A problem gambler who lost £125,000 with the online casinos LeoVegas and Casumo has accused them of ignoring obvious signs of her addiction, instead offering her bonuses to keep betting.
Katie, 42, formerly a successful accountant, has been receiving addiction treatment after racking up debts on nine credit cards.
Her losses include one of £54,000 in an overnight spree when she was allowed to place bets of more than £380,000 on one website in a single session.
Details of her case, thought to be the subject of an inquiry by the Gambling Commission, have emerged as calls are made for tougher regulation of online gambling and a review of whether betting on credit should be allowed.
Detailed evidence seen by the Guardian indicates Katie consistently displayed behaviours the commission said should alert betting companies to problem gambling. These include making dozens of failed deposits – where her banks refused to let her place bets – and cancelling the withdrawal of winnings at the last minute to plough money back into casino games.
In each case, she was made a VIP customer without being subjected to affordability checks, and was showered with “free spins”.
Casumo offered her free tickets to events at Wembley Arena, even as she gambled away the proceeds of her high-level accounting job.
According to internal communications among Casumo staff, an employee called her a “prick” after she later complained the company had not stepped in earlier.
Katie recounted her case on My Name Is…, a BBC Radio 4 documentary series that follows someone at the heart of a current news story.
Betting records show Katie, not her real name, began gambling with Casumo in June 2017, mostly placing bets of about £100. On 9 October 2017, she made dozens of wagers of up to £5,000 throughout the night, receiving three bonus offers even as she lost control.
Casumo records show the company only noticed her unusual betting behaviour nearly 11 hours after the spree began, sending her an email inquiring about it. She gambled a further £7,000 after that and Casumo failed to block her account until mid-afternoon, after she emailed a customer representative saying she felt “suicidal”.
In a later email to Katie, the company said: “You are right to point out that there were a number of factors which could have been considered to be red flags of problem gambling. However, we look at the account holistically and within the context of the given customer.”
Later that year, Katie again lost control, this time with LeoVegas, a Swedish company that has established a foothold in the UK online casino market and is a shirt sponsor for Norwich City and Brentford football clubs.
The company gave her VIP status and allowed her to keep betting using multiple credit cards, despite 291 failed deposit attempts and the cancellation of withdrawals worth £27,550.
Between 12 and 13 December 2017, she placed £382,844 of bets in a 24-hour non-stop session, losing £53,985 on a slot machine game.
On 3 January 2018, by which time she had placed more than £1m of bets and lost £94,049, an employee emailed her to say: “I hope you had a lovely Christmas and a great start to the new year!
“Just wanted to send you a quick message to let you know that I have added a special £800 loyalty bonus to your account that comes with only 1x wagering requirement. Wishing you a lovely day ahead!”
Katie said LeoVegas had not acknowledged any failing in its problem gambling controls, but had paid £34,000 towards her rehabilitation instead as a “gesture of goodwill”.
She said she had been stunned by how the companies missed warning signs of addiction, including an escalation in the scale and frequency of her bets, as well as the use of multiple credit cards, her failed deposits and cancelled withdrawals.
“They have algorithms where if you’re spending a lot they make you a VIP, or send you a bonus email and they use that to their advantage. They could also use it to prevent problem gambling, which is what the commission say they should be doing,” she said.
The commission said it could not comment on individual cases.
Both LeoVegas and Casumo have previously faced regulatory penalties for failing to protect problem gamblers.
The Guardian this month revealed fresh claims that LeoVegas accepted £20,000 from a problem gambler who had stolen the money from his mother, and then bombarded him with promotional offers.
LeoVegas said it could not comment on Katie’s case but said it “takes safer gambling very seriously, and follows strict policies and procedures to ensure compliance with our legal obligations and our licence conditions”.
Casumo said it could not comment on Katie’s case but insisted some of the details were “incorrect”.