Go back a handful of years and everything looked rosy in the online gambling sphere. Sure, there were some problem gamblers, but no one is saying that all alcohol should be banned just because a proportion of the world’s population are alcoholics. While no one is saying the gambling should be banned, more and more jurisdictions are putting clamps into place that are surely designed to make online gambling so unrewarding that no one will want to bother.
The current situation in the UK is a very good example. For years online gambling was not a problem in this gambling-friendly nation. The people of the UK have always loved a flutter, whether it be at the bookies, doing the (largely now defunct) football pools, buying a lottery ticket or scratchcard or heading down the local casino or bingo hall.
True, the UK government were slow to act upon any potential pitfalls of online gambling. Gambling over the internet was largely governed by existing UK gambling authorities, but the people in charge decided that all forms of gambling needed tighter regulations, and so in 2015 the United Kingdom Gambling Commission was formed.
Ever since its creation, the UKGC has been criticised by both pro- and anti-gambling advocates
The UKGC has also come in for criticism from both gamblers and lobbyists against online gambling, or gambling full stop. The current attitude of the UKGC seems clear – it’s remit is not to rest until gambling has been placed in a coffin and buried deep underground. Each new rule the UKGC passes is another nail being hammered into this coffin.
If you are a gambler in the UK and you want to gamble online, you have to ‘put up’ with all of the following:
- All forms of gambling advertising is banned, aside from sports betting sites
- Sports betting sites may not run adverts during TV coverage of sporting events
- You cannot use your credit card to fund your online gambling
- You cannot play any gambling game for free or for play money
- You cannot join any UKGC-licensed gambling site unless you can prove your age
- You cannot join any UKGC-licensed gambling site unless you can prove your home address
- You must prove a source of funding before you can deposit at an online gambling site
- All ‘buy feature’ options of slots and other games are banned
- All ‘gamble features’ options of slots and other games are banned
- Sites may not use the word ‘free’ for bonus offers
Many of these rulings are so ineffective they are laughable. For example for the ban on credit cards, gamblers are simply using PayPal instead. When it comes to paying their PayPal bill, they use their credit card. The UKGC is powerless to prevent PayPal from allowing its hundreds of thousands of UK users to pay their bills on credit, and PayPal even has its own credit facility.
The UKGC seems content to make online gambling less and less interesting
There are signs that the UKGC is going to make online gambling even harder. The VIP schemes run by the majority of online casinos are currently under scrutiny, with a working group set up to create new rules of how such schemes can be run. If the group cannot come up with a suitable compromise (as seems likely) then VIP schemes for UK customers will be banned outright.
It is part of the ridiculous nature of gambling regulation in the UK that while slots, casino games and sports betting are seen as devils, lotteries are the angels. There is no problem it seems with anyone buying a lottery ticket in the UK, and even children as young as 16 are permitted to do so (the legal age limit for gambling in the UK is 18). Scratchcards can be easily purchased from newsagents and petrol stations in the UK, and without limitations.
Advertising the National Lottery can be done freely and with few limitations too. In a recent campaign, runners well told that they should ‘celebrate’ the end of their run by going out and buying a scratchcard. It is hard to imagine the furore if a similar campaign was launched in which tennis players were told to celebrate winning a set by enjoying 100 10p spins on Starburst!
The UKGC has done little to regulate ‘loot box gambling’ as seen in video gaming
Another concept that the UKGC seem hardly to be bothered about is so-called loot boxes in popular video games. Games such as Epic Games’ Fortnite, EA’s Apex Legends and the new Ubisoft Game Hyper Scape are all free to play, but allows their players a chance of improving the way their chosen online characters look by making purchases.
Some ‘skins’ (as they are known) are expensive, so for a much cheaper alternative player can buy a loot box containing random elements in the hope that the box they buy contains the skin they are looking for … paying money for the hope of winning something by chance must be considered the very definition of gambling. What’s worse is that the purchase of such skins is much more common with children than the adults who can afford them and that younger players tend to buy loot boxes as opposed to specific skins.
It’s estimated that 300,000 people in the UK have problem gambling tendencies. If the UKGC decides to ban online gambling outright it is worth considering that 100,000 people are employed in the industry in the UK, and that gambling taxation contributes around £3 billion to the UK government each and every year.
While there’s no doubt the UKGC measures have prevented some problem gamblers from getting themselves into real trouble, many others are simply bypassing the UKGC regulations by using a VPN to play at non-UKGC licensed online casinos and funding their playing via Bitcoin.
It’s not known how many more nails the UKGC intends to hammer into the online gambling coffin, nor how much longer online gambling will survive.
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Ari Waknine was born in Brooklyn, New York and was the founder of iGamble Group, an online gaming critique firm that helps players pick online gambling websites that fit their profile, as well as, helping them to increase their winnings. He is also the founder of NewCasinos.org, and is strictly focusing on this project making stronger and better than ever.