IBAS joins calls for gambling ombudsman

| By Daniel O'Boyle
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) has joined those calling for a gambling ombudsman, as it reported a decline in the number of disputes it dealt with in the year ended 30 September.
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In its 2019-20 year, IBAS dealt with 5,673 complaints, down 9.8% from 2018-19. 

Of these complaints, 4,475 dealt with consumers in Great Britain complaining about GB-licensed operators, down 14.5%. The number of complaints about GB operators coming from overseas consumers, however, grew to 1,198.

The majority of disputes – 2,511 – were marked as completed, though this was down from 3,111 in 2018-19, as the number of rejected or discontinued disputes grew to 1,964.

Of these completed rulings, most customer complaints were not upheld, though this figure dropped by 24.0% to 1,350. Pre-ruling outcomes, such as a settlement, declined by 19.4% to 853 and upheld complaints were down 14.2% to 308.

2019-20 saw a sharp increase in the number of disputes related to banking transactions, from 176 in 2018-19 to 1,300 in the most recent year. IBAS noted that many of these complaints, particularly concerning delayed withdrawals, end up being discontinued, suggesting the withdrawals ultimately occur.

Almost all other dispute types, on the other hand, declined. This included the previous most popular form of complaint – disputed settlement criteria or bet instructions – with the number of disputes falling 24.9% to 1,048.

IBAS noted that there had been a continued increase in the number of disputes related to customer identity, which usually dealt with the question of whether a customer was creating an account for the first time, making them eligible for welcome bonuses. IBAS said the rise was “a coming together of two key factors – a growth in the number of accounts being operated by third parties and increased efforts by businesses to tackle the issue”.

“Although we recognise that this type of offer is enjoyed by a large number of consumers, we remain of the view that it would be preferable for casinos and betting websites to offer different types of bonus schemes that reward player loyalty (without encouraging excessive gambling) or to compete using innovative games, products or betting markets instead of offering up front free credit on the back of minimal KYC information,” IBAS said.

Of disputes that were rejected, the most common reason for rejection was that the matter was one for the Gambling Commission as it dealt with regulation. Other common grounds for rejection included the customer not fully exhausting the operator’s complaints process or the customer ceasing communication with IBAS.

IBAS reported that the time taken to process domestic disputes decreased from 51 days to 45.

It also noted that, unlike 2020, there was not full compliance with its alternative dispute resolution decisions, though the compliance level was still above 99%.

IBAS also commented upon proposals to create a gambling ombudsman – a single official body to handle disputes in the sector. The creation of this body has been backed by many groups, including most recently the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).

IBAS chairman Andrew Fraser said the current system – with nine different alternative dispute resolution bodies – was not ideal, and it would make more sense if IBAS took over the role as the sole gambling ombudsman.

“In its announcement of the review, the government downplayed the need for an ombudsman and said that IBAS provided a service for the industry and its customers concerning gambling transactions,” he said.

“IBAS has long taken the position that there are huge benefits to be realised from having a single gambling ADR body, and it is our intention to fill that role. We will respond to the review and make the point that a single body will aid consistency and clarity and the provision of data to the regulator and customers. It will also prevent ‘ADR shopping’ by businesses and consumers seeking the most advantageous answer. 

“At present there are nine ADR bodies acknowledged by the Commission. Given the Commission’s antipathy to that situation it’s not clear why there’s been a lack of progress in reducing that number.”

IBAS went on to explain its own vision for what it hoped to do if converted into an ombudsman role.

“Our vision is for an ombudsman that will work closely with, but be independent of the Gambling Commission,” it said. “Its purpose will be to promote fairness in gambling and to hold licensed gambling businesses to complaint service standards. Those standards may be set out in law – an updated Gambling Act – or they may instead form part of the Ombudsman’s own Fair Play Code. 

“Adhering to the code will be a condition of participation in the Ombudsman service. The service should be 100% free to use for consumers and like all ombudsmen, apart from those concerned with public services, it should be funded by the businesses under its jurisdiction.”

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