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What Happened to Auto-Play and Bonus-Buy Slots?

autoplayThe online gaming world has had a number of different types of games for players to get involved in. And slot games stand out as being one of the most popular with gamers, even to this day. And these games also come with different features incorporated into them that appeal to different types of casino players. And whether this relates to a free spins round or a particular method of placing bets, there is likely something for everyone in these games.

One feature that did start appearing in slot machines at a certain point was the possibility of using an autoplay function. And another mechanic was the bonus buy button. Both of these were being utilised more and more by slot software developers, giving players alternative options for wagering in the games. But now they have disappeared from the games. Why is this the case? What exactly were these functions and why is it that the UK market no longer has access to them? Join us as we take a look at the case of the disappearing bonus buy and autoplay features of slot games.

What Were Autoplay and Bonus Buy?

autoplayAutoplay and bonus buy features were incorporated into various online slots over a period of years. Each one had a different function to allow you to enjoy a game to different degrees, depending upon what type of gamer you are.

When it comes to autoplay, this function came about the earliest of the two. Everyone who has played slots before will know that you need to select a specific wager and then hit the slot’s spin button to set the reels off and then wait for a result to show. Well, with autoplay, the need to keep hitting the spin button after every round is eliminated. Instead, you set a wager and then through the use of autoplay, the reels will spin consistently. You set certain parameters for the game to adhere to, such as the number of autoplay spins at that bet level you want it to make. Other options include having the reels spin until a special feature is hit or until a certain amount has been won or lost. Essentially, you leave the game to do its thing until you have reached one of those parameters.

The bonus buy function was something altogether different. As many slot gamers will know, games of this nature often come with inclusive special features for you to try and trigger during gameplay. These can come in various forms, including free spins, bonus rounds, pick me perks and so on. Of course, you need to wait until you spin a specific set of symbols into view or trigger the bonus round in some other way. With the bonus buy function, you don’t need to wait until that time. Instead, through using this feature, you can pay a specific price and have it hit straight away. The cost for this is usually quite a high multiplier of your base stake, but it does guarantee that the special bonus round will become active after paying it.

Doubtless, both of these features were used by some gamers whenever they were made available. For some, the autoplay function serves as a much more useful tool so that they don’t have to keep continuously pressing the spin button at the start of every round. And the bonus buy allows you to experience something other than the base game of a slot without waiting for it to potentially trigger naturally.

Why Were These Features Removed From UK Titles?

bannedDespite the fact that people did utilise the two features, they were removed from the UK market by the Gambling Commission. The removal of the bonus buy function was the first to suffer from this decision made by the regulatory body. Online casino operator providing slot games with this feature were informed that they would need to have it removed from the UK market by 2019 and proceeding forward.

The White Rabbit slot from Big Time Gaming was released in 2017, and this is thought to be one of the first games to incorporate a bonus buy function. The decision by the Gambling Commission of the UK to remove such mechanics from being used came about just a couple of years later, in this respect. This was done so that slot machines would meet the technical standards as set out in the Remove Gambling & Software Technical Standard section 14A, which states:

“Gambling products must not actively encourage customers to chase their losses, increase their stake or increase the amount they have decided to gamble, or continue to gamble after they have indicated that they wish to stop”.

Judging by these words, it is visible to see that when a customer is asked to pay a multiple of their base stake to be able to unlock a special bonus round, it is encouraging them to increase that stake. And some slot games with a bonus buy feature will request 50x, 75x, 100x and more for this supposed privilege. Therefore, it is clear that the inclusion of a bonus buy function went against the rules written in the UK’s legislation for gambling games.

As noted, the rules implemented by the Commission needed to be followed before 2019 rolled around. From that time onwards, no online casino was allowed to offer slot machines with bonus buy functions involved in them. Unfortunately, some companies didn’t heed the advice from the UK regulatory body, resulting in the Commission issuing a reminder to them. The reminder said that six casino operators had continued offering bonus buy slots to their players, with one game charging more than £3,000 to gamers to enter into its bonus round.

It was also within that reminder from the Commission that rule 3A was highlighted:

“An explanation of the applicable rules must be easily available to the customer before they commit to gamble. The content including artwork and text must be accurate, and sufficient to explain all of the applicable rules and how to participate. All reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that the content is understandable”.

Due to this, the UKGC determined that the bonus buy function broke both rules 3A and 14A, and the six operators continuing to offer such slot games were contacted directly. This led to them being officially removed from their lobbies facing UK customers.

What About the Autoplay Function?

videoslots ruffled upIt was in February of 2021 that it was determined the autoplay function should no longer be made available for UK players to use. This came about at the same time as the ban on spins being able to occur faster than every 2.5 seconds in slot games. And because that was a bigger headline-grabbing change, many people missed the fact that the autoplay function had also been removed alongside. The ban was confirmed in February, although operators were given until November of 2021 to remove the autoplay function from games being offered to UK players. For this reason, many gamblers probably forgot that it was going to be removed until it was taken away from them.

The Gambling Commission had been targeted various times for its lack of movement on gambling risk, and this led to it undertaking research into casinos, sportsbooks, games and so on. Through this research, it aimed to ensure that all rules and regulations in place were being adhered to in the UK gambling scene through and through. Some of the research done led the Commission to believe that the autoplay function being used in slot games was a possible contributing factor to gambling related harm in the country. And that function was used most of the time in online slots, so it was decided that it should be removed as another way of protecting UK players.

Yet despite the regulatory body taking the decision to ban autoplay in slots, the majority of people who responded to that were against it taking place. Just 29% of people who answered a poll on the removal of autoplay agreed that it was a good idea. Of course, online casino operators who are responsible for the slots within their lobbies, were against the idea as well, quite unsurprisingly. Only 18% of operators were in favour of autoplay being banned. Disagreements actually came from various other organisations and individuals alongside.

Some of the operators even challenged the Commission on the evidence that they had used to reach the decision on banning autoplay. Questions were raised over the supposed correlation between autoplay and gambling addiction issues. One operator noted that the Commission had placed too much of a focus on the survey results provided by GamCare rather than research done by the Remote Gambling Associated. The latter of these displayed that there was no link between autoplay and gambling harm.

The Gambling Commission said that one of the largest concerns over autoplay was that it asked players to set their own limits and determine how much should be lost or won or how many spins should occur before autoplay ends. Usually, games would have a maximum of 100 spins that could occur through autoplay. Yet by removing those tools, operators were concerned that other greater risks would arise. For example, some players may end up playing slots for a longer time period than they would have if they were using autoplay.

This led to the regulatory body proceeding with some additional research to obtain a better picture. Through that research, it was determined that many players who had utilised autoplay had ended up playing the game faster than they had originally intended. Just below half of respondents said that using autoplay ended up seeing them spend more money than they wanted to, too. Just 33 people responded to that survey provided through the GamCare forum, but a figure of 60% determined that the autoplay function had contributed to them experiencing gambling related harm. And 15% of them determined that the function was the main cause for this in their case.

Other Changes That Came About

time clock hour glassAs well as the autoplay function being banned in February of 2021, certain other changes were introduced to the gambling world in the UK. As noted, slots were not able to spin faster than 2.5 seconds per round, which the Commission determined would stop people from spending money quite as quickly on them. At the same time, turbo or quickspin functions were targeted. Some slots had these functions built into them, which allowed players to manually speed up the reels of a slot, providing almost instant results with a click of the spin button.

The other change that was brought about at this time was that gameplay sounds and imagery included in slots and other games, which provide the illusion of a win when the return is only equal to or below the in-play stake, should be removed.

Not only that, but all operators were required to ensure that players could see their total losses and/or wins as well as the time they have spent playing games during an online session. At the same time, it was determined that reverse withdrawals should be removed from UK casinos. That function allowed players to request a withdrawal of funds, which was then held for 48 hours or so. Within that time period, customers were able to cancel the withdrawal, known as a reversal of such. The Commission removed the possibility of that with the changes, because while their original idea was to withdraw their money, within the 48-hour period, they could decide against that and end up gambling with it instead.

“To make online games safer we are introducing a ban on features that speed up play or give the illusion of control over the outcome”,

said Neil McArthur, who was the CEO of the Gambling Commission at the time. Just one month after those changes were announced to the gaming world, he resigned from his position as the head of the regulatory body, leaving it without a CEO. This led to deputy chief executive, Sarah Gardner taking over alongside chief operating officer, Sally Jones.

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