A scheme to prevent problem gamblers feeding their addictions is today exposed as a sham.

Betting addicts are encouraged to ban themselves from bookmakers’ shops under a well-publicised self-referral system.

The initiative has been touted as a voluntary measure. It aims to show that the industry is tackling problem gambling, described in the Commons as a “public health crisis”.

But none of the major high street bookies we visited in an undercover investigation are properly implementing the Multi Operator Self Exclusion Scheme, known as MOSES.

Our reporter gets a winning payout at William Hill

We self-referred in Ladbrokes, William Hill, Coral and Paddy Power before returning to place a bet on a horse.

Staff should have refused our reporter’s custom but he was allowed to place bets and collect winnings.

The failings in self-referral are revealed as gamblers face what can be their most difficult time of the year.

Financial pressures and an avalanche of major football, darts and horse racing events often result in a surge in calls to support groups and charities.

Addiction expert Steve Pope, who has worked with a number of high-profile footballers to tackle their gambling problems, said the investigation showed how woeful the safeguards are.

He said: “My opinion is the betting industry is merely paying lip service to this issue, to make it look like they are trying to tackle it.

“Self-exclusion isn’t working. I treated a woman who self-excluded herself from a William Hill near her home. Within a week, she had lost £25,000 betting in the shop and online. How is that working? This scheme is clearly not functioning.”

Ronnie Cowan, SNP MP for Inverclyde, believes the scheme is no more than a window dressing exercise

A Westminster parliamentary group recently published a damning report on gambling and labelled it a “public health crisis”.

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan, who sits on the Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group, said: “These findings point to an uncomfortable truth. The self-exclusion scheme is nothing more than window dressing and is largely ignored. We’ve heard evidence from gamblers who have been able to sidestep the obstacles put in their way.

“We need to accept, fundamentally, that the evidence points towards bookmakers being more interested in attracting new customers than dealing with problem ones.”

A worker at Coral told how the self-exclusion scheme was failing.

Our source said: “If you’re going to the counter, staff should spot if you are self-excluded.

“We’re told to be vigilant and regularly get emails about people to be aware of.”

The worker added: “One of the biggest issues is with the self-service machines in the shop. People can walk in off the street and use these machines without a second glance.

Our reporter places a bet at the counter in a Coral shop

“We’re encouraged by our bosses to identify large, repeat gamblers and put them on the self-service machines.

“It means they can lose large amounts of money without us feeling guilty about the huge sums they are losing.

“We’re duty-bound to take customers to the side if they repeatedly put on large bets at the counter with a staff member – but we don’t have to intervene if they are using the self-service terminals.”

The MOSES scheme was set up in 2016 by independent body The Senet Group, created by the four bookmaking giants we tested. Pictures and details of problem gamblers are passed around shops so staff know who to look out for.

Our reporter gets a slip at a Ladbrokes self-service machine

It takes up to 10 days to come into effect and we signed up on November 25. Documents sent to us by The Senet Group said we would be unable to bet at the shops until May 2021.

But in practice, insiders at bookmakers say the rise of self-service machines and a lack of staff means there are “serious problems” with self-excluders being spotted.

At the four betting shops in Glasgow city centre, we used both the self-service machines and counter service to back the racehorse More Overdraught. In repeated trips to four separate bookmakers we were self-banned from, we were able to gamble.

At Ladbrokes on Gordon Street near Glasgow’s Central Station, we put on a bet at the self-service terminal and chatted to staff before waging £5 on the horse, which was due to race at Bangor-on-Dee in north Wales.

Then we went to William Hill, Coral and Paddy Power, all on West Nile Street, to stake another £30 in total.

More Overdraught finished second in the race at Bangor-on-Dee

At William Hill, two members of staff failed to spot we were banned.

At Coral, we left after placing counter and self-service bets before returning again to give the cashier another chance to identify us.

At Paddy Power, we again backed More Overdraught before the cashier told us he hoped to see us again – and he was right. More Overdraught finished second in a five-horse race, giving us half our £40 outgoings to collect in winnings.

We went back a week later and again weren’t challenged.

Former footballer Kevin Twaddle estimates he lost £1million at high street bookies during the peak period of his gambling addiction.

The ex-Motherwell and Hearts winger said: “I never banned myself from bookies and if I had, I would’ve expected them to help. It’s shameful they are failing people with an issue like this.

Twaddle stars for Motherwell
Kevin Twaddle scoring for Motherwell against Celtic in 1999 - the former footballer has been very open about his gambling addiction

“It’s equivalent of a drug addict banning himself from their dealer.

“If it’s failing, we need to look towards how we can make it work.”

In 2017, an independent survey carried out by charity GambleAware found that 83 per cent of punters said the MOSES scheme had been effective in reducing or stopping their gambling activity. And 71 per cent said they have not attempted to use their nominated betting shops since signing up.

The Senet Group said it was “very frustrating” to hear the findings of our probe.

CEO Sarah Hanratty said: “It’s very disappointing that the Sunday Mail was able to place bets in shops where a self-exclusion request has been served. The respective operators have been notified.

Our reporter with his betting slip from Paddy Power

“Self-exclusion remains an effective first step. In future, we hope that new technology, including facial recognition, will lead to a more reliable system.”

Brigid Simmonds, chair of the Betting and Gaming Council, the umbrella group for betting companies, said: “The self-exclusion scheme was introduced to help those who have a genuine problem with gambling in their local area and at shops they regularly visit.

“We are currently trialling new facial recognition systems which could further aid the detection of those attempting to break their self-exclusion pledge.”

Read More

Top news stories today