Ad Tracking For Online Casinos: New Controversy

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the United Kingdom has launched an investigation that could hugely impact online gambling around the world. The complaint, filed by the UK data watchdog Clean Up Gambling, requests an investigation into the scale and scope of tracking and ad targeting in the online gambling industry. It is the first investigation of its kind and occurred just after the federal government stopped revising established gambling laws. This is the fourth time UK lawmakers put such a move on hold.

The Complaint Targets A Specific Site

Clean Up Gambling names Sky Bet as the source of tracking technology that should be under review. Sky Bet is an online gambling site owned and operated by Flutter. Flutter, which also owns Paddy Power, is the largest gambling operation on the planet. According to Clean Up Gambling, the entire online gambling industry should be investigated as the group is certain that the same tracking techniques are in place at many other sites. They also say the adtech companies and data brokers used by Sky Bet should be under investigation.

Inspiration For The Complaint – A Report

Clean Up Gambling has commissioned a report on tracking online gambling sites’ data. The report, published in February 2022, was written by Wolfie Christl, a researcher from Austria. The report points to Sky Bet and its partners alleging that they were building behavioral profiles of users. The process requires sharing thousands of data points with multiple third parties. The data sharing was intended to win back gamblers who have left Sky Bet for other online gambling sites like BLM Group Casinos.

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Some Of The Data Points On File

Although Flutter claims not to have access to financial data on gamblers, Sky Bet uses the third parties analysis of the shared data to identify vulnerable customers so that ad campaigns would avoid them. However, the data points collected are quite extensive. For example, Signal, an advertising partner, tracks 186 different individual attributes to form a background on gambling site users. Some of those details include:

  • The gambler’s favorite games
  • How often the gambler gambles
  • How open gamblers are to certain gambling promotions/strategies
  • The net worth of an individual to an online gambling site

Legal action taken against Signal following the publication of this report saw the group, owned by credit reporting company TransUnion, suddenly cease operations in the UK.

The Goal of Clean Up Gambling

The data watchdog sent their complaint to the ICO to stop online gambling sites from targeting their marketing efforts at individuals susceptible to gambling addiction. Although it is common to see information posted at many of these sites claiming they promote responsible gambling, Clean Up Gambling knows that is not always the case. In the words of a gambling addict known as Dave, “You always think you can fix your gambling problems by gambling some more.”

By The Numbers

The report says the UK gambling industry spends more than 1.5 billion GBP annually on domestic advertising. The industry earns 60 percent of its profits from just 5 percent of the gamblers who use the online sites. Many of these gamblers are classified as either “vulnerable” or “problem” gamblers. Data collection on internet gamblers starts the moment they log into an online gambling site and records such information as how fast they play, what parts of the casino they visit most frequently, how much they spend with each visit, how much they win/lose each visit, and much more until they leave the site.

What They Had To Say

Flutter claims that protecting the personal data of their customers is of “paramount importance” and that, “we also expect the same levels of care and vigilance from our partners and suppliers.” They said that the Flutter Entertainment companies manage customer data “in a controlled way to ensure that we deliver our products safely and reliably, to do all we can to proactively protect our customers.” They say they do this not only to keep their sites safe for gamblers but to meet, “legal and regulatory obligations.”

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The Sneaky Part of Data Collection

AWO legal director Ravi Naik, who represents Clean Up Gambling, says part of the complaint against Sky Bet is how they collect data. The company does not request consent from users to gather sensitive medical data concerning addiction. “None of our clients knew they were being profiled,” Nail says. Nor were they aware that third parties were connected to the data collection and analysis stages.

Online Gambling Promotion Hit Hard By Legislators

UK ministers have constantly come under fire by gambling industry representatives saying that problem gambling measures need to be stiffer. In March 2022, Flutter was fined 1.17 million GBP as part of this movement. Flutter had been sending promotional emails to Sky Bet customers who had either left the site or had opted out of marketing materials being sent to them via email. Other hefty files are expected to result if the industry does not change its approach to reaching out to vulnerable and problem gamblers.

Final Thoughts

With all the available online tracking tools and technology to sort it out, you would think it would be easy to filter out the gamblers that data considers at risk when sending promotional material via email. That is the easy part. Although the report did not indicate the percentage of gamblers who have left Sky Bet due to gambling problems, it is probably a safe bet that it is a considerable amount. From a business perspective, reaching out to as many potential customers as possible makes sense. It is a normal practice in retention. But the right thing to do is leave their most vulnerable alone. The last thing they need to do is relapse and begin the cycle of problem gambling. Anything with addictive qualities requires careful monitoring.

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