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Decreasing stakes

Stake Limits Coming On Slots And Slingo


Sue Dawson

Last week, maximum stake limits for online slot games were announced, to come into force in September this year.  The announcement came from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (which has responsibility for gambling), i.e. directly from the UK government rather from the regulator (the UK Gambling Commission).  The plan requires secondary legislation which has to be approved by Parliament, so might conceivably be derailed by an early General Election but it’s unlikely.

The proposed limits are:

  • Maximum £2 a spin if you are aged 18-24
  • Maximum £5 a spin if you are 25 or over

Once the legislation has passed, operators will be expected to phase the £5 limit in over a 6 week transition period and will have a further 6 weeks to iron out any technical issues at the end of which the £2 limit must be in place for under 25s.

If operators can’t put a system in place to serve the £2 limit to under 25s and the £5 limit to everyone else, they will have to serve the £2 limit to everyone.  It’s unlikely this will happen, however; the operators I asked seem confident that the solution is to run a different version of the lobby, with different instances of each slot game, for under 25s and that slot game providers should easily be able to supply two instances of each of their games with different maximum stakes.  Their worry was rather that some providers might not want to bother supplying stake restricted versions of the games and instead stop supplying the UK market.  So some of your favourite games might disappear altogether.

There’s also a potential issue with slot games such as Playtech’s Jackpot Giant where only maximum stake spins are eligible to win the progressive jackpot.  For Jackpot Giant, that’s £4 a spin, so over 25s are OK but under 25s, if allowed to play, can never be eligible.

A much bigger issue is – what counts as a slot game?  The announcement says “the intention is that boundary-pushing products (such as those which combine fundamentally slots-type gameplay elements with other games like bingo – for instance the popular ‘slingo’ game) are captured under the definition of slots and subject to the stake limit.  So Slingo is definitely going to be affected, but how’s that going to work?

In a Slingo game, you choose a stake level and first play the initial spins that are covered by that stake.  You can then choose to buy more spins to try and complete more Slingos, and each of these is priced individually; the better chance you have of winning and the more you stand to win, the more expensive the spin is.  And sometimes it can be very expensive – in the screenshot from Slingo Shark Week, the initial stake was just 20p, but this particular extra spin is priced at £5.67!

Slingo Shark Week

What this real life example shows is that even in the best case scenario where the stake limit is imposed for each extra spin individually, there are going to be some extra spins that simply aren’t allowed even on the smallest of initial stakes.

It could be far more intrusive than that, though!  Here’s what the DCMS announcement has to say about precisely what the maximum stake applies to:

  • “Maximum stake per spin” means the maximum amount a player can pay or risk per spin or game cycle
  • A game cycle starts when a player depresses the “start button” or takes equivalent action to initiate the game and ends when all money or money’s worth staked or won during the game has been either lost or delivered to, or made available for collection by the player and the start button or equivalent becomes available to initiate the next game

So the question is when, in a game of Slingo, does the game cycle end and the next one begin?

  • Does the game cycle end when the player is given the choice of whether to end the game (and collect any winnings) or pay for an extra spin?
  • Or does it only end when the spin button for the next game appears after the player has either completed a full house and collected winnings, or decided not to buy any further spins and ended the game (with or without any winnings to collect)?

There’s an argument for saying that each extra spin is a separate game cycle (each spin does have a separate Return to Player) so the maximum stake should apply to them individually.  But if the latter interpretation is chosen, the stake limit will apply to the total stakes in a Slingo game i.e. the initial stake plus all of the extra spins that are purchased.  That could change the nature of the game quite radically, because the higher the initial stake, the fewer the extra spins that can be bought without going over the stake limit.  Higher variance versions of Slingo (of which Shark Week is one) could also end up vanishing from the UK because of the likelihood of extra spins being too expensive for players to be allowed to do them.

We know that Slingo will be caught in the maximum stakes net because it’s referenced by name in the DCMs announcement, but there could well be other games that fall within the definition of slots as “casino games of a reel-based type (includes games that have non traditional reels)”.  Live slots and some live game shows such as Jumanji The Next Level and Sweet Bonanza Candyland could also be affected.

No doubt there will be further clarification as September draws closer – we’ll bring you more news about which games will be affected and how as soon as we hear it.

 

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