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2016 – the year in bingo

Back at the end of 2015, we published a list of our ideas about what might be in store for the world of online bingo during 2016.  Here’s how those predictions actually panned out!

  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

WE SAID: 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.

DID IT HAPPEN? Yes, bingo sites are now required to offer deposit limits, cool-off periods and reality checks and self-exclusion must be possible without talking to a person.  A universal self-exclusion scheme (i.e. self-exclude from one online gambling site and you automatically self-exclude from them all) is still in the pipeline but who knows when it will be ready.

Crackdown on advertising

WE SAID: 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.

DID IT HAPPEN? Yes and no.  The crackdown on Web advertising did continue and a crackdown on tweets and texts also continued, but focusing mainly on the promotion of bonuses and free bets.  One of the slots sites that previously got in trouble over the use of a cartoon animal in TV advertising changed its design to feature a real person instead, but apart from that it all seems to have gone quiet on that front and indeed the majority of bingo site launches still use cartoon-like images.  Nor has there been any discernible slowdown in the rate at which new bingo sites are launched.

Omni-channel gaming

WE SAID:  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.

DID IT HAPPEN?  Nothing much happened regarding universal payment systems (unless you count the availability at some bingo sites of the Boku mobile phone billing option).  Seamless play across all devices took several steps forwards, largely driven by Playtech; many of the big Virtue Fusion bingo sites moved to HTML5, the network Cash Cubes bingo variant and several exclusive bingo variants came out for HTML5 only and Sun Bingo, one of the biggest bingo sites in the UK, deserted Gamesys and its lacklustre mobile offering for Playtech.  The advance of online bingo technology into clubs took a big leap forward at Gala’s new Antelope Park venue in Southampton; this offers both paper and electronic play in either the traditional bingo club part of the venue or the more relaxed bingo pub part of the venue (or the heated bingo garden, where smoking is allowed).  Playtech also advanced further into the omni-channel world via its purchase of ECM Systems in October 2016; ECM supply bingo software and hardware to bingo halls.

Linked bingo games

WE SAID:  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.

DID IT HAPPEN?  It certainly did! 888 didn’t run another one of these games after April, but instead they tried running a massively linked bingo room every evening in August and it was such a success that it continued, offering a £1000 linked game at the start of each session.  Not to be outdone, Virtue Fusion scheduled the mother and father of all linked bingo games ever for 30th December 2016, with a massive million pounds guaranteed!

No deposit bonuses – a vanishing breed

WE SAID:  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 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 Ignite 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.

DID IT HAPPEN?  No, not yet.  It is reload bonuses that have declined rather than no deposit bonuses.  If anything we are seeing slightly more sites with no deposit offers. However, the taxation of bonuses is set to change during 2017 and this will undoubtedly have an effect.

More restrictions on free bingo

WE SAID: 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.

DID IT HAPPEN?  Not really, but there seems to be a bit less free bingo about at Virtue Fusion sites now.

More restrictions on bonuses

WE SAID:  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!

DID IT HAPPEN?  More and more bingo sites are now imposing time limits on bonuses.

Sneaky withdrawal restrictions

WE SAID:  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.

DID IT HAPPEN? Yes.  Halfway through the year Dragonfish introduced a cap on withdrawable winnings from a slots bonus (excluding progressive jackpot wins) of £400 plus the original bonus amount.

Sliding jackpot games

WE SAID: 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.

DID IT HAPPEN? Not really.  There have been a few more sliding jackpots introduced (e.g. at Dream Bingo and at Netboost sites) but not enough to count as a trend.  Foxy Bingo tried having several sliding jackpots every Friday evening but these were soon replaced with regular guaranteed jackpots.

More incentives to play slots

WE SAID: 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.

DID IT HAPPEN? The prevalence of free spins offers is definitely on the up and bingo sites continue to offer slots bonuses, but not always as part of the welcome offer.  Slots promotions continue but these seem to be prize draws, bonus back on losses, bonuses or free spins with fewer slots leaderboard promotions.

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

WE SAID: 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 Bingo.com 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).

DID IT HAPPEN? Yes.  There were indeed no new launches on Gamesys or Microgaming.  The Gtech bingo network disappeared completely as did the bingo at Spin Genie and the only launches not on the big three were a couple of Parlay sites and a few Jumpman powered sites on 15 Network and Wheel of Slots.  The Relax Gaming product is actually a serious contender – the rooms are typically busier than Dragonfish network rooms despite there only being a couple of sites on the network, and they have some great promotions – but most of the players seem to be from Scandinavia rather than the UK.

Boutique networks still on the up

WE SAID: 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.

DID IT HAPPEN? Quite the reverse actually.  The Ignite/Mandalay Media network still looks strong but not only did they feel the need to experiment by doing a couple of launches on the main Dragonfish network, but the most recent launches on their own network are little more than skins.   The QTM/Silverspin mini network significantly reduced the number and opening hours of its exclusive bingo rooms (although this might have been a result of the sale of Iceland Bingo).  Dream Bingo and its sister sites closed their exclusive bingo rooms and rejoined the main Microgaming network.  If anything bingo sites are moving the other way and including more network rooms (such as the 888 big link 90 ball room).

Even more bingo variants

WE SAID: 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.

DID IT HAPPEN?  Yes.  As well as Cash Cubes, Playtech brought out Burst Bingo for Mecca, Mystical Bingo for Sky and The Chase Bingo for Gala.  Multiplayer Slingo also made its debut.  Dragonfish/888 brought out Flash Fives, a playing card based bingo variant.

Continued decline of charity bingo

WE SAID:  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.

DID IT HAPPEN?  Yes and until the very end of the year it was looking even worse than we thought.  Tickety Boo closed and rest of the charity sites became more and more reticent about how much they are actually donating.  The Rank Cares initiative also finished.  In December, however, there was a glimmer of hope.  Gala extended their 52 Lives charity promotion and just before Christmas, a new charity bingo site was launched.  Give Back Bingo (which promises to donate at least £500 to the charity of the month) is on the Stride Gaming Daub Alderney platform and it seems the management of the site is being done by Stride subsidiary 8 Ball Games.