The long wait is over and the UK Government has finally published its White Paper on gambling reform. The proposals could have been tougher but meanwhile, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) continues to punish companies that run online casinos with fines.
It was in December 2020 that a call was made for evidence regarding the UK gambling industry. After many delays, mainly caused by the continual changes in Downing Street, we now know what lies in store for online gambling sites.
Late April finally saw the White Paper published and its title gives away its main intentions. It’s titled: “High Stakes: gambling reform for the digital age.”
The last Gambling Act came into force 18 years ago. There was no 24/7 online gambling at that time. People didn’t use mobile phones to place bets either. It’s all changed since 2005 so there is the need to replace the outdated legislation.
Lucy Frazer is the latest Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. Speaking about the contents of the White Paper, the Conservative MP described it as a “comprehensive package of new measures.”
Striking the “right balance” is important as there have been fears about how gamblers will react to changes. The British Gaming Council (BGC) for example fear that strict measures will force some players to head in the direction of the unregulated market. They also can’t do too much damage to an industry that brings in huge tax revenues and employs thousands of workers.
The main proposals in the White Paper include a statutory levy being placed on online casinos. Funds raised will go towards researching and treating gambling harm and addiction. Gambling companies do at present make voluntary payments.
Slot games are incredibly popular at UK online casinos. The White Paper proposes that there should be a maximum stake of £15 per spin. If players are aged between 18 and 24, then the maximum stake should be just £2 or £4.
One major concern is how much money can be lost at casinos. The White Paper proposes “unobtrusive checks” on players who lose over £125 during a 24-hour period. This will also be in place for those losing £500 in a year. That’s less than £1.50 a day.
“Frictionless” affordability checks will be carried out if players lose £1,000 in a day or £2,000 in three months. Again, there are different rules for younger players with a lower limit being in place for those aged 18-24.
It’s also proposed that there will be mandatory data sharing by operators regarding online customers who are considered high risk.
Online casinos regularly offer free bets and bonuses to attract and keep customers. These will be reviewed and particular attention paid to wagering requirements. Some offers do have high wagering requirements and many believe that this can encourage excessive gambling. Another proposal will see the appointment of an independent gambling ombudsman.
The proposals aren’t good news for gambling companies. Other worrying news is that land-based casinos will be able to make sports betting available to their customers and have more gaming machines.
The proposals could have been tougher though. There is no mention of a ban on online casinos sponsoring sporting events. The English Premier League have voluntarily agreed to end front-of-shirt sponsorship by gambling companies. This won’t come into force for another three years and other forms of sponsorship will still be allowed.
Casino revenues have already been hit by a steady stream of UKGC fines. These have cost companies millions of pounds in the past year or so. This year saw 888 Holdings pay a fine of £19.2 million.
This month has again seen the UKGC flexing its muscles. PPB Counterparty Service Limited (trading as Betfair and Paddy Power) have been given a £490,000 fine. The reason for this is sending promotional content to customers who have gambling problems.
The UKGC decided that action should be taken after self-excluded customers received messages on their apps about an enhanced odds offer in November 2021. This goes against UKGC rules that are in place for their licensees. Once an online casino customer has self-excluded themselves, their details should be removed from marketing databases within 48 hours.
There was a lack of evidence proving that the messages were sent out intentionally. PPB Counterparty Services Limited said the messages were sent to Apple users due to a human error. It was the company themselves who informed the UKGC about what had happened.
No complaints were received from customers who received the messages. However, the UKGC have taken action and advised other operators to ensure that such incidents do not happen in the future.