Gambling regulations have been getting plenty of media attention lately, with topics like advertising and addiction support being debated at the highest levels.
Now, gambling regulator the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has demonstrated that it has the will and the teeth to enforce the rules and to deal harshly with offenders.
When you think of gambling, you probably picture casinos, sports betting or perhaps games like bingo or Lotto. This incident, however, relates to PlayerFT, which operates a fantasy football brand.
The regulators said PlayerFT failed to integrate the GAMSTOP self-exclusion program which helps people with problematic gambling behaviour, and also that it “failed to comply with the standards expected of the business”.
The licence suspension provides tangible evidence that the UKGC is prepared to stand by warnings it’s been issuing for the past four years.
Fantasy sport falls under its remit and businesses that make money from the pastime must play by the rules or risk being shut down.
At first glance, the 90s-tastic Skinner and Baddiel world of fantasy football seems a world away from gambling.
But when you strip it right down, what have you got? A whole bunch of football fans picking their fantasy teams on the basis of who they predict will be the top performers in that week’s Premier League games.
They pay their dues to participate and if they consistently make the right calls, their team will finish top of the league and there’s some financial reward.
Put that way, it’s not so different from placing £10 on Manchester United to win the league. It’s just that the bet is more complicated because it involves the combined performances of players from different teams.
PlayerFT’s involvement in fantasy football adds another level of complexity.
The London-based operator runs the Fiveyards brand, which acts as a virtual transfer market for fantasy football team managers.
On the platform, participants can trade players with one another for real money. They can also write scout reports to recommend specific players to other team managers, thereby increasing their value.
The information notice regarding the revocation was issued on 2 July and was effective immediately.
However, the UKGC stressed that customers would still be able to access player accounts and withdraw any funds lodged there, even during the period of suspension.
The regulating body also instructed PlayerFT that while suspended, it must “focus on treating consumers fairly and keeping them fully informed of any developments which impact them”.
The suspension used familiar generic wording that has been seen in other similar cases, referring to activities that “may have been carried out in violation of its permit”, and contending that it had been operating in a manner “inconsistent with the objectives included in its operating licence”.
These could cover a multitude of non-compliances, and doubtless further specifics will follow.
What makes this case different is the additional charge that the business had neglected to integrate with GAMSTOP.
Indeed, this failure appears to have been the obliging event that triggered the immediate suspension.
GAMSTOP is an independently operated self-exclusion scheme, designed to help those with online gambling problems by blocking their access to gambling sites.
Users register their details on the GAMSTOP platform and decide for themselves on their chosen period of exclusion.
The idea is that having taken the plunge and registered, they will then be prevented from opening accounts with online gambling providers.
Self-exclusion schemes like this are nothing new, but traditionally, they have been specific to providers.
It meant that a gambler might self exclude from a specific bookmaker or casino, but could then, in a moment of weakness, walk in to another one just around the corner and start gambling there.
In the internet age, the problem is even worse, as there are potentially hundreds of different gambling providers within easy reach.
GAMSTOP prevents this from happening by providing a one stop shop, but in order to work, it needs 100% participation from all the providers.
This is why the UKGC made a ruling last March that participation in GAMSTOP was a mandatory requirement under its licensing rules.
Once a self-exclusion has been set up, there is no going back, and the participant can only wait for the self-imposed exclusion period to elapse.
At the same time, the UKGC imposed a suite of additional new controls, including lower maximum bets, bonus limitations, spin timers and a ban on using credit cards for deposits into gambling accounts.
What next for PlayerFT
In reaction to the suspension, PlayerFT voluntarily surrendered its operating licence to the UKGC on 8 July.
Officially, the suspension is in place pending the results of a review that the UKGC is currently undertaking.
Theoretically, the licence could then be reinstated, but realistically, it seems inevitable that PlayerFT will have to implement some form of corrective actions before normal service can be resumed.
Until the UKGC’s review is complete, PlayerFT is remaining tight lipped and has indicated only that it is providing full cooperation to the UKGC and is keeping customers informed as required by the regulator.
The Fiveyards platform remains active, but warns visitors that its virtual transfer window is closed and that all betting activity is currently suspended.
Featured image credit: QuoteInspector.com under CC BY-ND 4.0 license