In a rare decision in favour of a gambler, online betting company Sportsbet has been ordered to give a full refund to a man who “self-excluded” from gambling but was allowed to open a new account, betting almost $150,000.

The man attempted to open an account with Sportsbet a few months after self-excluding, and the company failed to cross-match his details and allowed him to do so.

In a decision handed down last week by the Northern Territory Racing Commission, “On the evidence before it, the Commission is satisfied that Sportsbet did not have at the time appropriate self-exclusion facilities and procedures in place to allow persons to self-exclude,” the Commission’s determination said.

Sportsbet had therefore “failed to comply” with the conditions of its licence and given the bets were not lawful, the Commission has formed the view that it is appropriate for Sportsbet to refund the complainants’ “losses”.

The Commission acknowledged that the man had not been a previous Sportsbet customer and the fault was in the company’s systems, which then failed to identify him on the self-exclusion database.

Taking into account money withdrawn from the account by Mr XXXX, the judgement means he is to be repaid $93,082.04.

“I just wanted to make them accountable because this had a very, very bad impact on me and my family,” he said.

“I did gamble for some significant period of time. I lost a hugely significant amount of money and that has had a financial impact and on my mental health. I [had] depression for three years.

Advocate Lauren Levin from Financial Counselling Australia supported the case through the process and says a finding in favour of the gambler is very rare, but a refund is not enough.

“He’s got a chance to get his life back on track because he’s getting a full refund,” Ms Levin said.

“But from the perspective of regulation, it doesn’t go far enough. There’s no fine, there’s no deterrent effect being sent to the industry.”

Federal self-exclusion scheme a ways off completion

The Federal Government has been working on a national self-exclusion system for five years but, although legislation was passed last year to make it happen, it appears it won’t be up and running for at least another 12 months.

Ms Levin says this makes it too complicated for people to self-exclude and also leads to an unwieldy process — for example, the case involving Mr XXXX took two and a half years to come to a conclusion.

“The gambling industry has said that it wants to be seen as a responsible industry, and they’ve come out in support of the self-exclusion,” she said.

In a statement, Sportsbet said it “accepts the Commission’s findings and will promptly refund the customer”.

“Although this is a rare case, we have proactively evolved our internal procedures since the case was first identified a number of years ago. Non-customers are now able to self-exclude from the platform,” the statement read.

Sportsbet will continue to work closely with government and industry to design and implement the National Self-Exclusion Register in 2021 to ensure that those experiencing gambling harm can simply exclude themselves from all licensed services and platforms.”