Online gambling self-exclusion tools for vulnerable consumers are ‘made available with no quality assurance or assessment to inform consumer choice, and promoted by treatment providers, operators and the regulator’ according to a report into online gambling tools.

The review, entitled Online gambling self-exclusion: rapid consumer review of selected tools, was conducted by Simon Thompson, a health and social care specialist, and Alexander Källman, independent consultant at Mind

The report aimed to ‘provide a rapid consumer review of a sample of tools which people can use to stop themselves from accessing online gambling websites and apps.’

Five self-exclusion tools were selected for the report, four of which were blocking software including Gamban, Betblocker, Betfilter and GamBlock. The fifth tool was the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme, Gamstop.

The review highlighted various accessibility information, such as trials and subscription options, user support, product information and further help sections, effectiveness, accountability and impact.

The review read: “We developed a framework, based on evidence of what is important in self-exclusion and health interventions, with four categories: access, effectiveness, accountability and impact. 

“We reviewed each of the products against this framework as ‘expert consumers’, with knowledge of gambling problems, product development and health interventions.” 

It was revealed in the review that Gamstop ‘has its limitations’ due to blocking licensed sites and being easy for a user to ‘circumvent through using different personal details’. The ease of access to unlicensed sites was also identified as a limitation, as well as the implementation of the current scheme. 

According to the findings, Betblocker had a ‘considerable variation’ in the ‘quality of gambling blocking software available on the market’, yet when assessed by the reviews framework, there was a ‘potentially worrying absence of quality’.

This was highlighted as a particular concern due to Betblock being accredited for funding by the Gambling Commission, which could lead consumers into believing the regulator is warranting its quality and safety.

The review continued: “There is a wide difference in cost and cost in relation to quality. Betfiler and GamBlock are expensive, but, although premium products, appear intrusive, affecting the day to day usability of a consumer’s device. 

“Gamban is provided at a minimal or moderate cost and provides the least intrusion and most extensive blocking. Betblocker is free, may be of questionable quality. It could be a concern that because it is free, Betblocker may have uptake, when its quality and safety is unclear. 

“We also want to draw attention to the importance of assessing the accountability, transparency, management and service standards of the organisations providing such tools to vulnerable people, as a basic principle of assuring quality and safety in health interventions.

“This was not in the scope of the 2018 evaluation, and arguably this has led to continued signposting of consumers to poorer quality products, delivered by potentially problematic providers.”

The review raised concerns with GamBlock, Betblocker and Betfilter with the trio potentially not being compliant with UK regulation and their governance not being made clear, in particular in misleading or even causing harm to consumers.

Findings emphasised a perceived ‘lack of quality products’ being implemented to help vulnerable consumers. It read: “This is potentially another instance where gamblers are not afforded parity of esteem with other groups of consumers. 

“We recognise this is a difficult area for regulators and treatment providers, as blocking software is a technical product. We recommend the creation of a minimum standards framework for gambling blocking software. 

“In addition, there could be more joined-up action across government, the regulator, operators and treatment providers, to facilitate access to the best tools for consumer protection. 

“There appears to be a need for communication to consumers, to build understanding and confidence in self-exclusion and to clarify the differences between blocking software products.”