Trusted and Safe Bingo Sites
According to a Gambling Commission report, in 2007, 61% of gamblers thought gambling was fair and could be trusted. By 2016 – after many years of growth in online gambling – this figure was down to 38%. It seems players are less likely to trust gambling businesses that are online.
So what are the factors which determine whether an online bingo site is considered safe and trustworthy?
- Funds protection
- Customer Service
- Responsible Gambling Tools
- Fairness & Transparency
- Brand Reputation
- Data Security & No Spam
- Most Trusted Bingo Site?
When you keep money in a bank account, if the bank fails you can claim your money back from a government backed compensation scheme. This is NOT the case with a gambling site even though some players may have hundreds or even thousands of pounds of cash in their account at times.
All online gambling companies with a UK licence are obliged under the terms of their licence to keep money that belongs to players in a separate account, but this does NOT guarantee that players will get their money back if the company goes out of business. That is where funds protection comes into it and there are three levels on offer as detailed below, assessed by the operator but subject to checking by the Gambling Commission.
Basic aka Not Protected
At what used to be called the basic level of protection, player funds are kept in a separate account but in the case of insolvency they would be counted as part of the business. This means that other creditors would have a claim on those funds and players could see little or even nothing returned to them. You may be surprised to learn that there are dozens of bingo sites including some big names and all Jumpman bingo sites, where this is the case. Of course a big name site that only has this level of protection is very unlikely to go bust – but as the creditors of Carillon will tell you, there’s no such thing as too big to fail. Indeed, there has been a very high profile case recently – that of Football Index – where an operator ceased trading with up to £90 million in open bets; months later, nothing had been returned to players and it may never be.
In March 2019 the Gambling Commission amended its guidance on player funds protection to provide more clarity for players regarding the basic level of protection – the new terminology is “Not Protected”.
At the medium level of protection, the operator has an arrangement in place – such as insurance or a bank guarantee – to ensure players are paid in the event of insolvency. One of the advantages of the far reaching Grand Battery Holdings licence is that all bingo sites powered by the Dragonfish software have this level of protection (this could still change following the purchase of 888’s bingo business by Broadway Gaming). If you like slots, all sites on the Skill On Net casino platform have it as well.
At the high level of protection, player funds are held in a fully legally segregated account controlled by an independent person or external auditor and so are ring-fenced for players no matter what happens to the business. Only a very small number of bingo sites offer this gold plated level of protection and the complete peace of mind that goes with it – Coral Bingo, Gala Bingo, Paddy Power Bingo, Betfair Bingo and tombola are the ones we know about.
At the best bingo sites there should rarely be any need to contact customer services. Even at a top bingo site, though, occasionally things can go wrong and that is when a well run customer service department comes into its own – preferably with the opening hours and response times clearly specified, as in this example from bingo.com
Live Chat is the most widely offered form of support but can vary widely in quality. It may not be specific to one site (if the site is a skin on a big network it almost certainly won’t be) and may not be 24/7.
Again, this may not be site specific if on a big network and response times vary.
A great many bingo sites are not contactable by phone at all. In the case of the ones that do have a phone number, ideally it would be
- A dedicated phone line for that bingo site specifically, not the same number for all skins on the network (Dragonfish do indeed have the same number for all skins but this is of course far preferable to not having a phone number at all).
- Open long hours (preferably 24/7)
- Free to call, at least from a UK landline
These are arguably less important but players may feel reassured by the inclusion of a UK address that they can write to. Perhaps the most unusual method of contact offered was by the now defunct Vernons Bingo – a free fax line!
At the moment it is not easy to make a complaint about a gambling site and even the Gambling Commission themselves think the current system does not work well for consumers.
The first step is to complain to the bingo site itself. If they fail to resolve the complaint in a satisfactory manner the next step is to go to the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution provider) specified in the bingo site’s terms and conditions – eCOGRA and IBAS are the ones you will most frequently come across. ADRs can only deal with complaints about specific transactions – most commonly related to disputed winnings and refused withdrawals due to identity checks or misleading offers – and not more general complaints about how a gambling business is run.
If the complaint is about something which could involve a licence breach the Gambling Commission themselves may investigate but they will not give any feedback or get involved with individual cases. This can leave a player somewhat in limbo.
Ideally, then, one would choose a site where complaints are adequately dealt with in the first place – so back to customer service again!
Responsible gambling tools
A trusted and safe bingo site will offer a full range of responsible gambling choices as well as lots of information going beyond what the law requires – e g Gala Bingo and Mr Green which have dedicated micro sites all about responsible gambling.
- Facility to set limits on deposits, wagering and/or losses.
- Reality Check – a reminder of how long you have been playing
- Take A Break – a informal opt out which lasts 1 day to 6 weeks
- Self exclusion from site/licence only, minimum 6 months
- GAMSTOP – the BFG9000 of responsible gambling tools. GAMSTOP enables self exclusion, not just from one site or even just from one group of sites, but from EVERY online gambling site with a UK licence that has signed up to it. Most have, and the ones that haven’t will eventually have to do so or lose their licence.
The best and safest bingo sites offer additional tools such as the ability to block deposits at certain times of day or place certain games off limits.
Fairness & Transparency
The sorts of things that might fall under this heading are:
- Not having any wagering requirements, or else having clearly specified wagering requirements with the amount left to wager easy to check.
- Prominently displayed information on the RTP and volatility of slot games
- Easily accessible and comprehensible account history showing net deposits (basically cumulative losses)
- Pop-ups to tell you when you have qualified for a promotion – as at Heart Bingo.
- Information about how many other players are close to winning and which numbers they need – as at Unibet Bingo.
Brand reputation encourages trustworthy behaviour as a brand with a good reputation will care about it and want to keep it – even if it is one of those big brand bingo sites that are owned and/or run separately from the brand itself (Sky Bingo, for example, is not owned by Sky and Sun Bingo is run by Playtech rather than by News UK).
Data Security & No Spam
The days of lax data security and leaked or sold on email and phone number databases may be well in the past now due to ICO involvement and GDPR, but there is a still a difference in the way different bingo sites handle player communication preferences. Not all bingo sites allow players to set different preferences for different channels – as Costa Bingo do here:
Most Trusted Site?
Taking all of the above into account there is a clear winner for the most trusted and safe bingo site of all – and that is tombola. Here are some of the reasons why:
- They have the highest level of insolvency protection.
- Their support department is open 24/7 and they aim to answer live chat in 4 seconds, phone in 8 seconds, and email in 4 hours. They also have a UK postal address.
- There’s an extremely clear complaints procedure which includes providing the name of the person dealing with the complaint.
- They have simple and clear bonus rules and easy to find game RTP information (and indeed, their game RTPs are generally higher than at other sites).
- They have a full set of responsible gambling controls including the facility to freeze individual games (with 24 hours’ notice needed to unfreeze).