Updated: 5th Feb 2021
Earlier this week the UK Gambling Commission announced a set of new restrictions for online slot games, which all UK licensed bingo sites and slot sites must comply with before the deadline of 31st October 2021. Some of the restrictions are directly related to slot game design and some are broader requirements to do with safer gambling.
The minimum game cycle speed must be at least 2.5 seconds. This means that after you press spin, you can’t press spin again until 2.5 seconds later even if the spin takes less time than that to complete. This is not new; it was included in the Betting & Gaming Council code of conduct for online game design and came into force with Phase 1 of that code at the end of September last year, so you’ll have noticed that some of the big name operators have implemented it already. What’s new is that it’s now a compulsory licence requirement rather than being part of a voluntary code of practice.
Games must not use sounds or imagery that create the illusion of a win when the return is equal to or less than the stake. So let’s say you do a 50p spin and get one winning combo that pays 30p; game design that celebrates that in any way with animations, sound effects and so forth is not allowed on the grounds that you lost 20p so there’s nothing to celebrate. If you win more than 50p, that’s when the sounds and imagery can come out. Again, this was included in the BGC code of conduct but only came into force with Phase 2 on 31st January 2021, so you may not have noticed it yet. Now that it is to be made compulsory, expect the celebration of all those small wins that are really losses to be removed from existing games as well (or the games to be removed from the UK market).
Features which speed up play or give the illusion of control over the outcome are banned. The first part of this requirement is straightforward – no turbo play button to skip all the animations. The second part is not so straightforward. Clearly it includes any manual stop feature which could cause a player to think they can influence which symbols the reels stop on and these, along with turbo play, were already banned under Phase 1 of the BGC code. There’s been some speculation, however, that pick-me features in bonus rounds (e.g. choose a chest to open) could also be considered to give players the illusion of control over the outcome. Many bonus rounds consist entirely of pick-mes and in others, a pick-me determines how many free spins the player will receive and at what multiplier. A possible solution for existing games would be to run these bonus rounds without any player interaction.
Autoplay is banned. This wasn’t in the BGC code, but was one of the things they were looking into in the BGC Innovation and Testing Lab, so it doesn’t come as a complete surprise. The Gambling Commission say their research has shown that using autoplay can cause players to lose track of play and/or make it difficult for them to stop playing, and that it is also associated with gambling on other activities at the same time.
Operators must clearly display to the player their total losses, wins and session duration during online slots play. The idea of an always-on display showing the player how long they have been playing and how much they are up or down is also something that the BGC was looking at – but again, the Gambling Commission have short-circuited that process and it has to be in place by October 31st this year.
Reverse withdrawals, which have been under a temporary ban since last summer, are now permanently banned. What this means is that once you decide to withdraw your winnings and hit that cash out button, you can’t change your mind and start playing with your winnings instead. The now defunct Cozy Games, for instance, used to keep withdrawals pending for an unnecessarily long time with a rather prominent “Flowback withdrawal” option available in the hope that players would do just that; it’s blindingly obvious that this would put some players at risk of gambling related harm so this particular restriction (which applies to all online gambling activity, not just slots play) comes as no surprise at all.
While the deadline for all of this to be in place is not until the autumn, we can expect slot game providers and operators to make these changes gradually over the next few months to ensure everything is 100% compliant before the deadline and indeed, one major operator has already apparently swapped out all of their NetEnt slot games for versions without an autoplay button.
Slot game providers have already had to produce UK and non UK versions of some games because of the 2019 ban on buy the bonus round features, and now they are going to have to extend that to many more games. Removing the autoplay button for the UK should be relatively simple and as we have seen, some slot game providers including NetEnt already have it as an option.
What may not be so simple – depending on how far-reaching the requirement turns out to be – is removing or disabling features that give the illusion of control. If it does extend to pick-me features, we could see many popular slot games disappear from the UK. The same applies to the “losses disguised as wins” requirement – in the case of older games that are past their first flush of popularity, slot game providers may very well decide to remove the games from the UK market rather than make the necessary changes.
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