The UK Gambling Commission has pledged to investigate how an online casino mistakenly offered free spins to recovering addicts during the industry’s annual Safer Gambling Week.
The incident, for which Flutter’s Sky Bet brand apologised, meant people who had voluntarily barred themselves from playing slots and online games received promotional emails.
A Gambling Commission spokesperson said: “We’ve been made aware by members of the public that Sky Bet have sent promotional emails to self-excluded customers yesterday. We do not expect this of our operators and we will be looking into how this has happened.”
One email, sent on Tuesday from Sky Vegas, carried the subject line: “Take a peek at what your mystery bonus is.” It read: “Here at Sky Vegas, we love the unexpected. That’s right. Simply opt in, spend £5 and claim your 100 free spins. The best part? Whatever you win is yours to keep – that’s the fun in fair!”
The promotional message featured graphics of slot machines and the slogan: “Entertainment like no other.”
The messages were sent to people who had opted out of receiving direct marketing. They also went to recovering gambling addicts who had signed up to “self-exclude” from online casinos and sports-betting sites.
The incident triggered an angry response from players and campaigners amid concerns it could cause addicts to relapse.
Adam Peck, a playwright from Bristol, received the message despite having signed up with the self-exclusion scheme GAMSTOP and said he tried to bet as a result.
“I thought if I’m receiving promotional material then my self-exclusion might not be working. I tried to access my account and get my password reset,” he said.
“They shouldn’t be targeting anyone, let alone people who’ve told them they have got a problem with gambling and it could be triggering. That it’s happened during Safer Gambling Week is perverse.”
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the “utterly shocking” incident showed the industry could not be trusted to improve safer gambling protections voluntarily.
He added: “People who are trying to stop and make sure they don’t get sucked deeper into the vortex of debt are targeted. It’s outrageous. It shows us that self-regulation doesn’t work any longer for them.”
A spokesperson for GAMSTOP said: “We were extremely disappointed to learn that some GAMSTOP users were inadvertently sent promotional communications from Sky Vegas as this goes against the principles of self-exclusion and customer protection.
“We will be discussing the matter with the operator and look forward to the outcome of the urgent investigation which it has announced.”
In 2018, Sky Bet was fined more than £1m for multiple breaches of social responsibility codes, where self-excluded customers were able to open new accounts and received marketing offers from the company.
A Sky Bet spokesperson said: “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.”