Launched on September 15, 2021, by leading behavioral science research and consultancy firm Behavioral Insights Team (BIT), the Gambling Policy & Research Unit develops testing methods that can drastically cut gambling harm in the UK. The Unit has recently published the findings of an audit completed on ten UK gaming operators. The purpose of the audit was to understand the way these companies protected their customers against gambling harm. The findings of the audit have shown that the targeted companies did not comply with the industry standards addressing the welfare and safety of their customers.
Key Findings of the BIT Unit Audit
The audit’s methodology, the collection of data and its analysis were planned and completed between December 2021 and June 2022, while the audit itself was done between March and April 2022. The ten targeted gambling operators in the UK that the audit directed its attention on were Betfair, Betfair, Coral, Betfred, Ladbrokes, Betway, Paddy Power, William Hill, Tombola, and Sky Bet. The BIT unit completed a behavioral audit on the websites of these operators, assessing every aspect of a player’s journey on their websites, starting with signup and finishing with closing an account.
One of the most important findings of the audit was the fact that it usually takes more time to close an account than it takes to sign up for one. This is mostly because of improper instructions regarding membership cancellation. The study also revealed that a few of the audited operators require players to have a minimum account balance in order to cash out their funds. This discovery led the unit to believe that the respective operators were slowing down players from shutting down their accounts.
As for the time needed to set up a deposit limit, the audit discovered that three additional actions were needed to set up these limits compared to the time needed to place a new wager. The audit also found that some of the targeted operators relied on default stakes or default deposit amounts that were not in the best interests of their active members. Also, most customers were not given any feedback regarding the amount of time or money spent on operators’ websites.
Other identified problems referred to the lack of proper age checks prior to signing up for a new account online. This, the audit discovered, allowed players on some websites to freely access betting race events with zero limitations. Players’ losses were also not marked and prompted in a clear and transparent manner while playing.
In general, the overall findings of the audit revealed that UK operators failed to protect the well-being of their customers while also putting them at greater risk of gambling harm in some circumstances.
The same findings report showed that all the studied websites had many popularity claims backed by online countdown timers or eye-catching design elements. All these elements were meant to persuade bettors to keep making fast wagers and play more than they originally planned to do.
BIT’s chief executive officer Dr David Halpern said it is possible for gaming operators to “make adequate changes to improve customer welfare.” However, he also emphasized the fact that doing this does not seem to be their primary concern at the moment.
Halpern added that through their specific design and the overall evolution of the gaming market in itself, gambling platforms “make it very easy to sign up”, place bets, and keep going. At the same time, they are also making it “strikingly harder” to set reasonable wagering limits, cash out funds, or close an account.
At the beginning of June, the UK Gambling Commission published a research called “Path to Play” focusing on the individual stages of a complete gambling experience.