Britain’s biggest online betting firm gives cash rebates to big losers to keep them gambling, a Daily Mail investigation reveals today.
Players who rack up huge losses at Bet365 are rewarded with weekly cash returns of up to 10 per cent so they can carry on playing, our undercover reporter was told.
Campaigners say the scheme exploits vulnerable customers by keeping them locked in a cycle of betting.
‘In-play betting’: Ray Winstone in a Bet365 advert shown during football games
The tactics are exposed today after the Mail became the first media organisation to infiltrate Bet365’s high-security base in the tax haven of Gibraltar. Our reporter spent three weeks training to work at the betting giant’s customer service centre, where he encountered a culture of cashback incentives and VIP perks.
During a training session for new staff, a Bet365 worker gave an example to the reporter: ‘If they’ve lost, say, £15,000 in that week, then we’ll give them a weekly rebate, normally on a Tuesday, and we’ll give them maybe 10 per cent of that back.’
Another Bet365 employee speaking about cash bonuses said: ‘It’s like incentivising people to bet. It doesn’t look good.’
Although gambling companies are allowed to offer rebates to customers, campaigners expressed serious concern that the practice could encourage problem betting.
One top gambling lawyer said the industry is rife with cashback incentives, with some firms offering returns as high as 25 per cent on losses.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling (APPG), led calls for a sweeping overhaul of UK gambling laws
Last night campaigners and MPs praised our investigation for exposing a ‘wild west world of online gambling’.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling (APPG), led calls for a sweeping overhaul of UK gambling laws.
He said: ‘Make no mistake – giving gamblers money to keep losing will turn them into addicts as sure as night follows day.’
Is toothless watchdog asleep at the wheel?
The gambling watchdog was last night criticised as ‘toothless’ in the wake of the Daily Mail’s investigation.
The quango, which receives £19million a year in licence fees from gambling companies, was set up under Tony Blair as part of the 2005 Gambling Act.
The legislation, brought in to police the booming gaming industry, licensed internet betting for the first time and led to a surge in online poker sites.
Campaigners fear the regulator has been outpaced by smartphones offering 24/7 access to gambling websites.
The Gambling Commission employs 340 people, mostly in Birmingham, and receives a small amount of public funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Its former chief executive, Sarah Harrison, received £190,000 a year before leaving to be replaced by former solicitor Neil McArthur last year.
The regulator can fine bookmakers in breach of its Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP). Under the regulations, betting companies can set their own limits on rebates and cash bonuses providing the bonus is ‘proportionate to the type and level of gambling’.
Bookmakers can assign ‘VIP status’ to high spenders as long as they have ‘specific provision’ to identify potential problem gamblers. Paul Kanolik, a solicitor with Ellis Jones, described the regulations as ‘vague and not that specific’.
The Gambling Commission has been forced to harden its stance amid a surge in problem gamblers. Over the past 12 months, the watchdog dished out £28million in penalties for ‘social responsibility failings,’ many for encouraging high-spending gamblers losing large sums of money.
The watchdog has described VIP schemes as an area of ‘risk’ and vowed to investigate fears that online bookmakers use them to ‘encourage and incentivise punters to spend more’.
William Hill was fined £6.2million last February while 32Red was fined £2million in June for assigning VIP status to a problem gambler who deposited £758,000 with no social responsibility checks. In 2017, 888.com received a £7.8million sanction for failing to protect its vulnerable customers.
Despite this, many fear the regulator is not doing enough. Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling, said ‘lax’ enforcement has created ‘a wild west world of online gambling flourishing under a toothless regulator’. She added: ‘I’m always astounded by how easy it is for the bookmakers to offer incentives to vulnerable people. It is exploitation. This is an immoral industry preying on people at their lowest ebb.
‘[The Gambling Commission] seems more interested in being everybody’s friend.’
MPs and campaigners have previously criticised it for failing to recommend cutting stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2.
Tom Watson, deputy Labour leader, accused the regulator of ‘caving in to industry pressure’ when it made its recommendations in May last year.
A spokesman for the Gambling Commission said: ‘Where we find operators failing to protect customers from gambling- related harm we will take tough action. Our rules require all operators to act in a socially responsible way.’
During our investigation, new Bet365 staff were told:
- High-spending players are lavished with weekly rebates on their losses as part of a strategy to ‘reward loyalty’;
- Customers who hit a ‘net loss threshold’ can be turned into VIPs and given ‘incentives’ such as the chance to win FA Cup Final tickets;
- Once they become VIPs, they are assigned dedicated advisors who treat them the same as celebrities;
- Punters are served with a ‘gambling addiction’ warning if they spend too long playing – but the minimum could be as high as eight hours a day;
- Junior staff are given free rein to hand out £50 cash bonuses and free casino spins to any player who rings the Bet365 customer service line;
But it is the practice of offering rebates to potentially vulnerable players that will cause the greatest concern.
The revelations come after the Mail exposed how betting giants openly advertise ‘VIP packages’ to keep the biggest customers spending.
Campaigners say as many as two people every working day take their lives because of a gambling addiction. There are 480,000 serious gambling addicts in the UK.
Ministers are under pressure to curb the ‘predatory practices’ of online bookmakers. The Gambling Commission regulates the industry but its rules set no caps on rebates, saying only that they should be ‘socially responsible’.
Lawyers with experience in cases involving gambling companies said the ‘vague and unspecific’ regulations are in desperate need of reform.
Richard Williams, of law firm Joelson, said: ‘There is no legal cap on the amount a customer can be given back.
‘I’ve heard of rebates of up to 25 per cent. Rates of 10 per cent don’t sound unusual.’
The Mail’s reporter spent three weeks training to be a customer account advisor for Bet365, which is known for its ‘in-play’ betting adverts featuring actor Ray Winstone, which encourage viewers to wager on the next scorer.
Inside the six-storey building in Gibraltar, 14 new employees were trained in the mesmerising array of schemes Bet365 uses to ‘reward loyalty’.
Bet365 asks potential problem gamblers to complete an eight-point Yes/No questionnaire. But with question such as ‘do you gamble to escape a boring or unhappy life?’ it was branded a farce by critics.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chairman of the APPG, said: ‘Bet365 appear to be deliberately preying on vulnerable people and encouraging customers to rack up huge losses to boost their own profits.’
A spokesman for Bet365 said: ‘Bet365 prides itself on providing a safe environment for its customers and goes above and beyond its legal and regulatory requirements to do so, including those set out in the Gambling Commission Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice and we fully refute any allegation or suggestion to the contrary.
‘Bet365 is at the forefront of various industry initiatives to further promote and develop, safer gambling practices, including its participation in gambling treatment provider Gamcare’s social responsibility quality trademark scheme, the Safer Gambling Standard.
‘As the LCCP makes clear, operators in the gambling industry are entitled to reward their loyal customers provided they do so in a socially responsible way, as Bet365 does.
‘Bet365 takes specific and extensive actions to identify, monitor and assist customers who may be at risk of experiencing gambling-related harm, including by way of the suppressing of marketing material to any such customers and ensuring they are not inappropriately incentivised to intensify their gambling.’
Revealed: The dark secrets of Bet365’s headquarters where staff are trained to keep high spenders, big losers and VIPs throwing their money away
It is the first week of my £21,000-a-year job as a customer account advisor at Bet365’s Gibraltar HQ.
In a classroom on the second floor, I am one of 14 new recruits being taught why it doesn’t always pay to win in the extraordinary world of online betting.
From customer bonuses that ‘reward loyalty’ to cash incentives for big losers, I learned that Bet365 offers a dizzying array of ‘perks’ for people prepared to gamble away their cash.
In front of a white flipboard, a training officer coaches us through how Britain’s biggest betting firm provides losers with money to keep betting.
She says: ‘We have something called a rebate … that’s basically, if you’ve lost this much, we’re gonna give you a percentage of it back so you can continue to play.’
A training officer explains the company’s policy of awarding bonuses to players
Incredibly, I’m told that a customer who loses £15,000 in a week could receive £1,500 back to keep betting.
‘A VIP will have things like they might get a weekly rebate on how much they’ve lost. So if they’ve lost, say, £15,000 a week, then we’ll give them a weekly rebate, normally on a Tuesday, and we’ll give them maybe 10 per cent of that back.’
The practice of giving rebates is part of the byzantine system of ‘enticements’ Bet365 offers to its biggest spenders, including VIP treatment and the chance to win tickets to high-profile sporting events such as the FA Cup Final and the Irish Open.
I ask the training officer, who says she has previously trained the VIP team, if winners are rewarded in the same way as VIPs. Matter of factly, she explains they are not, because ‘they’re not making us any money’.
‘You could put a single 20p slot bet on and win the jackpot of half a million pounds. That doesn’t make them a VIP. It just means they’re very f***ing lucky.’
They certainly are. During my training, which was three weeks out of a 15-week course, the emphasis on rewarding players who lose was remarkable. After just 15 weeks of training, I was told that even I would have been qualified to hand out a £50 bonus to anyone who called the customer service line.
We were given examples of a string of other offers – bingo loyalty nights, live blackjack cashback schemes, ‘bingo booster’ nights and chances to ‘double your winnings’.
Pictured: One of Bet365’s live casino games available on their website
Campaigners have spent years accusing bookmakers such as Bet365 of putting their £683.4million-a-year profit before people, aided in no small part by an industry regulator regarded by many as not fit for purpose.
After becoming the first journalist to infiltrate the heart of the online betting industry in Gibraltar, I could not agree more.
Our trainer invited us to explain why bonuses and ‘perks’ are so important to Bet365.
She listed them on her flipchart: to attract new customers, to reward loyal customers, to rebate losers so they can continue playing, and to lure back customers whose accounts have been inactive for a certain amount of time. She explains: ‘Bonuses are there to say you spend this much, or you use this much, over a certain amount of time then we’re gonna reward you with something. We’re rewarding loyalty.’
So the more you lose, as I understood it, the more opportunities you are offered to lose even more.At one point, she explains that the other group – beyond big losers and high spenders – who are guaranteed kid-glove treatment are those in the public eye.
‘Well-known customers are guaranteed exceptional customer service,’ she says.
‘This could be your celebrities, let’s say it was Messi or Rooney or somebody very well known.
‘They will never have an account which is in their own name, but you’ll be able to see from their status it’s a well-known person. It could also be somebody well known in the industry.’
It did not look great when during our presentation on responsible gambling our trainer told us: ‘I hate this PowerPoint. But I have to do it.’ Cutting the ‘very dry’ document short, she took us through the issues via the website instead.
She did explain that the company has a ‘moral responsibility’ to identify and protect potential gambling addicts. But to me this seemed somewhat at odds with our tutorial about returning money to people who had big losses, which would surely allow them to keep betting – and losing. We are shown Bet365’s ‘live casino’, for example, where players can wager on table games hosted by real-life named dealers. These are mostly women in revealing clothing working out of low-budget TV studios based in Latvia and the Philippines. These 24/7 live shows are produced by a third-party provider, but Bet365 pays them £10,000 a month to run tables carrying company branding. Our trainer jokes that the girls get more tips if they wear fewer clothes, which appeared highly inappropriate set against the harsh reality of Britain’s gambling problem. This country has 430,000 problem gamblers and further two million are at risk.
Staff are clearly proud of the global success of Bet365 – which provides betting services to 35million people worldwide, most of them British – as our trainer tells us gleefully: ‘You can’t watch TV any more without Bet365 popping up everywhere.
‘The amount of markets that we’ve got is huge … Really, really random ones. Third league football, reserves league. Really random ones. We’ve got volleyball, greyhounds, e-sports.’
Heart of operations: Bet365’s Gibraltar headquarters
She reveals the company’s ultimate aspiration is to expand into North America, where it is currently not licensed to operate. ‘One day we might be … It would be lovely to have Bet365 on the Vegas strip next to Caesar’s Palace.’ For now, however, Bet365 bestrides the gambling industry from what our trainer describes as the ‘great tax haven’ of Gibraltar, where the company goes to great lengths to keep the details of their training programme and customer information from prying eyes. We were told: ‘Anything you do in this company stays within the four walls of this company. That includes your job, details of what your job title is … no information given to anyone outside.’
Access to every room is controlled by scanners in staff ID cards which pinpoint our location in the building. All computer screens must be ‘locked’ if we are more than a metre from our desks, every document shredded after use.
Such attention to detail has no doubt played a part in Bet365’s extraordinary success, and in the wealth of its £265million-a-year chief executive Denise Coates.
But such wealth comes at a price. At one point, I ask our trainer if desperate customers are ever allowed to reclaim their losses.
Describing ‘one of the worst conversations she ever had’, she recalls: ‘A person sent an email and it was pages and pages long – about how he’d spent his wedding fund on gambling and he needed to have these bets voided for him, otherwise he’d lose his future wife. It was horrendous to read. And you think, “you are at rock bottom – I would love to be able to just give you your money, but you’re probably going to do exactly the same thing in an hour’s time”.’
We were told he was not given his money back.