An investigation into a scheme designed to help problem gamblers by banning them from betting websites has revealed that people are able to beat the system.
GamStop, a free, independent self-exclusion scheme for people with online gambling problems, was launched in April 2018 and more than 50,000 people have signed up so far.
Gamblers who sign up to the scheme should not be allowed to place bets on gambling websites after registering their details and choosing how long they should be banned for.
David Bradford (right), 62, from Waterthorpe, Sheffield, kept his addiction – which saw him spend up to £30,000 a year – a secret from his wife Denise, left, and his three children, including Adam (centre) who worked with the BBC to expose flaws in Gamstop
But BBC Radio 5 live investigates found a gambler who had signed up to the scheme could create new online betting accounts by simply changing their user details, including misspelling a surname.
In response to the revelation, GamStop’s Fiona Palmer admitted the service was not working well enough.
Adam Bradford, from Sheffield, campaigns to raise awareness around the risks of online gambling.
He was inspired to take up his work after his father David left his family bankrupt after losing more than £500,000 by playing slot machines online.
David spent up to £30,000 a year – and kept his gambling a secret from his wife Denise, 63
Adam registered with Gamstop but a few days later he was able to open a new online betting account – by changing a letter in his name.
Adam, who was even offered £50 in free bets after registering on the sites, said other people had told him how easy it was to bypass the exclusion system.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: ‘I think it’s scandalous – it means the hundreds of thousands of betting addicts across the country are not being protected. The industry is putting up what I think is a facade. It doesn’t work’.
When presented with the findings, the chief executive of GamStop, Ms Palmer said: ‘We are taking on board the feedback and we are looking to improve the scheme’.
The Gambling Commission, which regulates the industry, said it was looking to bring in tougher ID checks.
It is soon expected to announce the results of a consultation on ID verification on online gambling sites to prevent gamblers from using incorrect details.
The BBC also found flaws in the self-exclusion scheme for High Street bookmakers.
A 5 live producer used Multi-Operator Self Exclusion Scheme (MOSES) to ban himself from 21 betting shops in Grimsby – but was still able to bet in 19 of them.
David Bradford, 59, from Sheffield, kept his addiction a secret from his wife Denise, 63, and his three children
In response to the revelation, operators of the scheme, the Senet Group, said ‘lessons would be learned’.
Then twelve months later, a different BBC producer banned himself from 20 of the same betting shops in Grimsby.
Despite this he was allowed to place bets in 15 of them.
The findings were met with criticism from the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) – which said it was ‘disappointed’ with them.
The trade association was encouraged by the results of a survey of genuine participants of the scheme.
An independent survey carried out by charity GambleAware found that ‘83% said the scheme had been effective in reducing or stopping their gambling activity.
It also found that 71% said they have not attempted to use their nominated betting shops since signing up.
The Senet Group, which uses funding from bookmakers to run the scheme, was disappointed with the results of it.
Senet believes MOSES is an ‘important first step for people who genuinely want to reduce their gambling’.
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson promised to take the BBC’s findings to the government as he thinks they prove the investigation demonstrated the two schemes ‘aren’t fit for purpose’.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chairman of a cross-party group of MPs on gambling-related harm added: ‘Any system which is easily manipulated like this is not worth it – they have to be robust enough to withstand deliberate attempts to get around them.’
To find out more about the investigation, tune into 5 live Investigates at 11 GMT on Sunday 13 January on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds.