Lodging a complaint against a gambling site is a relatively straightforward process – finding a satisfactory solution not always quite so much. Nevertheless, you will have some recourse if you feel that an operator has failed in its duty of care.
Before we begin, we should point out that all of the information that follows relates to gambling sites licensed by the Gambling Commission. Under section 6.1.1 of the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice, licensees must have in place fair, transparent and accessible complaint processes.
Should you find yourself in dispute with one, you’ll be able to register your complaint safe in the knowledge that an investigation will be conducted. This won’t be the case with an unlicensed gambling site simply because it’s under no obligation under British Law to protect its players.
While there are of course other gambling regulators around the world, none have the same kind of player protections in place as the UK Gambling Commission. So how does the Gambling Commission define a complaint or dispute?
What Constitutes a Complaint or Dispute?
As part of its guidance note, Complaints and Disputes: Procedural, Information Provision and Reporting Requirements, the Gambling Commission defines a complaint as an ‘expression of dissatisfaction, whether spoken or written, about any aspect of the way a licensee conducts activities.
This could be about the outcome/management of a gambling transaction or about the manner in which a licence holder conducts its business. This relates to three objectives:
- Keeping gambling free from crime
- Ensuring that gambling is fair and open
- Protecting children and the vulnerable from harm or exploitation arising from gambling
Complaints are often about things like bonus offers, ID verification, account closure, withheld winnings and technical issues. Regardless of the issue, if your complaint cannot be resolved, it will become a dispute which can then be escalated to an Alternative Dispute Resolution provider. First of all, you’ll need to know if you’ve got grounds.
Do I Have a Legitimate Complaint?
It’s very important to determine if you’ve actually got grounds to make a complaint before starting the process. This will save you time, hassle and possibly even money further down the line. The most obvious way is to thoroughly analyse the terms and conditions relating to your problem.
Read the Terms and Conditions
Many complaints fail simply because the player failed to read or understand the terms and conditions. In fairness, deciphering a bingo or casino site’s terms is often easier said than done. Thankfully, stricter regulations are now in place requiring gambling companies to provide summaries of their T&Cs that are free of jargon. These must be written in plain and simple language. Even if the operator in question uses ambiguous and confusing language (many still do) try to get a grip on the small print. If you’re satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to make a complaint, you should contact the operator.
Contacting the Operator
Contacting the operator should be a straightforward process. As mentioned, the Gambling Commission requires all of its license holders to have in place a complaints procedure that’s properly explained. It should therefore be made clear how a complaint should be made, to whom it should be addressed, as well as essential information that you’ll need to provide. All of these details will be available on the operator’s website.
Put Your Complaint in Writing
It’s a good idea to put your grievance in writing, either by email or letter although email is probably the best way to go given the faster response times. Be sure to include your account username, full name and contact details. A clear, detailed account of your issue will need to be provided together with dates, times and supporting evidence. During the above process, keep a record of all communications between you and the operator – this could prove invaluable should your complaint be escalated to an ADR provider.
* The Gambling Commission recommends a resolution service called Resolver. As well as providing useful information about your rights relating to numerous areas of dispute, this free service includes a tool that can help you prepare and then submit a complaint.
Regardless of whether you use Resolver, once your complaint has been submitted, it must be acknowledged by the gambling site as soon as is reasonably possible (it will have a maximum of three days). An investigation will then be conducted by the operator which must be completed within eight weeks from the date that your complaint was first received.
Hopefully, a resolution will be found. But if during this period your problem hasn’t been resolved, the process will come to an end and the complaint becomes a dispute. This is known as a ‘deadlock’. You’ll then receive a letter from the operator confirming the situation and its final decision. The company must also provide you with the name, contact details and website address of their chosen ADR provider.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Provider
An alternative dispute resolution provider is an independent third party entity that will evaluate your complaint as well as the response from the operator. Under the terms of its licensing agreement, an operator must have an arrangement in place with one.
The service is free and offers parties the chance to resolve a dispute without going to court. The ADR will either attempt to find a resolution that’s agreeable to both parties and/or make a judgement based on the evidence provided.
Strict requirements are in place for ADR providers regarding their expertise, independence and transparency. These were updated in October 2018 – as a result licensed operators can only use a provider that’s been officially approved by the Gaming Commission. In respect of remote gambling these are: ADR Group, Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), eCogra, IBAS, ProMediate and (UK) Limited.
Approved ADR providers consider all manner of complaints including:
- Non-payment of winnings
- Account suspension relating to concerns about anti-money laundering, ID checks
- Claims of rigged gaming machines
- Disputes about technical issues
- Being allowed to gamble when self-excluded
- Disputes about unfair terms and practices
However, there are a few instances in which an ADR provider could refuse to deal with your complaint. Some of these are as follows:
- You didn’t contact the operator to try and resolve your complaint in the first instance
- Your dispute is frivolous or vexatious (you’ve made a complaint without grounds just to annoy/cause inconvenience to the operator)
- Your dispute has already or is currently being considered by another ADR provider
- The value of your complaint is less or more than a monetary threshold set by the specific ADR provider (the amount will vary)
- You didn’t submit your complaint to the ADR within 12 months of the actual incident
- Your dispute might impair the effective operation of the ADR
Judgements by an ADR provider are not binding on the consumer. But they’re binding on the operator up to the value of £10,000. If the dispute is in excess of this amount, the operator can take the matter to the appropriate court. You also have this right should you not agree with the outcome.
Alternatively, you could ask the ADR provider to reconsider its judgement, although without providing significant new evidence, the chances of overturning its original decision are slim. The other option would be to register a complaint with the Gambling Commission. The commission would then conduct an investigation to check that the ADR is correctly following procedures. However, you won’t receive any updates regarding the findings.
If you’ve explored all of the above avenues and you still feel your complain is legitimate, the other option is to take your dispute to court. But bear in mind that legal proceedings of any kind can prove stressful and costly.
Complaint Process Flowchart
See below for a diagram outlining each of the steps mentioned above along with timescales. This is based on the Gambling Commission flowchart published here.
Online Gambling Sites – Common Complaints
Here’s a run-down of common complaints levelled at gambling sites, together with some of the reasons why such issues might arise in the first place. While a lot of these relate to a misunderstanding or disregard of the terms and conditions there are exceptions.
Online Gambling Site Delays/Refuses to Pay my Winnings
For most gamers, the whole point of playing at a gambling site is to win money. And as per UK gambling regulations, you should be able to withdraw your winnings without any restriction or unreasonable delay. Most of the time, withdrawals are processed within hours. However, larger withdrawals tend to be attention-getters for operators. So delays might occur because of additional verification checks.
Sometimes your withdrawal will be denied due to a breach or failure to meet specific terms and conditions. When this happens, the operator should send you email detailing the specific contravention. This might relate to bonus abuse, the existence of duplicate accounts or simply because you haven’t satisfied the wagering requirements of a bonus. It’s also possible that your account has been frozen – this occurs when an operator sees ‘unusual activity’ on your account.
- Additional Verification Checks
- False/Incorrect Information Provided During Registration
- Bank Holiday
- Suspected Fraudulent Activity (Multiple Accounts, Bonus Abuse)
- Funds Deposited with Somebody Else’s Debit Card
- Bonus Terms Not Satisfied (e.g. wagering requirements)
My Deposit Has Been Declined
More often than not, this occurs because of incorrect card/payment details. The obvious first step is to re-check the information you’ve provided, paying close attention to card expiry dates and such like. In addition, operators must allow customers to restrict their deposit amounts over a certain period – it could be that you’ve reached a previously set limit. Failing this, check with your bank – you might not have sufficient funds or your deposit has been referred for manual authorisation due to multiple transactions.
- Incorrect Payment Details/Expired Card
- Deposit Limit Reached
- Insufficient Funds
- Deposit Referred for Manual Authorisation
My Deposit Hasn’t been Credited to My Account
Deposits won’t always be credited to your account straight away. Much will depend on the method you choose. Debit card payments are usually instant as is the case with certain E-wallet and prepaid voucher services such as PayPal and PaySafe. However deposits made by bank transfer can take days to appear. Before crying foul, check the casino/bingo site’s terms and conditions for deposit processing times. Your next step should be to check if the deposit was blocked by your bank (see above).
- Use of Slow Payment Method (Bank Transfer)
- Payment Blocked by Bank/Financial Institution
- Insufficient Funds in Bank Account
- Website Glitch
- Fraud/Security Breach
The Gambling Site Holding my Funds Has Gone Bust
As it stands, any licensed gambling company must keep your deposited funds in a separate account. Unfortunately, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get your money back. In the UK, all operators must specify in their terms and conditions what (if any) protections are in place should it become insolvent. There are three categories: No Protection, Medium Protection and High Protection.
With no protection, creditors would view money held in player accounts as part of the actual business. For medium protection, some sort of arrangement will be in place such as insurance that ensure that you receive your money back. With high protection, player funds are held in an account that’s overseen by an independent person or external auditor.
I Haven’t Received My Bonus
Although not a very common occurrence, sometimes a casino or bingo site will not credit your account with a bonus. This will either be down to error or because you’ve breached the terms and conditions relating to on-site promotions.
Hopefully, the operator will communicate any breaches to you via email or some other form of communication. However, this doesn’t always happen. Once again, if you find yourself in this situation, read the terms and conditions specifically relating to bonuses and bonus eligibility.
If you’re playing at a bingo site, get in touch with the chat room moderator. Because they have access to your account, they’ll be able to help with numerous issues, especially those related to bonuses. But obviously try to keep things as civil as possible. Bad-mouth a site in live chat or become abusive to the moderator and you’ll almost certainly be banned.
- Website Glitch
- You Have Multiple Accounts
- Somebody has Access to Your Account
My Account has been Closed/Disabled
Before you assume the worst check that you’ve completed the ID verification process. If you registered, forgot to complete the process and returned to the site weeks or months later, there’s a good chance that your account will have been frozen.
Keep in mind too that any licensed gambling site has the right to close or freeze your account provided it has reasonable grounds to do so. These grounds include a perceived risk of harm to the player, a breach of the T&Cs, a risk of detriment to the operator or a suspicion of money-laundering.
Therefore, failure to satisfy age requirements will most certainly get your account closed as will the opening of multiple accounts – a practice that’s fairly common with people looking to take advantage of bonuses. Naturally, every single operator will take a dim view of this behaviour and rightly so. It’s fraud!
A less-likely scenario is that your account gets banned because you win too regularly. Remember that a gambling operator’s entire modus operandi is about letting you win a bit here and a bit there. So those that win big on a regular basis (they do exist) could be considered a financial liability by the operator, thus posing a ‘risk of detriment’. In this context, your gambling site of choice is perfectly within its rights to close your account.
Another great way to get your account closed at any gambling site is to try and use a deposit charge-back to claw back your losses. Banks offer this service for customers who paid for but did not receive a service. This does not however apply to online gambling payments and will likely cause you to be banned.
- Incomplete ID Verification Process
- Failure to Satisfy Age Requirements
- Fraudulent Behaviour
- Bonus Abuse: Creation of Multiple Accounts
- Deposit Chargeback Attempts
- Customer Deemed Vulnerable
- You’re a Regular Big-Money Winner
I’ve been Accused of Bonus Abuse
Bonus abuse has become something of a catch-all term in iGaming. But generally speaking, the term describes the practice of claiming a promotion while avoiding or minimising the financial risk inherent in gambling. This might relate to the opening of multiple accounts to claim the same welcome bonus or making large bets to clear wagering requirements. To guard against these types of practices, operators usually restrict an account to one household while also putting in place stake limits for their bonuses. In spite of these safeguards, they’re always on the look-out for potential abusers. A lot of players fall foul of the ‘one account per household’ purely because they had not idea such restrictions were in place. Sadly, it’s extremely unlikely that this would be considered a mitigating factor by an operator. The view would be that the player should have been aware of the rules as set out in the terms and conditions.
- Opening of Multiple Accounts
- Irregular Betting Patterns
- Repeatedly Playing a Game or Games with High RTPs
- Trying to Claim the Same Bonus on Multiple Occasions
- Someone Else Has Access to your Computer/IP Address
The Content of a Gambling Advert Was Inappropriate
Operators must observe strict rules about advertising as stipulated by the Committee for Advertising (CAP). To protect children and the vulnerable, gambling companies are no longer permitted to include cartoon imagery in their advertising and marketing communications or anything that might appeal to young people. Their promotions shouldn’t be misleading either. Complaints in this area should be directed to the Advertising Standards Agency.
I’m Still Receiving Marketing Materials Following Self Exclusion Request
The Gambling Commission is now really hot on this kind of thing due to increased concerns about gambling-related harm. Consequently, all operators must now participate in the GAMSTOP self-exclusion scheme – this allows players to restrict their online gambling activities for a set period. As part of this arrangement, operators should also take all reasonable steps to cease marketing communications such as email or SMS, even after the self-exclusion period has expired.
Within two days of receiving your self-exclusion request, the operator must remove your details from its databases/marketing lists or flag you as an individual to which marketing materials should not be sent. Those that fail to do so will be in direct breach of their commitments under the LCCP and the Data Protection Act (1998).
While it’s quite unusual for a licensed operator to fail in this duty, mistakes do occasionally occur. This might include technical problems with the site or human error. But it could also be that you haven’t updated your registered details in GAMSTOP. For example, a change of address or surname could impact the measures you’ve put in place.
If your details are up-to-date and you’ve received marketing communications of any kind more than two days after posting a self-exclusion request, immediately get in touch with the operator so that it can investigate. You could also contact the Gambling Commission itself – in contrast to most of the other disputes mentioned here, it actively encourages players to get in touch should they have any evidence of operator malpractice in this area.
- Self-Exclusion Request Not Processed (Within 48 Hour Time Frame)
- Your GAMSTOP Information is Out-of-Date
- Website Technical Problems
- Human Error (failure to follow customer policy, marketing list not updated)
The Game Malfunctioned During Play
Unfortunately, technical errors do sometimes occur. Although extremely frustrating, don’t be tempted into thinking that the game is rigged. The chances of this are miniscule, that is if you’re playing at a licensed UK casino or bingo site. The Gambling Commission requires all UK gambling sites to have their games tested by an approved testing house before they can be served to players. Once live, the operator should also monitor its games. This doesn’t always prevent problems though.
In terms of online slots, those served from a licensed UK operator will include the disclaimer that ‘malfunctions void all pays and plays’. This means you’ll get a refund should some sort of mishap interrupts play.
A lot of malfunctions are due to a broken internet connection – in respect of slots, endlessly spinning reels are often a good indicator of this issue. If this happens, the outcome of the last spin will be recorded so you shouldn’t lose out.
Pretty much all operators have terms and conditions in place that protect them from complaints arising from software problems. Nonetheless, if you encounter an issue during play, take a screenshot of the game and send it to the operator so they can investigate.
- Broken Internet Connection
- Incorrectly Installed Game
- Chosen Device Doesn’t Meet Minimum Software Requirements
- Operator Website Goes Down
- Faulty Game Software
The Casino Won’t Verify My ID/Asks for Further Information
Operators are expected to conduct thorough identification checks of all their registrants. This is to ensure that they’re old enough to gamble, to determine whether they’ve self excluded and to prevent the use of criminal proceeds for gambling. So until an operator has confirmed your identity, it has the right to freeze your account indefinitely.
Although the Gambling Commission doesn’t specifically stipulate the kind of documents that must be provided, at a minimum, you’ll need to provide proof of you name, address and date of birth. This could include your passport, driver’s license, utility bill, bank/mortgage statement and a national identity card. The verification process is usually completed within three days although this varies between operators.
Sometimes the operator will ask for further proof of identity. This might be because of inconsistencies in the information you’ve provided, or because of defaced/expired documentation. For the latter, your bank accounts or utility statements are often required to be less than three months old. Again, the operator needs to provide you with clear instructions about any issues relating to ID verification and should you be your first port of call if any issues arise.
- Slow ID Verification Process
- Inconsistencies with Information Provided
- Expired Passport/Driver’s Licence
- Defaced Documents
- Utility Bill Older than Three Months
- Suspicious Account Activity
I Don’t Understand the Terms and Conditions
You certainly wouldn’t be the first or the last. Until fairly recently, a lot of operators made use of convoluted or ambiguous wording often to conceal spiteful little caveats. But as already discussed, this prompted the Gambling Commission to unveil stricter regulations. As per the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP), gambling operators are now obliged to use clear, transparent and simple language in their T&Cs that sets out key restrictions/limitations with regards to bonuses, player accounts and site usage. If you find yourself in dispute with an operator regarding contractual wording, you’ll be afforded some protection by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. You also have the right to refer your dispute to an ADR provider.
- T&Cs Poorly/Ambiguously Worded
- Substandard Gambling Website
Update – July 28, 2022
The Gambling Commission has issued new recommendations about good practice complaints handling. These are intended to make the complaints proccess easier and more accessible for the customer. The recommendations do not replace existing regulations but are instead intended to help operators deal more effectively with customer complaints. While some reiterate existing regulations, other recommendations are new. Operators are advised to:
- Include a link to their complaints prodecure on their homepage
- Use plain English and avoid jargon or legalese
- Have a short and clear process for complaints
- Tell people what information you require to investigate their complaint
- Include details of the eight-week time limit for resolving a complaint or issuing a final response.
- Be clear when a final decision has been reached about ‘deadlock’
- Include clickable links to ADR providers that work
- Provide alternative contact methods in addition to FAQs
- Be accessible to all people including vulnerable people and make changes as required to cater for them
- Keep a virtual paper trail
- Use Resolver and other customer support tools
- Provide Clear signposting to ADR providers
Good Practice Complaints Handing: Tips for Licensees
Gambling Commission – Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice
Gambling Commission – How to Complain
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in the Gambling Industry
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