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New bingo sites - what to expect in 2016

More than a year after the big regulatory changes, what should we expect from the world of online bingo in 2016?  Here are some ideas about what might be in store.

  1. More regulatory changes for player protection
  2. Crackdown on advertising
  3. Omni-channel gaming
  4. Linked bingo games
  5. No deposit bonuses - a vanishing breed
  6. More restrictions on free bingo
  7. More restrictions on bonuses
  8. Sneaky withdrawal restrictions
  9. Sliding jackpot games
  10. More incentives to play slots
  11. Continued massive domination of the market by VF/888/Cozy
  12. Boutique networks still on the up
  13. Even more bingo variants
  14. Continued decline of charity bingo

More regulatory changes for player protection

Following the massive shake-up in Autumn 2014 when the regulation of online gambling sites was brought onshore, further changes are slowly being brought in and most of these are to do with responsible gambling.  For instance, from the end of October 2015 UK regulated sites are supposed to provide an automated self-exclusion method (to allow someone to self exclude with immediate effect without having to have a one-on-one interaction with a member of staff).  There is a further provision to be implemented at some stage in the future for an industry wide self exclusion register which would allow someone to self-exclude from all UK regulated gambling sites in one fell swoop, but this is unlikely to be coming for some time due to the IT development work that will be necessary and issues of compliance with data protection laws.  The UKGC have set a target date for this to be implemented by the end of 2017. What IS now available is a national self exclusion scheme for licensed bingo premises (using a photo for identification). Changes have also been made to the rules concerning auto-play, requiring a loss limit to be set by the player before engaging it, and sites also have to offer players the option to receive reality checks - which are messages reminding them how long they have been playing for.

Other provisions are to do with all the individual games having to be tested to UK standards in order to be allowed on UK sites after October 2015 - so if any of your favourite slots have inexplicably vanished that could be why.

Crackdown on advertising

The ASA has been getting stricter with gambling advertising and as well as the posters and TV ads they have previously taken action against, they are now going after Web advertising and that includes advertising on companies' own web sites as well as banner ads elsewhere.  In two 2015 rulings which were upheld they objected to the use of cartoon-like images on a slots site and also to the names of some of the slots including Fluffy Favourites, on the grounds that they could appeal to children.  Another ruling right at the end of 2015 was over the use of a cartoon pirate on a gambling site.  If the ASA were to continue in this vein some very sweeping (and potentially unpopular) changes might have to be made to online bingo sites as well as to slots sites and casinos.

The Gambling Commission is also interested in gambling advertising and has produced its own guidance.  Part of this relates to the way in which bonuses are advertised and in a nutshell, any conditions (such as deposit or wagering requirements) attached to the bonus are supposed to be included as part of the ad itself or at most one click away, so that players do not have the opportunity to claim the bonus without first having been shown exactly what strings are attached.  Some bingo sites have already altered their banners, home pages and promotions pages to comply with this and we can expect the rest to follow sooner rather than later.  A side effect of this could be a hiatus in new sites being launched while bingo sites and networks carry out the work needed to comply with the latest guidelines.

Omni-channel gaming

Omni-channel gaming would allow you to play bingo, slots, casino games and make sporting bets in land based premises or on any device, all with the same account, same wallet and same functionality.  That is some way off in the future (and in fact it is the same distance off in the future and for much the same reasons as the industry wide self-exclusion register) but it is definitely coming; the Coral Connect card, for instance, already allows a Coral Bingo account to be deposited into and withdrawn from at a Coral betting shop, and Mecca Bingo are taking the technology of online bingo into their clubs in the form of the Mecca Max tablet.  Online, at Playtech the rollout of the Virtue Fusion HTML5 platform heralds seamless play across all devices and while it has been a bit slow to catch on with players due to some teething problems, its arrival at Gala Bingo shortly before the end of 2015 should put it well on the path to world domination.

Linked bingo games

We were already used to Virtue Fusion running a £5000 linked game every single day, but linked bingo games went REALLY big in 2015.  Twice during the year almost all of the bingo sites running on the 888 UK Limited licence (usually comprising several different networks and some standalone sites) ran a massively networked bingo game with a huge total prize fund of £200,000. With thousands of players participating and holding up to 96 tickets per player, the chance of any specific ticket winning was very low indeed, but it seems that bingo players appreciate the occasional lottery-like big money game as hundreds of thousands of tickets were sold. Two more of these £200K games have already been announced for February and April 2016 so they look set to become a regular occurrence.

No deposit bonuses - a vanishing breed

No deposit bonuses have slowly been disappearing off the online bingo scene for quite a while now (for instance, none of the Microgaming sites now offer one) but the Cozy bingo sites could be relied upon still to offer them.  While they continue to do so, they can no longer really be considered to be equivalent to real money.  It used to be possible to withdraw up to £30 of winnings from one of these bonuses although it was necessary to make a deposit in order to get them out, but now the rule is that when that first deposit is made, any winnings are confiscated and replaced with a casino cash bonus up to the value of the first deposit capped at £50.

The Mandalay Media sites still offer no deposit bonuses with the possibility of winning real money (although you need to make a deposit to be allowed to participate in most of their promotions and jackpot games, and a larger deposit to be allowed to withdraw) but apart from that there is very little left aside from a few very small no deposit bonuses that are intended to give players the chance to try out a new bingo platform.

More restrictions on free bingo

Prior to the 2014 changes many bingo sites had open access free bingo rooms.  Now, the vast majority of free bingo rooms are restricted in some way with the most common entry requirement being that players have to have made a recent deposit (usually within the last 7 days but in some cases within the last 24 hours).  Alternatively there might be a play requirement - an example of this was seen at Sky Bingo where playing the modest sum of £2.50 gave you access to the free bingo room for the rest of the day.  Free bingo rooms are often used as a reward for reaching higher levels of loyalty schemes and as an incentive for new players.  It is also common now for free bingo rooms to pay out bingo bonus rather than cash.

More restrictions on bonuses

A great many bingo sites have moved away from offering automatic redeposit bonuses.  What appears to be on the up instead is sites sending bonus codes out to selected players either to tempt them to come back and play or to reward loyalty; in a further twist on this the Dragonfish network has been offering redeposit codes with reduced wagering requirements.

Another type of bonus restriction that seems to be on the increase is the imposition of time limits.  At Gala Bingo for instance you have just 7 days to use your welcome bonus before it expires!

Sneaky withdrawal restrictions

Wagering requirements now have to be spelled out following the crackdown on advertising, so instead of unappealing wagering requirements we can expect to see bingo sites introducing other ways to prevent or at least dissuade players from cashing out.  An example of this would be the recent action by 15 Network.  It used to be the case that players could cash out at any time after playing through £30 real cash but now that amount has been quietly upped to £100 and the players still lose all their bonus and loyalty points when they withdraw.  Another example would be the Dragonfish network.  Their wagering requirements are the same as they always were in terms of the number of playthroughs required but what has changed is what happens if you try to withdraw winnings without completing it.  Previously you just lost the rest of the bonus, now you lose your winnings as well.

Sliding jackpot games

We are seeing a fashion for big money games in the sliding jackpot format and expect to see more in 2016.  This may be simply as a result of increased visibility rather than there actually being more of this type of game, because following the crackdown on advertising bingo sites now have to make it immediately obvious to their players when a game has a sliding jackpot (some sites used to gloss over that rather) by advertising the prize as UP TO the headline amount.  Even when presented with full details of how the sliding jackpot works, however, unless they are mathematicians players may not realise how ridiculously unlikely it is that the big headline prize will actually be won by anyone.  For fewer than 40 calls, in a 75 ball game with a hefty 10,000 cards in play, the probability of it being done is on the order of one in a million and as the number of calls goes down below that the probability swiftly becomes vanishingly tiny.  Some sliding jackpot games are free to depositing players and others have a low ticket price that makes the guaranteed prize amount (where the jackpot stops sliding) look worthwhile, but others look considerably less enticing in that light.

More incentives to play slots

We are seeing a definite tendency for bingo sites to try to steer their players towards slots play, the reason for this being that they would like to increase their revenues to pay for the point of consumption tax that was introduced at the end of 2014 and slots play helps with this because it provides something for players to do while waiting for a bingo game to start or even while one is going on and it is also possible for them to spend a lot more, a lot faster, on slots than on bingo.  Adding more slots is also less hassle for the sites than adding more bingo rooms as they do not have to hire an extra chat host.

One way in which bingo sites have been trying to increase slots play is to bring in a better selection of slots. For instance, during 2015 we saw the arrival of Microgaming slots at Cozy and NetEnt slots at Gamesys and we are now seeing IGT slots rolled out to more bingo sites.

Another way in which bingo sites try to increase slots play is by offering slots bonuses and/or free spins as well as or even - like the Wheel of Slots bingo sites - instead of bingo bonuses, but the downside of this is that they almost always have big wagering requirements attached.

Slots promotions not involving bonuses or free spins are also becoming more and more common and these can take several forms such as bonus back on losses, raffle tickets or bingo cards awarded for slots play, or slots tournaments. The majority of slots tournaments, however, are simple competitions to see who can spend the most money, as leaderboard points are awarded on the basis of the amount of money played through and in this type of tournament the prizes frequently pale into insignificance next to the slots spend that is needed to win.

Continued massive domination of the market by VF/888/Cozy

The big three bingo platforms - Virtue Fusion/Playtech, 888/Dragonfish/Cassava and Cozy - look likely to increase their stranglehold on the market in terms of the number of bingo sites using them .  Microgaming and Gamesys still retain a sizeable market share but there have been no new launches on either platform in the last year and none rumoured to be in preparation, and furthermore big brand Sun Bingo and its sister site Fabulous Bingo are leaving Gamesys for Virtue Fusion in Summer 2016.  Although smaller players continued to appear during 2015 with the latest being the Relax Gaming bingo platform at Maria and the Grizzly bingo platform at Spin Genie, the vast majority of new bingo site launches opt for one of the big three platforms that players are already familiar with (though perhaps not so familiar yet in the case of the HTML5 version of the Virtue Fusion platform).

Boutique networks still on the up

These small networks (small compared to the main Virtue Fusion, Dragonfish and Cozy networks anyway) are clearly striking the right balance between number of players, size of prizes, likelihood of winning and community feel and it will be interesting to see how they continue to evolve in 2016.

Even more bingo variants

New bingo variants continue to appear, with the most recent ones being Wizard of Bingo from Cozy and Emmerdale Bingo by Playtech/Virtue Fusion and exclusive to Gala Bingo, although it will be hard for either of these to live up to the huge crowd pleaser Virtue Fusion brought out in 2015 in the form of Rainbow Riches Bingo. Playtech also have the new Cash Cubes bingo variant to be launched across the network in February 2016 and this will be mobile, tablet and HTML5 only,

Continued decline of charity bingo

It has been quite a while since anyone launched a new charity bingo site (the last one was Tickety Boo Games) and some of the existing ones are either donating less than they used to, or being less and less open about how much they donate or even whether they continue to donate at all.  Furthermore, some of the big name sites such as Gala and Foxy who used to run charity events have not done so during 2015.  This is undoubtedly fallout from the Point of Consumption tax which has eaten into the profits of all bingo sites.  While there have been some notable exceptions such as the regular charity games at Mecca Bingo as part of the Rank Cares initiative and the Peter Andre Hearts of Gold event at Wink Bingo which went on for several months, the trend does seem to be downward and we expect this to continue in 2016.