VIP programmes offered by online casinos and betting sites could be a thing of the past after the government’s Gambling Act review has been enacted. Some ministers want to ban the schemes altogether, with some MPs decreeing that they are ‘immoral’.
The VIP programmes deployed by online casinos are typically invite only, and offer players a range of benefits including exclusive promotions, birthday bonuses and a dedicated account manager.
But those in Westminster believe that they encourage punters to bet more often and in larger amounts in order to secure their VIP status, and that in turn could lead to an increase in problem gambling behaviours.
The government’s review into the 2005 Gambling Act is well underway, and it is believed that the results from the white paper will be published later this year.
The newspaper has confirmed the story in print, writing that a ‘senior government source’ has told them that a complete ban on VIP practises has won the support of key ministers involved in the regulatory overhaul.
Changes have already been made to casino VIP schemes already, and in October 2020 the introduction of affordability checks – which could yet be foisted on all bettors as part of the reform – meant that gamers had to prove they could afford to bet at the levels required to attain VIP status. Those under the age of 25 are also subject to additional checks and monitoring.
A Betting and Gaming Council spokesperson has claimed that the number of players enrolling in VIP schemes at online casinos and betting sites has fallen ‘by 70%’ since the new regulatory measures were introduced.
But claims that VIP schemes have become better regulated were dismissed by Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative MP who has campaigned against the programmes in the past. He blasted them as ‘immoral’, and claimed they created a sense of ‘desperation’ amongst players to get their hands on the incentives available.
The future of the UK Gambling Commission has also been questioned in the light of their refusal to ban VIP programmes, with Labour minister Carolyn Harris suggesting that the ‘close relationship’ between the regulator and betting operators was to blame.
Very Important Punter
Under increasing pressure, the UK Gambling Commission acted in September 2020, announcing a raft of regulatory changes to VIP systems that they would formally implement a month later.
Those were designed to eliminate the risk of ‘irresponsible incentivisation’ that would lead to gamers betting more than they could afford. And so, as of October 31, all firms offering a VIP scheme have to:
- Ensure customers’ spending is ‘affordable and sustainable’
- Assess vulnerability to, or heightened risk of, problem gambling
- Maintain a database including the customer’s occupation and source of funds
- Perform ongoing checks and monitoring to spot patterns of problem gambling
The then chief executive of the Commission, Neil McArthur, said at the time: “We have introduced these new rules to stamp out malpractice in the management of ‘VIP’ customers and to make gambling safer.
“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.”
That ‘last chance’ may well now have been and gone….