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Online gambling firms face clampdown after watchdog's probe 24/06/17
Angela Monaghan
• CMA says £4.5bn industry sometimes treats customers unfairly and it is taking action against a number of operators

The online gambling industry is facing a clampdown after the UK competition watchdog accused companies of unfairly treating customers and potentially breaking consumer law.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said people were not getting the deal they expected from sign-up promotions and operators were unfairly holding on to customers’ money.

Without naming specific companies, the CMA said it was taking action against “a number of operators” suspected of breaking the law and would use its powers to end any illegal activities.

“We know online gambling is always going to be risky, but firms must also play fair,” said Nisha Arora, the CMA senior director for consumer enforcement. “People should get the deal they’re expecting if they sign up to a promotion, and be able to walk away with their money when they want to.

“Sadly, we have heard this isn’t always the case. New customers are being enticed by tempting promotions only to find the dice are loaded against them. And players can find a whole host of hurdles in their way when they want to withdraw their money.”

It follows an eight-month investigation into the £4.5bn sector by the CMA, working with the Gambling Commission, which regulates the industry. Regulators have heard from approximately 800 unhappy customers during the course of the investigation, and have scrutinised play on a range of websites.

The Gambling Commission chief executive, Sarah Harrison, suggested online gambling firms found to be breaking the law could lose their licences. “The gambling industry should be under no illusion that if they don’t comply with consumer law, we will see this as a breach of their operating licence, and take decisive action,” she said.

Firms are accused of misleading customers over the terms and conditions of sign-up promotions, aimed at attracting new players on to casino-like gaming websites by offering bonus cash when they put in their own money.

The CMA said customers were sometimes forced to play hundreds of times before they were allowed to withdraw money, denying them the choice to “quit while they’re ahead”.

Online betting firms now have chance to respond to the CMA, which said if necessary it would take action through the courts to force companies to end illegal activities.