This week I opened online betting accounts with four major gaming companies: Paddy Power, BoyleSports, Bet365 and Betway.
All four accounts were opened with my usual credit card. I did, despite all four companies saying they do not allow credit card betting due to government-approved Irish gambling industry rules.
When I brought this to the companies’ attention, all four either denied that I could have opened an account with a credit card or ignored my media inquiries.
My personal Mastercard deficit – down €12 on separate €3 bets with each of them on Chelsea beating Brighton – is minor.
But for thousands of people in Ireland struggling with gambling addiction, it’s serious.
If betting companies circumvent the regulations they subscribe to, how do Ireland’s estimated 50,000 problem gamblers get rid of their addiction?
Why don’t government ministers, who have been briefed by this newspaper on credit card betting activity, acknowledge the problem?
And how long will it be before the companies themselves place responsible picks before the extra million or two are taken from the bottom of the barrel of vulnerable and maximized players?
Betting through loans or credits is considered one of the most dangerous and pernicious forms of compulsive gambling.
In 2012, this ultimately led to a man, Tony O’Reilly, stealing €1.75 million from An Post to fuel his gambling addiction, an episode documented in Tony 10, the book he wrote with Declan Lynch.
Due to the risk it poses, credit card gambling is severely restricted in countries like the UK. The government here says it wants to curb it too, with the appointment of a gambling regulator due next year. But at the moment it is still easy to register and bet immediately with credit cards.
And it comes as online gambling has grown from 26% to 39% of the multi-billion dollar industry here, with almost half of that betting being done from phones.
Of the four main betting apps we tested, BoyleSports and Bet 365 were the easiest to use directly with credit cards.
Their apps allow for a choice of payment deposit sources, including Apple Pay and Google Pay.
My Apple Pay and Google Pay, which I use daily, are linked to my credit card. BoyleSports and Bet365 both accepted it no questions asked and I was betting within minutes.
With Paddy Power and Betway, it took an extra step to bet with a credit card: Revolut, an app used by over a million Irish people.
My Revolut account is, like my Apple Pay and Google Pay, linked to my credit card. No problem with Paddy Power or Betway. Once again I was up and running with bets taken from my credit card.
How much is it against the rules? It depends on how seriously we take the current industry self-regulatory system.
Ireland, unlike countries like the UK, does not have an effective law that governs modern online gambling. Instead, we have a voluntary “Safer Gambling Code” instituted by the Irish Association of Bookmakers.
Almost all major gaming companies have signed on, including the following provision: “Operators shall not accept payment for games directly by credit card.”
What if betting companies break this rule?
“Sadly, [we] have no direct authority or power to sanction an operator for breaching the code,” a spokesperson for the industry body told me.
The best it can do, the spokesperson added, is to remove the name of any offending company from the list of companies that would have signed the code.
In other words, there is no penalty.
What about the government, which promises to introduce a new gambling regulator? When I presented my findings directly to the minister responsible for introducing the new regulator, the young justice minister James Browne, I heard a general discourse about plans to introduce a gambling regulator.
“The [Gambling Regulatory] The Authority will have the discretion, based on its expertise, to react quickly and respond to all issues and concerns related to payment methods and the risks associated with them,” said the spokesperson for Mr. Browne, referring to the regulator’s prerogative to include credit card payments in its remit.
The gap in proper regulation was recently revealed in an in-depth academic report comparing Ireland’s gambling experience in an international context.
“There are 101 different ways these companies break the rules,” says Professor John O’Brennan, who co-authored the ‘Gambling Trends, Harms and Responses’ study with Professor Maynooth Aphra Kerr and DCU researcher Lucia Vazquez Mendoza.
”Outsourcing Licensing Liability [to an industry body with no enforcement powers] reflects an Irish regulatory system that is largely an ‘analog’ system operating in a new digital age”.
This is the case, the report adds, just as “online betting has become the fastest growing type of game… Sports betting has become a major problem in many countries and has led to a significant number of young men with gambling problems in Ireland and around the world,”
What about the reactions of betting companies? In these pages last week, I explained how another betting app, LiveScore Bet, did not allow me to exit my account, despite multiple attempts and requests. When notified, LiveScore Bet acknowledged the issue and publicly apologized. Would the four betting apps be responsible for breaches of credit card rules?
In short, no.
A spokesperson for BoyleSports initially denied this could have happened.
“BoyleSports does not accept payment directly by credit card,” he said. “Beyond the requirements of the Safer Gambling Code, it is BoyleSports policy to regularly review and prevent, where possible, indirect credit card gambling. For example, if we determine that a customer has used a third-party payment application, which in turn was funded by a credit card, we will always block payments from this application.
But then I presented the spokesperson with visual evidence – through screenshots and photos – of having deposited funds using a credit card.
The response was that Apple Pay and Google Pay are “third-party payment” platforms and the credit card element is “not real-time information available to recipients.”
But BoyleSports then allowed me to do something that I was not able to do in any other betting app: withdraw funds without prior account verification or photo ID. It also violates the industry’s ‘Safer Gambling Code’. These withdrawn funds are returned directly to my credit card.
Bet365, which is also easy to bet directly with a credit card on Google Pay, ignored my media inquiries. Betway also ignored the Irish Independent request for comment.
A spokesperson for Paddy Power, which does not accept credit card payments through Apple Pay or Google Pay but does through Revolut, attempted to explain why that route is allowed here, even though it leads to a apparent violation of industry rules.
He described credit card payments through Revolut as a “loophole”. Echoing the BoyleSports spokesperson, he said betting companies had no visibility into individual Revolut accounts linked to credit or debit cards. For the betting company, he said, Revolut presents itself as a debit card. So the betting company is, in theory, allowed to count it like a debit card. Debit cards are permitted under Irish industry rules.
This is an issue that only concerns Ireland, he said, as our ‘voluntary code’ does not compare in force to UK gambling laws, which do not allow Revolut as a source. payment for gambling.
The “rift” is therefore allowed to be suffered here, as opposed to the UK.
But couldn’t Paddy Power still suspend Revolut as a means of payment, knowing that it is now used as a means of payment by credit card? Even if the price was to lose a few bets from Revolut debit card holders? Paddy Power’s spokesman declined to answer this question.
But the real answer is clear: Paddy Power, like all other betting apps, is not going to give up potential revenue from credit cards based on a “voluntary code”. They will do it in the UK, or anywhere else with a law. But not in Ireland.
“Credit card betting is a huge problem,” said Barry Grant, CEO and Founder of Problem Gambling Ireland and adviser in the region.
“Most of the people we work with have access to many credit cards. And there are plenty of workarounds, with things like PayPal being related to credit cards. Many of the big betting companies here should answer to the UK gambling regulator, but we don’t have any here.
Asked how many people suffer from gambling addiction in Ireland, Mr Grant said the previously quoted figures of between 30,000 and 40,000, or 0.8% of the population, were “a long way off”.
“It’s maybe up to three times that figure, if you consider that across the border in the North it’s 2.3%,” he said. “And there is another 5pc considered at risk.”
Fintan Drury was chairman of Paddy Power for eight years. Recently, he started an organization called Stop Gambling Harm with Stewart Kenny, the former CEO of Paddy Power, and Ian Armitage.
“I think the pace of legislation being put in place to deal with it has been catastrophic,” he said.
“We can have a voluntary code. But the only real responsibility that “gaming” companies currently have is to maximize shareholder returns. »
Mr Drury said a central part of the Stop Gambling Harm campaign is to persuade institutional shareholders of betting companies that better and less predatory behavior is in their own long-term interests.
“They have a moral reason to do it, in that they can see that societal damage is being done,” he said. “But there is also a financial reason. There is a very real threat that they will be subject to class action lawsuits in the future, in much the same way as the tobacco industry has.
Last year, President Michael D Higgins called the sports betting industry in Ireland “dangerous” and “a scourge”.
But the teacher O’Brennan thinks he can get worse before it gets better. He says the legalization of wider betting in the United States could lead to major social problems.
“If you’ve seen the TV series Drug, you’ve seen what I think could be a similar problem we’ll hear about in the United States for years to come.