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.
Tips of the trade: Motti Colman makes his presentation to gambling firms
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:
The techniques were outlined at a £838-a-head annual conference held at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea FC
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 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’.
Mr Colman said it was ‘super-critical’ 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
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 ‘super-critical’ 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.
Online bookmakers have traditionally relied on pulling in new customers through offers such as free bets or matching deposits
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.
Gambling companies are developing online games as simple as the Tinder dating app that even a ‘monkey’ can use
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,’ 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 identify 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 pre-watershed 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.’
FOOTBALL LEGEND CHARMED DELEGATES
Bookies talked business at the home of Chelsea FC as they queued up to pose beside the Premier League trophy and meet Dutch legend Ruud Gullit.
Delegates at the fifth annual Betting on Football conference lunched in a box overlooking the pitch and took selfies on stadium tours.
The 1,500 attendees – included titans of the gambling world and former playing legends – revelled in the surroundings of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge for the £838-a-head two-day gambling jamboree.
Photo op: Dutch star Ruud Gillit
In the main conference room under the West Stand, the predominately male guests networked as they played table football and marvelled at exhibits promoting gambling technology – several hosted by young women in short skirts.
Guests passed pictures of Chelsea stars including Gianfranco Zola as they climbed stairs to attend seminars and talks with titles such as ‘Play the game – how to engage and monetise non-betting football fans’.
By mid-afternoon of the first day, many of the delegates continued their discussions with bottled beer that was freely circulated around the conference. The drinking continued until the early hours as the delegates decamped to the official conference party at London’s County Hall, in the shadow of the London Eye.
Glamour: Hostesses like Mila (pictured) greeted delegates
It included the free use of 200 arcade machines, 14 bowling lanes, table tennis, pool tables, bumper cars and bars flowing with alcohol.
On the second day, former Chelsea player-manager Ruud Gullit spoke at an invitation-only event about ‘tackling negative connotations about gambling’. He later posed for pictures with delegates.
For others, the use of Stamford Bridge to promote betting felt wrong. Justyn Larcombe, who now helps addicts, said it was ‘extremely sad’ that the ‘great club’ had chosen to host the event.
He said: ‘I’ve been invited to Stamford Bridge to speak to Chelsea youth teams about the dangers of gambling, so the club knows full well the risks and the devastation it can cause.’ Marc Etches, chief executive of GambleAware, said the charity was ‘concerned about the relationship between professional sport and commercial gambling’.
The conference did discuss concerns over gambling. Anna Hemmings, the CEO of GamCare – which runs an advice helpline – spoke about the dangers of youngsters betting. But by the time she gave her talk only 13 people were left in the room.
Most had already decamped to Frankie’s World Cup Bar on the edge of the stadium ahead of the closing party at a blues nightclub under the club’s East Stand.
A Chelsea FC spokesman said it holds more than 600 events a year and concern was ‘a matter for the event organisers and their guests.’
‘Birds like a bet – give free lipsticks to make them play’
Women represent a vast untapped market for betting firms because ‘birds like a bet’, an expert told conference guests.
Christina Thakor-Rankin, who runs the 1710 Gaming gambling consultancy, said women were a new demographic, calling them ‘low-hanging fruit’ and ‘incredibly lucrative’.
All the major brands targeted men, with the exception ‘novelty bets’ such as who will win Strictly Come dancing, she said. This was despite Gambling Commission figures showing that a third of in-play betting was done by women.
She said: ‘Women bet with their hearts rather than their heads.
‘They’re not looking at statistics or Oddschecker. Birds like a bet. All of you are missing an opportunity.’
Miss Thakor-Rankin, who has worked for William Hill, Blue Square, Totesport and Virgin Games, said the key was offering content online that created a talking point.
She added: ‘How many of you know a woman who doesn’t have an opinion?
‘How many of you know a woman who for four years has a go at you for watching football but come the World Cup is an expert and will watch it with you?
‘How many of you understand that there are more female influences on social media than men?
‘We are now moving to a tipping point generationally where 2020 will see millennials [become] the biggest generation ever and this group of people want gender equality. What we are starting to see are women saying “why can’t we do it?”’
She said one way to encourage new customers was to send them a gift unrelated to gambling, adding: ‘In the case of women it could be a lipstick.’
She told the Mail: ‘There are women who enjoy the Grand National, the World Cup, but who aren’t often thought of as gamblers. They’re an opportunity.
‘Gambling always will be divisive. We need to make sure that correct support systems are in place to help those people who are addicted.’
Another executive said there was a ‘huge opportunity’ to target women, but gambling firms needed to create more ‘recreational’ games without complex odds, which put them off.
Bookies sponsor almost half of Premier League football clubs’ shirts – but not everyone in the industry appears to understand the strict rules involved.
No one under 25 should feature in a gambling advert, but one major betting firm is said to have sought to use an England international to promote betting when he was just 21.
One of those who brokered a deal with the firm recalled that after discussing details of the age limit, they were still asked to hire one player who would not turn 25 for four more years.