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Could IBAS Become The New Gambling Ombudsman?

ombudsman definied handwriting on note paperIn August of last year, we published a piece entitled ‘Why Do We Need A New Gambling Ombudsman?’ In it, we explained what an ombudsman does, as well as how one might be able to help the British gambling industry in the future. Now it appears as if Independent Betting Adjudication Service wants to take on that role, setting out a case for why it would be good at it. That includes detailed explanations of how it would work financial and operationally, with the main point being that it could adapt to the role quicker than other organisations.

As part of the new Gambling Act, it is believed that the creation of a gambling ombudsman might well be one of the outcomes. Given that IBAS already handles about 80% of the complaints made by UK gamblers, the company feels as though it is well-placed to be able to step right into the role without needing to ‘learn on the job’. Another key point to IBAS’ proposal in moving to take on the role of ombudsman for the gambling industry is that of cost, suggesting that a newly established organisation would involve significant financial backing.

What Is IBAS?

ibasThe Independent Betting Adjudication Service is what is known as an Alternative Dispute Resolution service. This means that it offers impartial and informed judgements when punters feel as though they have been wronged by a company that offers gambling services to people based in the UK. It has been approved by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission, so the service tends to be used by sites that have been given a licence by the UKGC to work in a UK-facing capacity. If a customer has exhausted all options open to them via the operator itself, they can turn to IBAS.

The IBAS system is free to use, with bettors able to open an account when they feel as though they have a valid claim. The case with be looked at by the Adjudication Panel put in place by IBAS, with the members of the panel then using their own specialist knowledge in order to reach a decision about the case in question. They will largely look at the operator’s own terms and conditions in order to ensure that a fair decision is made, as well as making sure that the operator has complied with the standards set out by the UKGC.

In the case of consumers, the decisions reached by the Independent Betting Adjudication Service are not legally binding, meaning that they can still pursue a case through the court system if they wish to. For operators, meanwhile, rulings are binging up to a value of £10,000. Any ruling that goes above that threshold allows operators to also ask that the case be heard in a court of law. In 2020, 5,673 requests were made for IBAS to adjudicate on a case, with £480,222 being award or conceded to customers on the back of those claims.

IBAS As The Gambling Ombudsman

ombudsman web searchThe obvious question is why it is that IBAS feels as though it would make a good ombudsman for the gambling industry. It is a question that the organisation has attempted to answer in a piece it published entitled ‘Fast Track To Fair Play’. In it, the argument is put forward that the Independent Betting Adjudication Service is well-placed the become the ombudsman for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the body already handles more than 80% of UK-based gambling complaints, which could not easily be replicated by a new public body.

IBAS outlined the key issues, which the organisation believes are as follows:

  • Funding
  • Regulatory
  • Protection of consumer funds

IBAS also looked at what happened with the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which created the Financial Ombudsman Service, which is ‘Europe’s largest ombudsman’. If the gambling ombudsman went down the same route, it would look to decide the outcome of any complaints that it looks at ‘according to what is Fair and Reasonable’. One of the chief reasons that it is felt that IBAS is in a good position to take on the role is that it is already the main ‘complaint handler’ for the Gambling Commission, putting on the right path.

Changes Would Be Needed

change the rulesIBAS readily acknowledges that changes would need to occur in order for it to become the new gambling ombudsman. To that end, it has been working with an ‘independent board’ that is ‘entirely free from external influence’ in order to oversee the transition.

The belief is that this will take around 12 months to happen, which would be quicker than a body that would need to be built from ‘the ground up’.

IBAS has worked out that it would require a budget of about £3.5 million a year to operate as an ombudsman, which is based on several factors.

Would IBAS Make A Good Ombudsman?

impartialityUltimately, what an ombudsman for the gambling industry would need to do is not clear at the moment. What we do know, though, is that other industries that have such a service have a main aim of offering customers a direct point of contact to make complaints. That is a role that the Independent Betting Adjudication Service already carries out for the gambling industry in the UK, so the transition on that front would be minimal. It is also true to say that IBAS knows the industry, wouldn’t need to be built from the ground-up and has a framework in place that would work.

On the downside, though, the service isn’t necessarily trusted by everyone. IBAS has been around since 1998, which is a long time to make decisions that not all parties are going to agree with. As a result, there will be plenty of people on both sides of the aisle that wouldn’t be too sure how to feel about IBAS becoming the industry’s ombudsman and therefore the de facto only place that they could go to make a complaint. On top of that, whether an ombudsman is even needed considering the success of IBAS is something many will question.

What Is Being Said

The idea of an ombudsman being created for the British betting market is not really something new. Richard Hayler, the Managing Director of the Independent Betting Adjudication Service, commented on how much it was needed when the Gambling Commission’s terms and conditions for customer complaints were updated earlier this year. He said,

“I welcome the creation of a new Ombudsman, but for this to work it needs to be run by an organisation that understands the sector and has a track record of helping and protecting consumers.”

Meanwhile, the Chairman of IBAS, Andrew Fraser, said,

“It’s an exciting time for the gambling industry. There is a real opportunity to enhance the service offered to gambling customers through a new Ombudsman. IBAS has been committed to providing an accessible, fair, and independent service to all gambling consumers. Our plan for a Gambling Ombudsman would make sure consumers are protected and avoid the backlog of complaints. On top of this, this plan provides a solution that works for government, the regulator and the industry.”

When Might It Happen?

timetableMost people involved in the gambling industry were expecting the government’s white paper about the new Gambling Act to be published at any point after the turn of the year. It is something that has been being spoken about for months, but when Boris Johnson was faced with a mass of resignations and decided to announce he would be stepping down as Prime Minister, the timeline has been thrown into disarray. GambleAware, the charity, has urged the government to get a move on with publishing the white paper, but at the time of writing there is still no sign of that happening.

One of the people that resigned ahead of Boris Johnson’s statement on his position was Chris Philp, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport who was tasked with over-seeing the Gambling Act review. Though Nigel Huddleston, another Undersecretary for the DCMS stated that the white paper would be published in the ‘coming weeks’, that was back in July and there has been little movement other than in-fighting from the Conservative Party. This has been a cause for concern for many, with the feeling being that the paper needs to be published ASAP.

Zoë Osmond, the Chief Executive Officer of GambleAware, said,

“As we await the publication of the White Paper, which is set to be the most comprehensive gambling review in 15 years, we sincerely hope the current political situation will not result in further delay. Millions of people are currently at risk of experiencing gambling harms across Great Britain and up to 7% of the population may be affected by the gambling behaviour of someone close to them.”

Until the white paper is published, we won’t even know if a gambling ombudsman is part of the government’s plans.

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