When the Gambling Act first came into force fifteen years ago, many online casinos were in their infancy and a far cry from multi-billion-pound industry they are today.
Their rapid growth combined with the advancement of technology means that everyone now has instant access to gambling sites in the palm of their hands, resulting in the Government calling the Gambling Act ‘an analogue law in a digital age’. The Gambling Act must now reflect how the industry has changed, so what does this mean for online casinos?
Significant changes already made
The gambling industry in the UK is regulated by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC). In the last few years, the UKGC have already brought in much tighter measures, focussing on better protecting players from gambling related harm. There have been numerous stories in the media of problem gamblers getting into serious debt or stealing to fund their habit and sadly in some cases, taking their lives as a result of their gambling addiction. As a result, significant terms and conditions must be displayed, credit cards payments are no longer allowed, imagery that could be appealing to children has been banned and all UK licensed online casinos must be part of the Gamstop scheme.
Overhaul of VIP schemes and loyalty points
One area of focus will be on player affordability checks; ensuring that players are only spending what they can afford to lose, and that money is classed as disposable leisure income. Online casinos will have to look for any evidence of irresponsible gambling and assess whether that player is at risk of gambling related harm. This will clearly have an impact on the way VIP schemes are run and therefore, before any player can be given VIP status, online casinos must carry out these thorough checks and players will have to provide proof of their income, occupation and identity.
The UKGC are also placing a greater responsibility on gambling operators’ accountability towards individual players. Part of this includes appointing ‘Senior Executives’ with ‘Personal Management Licenses’ who will be responsible for carrying out these additional checks and therefore personally accountable. VIP schemes may also be banned for under 25s and should operators fail to adhere to the tighter measures, these schemes could be stopped altogether.
Although Loyalty schemes are not mutually exclusive to VIP schemes, many share the same attributes and as a result, may be made to be more transparent or banned altogether. Many operators are already removing their loyalty point scheme in a bid to further protect players.
Stake Limits and Speed of Play
With no mandatory cap on the amount players can stake or the speed at which they can play, new measures could see tighter restrictions in these areas in an attempt to reduce irresponsible gambling. While fixed odds betting terminals have already been limited to £2 each stake, if this were to be introduced in online casinos, this would have a huge impact on revenue, so although a maximum limit is likely to be introduced, it is thought it will be more than £2.
The speed at which players can choose to play has also come under scrutiny; slot games in particular being under the microscope. Some slots can ‘spin’ automatically every few seconds, meaning the pace of spending is extremely quick, even if players are wagering low amounts. In order to reduce this risk, a 30 second break between spins could be introduced.
Impact on online casinos
The UK gambling industry contributes over £300million each year in tax and clearly, any new regulations brought in need to be fair to operators as well as protective of vulnerable players. Rushed legislation could result in more offshore online casinos springing up to poach UK players or UK companies taking their business outside the UK for tax saving purposes, so getting the balance right is imperative. The Government will be working alongside the Betting and Gaming Council and other regulatory bodies in order to fine tune that balance. Delays due to Covid now mean the release of the new Gambling Act has been pushed back until 2021.