BETTING GIANTS:’ DIRTY SECRETS
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
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.’