances that brought about the complaint, the Commission again reiterates that whether or not consumers get their money back, if wronged, has absolutely nothing to do with them. This is unfortunate because, to any extent that the Commission is not toothless, it would seem never to directly benefit individual consumers. In a broad sense, it can, by conducting investigations and punishing bad operators to serve as a deterrent, but the individual consumers will never know if the Commission benefitted them personally or not.
In fact, Section 3.8 states that the ADR’s may refuse a complaint because it does have to do with, at least in part, a violation of an operator’s license requirements. Naturally, the Commission does not make this distinction without again reiterating that it will not directly do anything for the player and may or may not investigate the operator based on the complaint:
Where a ruling on the outcome of a transactional dispute may depend on the outcome of an investigation by the Commission or by another body, it is difficult for ADR providers to adjudicate. Up to now, we have taken the approach that the provider can refuse such disputes because they relate to a possible breach of licence conditions and might impair the effectiveness of the provider. We take a risk-based approach to investigating potential licence breaches, and we cannot specify when, or whether, we might investigate an individual operator when we receive a report. Nor can we provide any information about investigation progress before we conclude an investigation. An ADR provider might be able to decide on a dispute once the Commission has concluded and made public the findings of an investigation, but that might be some time after the original event.
In other words, the ADR may be able to act AFTER a casino has already been found to have violated licensing requirements after an investigation that either may or may not happen. Even more importantly, the Commission will not deign to tell the consumer whether or not such an investigation is taking place or will take place.
In other words, whatever the subject matter alleged license violation, the mere act of bringing it up essentially immediately absolves the ADR (the operator’s judge of choice) from taking any action pertinent to the transaction in question at all. Therefore, if the player does want the ADR to take action, the player would need to avoid bringing up any potential license violations and would need to limit the complaint to other matters having to do with the transaction between player and operator. Of course, the player limiting himself/herself to such also serves to make the player’s argument less effective.
In other words, if the player brings forth to the ADR the full extent of their complaint with the casino, the complaint automatically becomes effectively invalidated. The player can theoretically watch and see if the casino is ever investigated by the Commission, which the player will not know until such investigation actually concludes, but by then, they may have passed any effective statute of limitations that even gives them the opportunity for redress.
It’s a VERY stacked deck.
Fortunately, the UKGC is considering how to improve that process so more disputes can be heard. Given the bang up job they have been doing with the ADR system so far, any decisions that they come to are likely to be outstanding (read: completely ineffective) when it comes to consumer confidence and player treatment.
Interestingly enough, Section 4.4 did find that online casinos, generally speaking, are at least better at having a codified method of complaint handling than some physical gambling locations:
As part of this review, we also conducted a basic examination of the complaints policies of a sample of gambling operators. We looked at the information available via their websites about the complaints processes they offered, and how these were made available to the consumer. In carrying out this examination, we took into consideration that online gambling businesses are more likely to have information available on a website than are retail businesses, particularly small retail gambling businesses. As a result, we were not able to look at complaints information from all types of business.
Again, whether or not the complaints process is fair or in anyway effective for the consumer is a different matter, but unlike some small physical gambling locations, at least it’s there. It was mentioned earlier in the report that, beyond minimal standards, the complaints process and how obvious it is varies widely from one operator to the other. For whatever reason, the Commission has not yet seen fit to make that process more strict or specific. Other than patent incompetence, which seems to be the name of their game, I’m not quite sure why not.
Hey, check it out, here comes a surprise; self-reporting doesn’t really seem to work:
Averaging figures over premises can be misleading and does not account for the fact that some premises might receive many more complaints than others. However, we are concerned that these figures for complaints unresolved at the first stage appear unrealistically low. Figures are similarly low for the number of disputes recorded, and the number of disputes referred to ADR providers. This may indicate that operators are not reporting or recording the information properly rather than that there are few unresolved Complaints.
Fantastic, the casinos seem to be reporting, “Unrealistically low,” numbers of unresolved complaints as well as the ADR’s reporting unrealistically low numbers of disputes. That is probably based on comparing those self-reported numbers to the number of consumer complaints received directly by the Commission that the Commission emphasizes, repeatedly, that they do not do anything about. Imagine that! Furthermore, it also seems that the Commission has no means by which to validate the numbers presented to it by either the casinos or the ADR’s, at least not to this point.
Of course, wrongdoers are not terribly likely to turn themselves in, especially not when the police in town don’t really seem to care about what you’re doing, anyway.
They note that more complaints were reported online, but the figure still seems low, probably because of the high proportional number of complaints that they received directly:
4.7 The online gambling sector recorded 60,500 complaints in 2016 across 791 licensed activities, or 76.5 complaints per activity over the year. This larger figure may indicate that it is easier to recognise and record complaints made online than in a retail premises where some complaints may be dealt with in the course of general customer service. However, the figure is still lower than we would expect.
Could it be because the Commission is almost completely ineffective and ranks very low among the entities that the operators are afraid to run afoul of? Other than imposing fines against bad actors, and it seems that only in very blatant cases, the Commission does not report any player complaints publicly until such time as an investigation (if one even takes place) has been concluded. That is just another reason that LCB and similar sites are better at policing the gaming industry than the gaming industry itself is, at least the sites are a platform upon which a player can stand and have those complaints heard...by someone! Quite simply, the Commission cares less about the integrity of gaming than the third-party affiliate sites!
Here comes another shocker, many online casinos bury the Dispute Resolution ADR information in the Terms & Conditions, or elsewhere, one casino even put it in the, “Responsible Gambling,” portion of the site:
The differences in locating complaints information, particularly where it is contained within a document with a large number of other terms and conditions, might deter some consumers from finding or reading the policy. Our research tells us that the average length of a terms and conditions document for an online gambling operator is 9,500 words (approximately 21 A4 pages)
Of course, the Commission could never have seen such a burial coming and had no reason to, I don’t know, regulate where the information should be on the websites ahead of time. I’m sure the matter will be discussed and action taken on it within the next 785 years, or so.
The Commission also found that many consumers went to an ADR prior to even making the complaint to the casino despite the fact that the consumer is supposed to try to resolve the matter with the casino first. Once again, the Commission has determined that it may be because the proper dispute resolution is procedure is buried deep in the Terms & Conditions that most players do not bother to read in the first place.
Always Read The Terms & Conditions!!!
Across all of my articles, I imagine that is probably the hundredth (or so) time I have typed those words, but hopefully, it is now becoming apparent why that should be.
Beyond the fact that the player should actually try to deal with the casino first, another problem is the fact that the player may well be reporting any disputes to an ADR that the casino refused to deal with in the first place. In short, the player is completely wasting his/her time not going through the ADR that is chosen by the casino. Once again, in order to know who that is (in most cases) you need to read the Terms & Conditions.
In terms of the actual complaint process, with respect to complaints made directly to the operator, the Commission found that most of the online casinos did not offer much in the way of specifics as to how that process works. Specifically, they found that the majority of casinos offered no timetable for how long it would take for the complaint to be resolved, and occasionally, made no mention of whether or not they planned to acknowledge the complaints of the customer at all.
It really is a shame that there is not some sort of responsible licensing agency, a Commission, if you will, whose job it is to ensure that players are treated fairly and further to formalize and codify a mechanism by which the treatment of players and resolving of disputes becomes more standardized. In fact, this, ‘Commission,’ if it existed, could even go to efforts to ensure that the casino is putting the complaint resolution information in an obvious place on the website and could further establish rules that are designed to ensure a maximum allotted time for the casino to resolve such complaints, or at least to offer an initial response.
But, for now, UK players have the UKGC instead. The word, ‘Commission,’ is in there, though, so that counts for something, right?
Let’s get some more bureaucratic speak for, “Casinos are doing the bare minimum, and we here at the Commission are really surprised by that!”:
All operator policies that we examined appear to be complying with the letter of the requirements of their gambling licences. But there is a question about whether this is sufficient to achieve the intention behind the requirements. That intention is to allow consumers to access policies easily, and to ensure policies contain all the information a consumer is likely to want to know. On the positive side, policies were uncomplicated and easy to follow.
Who would have imagined that the operators, having realized the intent behind the very limited regulations imposed upon them directly, would not decide to impose stricter standards upon themselves than those mandated by the Commission? Imagine the Commission’s frustration, awe and dismay when they actually took the time to look at the operators’ procedures only to discover that, unpredictably, the operators were doing the bare minimum required.
Of course, it wouldn’t make any sense for the Commission to create more exacting standards in order to actually achieve, “The intention behind the requirements,” because that would take work. And the Commission thinks that work really, really just kind of sucks.
The Commission wants consumers to have easy access to the policies.
That’s not happening.
The Commission wants consumers to be able to understand the specifics of the policies and to be guided in presenting their complaints against the casino effectively.
That’s not happening, either.
Whatever can an entity whose job it is to put the correct procedures in place do? Wouldn’t it be nice if the Gaming Commission somehow had the authority to establish proper procedures for the gaming industry and perhaps even make strict adherence to those procedures a criteria for being licensed to operate within their jurisdiction.
Oh, wait, what?
That’s what the Commission already does!?
Could have fooled me.
The good news is that the Commission has decided to take a more proactive role in this regard to formalize the complaints process and to ensure that all licensed casinos must make the means by which a complaint can be made and will be handled known to the players. Maybe.
We will therefore consider whether we should make changes to the existing licence requirements to require complaints policies to be more visible, and more effective.
They will consider maybe doing it after they get done preparing a thirty-two page report that talks about maybe doing it after lamenting how ineffective the current process is as well as the lack of consumer confidence in the general gambling product as a result. Unless they get drunk, or distracted by a bird, or decide, “Screw that noise,” just in general terms.
The report also highlights the fact that the operators are supposed to report, “Key Events,” which include the result of a complaint that was referred to an ADR provider. Interestingly enough, though the Commission may lament the lack of reporting of other complaints, particularly those that are not resolved on first contact with the customer, ONLY the resolution of a complaint made to an ADR constitutes a key event.
Read it for yourself, if you like!
Of course, there is no outcome if the ADR determines, in its sole authority, that it doesn’t actually have any authority over the subject matter of the dispute. Therefore, those types of disputes do not actually become resolved and would not need to be reported, as a result. In other words, if a player were to report some sort of licensing violation to the ADR, the ADR could then decide that it lacks the capacity or ability to act on that and inform the consumer of same. Naturally, that would not constitute an, “Outcome,” so the player and casino are back to square one where a player might report a license violation (and the UKGC may or may not do anything about it) or the casino can report on its own alleged license violation. Spoiler alert: They won’t, unless they are definitely, absolutely, provably, 100% NOT violating the license.
I mean, do you really think they are going to even consider reporting that if they may be in violation of the terms of the license?
This could include basic standards for complaints handling.
You don’t say.
Imagine that, by having basic standards they could hold the operators to basic standards, almost like they were in charge of regulating the operators, or something. What a fascinating concept! Having, ‘Basic Standards,’ to which the operators that you license must adhere. Granted, it may be better just to let them do whatever the Hell they want, so I’m sure the Commission will also investigate the possibility of just abandoning the notion of having any sort of requirements altogether. It seems that they are willing to take all possibilities into consideration, even up to and perhaps including doing their damn jobs.
“Passing regulations is so hard, though. It takes away from tea time, and there are all of those big words involved. Who really cares about the players, anyway? I mean, we still get to collect fees if we don’t more strictly regulate the casinos, right? Yes. Jolly good, then.”
Doing work definitely sucks, maybe it would be more effective just to make an impassioned plea towards the sensibilities of the operators. Certainly this is all just a big misunderstanding:
Complaints data should also be very useful to gambling operators to help them identify areas that could improve their businesses, and potentially attract or retain more customers. We expect that any competitive business will want to understand what drives their customers, and where customers experience difficulties that might cause them to take their custom elsewhere. We expect operators to want to understand more about all the complaints they receive, and not just those that they report to us. Improved data collection would therefore benefit individual operators as well as the gambling industry as a whole.
See, reporting complaints, even those that may include potential violations of your license that you are actively committing is good for you! Start doing that, please!
Granted, I agree that a public outing of any violations is good for the industry, especially if the industry actively decides to improve, but that has to start with the regulators. The simple fact of the matter is that the operators, except in exceptional circumstances, are not going to go that far over and above the regulations levied upon them by the Commission in ensuring the fair treatment of customers. To the extent that some operators do, that is because such treatment is a marketing maneuver in and of itself and serves to differentiate those operators from the pack. In order for the entire (regulated) industry to behave in such a way, though, that behavior actually has to be regulated. The licensing guidelines need to become more stringent as well as more specific and the UKGC does need to directly intervene, or at least through a subsidiary of itself, in order to resolve the complaints of individual players.
The entity that actually can do something about any ill-treatment of individual players, when it comes to policing the individual casinos, is simply not doing it. Instead, they are delegating that responsibility to third-party ADR’s who, in fact, aren’t really accountable to the UKGC in any terrifically meaningful way. In the meantime, the UKGC is considering reducing the number of ADR’s rather than just enacting more exacting requirements of the ADR’s that already exist.
Reducing the ADR’s, in and of itself, is only going to accomplish one thing: It will give the ADR’s less time to adjudicate the disputes on a per dispute basis. In other words, the backlog of disputes is going to inevitably grow such that every decision has to be made summarily in order to keep up with the ninety day requirement. In short, the ADR’s are going to become nothing more than paper mills doing nothing more than processing and forwarding denied complaint after denied complaint to the UKCG.
In the meantime, the players will not enjoy any greater protections and procedures than those which they are already afforded consisting of almost none at all. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing (for us) the online casinos will continue to be more accountable and concerned about, from a customer service and payment standpoint, LCB more than they are their own regulator. At least LCB operates in the mostly unbiased court of public opinion. Even if the deck is a little stacked, it’s important that it not be stacked in favor of the operators, which the UKCG and this entire ADR system continues to do. Essentially, they absolve themselves of any responsibility for players getting ripped off in advance.
Of course, the Commission has considered demanding more specific information from the ADR’s but may not do so because of, you know, reasons:
Not every consumer whose complaint is not resolved at the first stage refers the matter to an ADR provider, so providers do not have the entire picture.
- ADR providers report that a number of those who raise disputes with them stop communicating. In many such cases, it is likely that the consumer and the operator have reached an agreement without the ADR provider needing to come to a decision. However, the provider does not have information about the outcome.
- Shifting the requirement for the relatively small number of ADR providers to report on every operator would increase the burden on providers, and potentially drive them to increase their costs.
Let’s address these reasons in order:
1.) Yes, the matter never being referred to the ADR in the first place definitely explains why the ADR would not report the matter. Tremendous observation. Of course, that could be at least theoretically resolved by demanding that casinos report matters to the Commission that are not resolved at the, “First Stage,” as a, ‘Key Entry.”
Granted, that still might not do a lot. It’s not like there are computers powerful enough to cross-reference names on one list (the list the casino submits) against names on another list (individuals who complain to the UKGC about issues not being resolved at the first stage) to determine whether or not any names on the second list do not appear on the first. It would be nice if the technological capability existed to provide such a function, one could even term it a, ‘Search,’ function, unfortunately, we are probably years, if not decades, away from achieving that sort of computer mastery.
In the meantime, the UKGC unfortunately appears to be limited to some overworked sap sitting in a basement office with a list of not alphabetized names in his right hand comparing it to a similarly inadequate list in his left and crossing off names that match one at a time.
No, in reality, it would be very easy to see if there are any player complaints that were not solved at the first stage that the casino fails to provide a matching record for, and to levy sanctions upon the casino accordingly. The UKGC probably won’t, but reports such as this at least superficially give the appearance that they might one day.
2.) The ADR providers report that the person who sought out their help stops communicating with them, apparently, because the issue was resolved with the casino instead. That’s the obvious conclusion, right? It couldn’t be that the casino gets to effectively choose its court of preference for its case to be heard?
Furthermore, is it not possible that players get the idea (possibly from reading this report) that the ADR is not likely to do much for them anyway?
Also, what would make the Commission think that the most likely scenario is a mutually agreeable resolution between the consumer and the casino? If that was the most likely case, would the player have needed to turn to the ADR in the first place? Doubt it. Besides that, shouldn’t the ADR have some sort of responsibility to follow up with the casino to determine whether or not that is the case so they can close the file on that dispute? What on Earth is the point of having them in the first place if they have no responsibility to follow up on the complaints that they receive?
3.) The Commission notes that it is difficult for the ADR’s to report on every operator because there are so few ADR’s. Obviously that can only be resolved by further reducing the number of ADR’s as the Commission suggested doing earlier in the report. Makes total sense.
Oh my God, it gets even better, I can’t believe what I’m reading:
Under, “Why 11 Providers?”:
We expected the relatively high number of approved ADR providers to provide consumers with more choice about which to use to deal with their complaint. Competition between providers could also have driven up standards of ADR provision.
Well, wait a minute, there are a few problems with this:
The most obvious one is that the Commission makes reference to the, “Relatively high number of a
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