It was announced towards the end of 2020 that the UK government had the intention of reviewing the Gambling Act 2005, so as to cater to a much more modern age. This had been in the planning stages for some time, with various people, groups and organisations calling for an overhaul of the UK’s gambling scene. The Gambling Act was introduced in April of 2005 by Tony Blair’s Labour government, and it had three objectives. These were to prevent gambling becoming a source of crime or disorder, ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and protect children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling.
It was also responsible for regulating online gambling for the very first time in the UK and permitted gambling companies to advertise on television and via radio. Various updates and amendments were introduced to the act in 2014, with one of the changes being a 15% point of consumption tax on gross profits, this was later raised to 21%.
The 2021 review will mark the first time that it has been altered in any significant way since then, and various suggestions and alterations have been passed around. The deadline on the call for evidence to make sure the new version of the act is fit for the digital age was at the end of March 2021. Now, the changes are being discussed in full, with full details of the act expected to come to light towards the end of the year.
What are the possible incoming changes relating to online casino games and slots? And how will these affect the gambling industry and community? Let’s take a closer look at some of the rumoured adjustments being made to the Gambling Act and find out what can potentially be expected from the changes.
Source of Wealth Checks and Limits
One of the principal reasons for adjusting the act so that it fits in with today’s gambling scene is so that responsible gambling becomes more effective in the UK. And one of the most controversial areas that the government needs to focus on is whether people can afford to gamble or not. Affordability checks are already in place, but they do not go as far as they should. While some calls have been for the country to follow in the footsteps of Sweden, where monthly limits are imposed for all players regardless of income, this is possibly not the route the UK will take.
Limitations on the stake that you can place (such as that which was introduced in relation to fixed odds betting terminals in April of 2019) on casino games could possibly be brought forward. Or perhaps the government will proceed with imposing loss limits or the amount that you can deposit at an online casino instead. Who knows, perhaps all three of these limitations could be introduced to the gaming community. And unless a player is able to prove that they can afford to deposit or lose more than the standard amount, they will have to adhere to these restrictions.
Earlier on in September, it was announced that one operator, Paddy Power was going to voluntarily introduce a monthly cap on losses. This limitation, which stands at £500, will only be applicable to anyone under the age of 25, though. Those above this age, or who can prove their ability to lose more without it affecting their daily lives, will be able to proceed with gaming at sites as normal. Flutter, which is the parent company of Paddy Power, has argued that this measure will teach younger gamblers about spending their money sensibly online. Unfortunately, more people in higher age brackets tend to engage in online gambling activities than those under 25, so there is a potential flaw in this decision for Paddy Power.
At the moment, operators are required to carry out source of wealth checks for anyone who takes the decision to deposit more than £2,000. This is done after basic identity checks are completed. The new laws may cap this at £100, which is quite the drop. Anyone wishing to deposit more than this will need to prove that they can afford to do so. Naturally, such changes could prove to be quite the gripe for high rollers, as they can be time consuming, and it requires details of your income and bank balance to proceed.
Where stake limits are concerned, these would be applied to the online slots and table games. Campaigners have suggested that the £2 limit imposed on FOBTs in 2019 would work perfectly for the online world too, although some gamers may find it to be quite disappointing, as it wouldn’t allow for larger wins to take place.
Stake limits being reduced would also mean that rewards like jackpots (especially progressives) would also fall. If a player can place a bet of up to £100 on a game per spin at the moment, then you can imagine how swiftly a progressive jackpot could fill. Should the maximum be reduced to £2 on all slots and casino games, that isn’t going to fill up in such a swift way anymore.
Session & Spin Limits And No More Autoplay
As well as capping the amount that you can deposit, lose and/or stake, there may be mandatory restrictions introduced on the amount of time that you can spend playing the games in the first place. Some have suggested that a player be locked out of playing or have an enforced break imposed on them after 30-60 minutes of game time. Alternatively, you may be required to wait for a longer time period between spinning the reels of an online slot game.
Currently, there is nothing to stop you from burning through your entire balance within minutes by simply placing a bet and hitting the spin button multiple times over. It is also for this reason that discussions over the removal of autoplay functions in slots has also taken place. When using this function, players can set a specific wager up and then decide for multiple spins (often up to 100) to take place at that same stake level. The reels then keep spinning either until the funds run out, the amount of spins is reached or a special feature round hits.
Naturally, this sort of function makes things a lot more convenient as far as playing an online slot is concerned. Especially if you’re intending to play the game for what you consider to be an extended time period. However, you really don’t have as much control over your money when using an autoplay function in that way.
Should such limitations be placed on games and the functions that they can have included in them within the UK, this could lead to a withdrawal of developers from the country. Potentially, they won’t want to customise their releases to cater to one specific market with the removal of the autoplay function and so on. It would simply be easier for them to stop providing their games to the country and pull out. Fewer games being provided to casinos means fewer games for people to play.
And if stake limits, session limits and so on are introduced alongside, then this would potentially have another knock-on effect. Lower bonus offers could become a mainstay at online casinos, because without the extra revenue from slot games like there was before, the operators would not have as much to work with when handing out free bonuses and free spins etc.
Removal of VIP Schemes
An outright ban on the inclusion of VIP schemes at online casinos in the UK is also likely to be introduced via the review. The UK government has made this one of its primary focuses, as it says they can be used to groom players into opening an account or returning from a hiatus. According to a media report released in August of this year, Ministers within the UK have already reached a consensus ban on these schemes, stating that it is a large necessity.
These VIP programs have been targeted as one of the main reasons for the increase in gambling issues. Studies have showed that gambling operators rely quite heavily on those players who are considered VIPs, due to the fact that they deposit and play with more money than those who are not. As it happens, the ban on these VIP programs will serve as the bass for the reform, with former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith stating that such a ban is long overdue.
Changes to the terms of these VIP programs have been looked into by the Gambling Commission before. Options like raising the requirements for people to be classed as VIP players, heightened affordability checks and other adjustments have all been considered. However, nothing in the end has ever materialised in order to rein them in. Such failure to act on the VIP schemes was labelled by Labour MP Carolyn Harris as defining the “close relationship between the industry and the Gambling Commission”. Harris, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm (GRH APPG), has long claimed that the Commission is way too satisfied with the way that the gambling industry in the UK is operated.
Of course, the removal of these schemes is likely to assist in some way where gambling addiction is concerned. With no VIP schemes or marketing surrounding them to send out to potentially vulnerable players, fewer gamers are likely to return to their former casino or sportsbook haunts after getting away from them.
What Will the Changes Mean for the Community?
How will the aforementioned potential changes affect gamers and bettors alike? Well, other than the possible reduction in the top prize amounts that could be won from the sites and the potential for fewer games to be available in the United Kingdom, some players may end up being pushed to use unlicensed gambling sites.
It is common knowledge that some operators provide access to players from the UK, despite not being licensed by the Gambling Commission to do so. These casinos operate overseas, hosting their sites in different countries and allowing registrations from many locations. In doing so, they will get to access platforms that are not restricted by the potential changes to the UK Gambling Act. Therefore, they can deposit, place wagers, lose as much as they like, experience VIP programs and so on, without any hindrance.
The issue with this is that because those sites are not licensed or are licensed by unsatisfactory jurisdictions with minimal regulations, players can end up being scammed. Furthermore, it doesn’t specifically help with the general gambling problem, because if players are utilising underground platforms for their gaming fix, this likely makes things even worse.
If the changes come into effect as stated, then share prices are also likely to drop for any UK exposed brands. And furthermore, lower profits due to the limited frequency of gameplay and restrictions on stakes etc. could also mean less money for sponsorship of sports teams and events etc. Essentially, a knock-on effect would be felt throughout the UK industry. Any changes to the Gambling Act are likely to have an impact across all sectors, from sports betting through to casino gaming, lotteries, bingo and so on.
And when it comes to gamers accessing slots and so on with limited stakes, it may not seem like such a great win when you have wagered £2 and only won £1 as a result, for example. Lower stakes mean lower payouts after all, and with such low betting options, would many players find it as entertaining to engage in?
The government really has a fine line to tread between satisfying the campaigners against the liberal market in the UK and those who are avid gamers already, as well as the operators themselves. A White Paper is expected to be released towards the end of 2021, which will explain how the legislation is to change. And those changes could be introduced as early as spring 2022. What positive or negative impact those adjustments have on the market remains to be seen.