Will the UK Government Target Online Slots and Casinos in the Gambling White Paper?

Early in July 2022, Chris Philp, the UK Gambling Minister singled out two forms of gambling, online casinos and online slots. These two areas were key focal points in the gambling White Paper while addressing the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports Committee.

Asked about the assessments of gambling harm posed by instant win games and lotteries, Philp quoted the health survey for England, it suggests problem gambling rates of around 1.4% for scratchcards and 0.9% for draw-based games such as the National Lottery. He added that these rates were considerably lower than other surveyed activities which reach around 2.7 to 12.7%. Philp added that amongst the things that worried him most in terms of the gambling White Paper, are online casinos and slots, both danger areas he feels in which people can become heavily addicted to gambling.

Use of Credit Cards in Gambling

Philp shared with the committee that the National Lottery remain the biggest form of gambling in respect of gross yield, totalling an estimated £4 billion per year. MPs were informed that around 40% to 45% of the public engaged in some form of gambling monthly, while around 30% of the population participated in the lottery.

In turning towards the use of credit cards in gambling, Kevin Brennan, Labour MP for Cardiff asked Philp about the claim by Government that credit cards could no longer be used by consumers to game. Mr Philp answered that it was confirmed that it was no longer possible to use a credit card to purchase a lottery ticket online.

White Paper Delays Since Start of Gambling Act Review in 2020

The Gambling Act review, since its start in 2020, faced a series of delays. Minister Chris Philp stepped down from his position in the UK government, at this time revealing the white paper document is not ready for final approval.

Yet another delay was on the charts for the UK government to target online slots and casinos in the gambling white paper, the resignation of Boris Johnson.

The Prime Minister’s resignation further delayed the process and reposts suggest that the publishing of the white paper will only take place after the replacement for Johnson takes over. A delay that pushed back the publishing of the gambling white paper to the end of September.

Industry Sources Confirm their Understanding of Gambling Act White Paper

Sources have confirmed that the gambling white paper will introduce stake limits on online casino games and set non-intrusive checks regarding affordability. Speculations also include an outright ban on football sponsorships by gambling brands.

Smart Stake Limits

It is believed that the proposed stake limits will fall between £2 and £5 for online casino slots, although players requesting enhanced checks could end up with stake raises to around £10 to £25.

Affordability Checks

Industry share prices have rebounded since their initial dip following the rumours of the new white paper including soft affordability checks to kick in at losses of $125 per month or £500 per year. The previous loss limit suggested by the Gambling Commission was a loss limit of £100, which was criticized as overly restrictive.

More detailed finance checks will be required for losses of £1,000 in 24 hours or £2,000 over three months. These also apply to new members or accounts showing losses of £500 in 24 hours. Once the new proposal is approved the initial affordability checks promise to be frictionless for the player by conducting it online through credit reference agencies and open banking. The Gambling Commission and the Government are reportedly also exploring the possibility of mandatory online deposit limits.

Bans on Free Bets, Free Bets & Front of Shirt Sponsorships

Unconfirmed information regarding the new UK Gambling Commission law changes includes proposals such as the ban of free bets and online VIP schemes. Instead of a complete ban on gambling sponsorship, the Premier League hopes to reach an agreement in which they will phase out the front-of-shirt placement of gambling operator sponsorships.

White Paper Changes That May Upset Gamblers

By taking into consideration some of the clues of what might be part of the long-awaited changes in the white paper. It seems that affordability checks could play a big part, an issue most understand may be needed to prevent gambling harm posed, but it also may upset a fair number of online gamblers. The BGC (Betting and Gambling Council) longs to see additional assistance given to gamblers with problems. At the same time, the level of the suggested affordability checks remains important.

The risk for gambling addicts in online slots is encouraged by the fast play and they want to chase down big wins. Most players find it easy to walk away when their balance runs low and they reached their set budget. Although, for a small percentage of players who simply don’t know when to stop or can’t get enough, slots present a serious threat and for this reason, the UK government plans significant gambling law changes.

2021 Law Changes Introduced To Slots

Several law changes affecting online slots were already introduced in 2021 to make slots less dangerous to problem gamblers. These include the ban on slot spin times less than 2.5 seconds and auto-play a feature allowing players to set the reels to spin without interaction. There is also a ban on in-game features creating an illusion of having control over the outcome. Plus, sounds and animations could suggest a win when payouts are actually smaller than the staked amount. The ban on the use of credit cards in gambling was announced by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on the 1st of January to come into force on the 14th of April 2020.

Legislation to Prevent An Increase in New Generation of Problem Gamblers

Some key speakers at the Future of Gambling UK event on Thursday, 28 July 2022 included Cllr Barry Lewis of the Kent County Council, Anna Hemmings the Chief Executive of GamCare, and MP Phillip Davies the Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming.

One of the subjects included in the discussions was governments and regulations struggling to keep up with the smartphone revolution. The government announced a review of the Gambling Act in December 2020 and the public consultation lasted up to March 2022. As of yet, no proposal for the reform was announced by the government, which could mean the white paper could include changes to make sure law changes are fit for the digital age.

Conclusion

Online gambling remains one of the most popular forms of entertainment and when it comes down to freedom of choice, who decides what is affordable and how individuals spend their money? Even with the UK Government saying the chances will only impact a minority of gamblers, sports book bets even once a week on different races could quickly catch up with proposed checks suggested by the Government at the end of three months.

Not all gamblers are happy to produce documents proofing what they earn or do for a living. As Mr Philp rightfully stated, major reforms on gambling and betting are not easy, and they shouldn’t happen only once in every generation. Changes will be much easier to accept in smaller proportions if carefully planned to target the o.2% problem gamblers. No one wants sudden big changes that could drive any of the 22.5 million gamblers away from the regulated and licensed industry.

Could the gambling white paper tackle all the different areas that need careful consideration at once? It’s a huge task since the majority of people enjoy gambling as entertainment and do so legally and safely. Everyone understands the risk faced by problem and underaged gamblers, but affordability checks asking for intrusive information such as bank statements and payslips could push things too far. The question is whether it could push players from the regulated market towards the unregulated and unsafe industry.

The prevention of these gamblers falling into the arms of the constantly growing unregulated black market is important. A genuinely well-planned and transformative package is needed to target reforms in the gambling industry that brings in around £4.5 billion in taxes and offer almost 120,000 jobs.

Maybe the latest delay is a blessing in disguise, one that allows new ministers to discuss changes and to find a consensus that will get the upcoming reforms in gambling to pass the winning post.

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