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VIP Red Carpet

Bingo Loyalty & VIP Schemes


Sue Dawson

Most online bingo sites currently have some kind of a rewards scheme for their loyal players, but in practice these vary widely from brilliant to quite frankly rubbish.  A good scheme can keep players happy through years of play.

For 2023 the future of VIP schemes is in serious doubt due to fears that they enable and encourage problem gamblers – a real concern as reportedly 8% of VIPs across all UK sites have a problem of this type.  The Gambling Commission set up an industry working group led by Entain (the owners of Gala Bingo, who certainly know a thing or two about how to run a VIP scheme) whose remit was to work out how player incentives, especially those associated with VIP schemes, could be offered in a way that makes gambling “fairer, safer and crimefree”.  The new rules took effect from the end of October 2020 and ever since then VIP schemes have been either seriously watered down or removed completely (the White Paper observes that the number of players on VIP schemes has been reduced by a whopping 90%).

Information leaked from the Gambling White Paper prior to publication suggested that VIP schemes could be banned entirely but the White Paper itself does not go that far, merely noting that” the question remains as to whether incentivising continued spending from customers who have already gambled high sums should fundamentally be considered too dangerous a practice in a sector with a known addiction risk, especially where that high spending is in itself a risk indicator” and promising to “take further action if there is evidence to suggest the new rules have not delivered the objectives”.

Historically, there were several different forms a loyalty / VIP scheme could take:

Loyalty points schemes

  • Loyalty points are typically given out when you play with real cash (not bonus) and can be redeemed for bingo or slots bonus.
  • Loyalty points may also be given out as prizes in chat games and promotions (e.g. refer a friend) or as prizes in special bingo games.
  • Loyalty points awarded as prizes in chat games are usually subject to a daily or weekly limit and may be restricted to players who have made a recent deposit.
  • Many sites remove all loyalty points (as well as unused bonuses) if you request a withdrawal.
  • Loyalty points are frequently subject to some kind of time limit.  They may expire if not redeemed within 90 days, for instance.  Or they may be removed if you don’t log into your account or play regularly enough.
  • These days loyalty points schemes can be so unobtrusive that you may not even notice that you have points to redeem.

Tiered loyalty/VIP schemes

When a tiered scheme is in place, players can progress through the levels to receive bigger benefits such as bigger redeposit bonuses, free slots spins, access to VIP only free bingo rooms, and/or a better collection or redemption rate for loyalty points. Different bingo sites lay down different rules as to how players can advance through the tiers and here are some of the criteria that have been used:

  • Lifetime loyalty points collected, with or without a minimum amount to collect per month to remain in the tier
  • Lifetime deposits
  • Last month’s deposits
  • Last three months’ deposits and spend
  • Lifetime spend
  • By invitation only

Almost all schemes of this type have been withdrawn as a result of the new rules as many of these criteria could be seen as encouraging players to spend more than they intended or can afford.  The worst offenders were schemes where VIP status that had been built up over a long period could be withdrawn if players didn’t meet a monthly spend target; these have all gone and won’t be coming back (and quite right too).

An example of such a scheme was the 4 level Joy Gem VIP Club which was shared by a group of Dragonfish powered bingo sites including 888Ladies and Wink Bingo. The lowest level required the player to deposit and play £2000+ on bingo or slots over a rolling 3 month period in order to qualify, and keep on doing so in order to remain a member. At some point the criteria stopped being public and were just shown as “by invitation” but it is likely that they remained much the same.  All levels got a personal account manager and access to exclusive bingo rooms and promotions. The Joy Gem Club was closed on 20th October 2020, 10 days before the new rules were due to kick in.

 

Bespoke VIP schemes

In these invitation only schemes, the player is assigned a personal VIP account manager who will decide what benefits to offer them. This is how players get their hands on the really good stuff such as VIP party invitations, gifts of champagne and flowers and VIP days out.  All these schemes have been drastically cut back and operators now have to get proof from players that they can afford the expenditure before admitting them to the scheme, a process which is extremely unappealing to players.  That’s as well as monitoring the behaviour of high spenders for risk of gambling related harm and proactively approaching them if risky behaviour is seen.

 

Multiple loyalty/VIP schemes – why have them?

In the past it has been very common for bingo sites to have more than one loyalty/VIP scheme in force and there were a few reasons for doing this:

  • One scheme is open to everyone and the other is either tiered, or by invitation only; this enables the better rewards to be given to selected players only.
  • One scheme is a network scheme and the other is exclusive to one site (or group of sites); again this enables the bingo site to focus on its most cherished players via the exclusive scheme.
  • There is a free daily bonus game which is either open to everyone or has a modest play or deposit requirement, taking the place of or running alongside a regular loyalty scheme, plus bespoke VIP benefits for selected players.

Integrated VIP/loyalty schemes – a good idea or not?

In the past it has been common for a VIP scheme to be integrated with the loyalty scheme –  Ladbrokes Bingo, for instance, used to have the On The House Rewards scheme with 6 tiers starting with the Garden for newbies and casual players; the 3 highest were basically VIPs. With this sort of arrangement, there were clearly publicised criteria for achieving the VIP tiers; under the Ladbrokes scheme, to reach the lowest of the three VIP levels a player needed to be playing £300 on bingo, £3000 on mini games or some combination thereof each and every month and to reach the top Penthouse VIP level it had to be ten times that.  The scheme ended when they moved to different software and would certainly have had to be modified if still running in order to remove any incentive to overspend.

Even without the new rules, whether it was ever a good thing for there to be such clear criteria – or indeed for the schemes to be integrated like this – is debatable. On the plus side, having a single scheme avoids any possibility of confusion as players know exactly what they have to do to qualify and only have one set of points or rewards to keep track of. On the minus side, one very important aspect of being a VIP is the personal relationship between the player and the VIP account manager and with an arrangement like this where the player would automatically drop out of the VIP tier if they spent slightly under the specified amount one month (perhaps because they were ill or on holiday) that relationship is not going to be worth as much as it would be at a site where the VIP can simply tell their account manager that they will be away and know that the manager has the discretion to take care of it. Another minus point is that when players know exactly what they have to do to join the VIP scheme, they also know what existing VIPs had to do to join the scheme – and the existing VIPs may prefer a bit more privacy.

Gala Bingo‘s Gala Rewards scheme, which replaced the two old Happy Points and Gala VIP schemes and was available until early 2022, had tiers which were reset monthly, clear criteria for reaching them and an array of impressive benefits; the top tier (effectively the VIP area) was by invitation only and the benefits were not specified.  Gala have now withdrawn the scheme and this does not bode well for the future of VIP schemes.

 

Loyalty schemes – a network overview

So what can players expect from the various bingo platforms and networks?

Virtue Fusion/Playtech used to have a tiered network loyalty points scheme based on players collecting 10 points for each £1 played on bingo; the points had to be redeemed within 90 days or they would expire.  This seems to have been quietly phased out at some point and now some sites have their own scheme and many have none at all, relying on player promotions instead.

At Microgaming bingo sites a basic network loyalty points based scheme came as part of the platform, but each site added its own rules regarding VIP tiers and benefits. All remaining Microgaming bingo sites closed shortly before the new rules came in, sidestepping the problem in true nuclear fashion.

At Cozy bingo sites there was a particularly egregious loyalty scheme which disappeared entirely long before the sites themselves actually closed.  The software lives on at Entain bingo sites including Ladbrokes who, as we noted earlier, no longer have a loyalty scheme.  Instead, they keep players engaged with various free games and free to enter promotions.

The Dragonfish network loyalty plan was based on the previous month’s deposits only and offered modest benefits starting with a deposit of just £5. These were basically a few free spins, a bit of bonus back on any losses and a few free tickets to the £10K game. Higher levels got more of each of these and entry to more free bingo rooms, although all free bingo at Dragonfish requires a deposit to have been made in the last 7 days. The network also rather confusingly had a completely separate loyalty points scheme which awarded one point for each 25p purchase of bingo cards and one point for each £2 played on slots; 1000 points could be redeemed for £1 bingo bonus. There’s no mention of either of these on any Dragonfish bingo sites now but we can see that many players are still receiving free tickets to the invitation only bingo games including the monthly £10K and the £50 Daily Treat.   Some Dragonfish sites have their own loyalty schemes, for example the weekly Star Rewards at Bingorella and sister sites and the Bingo Shop at Costa Bingo and other house owned sites.

The Real Bingo Network (a no bonus/no wagering requirement network powered by Dragonfish and sharing most rooms with the main network) still has the 15 level Ace Club loyalty plan based on lifetime spend; benefits include daily free spins, monthly cashback, free cards to the monthly £10K game and access to special bingo rooms.  Players never drop down levels in this scheme, but have to make at least one deposit in a rolling 30 day period to remain eligible for benefits.

Jumpman bingo sites used to have a tiered network VIP scheme based on “Kudos” (lifetime deposits) and the higher levels also had a monthly spend requirement (a whopping £20K for the top level).  Unsurprisingly in light of that massive spend requirement, the scheme was terminated in advance of the new rules kicking in and now the Jumpman sites do not have a loyalty scheme at all.  Instead, there’s a bonus game than can be played the day after making a deposit.  Jumpman players can also collect trophies and play a bonus game for each set of 5 completed.

Gamesys bingo sites got rid of their loyalty and VIP schemes long ago.  They have free daily games and run lots of player promotions (for invited players only) instead.

Relax Gaming sites such as Bingo.com and Unibet feature a bingo loyalty meter which can be filled by playing bingo and/or Relax exclusive minigames. When a player goes up a level they get a free spin on the Loyalty Wheel; prizes include free spins, bingo vouchers and cash.

Pragmatic Play bingo sites do not have any kind of network supplied loyalty scheme but some have their own.  At PlayOJO there’s OJO Plus cashback on bingo ticket purchases and at Heart Bingo there’s a free daily game that can be played for 30 days after making a second or subsequent deposit.

tombola do not have a loyalty scheme as such but instead have the Playmates scheme which rewards players for referring their friends; this pays out whenever the friends have a substantial win.  They also have the daily free games Super Spins and Free Form with thousands of pounds of cash prizes each week.

 

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