The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has warned licensees to make major changes to their terms and conditions linked to bonus promotions to avoid enforcement action by the regulator.
Operators will be required to be more up-front and clear in the conditions associated with bonuses to ensure they comply with UK consumer protection law.
The warning follows the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) today publishing details of action taken against three leading operators - Ladbrokes, William Hill and Titanbet operator PT Entertainment - as part of an ongoing investigation into the fairness of widely-used terms and conditions.
As a result of this action, the trio have committed to changing the way they offer promotions to ensure customers can access any funds owed to them.
Operators can no longer require customers to play multiple times before they can withdraw their own money. Such play-through requirements, currently used widely across the sector, can require an individual to gamble a sum as much as 50 times before they are allowed to withdraw funds.
Any restrictions on gameplay are to be made clear. Operators cannot rely on "vague terms" to confiscate players' money, the CMA said. In certain cases, players will be required to play with stakes of a certain amount to secure a bonus. Reducing the stake can see them made ineligible for the payout.
Furthermore, gaming operators must not oblige players to take part in publicity should they win a significant sum.
The CMA said that the promotions under particular scrutiny saw players offered bonus funds for casino games, provided they put in their own money.
For such offers in particular, the authority said that certain terms were likely to be unfair, in breach of consumer protection law, and likely to mislead customers. These offers were also likely to see players required to play for longer than they may have bargained for before being able to withdraw their money.
"Gambling always carries a risk, but players should never face unfair restrictions that prevent them from getting at their money," CMA project director George Lusty said. "Firms mustn't stack the odds against players, by putting unfair obstacles in their way, or making it difficult for them to stop gambling when they want to.
"The CMA is here to make sure businesses' terms and practices are fair for their customers," he continued. "We welcome the commitment from these leading firms to address the problems our investigation uncovered, by making important changes to their terms and conditions."
The changes adopted by Ladbrokes, William Hill and PT Entertainment must now be adopted by other licensed iGaming operators, with those that fail to make the changes facing regulatory action by the UKGC.
"We back the action taken by the CMA today," UKGC executive director Sarah Garner said. "Gambling firms must treat their customers fairly and not attach unreasonable terms and conditions to their promotions and offers.
"We expect all Gambling Commission licensed businesses to immediately review the promotions and sign up deals they offer customers and take whatever steps they need to take, to the same timescales agreed by the three operators, to ensure they comply."
The joint effort by the Commission and the CMA to stamp out unfair practices launched in October 2016 will continue, Garner added, with further enforcement action likely.
The CMA is investigating obstacles to customers making withdrawals, whether as part of a promotion or not. In particular, it is looking into terms that force players to withdraw money in small instalments over longer periods of time, and those that give operators the power to confiscate funds from accounts that have not been used for several months.