A number of recovering gambling addicts have received marketing emails from an online casino despite self-excluding, following a mistake which experts say could well lead to relapses for many.
The subject line of the email from Sky Vegas, seen by NationalWorld, reads “Take a peek at what your mystery bonus is…” followed by the ‘pair of eyes’ emoji.
The “enticing” emails were sent out by Sky Vegas during the industry’s Safer Gambling Week, amid growing calls from campaigners and charities for gambling reform.
‘This could set someone off even if they have quit for 10 years’
When Adam* received the email urging him to “CLAIM YOUR 100 FREE SPINS” through Sky Vegas, the first thing he felt was anger.
“Because they don’t care about the impact this could have” he told NationalWorld, “and the Gambling Commission won’t do anything of note.”
Self-exclusion is a facility for people who want to stop gambling for at least six months, which charities say is one of the most important tools for recovering addicts and problem gamblers.
Adam, who received the email despite being self-excluded since 2019, said the opt-out system for recovering addicts is “very important”.
He said: “It’s the last line of defence against gambling addiction.
Adam, who “lost thousands” to gambling before quitting two years ago said this email being sent out to vulnerable people like him could have severe implications.
“I stopped betting in 2019 and lost thousands in the process. An error like this today could set that back or even entice someone like me back into gambling.
“As someone who tried to take their own life two weeks ago due to my previous addiction, this email could have been very damaging. This could set someone off even if they have quit for 10 years.”
People who wish to self-exclude can do so by going through an internal process with each firm they want to be excluded from.
However, as this can lead to problems for people who want to avoid visiting those sites at all, there is also the option to use an external service, GamStop.
All gambling operators must operate the GamStop scheme and must follow the rules on self-exclusion, or risk punitive action.
According to the Gambling Commission’s website, once someone has made a self-exclusion agreement the gambling company must close their account and “remove [their] name and details from any databases it uses”.
Adam was self-excluded both through Sky itself and using the GamStop service.
‘Congrats to our winners’
The emails were sent out during Safer Gambling Week, an industry-backed initiative intended to demonstrate the industry’s intent to reduce gambling related harms.
The emails were also sent out just a day after the official Sky Vegas Twitter account used the words “Self Exclusion” as the answer to a question as part of a competition in which users could win £25.
In a now-deleted Tweet, Sky Vegas wrote: “For the chance to win £25 CASH, simply comment with #ReelMonday along with the answer to this question…
“What is the name of our Safer Gambling tool that allows you to block your account from 6 months up to 5 years?”
In the following Tweet, they wrote: “The answer is... Self Exclusion! Congrats to our winners.”
A ‘huge mistake’
Chris Gilham also received the emails from Sky, despite being self-excluded and signed up to GamStop.
Co-host of a podcast about gambling addiction recovery, he told NationalWorld that sending these emails to people in recovery is a “huge mistake” and could constitute a breach of license conditions by SkyBet.
He said self-exclusion is so important because it “puts a barrier in place” and “adds friction to make it more difficult to gamble at times when you may be triggered, possibly when feeling particularly vulnerable”.
He said: “This kind of incident can cause huge harm to individuals in recovery. For some this may start them on the gambling path again.
“Some people may be very early in recovery or even further into recovery but currently in a vulnerable position.
He added: “The sad truth is that there are between 250 and 650 suicides per year attributed to gambling. This email could be the start of that path for someone.”
SkyBet, who are yet to respond to a request for comment from NationalWorld, have also been criticised for the way they have handled the incident.
‘Unfortunate to say the least’
Writing on Twitter, one recovering addict said they’d been unable to access support through the online chat function without providing extensive account details, despite having self-excluded several years ago.
Several others shared similar experiences, and criticised a seemingly generic response from the Sky Bet Help Twitter account to a post raising concerns.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of Clean Up Gambling: “It is unfortunate to say the least that such a screw up has occurred during the industry’s Safer Gambling Week. We are unsure why SkyBet have held onto the email addresses of self-excluded customers, the contacting of whom is a breach of their license conditions.
“If anyone has been emailed this promotion despite having self-excluded, they should report it to the Gambling Commission which will investigate it.”
In a statement on Twitter, Sky Vegas wrote: “We sincerely apologise to those who have mistakenly received Sky Vegas promotional communications and for the distress this may have caused some recipients.
“We are treating this matter extremely seriously and are thoroughly investigating how this happened as a matter of urgency”
SkyBet is yet to respond to a request from NationalWorld for comment on this article.
*Name changed to protect the individual’s privacy
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