Published: 06:00, 06 June 2019
| Updated: 10:30, 06 June 2019
Bookmakers have been accused of failing problem gamblers after "dangerous flaws" in a scheme designed to protect addicts were exposed by an undercover KentOnline investigation.
Our reporter, Jack Dyson, banned himself from every betting shop in Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable in a bid to establish the effectiveness of the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme - better known as Moses.
But just weeks after registering with the industry-wide system and having his photograph circulated, he was still able to place a wager in all 15 of the district’s high street bookies.
Watch to find out how Jack got on
The Gambling Commission has now launched a probe into our shock findings, which come just months after a study revealed people with a gambling problem are 15 times more likely to take their own life.
The devastating effects were laid bare this week as an inquest heard about the death of a man after losing hundreds of pounds through gambling.
Herne Bay MP Roger Gale says he is “appalled” by our revelations and has questioned the credibility of the exclusion scheme.
“If betting shops are not playing by the rules then that’s a serious concern,” he said.
“The whole objective is precisely to protect people who recognise they need protection. I think self-regulation is better than government trying to do things, but it has to work, otherwise there’s no credibility.”
The Moses scheme was launched in 2016 as a means to allow problem gamblers to self-exclude themselves from high street betting shops of their choice.
Each bookmaker is sent a photograph of the person registering, which is added to an exclusion list kept for regular monitoring by staff, who are supposed to prevent those signed up from entering.
But just six weeks after his registration was confirmed, our 24-year-old reporter was able to place a £5 bet on the Champions League final in shops run by industry heavyweights William Hill, Paddy Power, Betfred and Coral.
Nine of the 15 even asked to see his ID to check his age, but failed to spot his picture and personal details had recently been added to their database of excluded customers.
In 2017 GambleAware commissioned research into Moses, which showed seven in 10 participants had not attempted to access a betting shop they were banned from since registering.
But the charity’s CEO, Marc Etches, says the results of our undercover investigation are worrying.
“Self-exclusion can be a last resort for those who need to stop gambling, so it is deeply concerning that anyone who has self-excluded is then able to continue to gamble,” he said.
The Gambling Commission confirmed it would be “making enquiries to gather more information about what happened in this case”.
GambleAware commissioned an independent evaluation in December of the multi-operator self-exclusion schemes.
Findings are expected to be available later this year, which the charity says will provide important evidence as to how the schemes are working.
Betfred, which has three shops in the district, told KentOnline it had launched its own internal inquiry into our findings.
But it moved to defend the benefits of Moses, which it says has proven to be effective.
A spokesman said: “Although the scheme is not without its flaws, since its introduction it has proved to be a highly effective tool, enabling genuine problem gamblers to self-exclude from betting shops close to their home, place of work or where they socialise.
“We are always looking to improve and have launched our own internal inquiry after the investigation by KentOnline.
"We regard self-exclusion as an important measure in helping us protect genuine problem gamblers.”
The research commissioned by GambleAware in 2017 suggested a membership card or electronic ID system be introduced to help bookmakers store and monitor exclusions.
Coral is investing in facial recognition software to improve the scheme.
And the organisation that runs Moses, the Senet Group, says a number of other bookmakers are also trialling the technology.
Its CEO, Sarah Hanratty, added: “In the future it’s likely that digital solutions will greatly improve the reliability of the service. The current self-exclusion scheme clearly relies on the ability of staff to identify individuals.
"Given that some shops may have as many as 40 different live exclusion orders at any one time, this is obviously susceptible to human error.”
Both Coral and William Hill say they recognise the flaws in the Moses scheme, but insist it remains an effective tool.
Paddy Power did not respond to a request for a comment.
Call for Gambling Commission review
Kent MP Damian Collins - the chair of the culture, media and sport committee – has called for a Gambling Commission review into KentOnline's findings.
The Conservative, who represents Folkestone and Hythe, says our probe shows bookmakers are allowing problem gamblers “to do more harm to themselves”.
“It’s a really serious issue,” he said.
“It’s really good KentOnline did this investigation because we are assured continually by the high street bookmakers that they make self-exclusion work in their own branches.
“What the investigation shows is databases aren’t kept up to date and it’s very concerning if people who are self-excluded are routinely being allowed to gamble.
“We know people with gambling addiction often are at risk of self-harm and of having other very serious conditions as well.
“We’ve always been told that self-exclusion is one of the key tools we have to try to stop problem gamblers betting more and harming themselves more, but if that’s not being enforced then that’s a real threat.
“The Gazette has highlighted how problem gamblers are still able to gamble even though they’ve self-excluded.
“The betting companies are allowing the problem gamblers to do more harm to themselves by not enforcing self-exclusion.
"If they’re allowing people to put faith in a system that doesn’t work, it will lead to more harm being caused.
“There needs to be an investigation as to why this data isn’t being properly gathered and acted on by the gambling shops.
“The Gambling Commission should also review the way these schemes are working and see what more needs to be done to make them robust.”
‘Highlighting flaws in scheme’
Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch, who quit as sports minister last year to protest the government’s stance on fixed-odds betting terminals, says our investigation has highlighted the shortcomings of the Moses scheme.
“It’s clear there are some fundamental flaws,” she said.
“I think KentOnline has exposed a hole in the system.
"The scheme is of course one that works incredibly well if the punter is known to the staff, but it is supposed to be something that is operational regardless.
“Staff are supposed to know who is banned, so clearly there needs to be better training and education in the Moses system.
"There needs to be a better way of encouraging shop workers to look at those pictures.”
How does Moses work?
Jack's story: 'Banned from 15 bookies but they still let me bet'
Two weeks ago I had never gambled or taken a step inside a betting shop, but here I was, pretending to be an addict.
I’d signed up to a scheme allowing me to ban myself from all bookmakers in Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable after learning of worrying - and glaring - flaws in a system designed to protect problem gamblers.
A friend told me the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme (Moses) doesn’t work, and isn’t being policed adequately by betting shop staff, so I put it to the test. I registered with the scheme, as required, by sending the Moses team a copy of my passport and a list of all of the bookmakers I wanted to be excluded from.
The idea is shop staff will have my picture and personal details on a list behind the counter and refuse to let me bet, or even into the shop, should I attempt to gamble.
On a sweltering Thursday afternoon, I put this to the test at the 15 shops I was banned from across the district.
First stop was Betfred in Mortimer Street, Herne Bay.
As soon as I stepped through the door, I was in alien surroundings. Betting slips lined the walls, horse racing coverage droned from the TV screens and the floor was covered with a patterned turquoise carpet.
“Can I see your ID please?” a staff member asked immediately. “Have I been recognised?” I thought, as I fumbled for my driving licence.
My picture had only been circulated five weeks before, so would be fresh in the minds of staff. I handed my ID over sheepishly, expecting to be told I was on the exclusion list and asked to leave.
But to my surprise it was handed straight back to me. Stunned, I grabbed a blank slip and scrawled on it CORRECT SCORE: LIVERPOOL
3-1 SPURS. Minutes later, I left having placed £5 on the Champions League final.
I was again asked for ID at Coral in Herne Bay High Street but, just as before, I was able to gamble. On the other side of the street lay the unsightly, feculent exterior of a William Hill. “The Champions League final – where you watching it?” a shop worker remarked, examining my slip. “Dunno yet,” I said.
“I’ve got a friend, a Liverpool supporter, who’s going and another who’s a Tottenham fan who couldn’t get a ticket,” another member of staff said animatedly. “The Spurs fan may go to Madrid to watch it in a bar or something, he doesn’t know yet.”
After saying goodbye, I left the shop, stuffing the piece of paper into my pocket. I then visited bookmakers in Fleetwood Avenue, Swalecliffe and Tankerton Road – all of which allowed me to place more bets. As they served me, I examined the faces of the members of staff, searching for the faintest flicker of recognition – but nothing.
Standing at the counter of the Betfred in Whitstable High Street, I handed my driving licence to a member of staff, who noted my name and date of birth onto a scrap piece of paper. “Oh, to be young,” a man said, grinning as he leaned against the counter. “Give him 100/1,” he later quipped when I paid my £5. “Go on, give him 100/1.”
Upon leaving Whitstable, all eight of the bookies I had visited so far had accepted my bets. The routine had become second nature by this point; I knew where to find the slips, what to say to the cashier and that I would not be challenged.
“Bit eager getting in early – the game’s not for another week,” said an employee at the Paddy Power in St Dunstan’s, Canterbury, cheerfully after I handed him my slip. “That’d be 22/1.”
“Oh that’d be nice if it comes off,” I responded. “I can’t stand either club, so I kind of want both of them to lose,” he continued. “I can’t stand Klopp and the fan base is the worst; obnoxious and so annoying.”
I then plodded further down the road to the Coral. As I entered, my nostrils were attacked by the distinct odour of sodden dog. I swiftly left with enticing odds of 40/1.
Inside the penultimate shop, the William Hill in Northgate, I handed over my bet – Liverpool to win 1-0. “You want a tea or coffee or anything,” the woman behind the till asked.
“No, no, I’ve got to head off,” I responded, folding the piece of paper into my pocket.
After visiting the last of the bookmakers – the Betfred in Canterbury High Street – my wallet was bulging at the seams with crumpled slips. I had been allowed to place £5 bets in all 15 shops, despite having my ID checked and details noted in nine of them.
Prior to this, I struggled to imagine how anyone could get addicted to gambling; but at the weekend I was engrossed by the match - not because it was particularly riveting, but because I had skin in the game. As I fidgeted in my seat, I kept tearing myself away from the screen to scan the piles of betting slips on the floor in front of me, calculating my potential winnings.
When the final whistle blew and the rapturous Liverpool celebrations began, I looked down at the pieces of paper disconsolately. Having spent £75 on the bets, I had won just £35.
“If only Alli didn’t sky that header; what if Salah played that through ball, or Origi didn’t have a leaden first touch,” I thought, gazing at the losing slips. It felt like I was tantalisingly close to a lucrative win, which in hindsight may have been a blessing in disguise.
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