Some increased regulation coming down the tracks soon you’d imagine.
Britain’s biggest bookmaker weakened rules designed to tackle money laundering and problem gamblers in order to increase profits, a whistleblower claims.
A former Ladbrokes Coral employee has exposed tactics that the company used to encourage customers to increase betting on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The senior figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the only way to stop the harm caused by the machines was to reduce the maximum stake as this would stop gamblers chasing losses. The terminals allow customers to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on electronic casino games such as roulette. In an interview with The Times, the whistleblower said:
● A bonus culture was undermining efforts to control problem gambling.
● Worries over profits led the company to increase the amount customers could bet without being asked to prove that their money was obtained legally.
● Customers limiting stakes to £50 a spin were targeted to encourage them to bet up to £100.
● So many FOBTs were vandalised by frustrated punters that they were redesigned with reinforced plastic screens.
The insider, who lost his job this year after Ladbrokes merged with Coral, said: “Staff get incentives that encourage punters to bet more so most are reluctant to lose profitable customers by checking whether they are betting with drugs money or intervening if they are gambling too much.”
Criminal gangs use FOBTs to launder cash because roulette can be played to minimise losses and the machines print out tickets of winnings that can be used to show the money was obtained “legitimately”. The regulator requires bookmakers to have systems in place to identify problem gambling and money laundering. Last year Coral shops required managers to check where customers got their cash if they lost more than £30,000. The whistleblower said this threshold had been raised to £50,000, making it easier for drug gangs to launder cash.
Ladbrokes Coral says the £30,000 threshold was replaced by several different limits, including lower ones, because a single threshold did not identify genuine cases of concern.
The whistleblower said the company has been focused on increasing what customers bet on FOBTS since the government introduced rules in 2015 that players must register if they want to bet more than £50 a spin. The regulations, designed to limit problem gambling, resulted in 85 per cent of customers who try to bet above this level choosing not to do so. Rather than accept this “down staking” shop managers were sent a document called “Keep them spinning, £50+ stakes” offering advice on getting customers to bet more. Shop staff were given a £20 bonus for every customer they signed up.
Ladbrokes Coral insists that the bonus is not to encourage people to bet more but to register “multi-channel” customers.
The whistleblower said: “Bonuses for area managers are up to 40 per cent of salary so there’s a big incentive to raise revenues at almost all costs.”
Gamblers lost a record £13.8 billion last year, including £1.82 billion on FOBTs, according to the Gambling Commission. The number of FOBTs has risen by 9 per cent since 2009 to 34,388 but the amount lost has risen by 73 per cent to nearly £5 million a day.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is expected to recommend next month that maximum stakes for FOBTs be cut from £100 to between £10 and £20.
Ladbrokes Coral said: “We place great emphasis on encouraging responsible gambling and combating attempted criminal activity. We would never sanction the pursuit of profit above those responsibilities.
“We have an ongoing campaign to sign people up to loyalty cards to track play and help customers when we see areas of potential concern. The monitoring of behaviour is encouraged by our regulator because it enables us to help customers stay in control. By encouraging our employees to do this we are promoting responsible gambling.
“We have multiple thresholds for spend and player behaviour which trigger interactions and we make no apology for tailoring our approach to ensure that individual customers receive the right interaction. We are constantly updating our processes.”
FOBT’s should be illegal.