Sky Vegas has been fined £1.2million for sending free casino ‘spins’ to recovering drug addicts during the industry’s annual Safer Gaming Week.
The fine comes at a sensitive time for the UK gaming industry, which has been scrambling to show it has improved its attitude to social responsibility.
The government is in the midst of a landmark review of how the sector is regulated, with proposals set to be published in a white paper due within weeks. Yet big brands have been hit with a series of penalties for failing to protect vulnerable people in recent weeks.
888 Casino, which is in the process of buying the UK assets of William Hill, was fined £9.4million last week for multiple breaches which led to customers racking up huge losses at the depths of the Covid pandemic. BetVictor was fined £2million in February for breaches of fairness, money laundering controls and social responsibility.
The new fine for Sky Vegas, owned by global gambling company Flutter, comes after a promotional offer of ‘Bet £5, get 100 free spins’ was sent to 41,395 customers who had voluntarily self – excluded from the game for the purpose of quitting.
Another 249,159 customers who had unsubscribed from the operator’s marketing emails also received the promotion.
“Here at Sky Vegas, we like the unexpected,” read one marketing email. “That’s right. Just sign up, spend £5 and claim your 100 free spins. The best part? Everything you win is yours – it’s the fun of the fair!”
The promotional message featured slot machine graphics and the tagline: “Entertainment like no other”.
The incident, revealed by the Guardian in November last year, led addicts to warn that receiving such messages could have triggered a relapse.
Andrew Rhodes, chief executive of the Gambling Commission, said: “Self-excluded customers are at risk of harm related to gambling and absolutely should not receive any direct marketing that could entice them to return to gambling.
“We advise all operators to learn from the costly mistakes of Sky Betting & Gaming and ensure their systems are robust enough to always prevent self-excluded and those who have clearly rejected marketing from receiving promotional material. .
“This latest fine would have been significantly higher had Sky Betting & Gaming allowed any of the self-excluded customers to play, failed to cooperate and taken decisive action to prevent a repeat.”
Conor Grant, managing director of Flutter UK and Ireland, said the company “takes its responsibility to protect its customers very seriously, but on this occasion we haven’t done enough.”
He added: “As soon as the error was identified, we ceased communications until the defect could be corrected, notified regulators and apologized to affected customers. We have also conducted a thorough investigation into what went wrong, the results of which have been provided to regulators, and have put measures in place to ensure it does not happen again. We accept the findings of the Gambling Commission and once again apologize to the customers we have let down.