Interview with Casino Guru's Matej Novota: Casino Complaints Reveal Issues with Current Self-Exclusion Solutions

Matej Novota interview

Casino Guru's efforts related to the resolution of player complaints about casinos were one of the first places where we discovered a number of issues related to self-exclusion, which ultimately lead to the birth of the Global Self-Exclusion Initiative.

That is why I decided to interview Matej Novota, Head of Casino Guru's Data and Complaints teams. Matej has hands-on experience with these issues and has assisted a number of players who fell victim to less-than-ideal implementations of self-exclusion tools offered by casinos today and in the past. In this interview, he will tell us all about it.

Thank you for sitting down with me for this interview and sharing your experience with our readers. To start off, please tell as a bit about your position within the Casino Guru team. What exactly are you doing in the complaint resolution center and what types of issues are you working with?

Thank you for having me, it's a pleasure for me to illustrate the issues we face on a daily basis.

Basically, any player that has experienced an issue with an online casino can submit a complaint. Issues players complain about cover pretty much anything that can happen in an online casino, but I would say that most players complain about bonuses.

"Complaints about issues related to gambling addiction and responsible gambling are less frequent, but more serious in my opinion."

As these are really popular among players and governed by an often-confusing set of rules and restrictions, it makes sense that these complaints are the most common. Complaints about issues related to gambling addiction and responsible gambling are less frequent, but more serious in my opinion.

We do this for free, hoping to improve the entire gambling industry and make sure players are treated fairly. Oh, and I would like to add that we focus on complaints related to online casinos. Sometimes, players complain about issues related to sports betting, and we can help some of those, but it's outside our main area of expertise.

How can you help players struggling with bad gambling habits or unfair treatment?

The main objective of the complaint resolution center is to get players' issues resolved. When we find the casino to have done something unfair, we try to get them to make it right and, for example, pay out the player's winnings that have been unfairly confiscated.

To give a more specific example, we have helped a player that breached the max bet rule while playing with a bonus. He clicked the max bet button in a game by accident. His subsequent withdrawal was declined because of this , as casinos check for these kinds of things automatically. Our position was that, if the player hasn't done it on purpose and hasn't profited from it at all, the casino should pay out his winnings. He hasn't done anything wrong. Afterwards, the player has been paid out, and the complaint was successfully resolved.

"Helping addicted players get on the right track is something that often requires help that has to be provided by someone else."

But we don't stop there. We also try to educate players on how gambling works, how to make sure that a similar issue doesn't happen to them again in the future, how to stay safe while gambling online, or how to stop gambling altogether if they show signs of problematic gambling habits.

We direct these players to our educational articles about problem and responsible gambling and advise where to look for professional help if needed. Getting a specific issue resolved is one thing. Helping addicted players get on the right track is something that often requires help that has to be provided by someone else.

When did you start to realize that there were issues with current self-exclusion options and other responsible gambling tools?

We were already dealing with player complaints long before Casino Guru had a dedicated team and center for complaint resolution. We worked with complaints submitted to other websites and mediators, and players also complaint to us via e-mails. We witnessed issues related to responsible gambling back then as well, and it only got more frequent now that we have a more accessible way for players to complain. Working with players directly enables us to see these issues from their perspective.

However, we also communicate with casinos, which helps us see the issues from their perspective as well. It is not always possible to realize that they are dealing with a problem gambler. And players sometimes tell them that they are addicted after months or years of gambling and demand to be returned their money. In these cases, it's difficult to get to the bottom of it and find out what really happened.

What do you consider to be the primary shortcomings of current self-exclusion options?

In regard to player safety, I see definite imperfections in terms of the process of self-excluding or requesting to have the self-exclusion removed. Some casinos don't have an easy and fool-proof way for players to self-exclude, which only results in issues for both parties. And some casinos allow players to cancel their self-exclusion at any time and instantly start gambling again. And the limited scope of current options allows players to find other sites to gamble on after self-excluding, even though they perhaps shouldn't play at all.

"Bad implementation of self-exclusion can hurt casinos as well, as it can be abused by players."

But you covered these issues on the initiative's website already. I would like to shine some light on these issues from another perspective. Bad implementation of self-exclusion can hurt casinos as well, as it can be abused by players.

I've seen cases in which players self-excludes, then asks to have the self-exclusion removed, and starts playing again. If they win, they take their winnings and leave. But if they lose, they complain about it and demand to have their deposits returned, because they are addicted. Some casinos pay them out, some don't, but this is definitely a loophole that hurts the casinos and can be removed by a better implementation of self-exclusion.

I think the goal is to create a balanced relationship between players and casinos, so that neither side has an unfair advantage or a way to abuse the system.

Can you give us an example of the complex issues you've handled that have to do with self-exclusion?

I have a great example that also illustrates why I think a global system could be helpful. We've handled a case in which player wasn't sure whether to register to GAMSTOP or not. In the end, he decided to do it. But he ended up referring to this decision as the worst one he has ever done.

"... individual regulators push their licensed casinos to follow strict rules but fail to acknowledge the broader, global scope of issues."

As a result of this, he couldn't play in any UK casinos regulated by the Gambling Commission, so he ended up gambling in objectively worse foreign casinos, where he kept experiencing unfair treatment and practices. He couldn't play in casinos with a fair approach to gambling and safe-gambling tools he was used to, but other, objectively worse, casinos were happy to let him play.

This illustrates how individual regulators push their licensed casinos to follow strict rules but fail to acknowledge the broader, global scope of issues. It happens in UK, Sweden, and many other countries, and I think a global approach would be really helpful.

What about the issue of advertising to self-excluded players? Have you experienced issues related to this?

Of course. It's easy for a casino to stop sending out promotional messages to players that have self-excluded using their internal system. However, if other casinos don't know about the player's self-exclusion and potential problematic gambling habits, there is nothing stopping them from advertising to them.

I remember a case in which a player played at an unlicensed casino. After playing for some time, he admitted being a problem gambler and self-excluded. Later on, he was contacted by a different casino using the same platform. The casino looked pretty much identical to the one from which he self-excluded, but it was a different one. The player was understandably confused by all this and submitted a complaint.

This issue is relatively common for example in some casinos with a Curacao or Malta license, as they don't have a central self-exclusion system. When you exclude from one website, other casinos will happily keep advertising to you, because they are not aware of your gambling problem. More advanced markets like UK, which have an integrated self-exclusion system, are much safer in this regard, but still have room for improvement.

Do you think this issue could be solved by a global self-exclusion system? If so, how?

I think it would be amazing for addicted players to be able to exclude themselves from receiving and seeing advertisements from all online casinos at once.

It can be extremely hard for addicted individuals to resist urges to gamble, and a single tempting ad can definitely trigger a dangerous gambling episode that might not have occurred had the player never seen it.

You mentioned issues related to the process of self-excluding. We have recently published an overview of 10 gambling regulators and their self-exclusion requirements for online casinos, which turned out to be quite diverse. Can you think of examples of bad self-exclusion process having an impact on an addicted person's gambling habits?

Definitely. I can think of at least two specific examples of things I would like to see improved.

"It's much better if the player can self-exclude instantly."

Firstly, players cannot turn on self-exclusion by themselves in many casinos. They need to send an e-mail to a specific e-mail address. It then takes time for the self-exclusion to become active, because the casino's employee has to read the e-mail and turn it on for them. In this time, player can still play and lose money. Some casinos them return the money that has been lost during this time, but some don't. Either way, definitely not an ideal process. It's much better if the player can self-exclude instantly.

Secondly, some casinos don't allow players to self-exclude if they have funds in their account. I remember a case in which a player had a lot of money in their account (about €250,000) and wanted to self-exclude but couldn't because of this. He couldn't withdraw his funds either because of withdrawal limits. He ended up losing all this money, which clearly illustrates why players should be able to self-exclude from playing and then withdraw their money later on. Later on, the casino said that they would have handled it differently if they knew about his problem gambling habits. Sadly, he only mentioned it afterwards.

What about canceling self-exclusion prematurely? Do you have any bad experience with this?

I remember a player that self-excluded from a casino and mentioned that he was a problem gambler. The next day, he contacted the casino again, claiming that it was his wife who contacted a casino and not him, because she doesn't like his gambling habits. The casino ended up allowing him to play. He lost some money and then demanded it back, claiming that he should not have been allowed to play again. Here, the casino has clearly made a mistake – the player admitted being a problem gambler, so they shouldn't have been allowed to play again.

Some casinos are happy to cancel a player's self-exclusion instantly. Some do so only after a cooling-off period. And some never end a player's self-exclusion prematurely, regardless of what the player tells them.

Personally, I think that there should definitely be at least some fixed period of time, during which players cannot cancel their self-exclusion at all. But there might be some room for premature cancelations, for example in the case of national schemes, so that players don't start playing in foreign or unlicensed casinos. But this is definitely an extremely complex topic that doesn't have a clear solution.

What do you think should happen when the self-exclusion period ends, and the player is able to play again? Does the time off serve its purpose and the player doesn't start playing again or is able to play in moderation?

I think that players should remain excluded after the period ends and be allowed to play again only after manually requesting it and waiting through a cooling-off period.

"As with all behavioral addictions, people tend to go through different phases, and the fact that they excluded themselves proves that they realize they have an issue."

It's more complicated with players that have self-excluded because of problem gambling, but I think it should theoretically be possible, but only with strict limits. And they should maybe also be required to provide evidence of having gotten professional help. But, again, this is a complicated topic that should be consulted with professionals. I certainly know about people that think a problem gambler should under no circumstances be allowed to play again.

I would also like to add that I think that the time during self-exclusion is the best time for treatment and professional help for problem gamblers. As with all behavioral addictions, people tend to go through different phases, and the fact that they excluded themselves proves that they realize they have an issue. This makes it more likely that they will be opened to accepting professional help. Additionally, it's quite likely that the player will sooner or later encounter urges to start gambling again, so it's important for them to look for help and counseling before it happens. It's crucial for them to build a support system they can rely on during recovery.

Do you see any potential risks that could arise from a global self-exclusion system?

Definitely. I think that, even if there is such system and it reaches widespread adoption, there will still be casinos that don't take part in it. Most likely, these will be the absolutely worst casinos without any license. These will try to take advantage of being one of the few sites where globally self-excluded players can play at. Moderating and eliminating this risk will definitely be needed.

Also, I see a potential risk related to data security. If a bad actor got their hands on the personal information of self-excluded individuals, it would be really easy to misuse.

You are in close contact with both players and casinos. Do you think that the global self-exclusion scheme that this initiative is trying to create has the potential to become a part of responsible gambling standards followed by the majority of operators in the future?

To be honest, I think that it will be extremely difficult to create such a system and the chances of success are slim. But the potential benefits are huge, so I think that it makes sense to continue these efforts and see what happens.

What I think might help is the fact that such system could benefit casinos as well, helping them protect against players that abuse the current self-exclusion solutions. But it remains to be seen whether they are aware these benefits as well, and what the entire gambling community thinks about the initiative. I will be rooting for it, that's for sure.