On 27th April 2023, the government’s much delayed White Paper on gambling law reform was finally published. Weighing in at a whopping 246 pages, it contains a detailed appraisal of the current state of the UK gambling industry (online and offline) and sets out a roadmap going forward. But what effect will it actually have on players?
Right away, the answer is nothing, unless operators decide to introduce changes pre-emptively. The next step for most of what’s in the White Paper is consultation to take place during summer 2023, after which some changes to Gambling Commission rules and powers can be enacted. Anything requiring primary legislation is subject to Parliamentary time and is unlikely to happen until after the next election (and possibly not then depending on how that election goes).
Here’s what’s in the roadmap that is likely to impact players:
A spin value limit, for online slot games only, is definitely on the way. The actual level will be decided by the DCMS in consultation over the summer and enacted in secondary legislation (probably in the autumn); it could be anything from £2 to £15. If you’re aged 18-24 you will be subject to a lower limit which will most likely be just £2.
Further consultation is to take place over game design (after an assessent of the impact of changes already made )with the possibility of gameplay being slowed down even more than it already has been, and removing features which exacerbate risk (a rather vague statement but we’d hazard a guess it means things like the ability to gamble the bonus round). The White Paper also alludes to extending the slot game design changes to other types of game which would mean that the display of elapsed time and net loss might need to be added to live casino games and some games such as rapid roulette might need to be slowed down or removed from the UK market.
Are they outlawing bonuses and free spins? Absolutely not – but there’s a clear statement of intent to make them safer and fairer for players with “clear rules and fair limits on re-wagering requirements and time limits so they do not encourage excessive or harmful gambling” so it could be goodbye (and good riddance) to excessive wagering requirements and short bonus expiry times.
The DCMS and Gambling Commission will continue to monitor VIP schemes to ensure they are not used to exploit gamblers who are suffering harm, but no further action is to be taken at this time as they have already been cleaned up as a result of new rules introduced in October 2020, to the extent that 90% of the players who were part of one no longer are. Entain, for example, have terminated all of their VIP schemes.
An independent gambling ombudsman will be appointed to address player complaints but initially operator participation in the scheme will be voluntary. It’s expected to be up and running within a year.
One big worry was that the White Paper would mandate a draconian approach to affordability checks and force even moderate spenders to provide bank statements, payslips and other personal financial data to operators. Instead, a much more commonsense approach is planned, with two types of check to be carried out.
- Financial vulnerability check – this would be triggered by moderate losses (the suggested figure is £125 net loss in a month or £500 in a year) and would be a “frictionless” check NOT involving supplying any such documents. Essentially it would be the same type of background check that is already carried out on someone applying for a loan or credit card.
- Enhanced check – this would be triggered by substantial losses, sustained either quickly or over time (the suggested figures are £1000 net loss in 24 hours or £2000 in 90 days, with the values halved for under 25s). As some operators have been requesting bank statements and other evidence of affordability when deposits hit a threshold (typically £500) this could actually result in fewer players having to undergo intrusive checks.
Despite some of the knee-jerk responses you may have seen in the mainstream media, player safety is absolutely central to the White Paper. At the heart of its approach is the important recognition that gambling harm (and therefore player safety) is NOT simply a matter of financial losses or of affordability. Even a moderate spender may not be in full control of their gambling behaviour and the Gambling Commission has already introduced new standards which came into force in autumn 2022 and spring 2023 requiring operators to monitor players for indicators of harm and intervene at an early stage. The amount spent (in relation to affordability and what other players spend) is just one of things they need to keep an eye on and there’s a very long list of other factors, some of which are:
- the amount of time spent gambling
- what time of day (e.g. late night could indicate a possible problem)
- chasing losses
- choice of higher-risk products
- erratic patterns of play
- hints of not coping (e.g. in chat room comments)
- previous self-exclusion
- repeated use of time out
- setting deposit limits then raising them
- failed deposits
A further aspect of player safety is the sharing of data regarding high risk players between different operators. Called the Single Customer View (SCV) this is currently being trialled in a limited way under the supervision of the ICO and with the help of GAMSTOP. There are no plans for it to be done in anything other than a very limited way (i.e. confined to sharing data on players at risk of serious harm). The White Paper observes: “Given the privacy implications for the majority who gamble with no ill effect, we do not think the creation of …. a national database of all gamblers (even if anonymised) is justified at this time”.
The White Paper also promises further steps to combat the problem of unlicensed gambling sites targetting vulnerable players by giving the Gambling Commission further powers to insist that ISPs and payment providers block unlicensed sites, but this won’t happen right away as it requires primary legislation.
Because the next step for pretty well everything in the White Paper is more consultation, you won’t see any impact right away and it’s difficult to know how big an impact it’s all going to have; clearly restricting players to £2 a spin is going to affect many more of them than restricting to £15 a spin, and it’s also impossible to know what impact game design changes will have until it’s been decided what those changes are actually going to be. Regarding the affordability checks and player safety measures, if you are one of the vast numbers of UK players for whom some form of gambling is a perfectly legitimate leisure activity, you probably won’t notice anything.
As for the possible bonusing and free spins measures, if implemented we expect them to result in offers being less generous up front but with terms and conditions that are more player friendly (as many operators have already done with no wagering offers).
Watch this space for further developments!
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