Suicidal gambling addict groomed by Sky Bet to keep him hooked, investigation reveals
A major betting company harvested troves of data from a suicidal gambling addict to target his weaknesses and predict his losses, The Mail can reveal.
Sky Bet shared thousands of items of data with third-party companies to groom the high-value gambler that they wanted to win back.
The betting giant – owned by FTSE 100 gambling group Flutter – even worked out that it would make £1,190 a year from him if he returned.
Sky Bet shared thousands of items of data with third-party companies to profile the ‘very high-value’ gambler that they needed to ‘win back’ and ‘grow’ after he quit
The findings – from an investigation by Cracked Labs, a data research institute in Austria, shared with the Mail – are a disturbing glimpse into how firms keep customers betting.
Michael, not his real name, lost £46,000 to Sky Bet in less than a decade, including £11,000 during a nine-month binge.
Sky Bet allowed him to reopen an account even after telling him he wouldn’t be able to and failed to act despite a series of red flags.
Michael was also one of 120,000 Sky Bet customers who fell victim to a data breach last year, in which recovering addicts received promotional emails.
He has accused Sky Bet of turning him from a ‘happy-go-lucky’ gambler into an addict.
When he stopped in 2018, he was £80,000 in debt. He said: ‘It got to a point where if I didn’t stop, it was going to kill me. I had suicidal ideation. I feel violated. I should have been protected.’
Flutter owns a string of brands as well as Sky Bet including Paddy Power and Betfair, and is valued at more than £18billion.
It raked in more than £3billion in the first six months of 2021 and profits jumped from £24million to £77million.
The Cracked Labs investigation used data subject access requests to force Sky Bet and other firms to reveal the extent of ‘surveillance’.
It shows how Sky Bet and Signal, a third-party data firm owned by credit agency Trans Union, analysed tens of thousands of data points to profile Michael.
It found 186 behavioural attributes and identified him as influenced by marketing and a ‘very high value’ customer. It even recorded how often he opened emails. Cracked Labs’ report said betting firms create ‘advanced profiling’ on customers, ‘often without their knowing consent’.
It added: ‘Such profiles include indicators of personal vulnerabilities and addictive behaviours, which can then be used to target the most vulnerable.’
Michael believes his profile was used to bombard him with marketing. He was earning between £26,000 to £40,000 a year and went from betting a hundred pounds a month to £5,000 in a day.
He claims Sky Bet missed opportunities to protect him, including in 2014 when he found a note on his account expressing concern over his deposits.
Michael said he did not respond to the request, which wasn’t followed up. He was then allowed to deposit £6,400, around £1,500 more than the deposits that raised the original concern.
Campaigners are concerned that the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), of which Flutter is a member and funder, is leading a review into how affordability checks could help gamblers.
Michael Dugher, a former Labour MP and chief executive of the BGC, has previously said checks could be too ‘intrusive’.
But Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of campaigners Clean Up Gambling, said: ‘Use of personal data upholds the online gambling sector’s model of obtaining a majority of its profits from either addicted or at-risk gamblers.’
Sky Betting & Gaming said it took safer gambling responsibilities very seriously ‘and, while we run marketing campaigns based on our customers’ expressed preferences and behaviours, we would never seek to intentionally advertise to anyone who may potentially be at risk of gambling harm’. It said it does not use data to target vulnerable customers.
Trans Union said it takes its ‘responsibility to protect consumer information very seriously’. It said it ‘assists gaming operators to protect individuals from financial harm by using data points to identify key risk indicators’.