The market is saturated with gambling offers and phoney bonuses that you can never withdraw, because of complex requirements that must be met. Winnings from “free bets” must be re-staked dozens of times to satisfy the terms and conditions of the offer.
Some companies offer “free bonuses” after the introductory “free” bet: another one of many ways that we would dangle carrots in front of our customers’ faces, knowing that more often than not it would lead them to play with real money.
We could never scrap the bonus offers because our partners – people who direct online traffic to casino sign-up pages through linked URLs, often by developing large followings on social media through offering tips – craved them. How else could you encourage someone to gamble without free money? So we set up extensive networks of affiliates to offer free bets to newbies to ensure we had a high turnover of mugs. These people have normal jobs so can’t afford to lose all the time. Therefore, our affiliates, who had to use our inventive, personable slogans, would constantly direct streams of new traffic to our signup page through a portal that promised them up to 30% of the losses of the people they referred.
I worked in a marketing-focused office of a dozen majority-female, all white, under-40 creatives. Despite our relative youth, the atmosphere was sterile. There were terms we were specifically told not to adopt when we were speaking with disgruntled punters on the platform. Don’t be indifferent or half-hearted, read the manual, don’t be superior or sanctimonious. But we rarely spoke about our customers among ourselves. The relationship we had with them was purely transactional and only occasionally would my colleagues remark upon their extortion in matter of fact terms.
Slogans and marketing material were created praising punters for their conviction, rebellion, confidence, precision and innovation. Exhibit any of these attributes in the workplace (besides brainstorming innovative new ways to swindle our clientele) and the cutthroat undercurrent that circled the office would rise to the surface.
Like many others, I was sacked as part of a company restructuring. I was paid off with full holiday pay. The company worked everyone at a high-octane pace and woe betide anyone who let their foot off the pedal.
I enjoyed the work at first, but my feelings of optimism soon subsided as both the pressure and the nature of the role hit home. Days would succumb to evenings consisting of endless market research into how to convert clicks into signups. The company pushed you to do more than you were capable of. I’d always have too much on my plate. It didn’t feel healthy.
Anxiety and stress is commonplace in the industry. When I explained to my superiors that it was getting too much and my depression was relapsing, I was told: “What are you getting depressed about?! You’re too young.”
I began to long for a more rewarding job, one that didn’t involve creating more poverty. My depression led to self-loathing, even though my fiance assured me that gamblers had a free choice to do as they pleased. As I watched my colleagues catapult targeted ad after targeted ad to gamblers who hadn’t tried their luck for a while, I began to realise it wasn’t that simple.
No one ever voiced their discontent. We were all fairly well paid and we enjoyed weekly perks of boozy lunches and team building activities, and who’d blame us? We worked hard. We could not comprehend how anyone in their right mind would not realise they were being exploited. Well, we’d never use such obvious terminology in the office, but none of us gambled. You don’t have gamblers working for a betting company. The irony of taking the moral high ground about not gambling was lost on my colleagues. For them, it was just a job: it paid the bills, the mortgage, and put food on the table. We were estranged from the real world, in our own hyper-individualistic society, and our work did no good. We at least knew that.
I now work in a job where I help people and I’m glad to have left that wretched industry behind. As the responsible gambling campaign has it: when the fun stops, stop. I managed to walk away but, unfortunately, some of those I lured into staking their savings did not.
• This article was amended on 9 October 2017 to clarify a reference to the regulation of the industry, to correct a reference from “online casinos” to “online gambling firms” and to remove an incorrect reference to a statutory requirement to a bookmaker offering a bet.