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Gambling loophole ‘must be shut down’

Mobile phone with gambling site

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“It’s like a last-ditch attempt to get the last bit of money out of a gambler. I was just disgusted.”

Dave, not his real name, has fought gambling addiction nearly his entire life and now has £50,000 of gambling debt spread over up to six credit cards.

He’s talking about when he recently saw an advert about a way that lets people gamble using credit on their mobile phone.

Just six weeks after a ban on using credit cards came into effect, politicians and charities say the regulator – the Gambling Commission – must take urgent action to shut down this “loophole”.

The Commission told the BBC’s Money Box programme it’s watching closely for any unintended consequences of the ban and will consider further intervention if necessary.

Meanwhile, a trade group that represents gambling firms suggested its members were following the regulator’s rules.

Gambling with credit

The whole idea of bringing the credit card ban in was simple – to stop people gambling with money they didn’t have.

It’s something campaigners had long pushed for and have welcomed now it’s been finally introduced.

But charities including StepChange and Gambling with Lives, as well as politicians, say a “loophole” allows people to get around that ban.

Dozens of online casinos allow users to choose a pay-by-phone option. Not only is this effectively credit if you have a contract and pay your phone bill monthly, which campaigners say goes against the “spirit” of the ban, but there is also, of course, nothing to stop people paying that bill with a credit card.

There is a limit on how much people can spend on their phone in this way, completely unrelated to gambling, which stands at £40 per day and no more than £240 per month.

‘No safe place’

But for Dave that’s not good enough.

“It’s like there’s no safe place, it’s like they [the gambling industry] are always on your back,” he says.

“There are people who’ve been in recovery, who are currently struggling, and this will just lead them back into that cycle.

“It’s also dangerous for people who’ve never really considered gambling who might think: ‘It’s only £10 or £20 on your phone, what harm can it do?’ It could be a new, fresh avenue to getting into this life addiction.”

Dr Henrietta Bowden Jones, a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, agrees with Dave.

She says she’s particularly worried about the impact this type of gambling might have on problem gamblers and under-18s: “This is the first time I have heard of the ability to gamble using mobile phone [bills].

“The whole point of banning credit card use for gambling was to ensure consumer safety in relation to avoiding spending more than one could afford, but this seems to me to be a loophole through which gambling could still occur and cause financial harm.”

The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents around 90% of the UK’s betting market, said in a statement it “accepted and welcomed the introduction of the ban on gambling with credit cards”.

“All of our members agreed to the guidelines set out by the Gambling Commission, and we will work with the regulator to ensure that they are adhered to.”

For more on this story listen to Radio 4 Money Box.

Follow Dan on Twitter.

If you’ve been affected by gambling addiction, help and support is available via the BBC Action Line.

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