They boast of har­vest­ing on­line data to tar­get se­rial losers, novices and women Pun­ters are se­cretly tracked to sta­di­ums via phones – then of­fered bets And they ad­mit how pre-water­shed ad­verts DO hook chil­dren on gam­bling

Daily Mail - - News - By Tom Kelly In­ves­ti­ga­tions Edi­tor in­ves­ti­ga­tions@dai­ly­

THE chill­ing tac­tics used by book­mak­ers to ex­ploit vul­ner­a­ble gam­blers and hook first-time pun­ters is to­day ex­posed by the Mail.

Our investigation re­veals how on­line bet­ting firms cyn­i­cally har­vest cus­tomers’ in­for­ma­tion and use it to keep them play­ing – even if they run up a string of losses.

So­phis­ti­cated soft­ware can mon­i­tor a gam­bler’s ‘ev­ery click’, and use the data to lure them with per­son­alised pro­mo­tions.

A ma­jor con­fer­ence on bet­ting in foot­ball urged firms to tar­get women – de­scribed as ‘low-hang­ing fruit’ – and se­rial losers who haven’t picked a win­ner in a hun­dred bets. They were also ad­vised to use the ‘mas­sive op­por­tu­nity’ of this sum­mer’s World Cup to turn first-timers into long-term gam­blers.

Mo­bile phone sig­nals could even be used to iden­tify when fans were in sta­di­ums – and sent texts ask­ing if they fancy a flut­ter.

The tac­tics are part of a grow­ing trend of us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to track bet­ting be­hav­iour. The meth­ods, which even del­e­gates de­scribed as ‘creepy’, were last night branded ‘shock­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing’ by cam­paign­ers who called for ur­gent ac­tion to avoid the risk of in­creas­ing prob­lem gam­bling.

The tech­niques were out­lined at a £838-a-head an­nual con­fer­ence held at Stam­ford Bridge, the home of Chelsea FC.

Jour­nal­ists were banned from the fo­rum last week, de­scribed as the ‘big­gest event of the year ded­i­cated to the sports bet­ting in­dus­try’ and at­tended by 1,500 gam­ing ex­ec­u­tives and del­e­gates.

How­ever, our un­der­cover investigation dis­cov­ered that:

Book­ies were told to tar­get women with free lip­stick, be­cause ‘birds like a bet’;

Gam­bling com­pa­nies are de­vel­op­ing on­line games as sim­ple as the Tin­der dat­ing app that even a ‘mon­key’ can use;

A lead­ing in­dus­try fig­ure ad­mit­ted that pre-water­shed gam­bling ad­verts dur­ing live foot­ball games en­cour­age chil­dren to bet; and

One bet­ting firm al­legedly wanted to use an Eng­land star in a pro­mo­tion when he was 21, de­spite rules ban­ning un­der 25s do­ing so.

The rev­e­la­tions came days be­fore Sky Bet was or­dered to pay £1mil­lion by the Gam­bling Com­mis­sion

‘Easy for a mon­key to un­der­stand’

for fail­ing to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble cus­tomers. Two mil­lion Bri­tons are ei­ther prob­lem gam­blers or at risk of ad­dic­tion, in­clud­ing 25,000 chil­dren aged 11 to 16, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the Com­mis­sion.

Del­e­gates at the con­fer­ence heard from Op­ti­move, a Lon­don and Tel Aviv-based ‘cus­tomer re­ten­tion com­pany’ that pro­vides ser­vices to 240 gam­ing firms in­clud­ing GVC – the bet­ting gi­ant that runs Lad­brokes Co­ral, Sport­ing­bet and Bwin.

It asks clients for ac­cess to cus­tomer data for the pre­vi­ous two years to cre­ate a be­spoke ser­vice us­ing pre­dic­tive mod­el­ling to ‘max­imise player value’.

Motti Col­man, Op­ti­move’s direc­tor of new busi­ness, said the World Cup was a ‘mas­sive op­por­tu­nity’ for gam­ing com­pa­nies to ‘cash in’ with a po­ten­tial 200 per cent boost in first time and re­turn pun­ters.

He warned that most new gam­blers will ‘do what­ever they do for a month and then dis­ap­pear’ as soon as the com­pe­ti­tion is fin­ished un­less they are prop­erly tar­geted.

‘The World Cup is ob­vi­ously a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity,’ he said. ‘There are play­ers there to be ac­quired and there is a lot of money go­ing to be spent. But it doesn’t have to end as the World Cup fin­ishes. There are very smart ways you can break down the data, fo­cus on dif­fer­ent types of be­hav­iour... so we can max­imise the player value.’

He said the tough­est chal­lenges were those who fail to win a sin­gle bet in 100 tries, for whom re­ten­tion usu­ally ‘drops off a cliff’.

They could be hit with tempt­ing cash- back of­fers at the ex­act mo­ment of their fi­nal loss to try to ‘win them back’.

Mr Col­man, a for­mer Wil­liam Hill em­ployee, said: ‘ For big losers... what we need to do for them is in­spire some kind of pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. If their bal­ance is at zero ... we are able to tar­get them maybe at that point at which their fi­nal loss has oc­curred [with] some kind of cash-back. Book­ies see the per­fect punter as one who has a mix of wins and losses but con­tinue to bet, in­di­cat­ing they will carry on re­gard­less of how well they do.

Firms aim to ‘in­spire ad­di­tional ac­tiv­ity’ by try­ing to sell them other prod­ucts or get­ting them to bet on a dif­fer­ent sport.

Mr Col­man said it was ‘su­per­crit­i­cal’ to get pun­ters to make a sec­ond de­posit in their on­line bet­ting ac­count as soon as the World Cup is over to boost the chances of them be­com­ing reg­u­lars.

The meth­ods could also be ap­plied to other big events in the bet­ting world, such as the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val, he said.

His Op­ti­move col­league Leigh Noy – de­scribed as the ‘clever­est per­son in the com­pany’ – said the key to max­imis­ing the ‘ share of wal­let’ from play­ers was to an­a­lyse in­for­ma­tion they pro­vided with ev­ery click. We want to get the ev­ery sin­gle gran­ule, ev­ery ticket, ev­ery bet they’ve placed,’ she said.

On­line book­mak­ers have tra­di­tion­ally re­lied on pulling in new cus­tomers through of­fers such as free bets or match­ing de­posits.

But firms fear these are be­ing ex­ploited by what they brand ‘bonus-hunters’ who re­peat­edly change bet­ting com­pany to cash in on the of­fers. One del­e­gate even moaned how some ‘smart and evil peo­ple’ in East­ern Europe with cheap costs of liv­ing were ef­fec­tively pro­fes­sional bonus hunters who reg­u­larly switch com­pa­nies.

The in­dus­try is now in­creas­ingly har­ness­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to study be­havioural pat­terns and pre­dict what of­fer or what pro­mo­tion would work best.

Some of these sys­tems have led to a ‘big win’ of be­tween 100 to 350 per cent in­creases in con­vert­ing those brows­ing sites into reg­u­lar play­ers. One del­e­gate warned com­pa­nies to tread care­fully as many peo­ple found ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence ‘creepy.’ But she said: ‘The beauty of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is it en­ables you to treat ev­ery sin­gle one of your cus­tomers as a VIP, when you don’t have the re­sources to do it.’

Jes­per Kar­rbrink of on­line gam­bling firm Mr Green, which boasts for­mer Eng­land cricket cap­tain Michael Vaughan as an am­bas­sador, said the ‘big chal­lenge’ is to tar­get play­ers with more per­son­alised mes­sages to keep them bet­ting. We need to dig deep down in the data try­ing to find rel­e­vance,’

‘Shock­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing’

he said. He en­vis­aged a time when play­ers would think: ‘Mr Green knows what my favourite bets are, when I bet, how I bet. We are not us­ing that. We have so many op­por­tu­ni­ties to be­come su­per-rel­e­vant.’

He sug­gested text mes­sag­ing pun­ters ten min­utes be­fore their favourite team was about to kick off. ‘It’s all about tim­ing,’ he said.

Af­ter the con­fer­ence, Mr Kar­rbrink told the Mail the tech­nol­ogy could also be used to iden- tify those at risk of prob­lem gam­bling and curb their ac­tiv­ity with mea­sures in­clud­ing time lim­its.

Another gam­ing ex­ec­u­tive said mo­bile phone sig­nals could be used to iden­tify when fans were in sta­di­ums and send them mes­sages ask­ing if they want to bet on the game they were watch­ing.

Tech­nol­ogy is also be­ing de­vel­oped which will lead to the ‘Tin­deri­sa­tion’ of gam­bling, with games like the dat­ing app where play­ers would sim­ply have to swipe left or right to place a bet, the con­fer­ence was told.

Flo­rian Guede, chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer of My­bet, said the aim for bet­ting com­pa­nies dur­ing the World Cup was to put them­selves in the ‘spot­light’. ‘Make an of­fer that is sim­ple and easy to un­der­stand, as we al­ways say a “mon­key gets to un­der­stand”,’ he said. ‘Some­thing that ide­ally sticks out from the crowd.’

For­mer on­line gam­ing ex­ec­u­tive Pe­ter Green­hill, who has worked as a con­sul­tant for Camelot and Gala Co­ral, spoke about the ‘prob­lem’ of chil­dren ex­posed to pre­wa­ter­shed TV ad­verts dur­ing live games. ‘We have to be aware that’s what those kids are see­ing and how they are re­act­ing,’ he said. ‘It’s a ma­jor, ma­jor prob­lem and it needs some ad­dress­ing.’

Last night Justyn Lar­combe, a re­cov­er­ing ad­dict who now works with prob­lem gam­bling con­sul­tancy Epic, called the plans sug­gested by Op­ti­move ‘shock­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing.’ ‘There will be a lot of first-time bet­ters hav­ing what they prob­a­bly con­sider to be a harm­less flut­ter dur­ing the World Cup,’ he said.

‘It is vi­tal they know what they are up against and the so­phis­ti­cated meth­ods be­ing used to lure them into longer-term bet­ting which can have dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences.

‘If peo­ple knew that ev­ery click and ev­ery bet they make was be­ing an­a­lysed and used to get them to spend more and more money, I don’t think many would do it.’

Marc Etches, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gam­bleAware, said gam­ing firms have the abil­ity to col­lect ‘sig­nif­i­cant amounts of cus­tomer data’ and more needed to be done to tackle ‘un­ac­cept­able mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing’.

The Gam­bling Com­mis­sion said it would take ac­tion if busi­nesses em­ployed tac­tics that ‘caused harm’. ‘All gam­bling busi­nesses need to en­sure that they pro­vide their prod­ucts in a re­spon­si­ble way,’ a spokesman said.

Pini Yakuel, CEO of Op­ti­move, said ev­ery com­pany it work with is ‘com­mit­ted to fair gam­bling’ and abide by in­dus­try reg­u­la­tions. He added: ‘The aim of data- driven mar­ket­ing is to en­sure peo­ple have a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence and re­la­tion­ship with the brands they choose.’

GVC said the views ex­pressed in the con­fer­ence were those ‘of Op­ti­move, not of GVC.’

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