Friday, 10 July 2020

UK Gambling Commission Opens Consultation For Changes To Online Slots

Gambling Addiction

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has opened a consultation regarding changes to online video slots to make them safer for vulnerable gamblers.

The Gambling Commission, which is responsible for regulating all online gambling activity in the nation, started consultations on Thursday (July 9th) and will continue them through to September 3rd, 2020. According to an announcement from the Commission, the regulatory body is looking at reducing the intensity of play with a minimum spin speed of 2.5 seconds on all slots and removing boost features and split-screen features from video slots.

The proposed changes were first suggested through working groups headed by Scientific Games Corp and Playtech which reviewed the game design of current online slots earlier this year. In addition to recommending a minimum spin speed and the removal of several features, the groups also suggested a minimum stake limit, time limits on play sessions, and a minimum prize size.

The Commission states its interest is in slots because its the “largest online ambling product by Gross Gambling Yield” and, although slots are played by “relatively few”, they have a high average spend than most other casino games. The firm is also interested in the games due to their plethora of special features which the Commission says can “significantly increase intensity of play” and pose a “high risk” in gambling addiction.

The Consultation

In the consultation, the Commission explains that it’s looking at other aspects of making video slots safer to customers. This includes requiring online casinos to ensure that customers can only play one slot at a time per account regardless of the multiple tabs, windows, browsers or applications that are open across various devices.

The Commission’s consultation also suggests prohibiting casinos from reversing withdrawals. These functions allow customers who have requested a withdrawal to cancel or reverse it, sending the funds back into their casino account to use for gambling. A ban on the function was implemented in May during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown, but according to the consultation, the Commission is looking at making it permanent.

Also in the consultation, the Commission suggests removing auto-play functionality for online slots which allow users to select the number of times they want the slot’s reels to spin. The Commission also wants to scrape effects that provide players with the illusion of “false wins” which are losses presented as wins via special effects, such as a customer winning £4 off a £5 wager.

Finally, the Commission wants operators to provide additional information to customers to aid them in making informed choices regarding their online gambling activity. The Commission has laid out several recommendations regarding this which includes requiring operators to inform customers of their total elapsed time and to inform them of how much they are winning or losing during their current session and by how much.

Following the consultation, which can be found here, the Commission is hoping that an industry-agreed code will be published at the end of September. All online gambling operators within the UK will then be required to follow with the changes and implement them into their games portfolio or risk having their games unavailable to the public, a penalty, or having their licensed revoked.

In a statement regarding the consultation, the Commission explained that the suggested proposals on the design of slots are part of the first step taken to keep players safe while online gambling. The firm said: “Slots is an area which has seen technological innovation in terms of product design and we expect operators to continually show an equal, and indeed greater, commitment to innovate in terms of consumer protection. Regulatory intervention needs to keep pace with this and the proposals in this consultation form part of a comprehensive package of work we are taking forward to make online gambling safer.”

The Commission also confirmed that it will continue to review the evidence published, evaluate the opinions shared via the consultation, and will consider any additional regulatory measures needed to better protect customers when gambling online.

The Gambling Commission’s Regulations

The news comes several months after the UK Gambling Commission introduced new rules regarding VIP schemes and online advertisements. In April, the Commission implemented an age limit on VIP schemes which prohibits online gambling operators from adding anyone under the age of 25 to VIP schemes. Additional regulations were introduced to strengthen the Commission’s online advertising rules in the aim of better protecting vulnerable gamers.

The Commission’s new regulations were implemented in collaboration with a group of more than 30 casino operators headed by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). The Commission ran workshops with the operators, gambling charity GamCare, and people with first-hand experience of gambling harm.

Also in April, the Gambling Commission introduced a ban on credit cards, preventing gamers from using credit cards at both brick-and-mortar and online casinos. The Commission hopes that the ban, which was implemented following a 12-week consultation on the use of credit cards, will help reduce the number of people experiencing gambling harm.

GambleAware’s Plea Over Payment Blockers

The Commission isn’t the only firm looking to make changes into payments at online casinos. Earlier this week, charity GambleAware urged all UK banks to improve the way their gambling card payment blockers work after a study found that around 28 million personal current accounts do not have access to the features.

In response, GambleAware and Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) announced five recommendations they want financial groups to take to improve their payment blockers. The suggestions included requiring banks to recommend the payment blockers, to improve their design and implement a time-lock on the blocks, and to develop additional tools and services to better protect customers.

GambleAware also recently partnered with the NHS to launch the Primary Care Gambling Service (PCGS) in Kennington, a new problem gambling treatment centre. According to reports, the new centre covers most of South London but will expand to other boroughs within the coming months. In addition to treating those suffering from gambling harm, the centre will provide training to GPs to help in identifying patients suffering from gambling-related problems.