Bingo websites are being taken down in the UK and Australia, as regulators in the US and the UK have begun investigating whether they pose a risk to the health of visitors.
The US Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday it had received a warning from the US Department of Health and Human Services that sites for gambling, including online bingo, were at risk of “excessive and unnecessary risk of harm to consumers.”
The FTC said it had also contacted the US Attorney General and the US attorney for the District of Columbia to investigate the sites.
“We are concerned that these sites may encourage consumers to gamble without properly assessing the risks they may face and are investigating to determine whether there is a potential violation of the anti-trust laws,” the FTC said in a statement.
The UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said in an emailed statement that it had taken action against the bingo site BetFair, which had “violated our Code of Practice for Bingo Sites and is under investigation by the relevant authorities”.
“This site has no relation to the UK’s Bingo Board and is not subject to any UK law, so we are working with the DCMS to ensure it is removed,” DCMS said.
In a statement to the BBC, DCMS’s chief executive, Mark Williams, said: “The UK Bingo and Online Bingo industry is in crisis, with bingo and bingo-themed sites increasingly popular with kids and families and with people who gamble to an extent that is unacceptable.”
The UK government’s decision to close down these sites is not only an unnecessary and cruel measure that will have a chilling effect on the industry, it will further damage the image of our game.
“BetFair, owned by US firm Gamblers Anonymous, declined to comment on the developments.
But US regulators have taken a tougher line than the UK, and have been investigating sites for gaming in recent years.
The US Department Of Health and the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) issued a warning in February to the DCMA saying that sites that allowed “risk of harm” to consumers posed a “significant risk” to public health.”
Such sites may invite gambling without appropriate risk-assessment and oversight, and thereby pose a significant health risk,” the US FTC said.
Bingo sites have been shut down in Australia and the United States in recent months following complaints that some were encouraging people to gamble on them.
In June, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was investigating a bingo website in Australia, which offered a “bogus” chance to win “up to $10,000 in the most profitable jackpot”.
The site, called “jackpot,” was hosted on an online poker site, and encouraged people to play a game where they could win “potentially millions of dollars”.
The site was shut down after the Federal Government announced it would not fund the game, but the site has since been re-hosted.
In an emailed response to a request for comment, BetFair said: “[Bingo] is not run by a US gambling corporation or any other US company.
“This site is hosted by a UK company and we do not own the IP.”
A spokesperson for DCMS declined to provide details about the investigation, but said the site had been closed in response to an inquiry from the agency.
In August, US officials announced that they had launched a separate investigation into BetFair and other online bikie sites, which they claimed were promoting “risky behaviour”.
In a letter to BetFair’s owner, the US government said it would investigate “all forms of gambling sites” and warned that it would “seek to shut down” them if they continued to “injure consumers”.
In November, a UK court ordered BetFair to pay more than $1 million in damages for allegedly encouraging people “to gamble on” the company.
The company, which has denied the allegations, said it “regrets the court’s finding and is taking the necessary steps to comply with the court order”.
The UK has since introduced a “three strikes” law for those found guilty of “advocating, facilitating or encouraging gambling” and the British government has since set up a task force to monitor online bongo sites.