Ladbrokes, William Hill and the operator of Titanbet have been criticised for “unfair” online promotions that allegedly cost punters millions of pounds.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has investigated the gambling companies over concerns that customers could be made to play for longer than planned before being able to withdraw their own money.
Following its inquiry, the bookmakers have “formally committed to change the way they offer bonus promotions to ensure players can always access and release their own money”.
Under the changes, players will no longer need to play multiple times before they can withdraw their own money – and any restrictions must be made clear to customers in advance.
Bonus promotions are commonly offered by casino-like gambling websites, offering extra funds when players deposit their own cash.
The CMA has now released guidance so firms understand their obligations and gamblers know their rights – with the watchdog stressing that the bookmakers’ undertakings were not an admission of a breach of the law.
Its investigation heard evidence online platforms were trapping gamblers’ cash through opaque terms and conditions that often meant they had to agree multiple stakes before they could unlock their winnings.
One website offered to match a customer’s opening deposit with a welcome bonus – but the punter was required to wager 50 times their deposit before they were able to withdraw any winnings or the cash they had placed in their account.
The findings were issued at a sensitive time for bookmakers – with the sector’s high street operators facing curbs on the use of fixed-odds betting terminals – dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling” by their critics.
The CMA warned on Thursday that the Gambling Commission could enforce penalties on firms across the industry – which is worth £4.7bn annually – should they fall foul of the new rules.
The CMA’s project director, George Lusty, said: “Gambling always carries a risk, but players should never face unfair restrictions that prevent them from getting at their money.
“Firms mustn’t stack the odds against players, by putting unfair obstacles in their way, or making it difficult for them to stop gambling when they want to.
“The CMA is here to make sure businesses’ terms and practices are fair for their customers.
“We welcome the commitment from these leading firms to address the problems our investigation uncovered, by making important changes to their terms and conditions.
“We now expect others to follow, and look forward to the Gambling Commission’s continued work to make sure all operators in this sector play fair with their customers’ money.”
Ladbrokes and William Hill responded by welcoming clarity on the issue from the regulator.
Brian Chappell, founder of campaign group Justice4Punters, responded: “It’s nearly 30 months to the day since Justice for Punters sent evidence of the use of unfair terms and conditions to the CMA and Gambling Commission.
“Since that day millions have been lost and many people have been conned by the T&Cs in these promotions, but hopefully this will now stop.”