A major bookmaker ‘groomed’ gambling addicts by bombarding them with personal messages and showering them with cash bonuses, secret documents reveal.
Betway – which sponsors West Ham FC, the Grand National and Test cricket – ruthlessly targeted its ‘top losers’ to lure them into betting millions of pounds they could not afford to lose.
Personal ‘VIP managers’ befriended addicts and engaged in chatty conversation via emails and messages. The emails reveal how they poured ‘bonus’ money into their accounts – even if the gamblers were openly admitting they were losing money.
Ben Jones (pictured with his wife Rebecca), has been jailed for stealing £370,000 from his employer to fund his habit
Bonuses were paid on players’ birthdays and hours in advance of one-off promotions. The firm also treated high-rollers to all-expenses-paid trips to sporting events including the Champions League, FA Cup, Cheltenham races, and incentives to bet included possible trips to Las Vegas.
The astonishing details of how betting firms lure in clients and keep them hooked are exposed in secret documents obtained by the Daily Mail that reveal the unvarnished truth about controversial VIP betting schemes. Two men who were addicted to gambling used ‘subject access request’ data protection laws to obtain details of their dealings with Betway.
One, Ben Jones, has been jailed for stealing £370,000 from his employer to fund his habit. Last night, Betway admitted paying compensation to the company after Jones was jailed for three years in November – a tacit admission that the gambling giant’s dealings with Jones contributed to his criminality.
The secret emails showed how Betway ‘VIP Manager’ Simon Kent offered cash bonuses to Jones even after he admitted he was on the ‘worst losing streak I’ve ever had’
The secret emails also showed how Betway VIP manager Simon Kent offered cash bonuses to Jones even after he admitted he was on the ‘worst losing streak I’ve ever had’.
In another email, Jones tells Mr Kent he was ‘giving up’ on gambling after suffering too many losses. In response, Mr Kent merely says he will ‘have a look at your account and get some bonus added after a break’.
The disturbing revelations come after the Mail exposed how FA Cup games were being streamed live on betting websites to fans who opened an account. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has backed demands for betting firms to immediately end ‘shameful’ incentives that lure punters into a ‘vicious cycle’.
Last Wednesday, NHS mental health chief Claire Murdoch wrote to all major gambling companies saying the health service should no longer be expected to ‘put out the fires’ they start.
Betway turns over £282 million a year and is based in the offshore tax haven of Malta. Incredibly, its owner is unknown and it operates behind a shadowy web of off-shore companies.
Its tactics are revealed in thousands of pages of documents detailing all the bets, financial transactions and emails from the two men’s accounts.
In the case of Jones, 30, from Nottingham, Betway staff failed to spot that he was using up to £30,000 a month of money stolen from his employer. Staff handed him £39,000 in bonuses between September 2016 and November 2018 to entice the former public schoolboy to keep betting.
The married father-of-two was finally caught by his boss in 2018 and was jailed for three years for the £370,000 fraud at Nottingham Crown Court.
In a second case, documents show that a father from the north-west of England was handed £865,000 in cash bonuses between October 2015 and December 2017 to keep him betting. He claims he was gambling using family money that was not his to spend.
Betway did send ‘responsible gambling’ emails which laid out ways punters could seek to control their betting and both men lied to the firm about their habits. But these messages were outweighed by far by the number of messages encouraging them to bet.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling harm, said: ‘It is outrageous that Betway is offering huge inducements to people to gamble when they clearly are in no position to do so. The Gambling Commission must look into this.’ The Gambling Commission declined to comment on Jones’s case.
Betway said: ‘As a responsible licensed operator we take these allegations extremely seriously.
‘In the case of Ben Jones, who was jailed for stealing funds from his former employer, we have already reached a settlement agreement with the victim of his crime to compensate them for their loss. Betway would never seek, nor does it wish, to profit from any illicit and misappropriated funds wagered on its site.’
‘Betting giant let my husband gamble his way to prison’: How chatty emails, banter and cash gifts from a Betway ‘VIP manager’ led addicted father-of-two, 30, to stake £1m as he stole from his employer before being jailed for three years
The email Ben Jones received at 8.40am on September 2, 2016, was friendly. ‘Hi Ben, my name is Simon and I would like to introduce myself as your personal host from now on… Can I ask if you follow any sports or teams in particular?’
Simon Kent, ‘VIP Manager’ at gambling giant Betway, had every reason to sound chummy. He was inviting married father-of-two Jones, 30, to join an exclusive but perilous club: Betway’s biggest losers, where high-spending gamblers are plied with free sports tickets, ‘bonus’ money and ‘special gifts’ to keep them hooked.
The cynical email – just one of many tactics deployed by the online betting giant to entice gamblers – went on: ‘I’m writing to let you know that you have achieved VIP status with us here at Betway… you are entitled to these exclusive benefits: Your own VIP Executive Host… special gifts tailored to your own personal interests and tastes, exclusive VIP events and tickets… I can arrange to take you to some events in the near future!’
Online betting giant Betway sponsors the Grand National (pictured). VIP manager Simon Kent invited married father-of-two Jones, 30, to join an exclusive but perilous club: Betway’s biggest losers
It sounded too good to be true. And for Jones, it was. Within a week, the first £300 cash bonus had landed in his account to encourage him to bet – a sizeable sum for a cake wholesaler earning £35,000 a year.
By May the following year, Betway was pouring up to £1,000 a week into Jones’s account, a flood of free money that peaked at £3,000-a-go in November 2017, even as the former public schoolboy complained to the company of his ‘worst losing streak ever’.
What Betway did not know was that when Jones signed up, he was already a problem gambler, who claims his habit can be traced back to a 2p horse racing game he played in a seaside arcade on a family holiday to Bridlington, in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
Over the two years that followed his elevation to a Betway ‘VIP’ gambler, Jones bet an astonishing £1.1 million and lost about £280,000. Amid a dizzying deluge of bonuses, free tickets and ‘matey’ exchanges with VIP manager Mr Kent, he used savings, payday loans and credit cards to feed his habit.
And when the funds ran dry, he stole hundreds of thousands from his employer to keep betting.
His sophisticated fraud started in May 2015, with the theft of £5,000 a month from his employer, Britain’s biggest cake decorator. But as his gambling addiction deepened, he stole £30,000 a month to fund his Betway account.
Betway also sponsors England test matches (pictured). While Jones is undeniably guilty of a crime, it is equally undeniable that the encouragements he received outweighed the checks on responsible gambling.
In November last year, Jones was finally jailed for three years for the theft, after the court heard he was in the grip of an addiction so severe it was categorised as a ‘psychiatric disorder’.
Now, for the first time, the Mail can reveal the troubling truth about how Betway enabled his habit.
A slew of documents reveals in chilling detail how the offshore betting giant, which turned over £282 million last year and sponsors West Ham FC, the Grand National and the England cricket team’s current series in South Africa, even handed Jones a £300 bonus to keep betting after he had ‘self-excluded’ himself via a national anti-addiction scheme, Gamstop, to try to get a grip on his habit.
The distressing details are revealed thanks to a ‘subject access request’, made by Jones with the support of his wife Rebecca as they try to piece together what went wrong with his life.
His entire betting history with Betway, hundreds of chatty messages sent by ‘VIP host’ Mr Kent and the failure of Betway to spot red flags in his bank account are all revealed under Freedom of Information laws that require a company to send information they hold on an individual if requested.
Now forced to live with her father in Nottingham, Mrs Jones, a 29-year-old midwife who is caring for the couple’s two daughters, aged eight and one, told the Mail: ‘Betway fed his addiction with these awful VIP schemes. I have a duty of care in my own job – how can Betway’s bosses sleep at night knowing what they have done?’
Jones was educated at £13,000-a-year Queen Ethelburga’s College in York. From there the straight-A student studied psychology at Bangor University, but stayed in his room for hours at a time to bet on roulette. By age 21, he had a gambling problem.
He left university and eventually joined Cake Decorating Co as a wholesaler. Throughout this period – and in secret from new wife Rebecca – he gambled relatively small amounts. In August 2016, he opened an account with Betway to bet on cricket and football.
Just a month later he received Mr Kent’s congratulatory email inviting him to become a VIP. The following month, Jones received an email from Mr Kent to mark his 27th birthday: ‘Hi Ben, Happy Birthday from me and everyone else at Betway! Do you have much planned to celebrate? I’ve added a bonus to your account as a gift from me.’ And £500 landed in his account.
And so it continued, with Mr Kent regularly contacting Jones with banter about his favourite sport or to ask what he and his family were up to. ‘Hi Ben, I hope you had a good weekend? Don’t fancy England at all today, think it could be over by tea! Just wanted to see if you were about on September 2nd as we potentially have some hospitality for the T20 finals day at Edgbaston if you fancy it?,’ Mr Kent wrote in July 2017.
Jones did not attend the event, but the persistent ‘VIP’ attention being lavished on him was clearly worth it for Betway – he deposited £14,000 in one day alone that month, more than a third of his annual salary.
On July 24, he deposited £9,850 after logging on to play at 8.40 in the morning. In increasingly personal conversations, Mr Kent would update Jones on his own life, saying in one message he was ‘fighting with the jet lag’ after a holiday in Canada.
By May 2018, Jones was showing signs of financial strain. ‘Do you have a magic wand with you to help predict any of the results,’ he asked in a message in January 2018. ‘Literally everything I touch loses at the moment. Worst losing streak I’ve had probably ever.’
Mr Kent replied: ‘I wish I did. If you want to take a break I can action that. But maybe try a bit of cricket or something. There’s plenty of that going on. I’ve added a bit of bonus on for you, hopefully will bring you some luck!’
Betway did send Jones an automated email with ‘bet the responsible way’ in the subject line on at least six occasions, and in one case followed this up with a phone call, his betting record shows.
‘Hi Ben, enjoying our site?’ The emails read. ‘We always say that gambling should be fun. And one way to make sure it stays that way is to never spend more money than you can afford to lose.’
But the emails – such as they were – had no impact.
Jones continued to lose money at a rate of up to £30,000 a month until July 2018, when his rugby club caught him stealing.
As a result, his wife and father learnt about his addiction. Jones drove to B&Q with a plan to buy materials to end his life. Convinced not to by his wife, he finally sought help from Gamblers Anonymous.
He formally excluded himself from all betting websites including Betway on July 21, 2018, using the national Gamstop service designed to help addicts block themselves.
Yet, astonishingly, on August 8 he was handed another £300 cash bonus. Betway even continued to text him with offers of free bets: ‘Your latest £5 free bet is ready @Betway. Use it before midday on Monday,’ read one message received at 8.05am on August 11.
Records show the bonuses soon started up again, with deposits of ‘goodwill’ of £250 on October 15, £500 two days later and another £500 two days after that. Jones’s betting became so frenzied that on October 25, 2018, it ‘triggered’ an internal warning, and this time VIP manager Mr Kent sent a blunt email asking for Jones’s P60 and an estimate net worth of his business in 2018, as confirmation that his high-rolling client had enough money to fund his losses.
In contrast to his earlier matey ‘banter’ about freebies, Mr Kent wrote: ‘Your account has again hit the threshold for further checks to clarify the source of funds. I know we did something similar last year but the amounts spent have re-triggered this.’
In reply, Jones insisted: ‘My situation is the same as last year, I am self-employed and most of the funds for Betway come straight out of my PayPal account.’ He included a statement but said ‘they wouldn’t show too much’ as he did ‘less work over this period’. This was enough for Mr Kent, who wrote back the next day: ‘We’re all good to go.’
Later that evening [October 26, 2018], Jones received an email – this time from ‘The Betway Responsible Gambling Team’ – asking for a phone call.
The internal emails then show the addict simply reassured the team in an email three days later: ‘I have no issues or concerns with my gambling. I recently took a couple of months off due to work commitments.’
The same day he received a note confirming they were happy to let him back in and encouraging him to ‘enjoy his time at Betway UK’.
Sadly, Jones did. He bet so fast and furiously that in November he was given a £700 and an £800 bonus. At the same time, he was carrying out an extraordinary fraud against his employer, the Cake Decorating Co, which involved taking orders from customers and giving them his own bank details for payment.
Jones was found out when he forgot to change one order, and a customer who had not received their goods complained.
Betway told the Mail it had since reimbursed the Cake Decorating Co, but that is small comfort to Mrs Jones. Surveying the avalanche of betting records, ‘matey’ messages and inducements for her husband to bet in a 1,700-page file on the family computer, she told the Mail: ‘[Betway] should hang their heads in shame.
‘They said it wasn’t their responsibility to know if Ben had a problem. It’s completely unethical and immoral. They can’t just prey on the vulnerable.
‘If things turned out differently, I could have lost my husband and the kids could have lost their dad.’
While Jones is undeniably guilty of a crime, it is equally undeniable that the encouragements he received outweighed the checks on responsible gambling.
And set against the hundreds of thousands of pounds that Jones begged, borrowed and stole to deposit in Betway’s coffers, who can be surprised?
Brady faces fury over praise for ‘immoral firm’
By Business Correspondent
Baroness Brady sang Betway’s praises after it agreed to pay her football club another £60million in sponsorship.
The Apprentice star is vice-chairman of West Ham United, which signed a new, £10million-a-year deal with Betway last summer – the seventh-biggest sponsorship deal in the country.
The partnership means pitchside hoardings at West Ham’s home ground – London’s Olympic stadium – are covered in Betway branding. The logo is also emblazoned across players’ kits.
The firm’s first deal with West Ham was signed in 2015 – and the new agreement means the club will be sponsored by the betting giant for a decade. This is despite the fact that in 2017 the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) – which runs the Olympic Park – refused to consider gambling companies when seeking a sponsor for stadium naming rights.
Awkward questions: West Ham vice-chairman Baroness Brady sang Betway’s praises after it agreed to pay her football club another £60million in sponsorship
Upon agreeing the new six-year deal last summer, West Ham described Betway as a ‘respected and responsible’ sponsor. Baroness Brady – who was paid £1.3million by the club last year –said: ‘We are delighted to once again extend our partnership with Betway… this is a new, long-term, record-breaking commercial deal for the club, which shows the faith that Betway has in West Ham United… we look forward to continuing to work with Betway as we embark on the next chapter for our great club, and we will use this partnership as a platform for success.’
Adam Bradford, who runs the Safer Online Gambling Group, said last night: ‘She of all people, a member of the House of Lords, has a public duty to act in the interest of the people. Someone needs to ask serious questions of her.’
James Grimes of the Big Step Project, which highlights the dangers of gambling’s links with football, said: ‘The immoral and unethical practices highlighted by the Daily Mail show Betway is not fit to be on the shirts of a prestigious club such as West Ham. I would urge Karren Brady to end this deal immediately to protect gambling addicts.’
Some 27 of England’s top 44 professional football teams carry a bookmakers’ logo on their shirts. The industry agreed a ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban on TV advertising during live sport last year – but this does not cover players’ shirts or the stadiums themselves.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the LLDC said Betway’s sponsorship deal was with West Ham, and not the stadium itself. Baroness Brady and West Ham United declined to comment.