GamCare joins forces with banks to address gambling block loopholes

  • GamCare hosted a sector wide Gambling Related Financial Harm (GRFH) workshop, calling for a collaborative response to close payment loopholes.
  • The gambling support charity identified a number of ways in which gamblers who have excluded themselves from making payments to gambling operators can still deposit to online operators.
  • Some gambling operators, not licensed in Great Britain, are misclassifying merchant codes to disguise transactions as non-gambling transactions, which bypasses gambling blocks on debit and credit cards.
  • The workshop recommended that e-wallets introduce gambling blocks to protect vulnerable gamblers and improve consumer safety.

 

Gambling support charity GamCare has hosted a sector-wide Gambling Related Financial Harm (GRFH) workshop, calling for a collaborative response to address gambling block loopholes.

The workshop highlighted the need for more information to be available to banks, payment processors and gambling operators to help them work together to prevent these blocks from being sidestepped and to enhance protection.

The event brought together 45 representatives from financial services – including banks, payment systems, electronic money institutions – the debt advice sector, gambling businesses and gambling support services, as well as people with lived experience of gambling harms, to come up with practical solutions to provide a safer gambling landscape for vulnerable gamblers.

In recent years, many UK banks have launched gambling blocks, which act as a powerful barrier to stop payments from bank accounts to gambling operators. At the moment these blocks can prevent only card-based deposit transactions that carry a merchant category code that directly corresponds to gambling operators.

Due to the rise of non-card transactions offered by gambling operators, including for example, e-wallets and open banking initiated faster payments, there are more ways to make transactions which do not carry the merchant category code, resulting in less visibility for banking providers.

E-wallets, for example, can be linked to bank accounts and be used to fund gambling, where consumers don’t need to enter card numbers or personal information when making online payments.

When an e-wallet provider sends a request for funds to the bank, the merchant category code (MCC) is not shared as part of the transaction data, and gambling transactions are not stopped – rendering the bank’s gambling block ineffective. The GamCare workshop recommended that gambling blocks similar to those applied by banks across the UK are introduced by e-wallet providers.

Faster payments to gambling operators are also not currently covered by gambling blocks, as banks do not have access to the information needed to block them in advance. As a solution to this, one of the recommendations is to create a central registry containing bank account details associated with gambling operators which could be made available to financial services.

 

Unregulated dangers

 

Further recommendations from the GRFH workshop include raising awareness about the dangers of unregulated gambling operators; developing a mechanism for consumers to report when gambling blocks fail, and active monitoring of new payment methods which do not get traced by gambling blocks. A system of cross-referrals was also recommended between financial service firms, and partners from the TalkBanStop pilot including GamCare, GAMSTOP, and Gamban.

Raminta Diliso, Financial Harm Manager, at GamCare, said: “Year on year, around 70% of callers to our National Gambling Helpline mention some level of gambling debt and financial hardship. For those trying to stop gambling, banking blocks offer an invaluable layer of protection, but people that use our services have reported that they have managed to circumvent the blocks.

“Whilst different payment methods offered by gambling operators give a lot of flexibility for consumers, it can also leave them vulnerable to gambling harm when these payment methods are not subject to gambling blocks.

“We’re pleased that so many organisations have shown interest in this issue and we would like to see a collaborative cross-sector response to drive through a number of additional changes to further protect people from gambling related harm.”

Natalie Ledward, Head of Vulnerable Customers, Monzo, said: “Monzo was the first bank in the UK to launch a gambling block. Since then more than 300,000 of our customers have used it, with less than 10% turning it off. With more and more gambling companies offering new ways to pay, we’re working to make sure our gambling block covers all of these new payment options. This year, we piloted an extension block with TrueLayer, to help extend our block to cover Open Banking payments.”

Sue Shilling, Customer Protection, NatWest, said: “Tackling gambling-related harm is an important way of building people’s long-term financial capability and enabling them to thrive. Our 48-hour gambling-block is one step that we’ve taken to equip people with practical tools to support their recovery, and through our work with GamCare we’re actively committed to finding new and better ways to help customers access the support they might need.”