Online gambling self-exclusion services for disadvantaged users are ‘made available with no quality assurance or assessment to inform consumer choice, and promoted by treatment providers, operators and the regulator’ according to a study on on online gambling resources.
Simon Thompson, a health and social care specialist, and Alexander Källman, an independent consultant at Mind, handled the review, entitled Online Gambling self-exclusion: rapid consumer review of selected tools.
The study aimed to provide a fast consumer analysis of a range of resources that people can use to stop themselves from accessing websites and applications for online gambling.
The report selected five self-exclusion tools, of which four were blocking software including Gamban, Betblocker, Betfilter and GamBlock. The fifth tool was the self-exclusion scheme for multi-operator, Gamstop.
The study highlighted different data on accessibility, such as trials and options for subscription, user support , product information and additional help sections, effectiveness, accountability and impact.
The review read: “We developed a framework, based on evidence of what is important in self-exclusion and health interventions, with four categories: access, effectiveness, accountability and impact.
“We reviewed each of the products against this framework as ‘expert consumers’, with knowledge of gambling problems, product development and health interventions.”
In the review, it was revealed that Gamstop ‘has its limitations’ due to blocking licenced sites and making it easy for a user to ‘circumvent through using different personal details.’ Also listed as a weakness was the ease of access to unlicensed sites, as was the introduction of the new scheme.
Betblocker had a ‘considerable variation’ in the ‘quality of gambling blocking software available on the market’ according to the findings, yet there was a ‘potentially worrying absence of quality’ when assessed by the review framework.
This was highlighted as a particular concern due to the Gambling Commission’s accreditation of Betblock for funding which could lead consumers to believe that the regulator is guaranteeing its quality and safety.
The review continued: “There is a wide difference in cost and cost in relation to quality. Betfiler and GamBlock are expensive, but, although premium products, appear intrusive, affecting the day to day usability of a consumer’s device.
“Gamban is provided at a minimal or moderate cost and provides the least intrusion and most extensive blocking. Betblocker is free, may be of questionable quality. It could be a concern that because it is free, Betblocker may have uptake, when its quality and safety is unclear.
“We also want to draw attention to the importance of assessing the accountability, transparency, management and service standards of the organisations providing such tools to vulnerable people, as a basic principle of assuring quality and safety in health interventions.
“This was not in the scope of the 2018 evaluation, and arguably this has led to continued signposting of consumers to poorer quality products, delivered by potentially problematic providers.”
The review raised concerns with GamBlock, Betblocker and Betfilter that the trio might not comply with UK regulations, and that their governance was not made clear, especially in misleading or even harming consumers.
In order to help vulnerable consumers, Findings emphasised a perceived ‘lack of quality products’ being implemented. It read: “This is potentially another instance where gamblers are not afforded parity of esteem with other groups of consumers.
“We recognise this is a difficult area for regulators and treatment providers, as blocking software is a technical product. We recommend the creation of a minimum standards framework for gambling blocking software.
“In addition, there could be more joined-up action across government, the regulator, operators and treatment providers, to facilitate access to the best tools for consumer protection.
“There appears to be a need for communication to consumers, to build understanding and confidence in self-exclusion and to clarify the differences between blocking software products.”