The Gambling Commission has come under fire for failing to ban schemes that ‘groom’ vulnerable gamblers.
On Tuesday, the gambling watchdog announced new protections that will make it more difficult for customers to access VIP schemes offered by bookmakers.
But activists and politicians say the schemes “must be outlawed” and are accusing the Commission of “licensing abuse”.
Under the schemes, bookmakers offer gamblers large cash bonuses and other perks such as tickets for sporting events.
Following a year-long consultation, the Gambling Commission has now introduced safeguards.
From 31 October, bookmakers will have to assess whether a gambler’s spending is “affordable and sustainable” before giving them VIP status.
Operators will also have to look for evidence of gambling-related harm “or heightened risk linked to vulnerability”.
However, anti-gambling campaigners do not think the new restrictions are tough enough.
We do not want VIP schemes to be run more carefully, we want to see them stopped altogether.
Charlies Ritchie, founder of Gambling with Lives, said: “We know so many people on ordinary incomes who have been destroyed by these schemes. They are dangerous and have no place in gambling.”
“We do not want VIP schemes to be run more carefully, we want to see them stopped altogether.”
Former Work and Pensions Secretary Sir Iain Duncan Smith agreed, saying: “By failing to ban VIP schemes the regulator is literally licensing abuse.”
“The term ‘VIP’ is simply the means by which betting companies trap problem gamblers, potentially destroying them and their families. These schemes must be outlawed.”
Since bookmakers were challenged by the watchdog last year, the number of gamblers signed up to VIP status has dropped by 70%.
However, the schemes remain very damaging, with gamblers who are offered the incentives being more than ten times more likely to become addicted to gambling.
They are also highly lucrative. Last year, Paddy Power Betfair took 20 per cent of its income from only 0.6 per cent of customers, while Ladbroke’s owner GVC takes 38% of deposits from one only per cent.
The Commission insisted on Wednesday that if progress is not made, further action will be taken.
Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said: “Operators can be in no doubt about our expectations. If significant improvements are not made, we will have no choice but to take further action and ban such schemes.”