A Recent History of UK Gambling Legislation

UK Gambling Market

The recent life of casino players, bingo players and slots players in the UK has been as turbulent as taking a rowing boat out onto the Atlantic during a storm. A huge amount of change has enveloped the world of legal gambling in the UK of late, and the waters are likely to remain choppy for some time.

Over the past couple of years the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) has brought in new rules and regulations in order – so it is claimed – to help prevent people from falling into gambling problems, even though the majority of people in the UK who do gamble do so responsibly.

Among the recent changes:

  • The banning of the phrase ‘free spins’ in bonus offers. This was seen as a false encouragement for UK players to sign up with online casinos. ‘Free spins’ can still be offered as incentives, but they must be referred to as ‘bonus spins’ or some other name that does not promote the idea that a customer is genuinely receiving something for nothing.
  • Players used to be able to play slots at any online casino for ‘free’ (i.e. for ‘play money’) without signing up for a casino site. Slots and other games could also be played at casino review sites or at other non-casino sites. To play ‘for free’ a player must now sign up with an online casino first.
  • A complete ban on the use of credit cards to fund any form of wagering, be it playing on slots, casino games, table games, live dealer games, bingo, poker, non-UK lotteries or sports betting. Some people had been using their credit cards, and building up massive amounts of debt.
  • Players were usually able to sign up for any online casino without any verification checks. This allowed several players who were under the age of 18 to sign up and play at online casinos, slot sites and sports-betting sites, even though it was illegal for them to do so. Since 2019, online casinos must take greater steps to make sure that players are 18 years of age or older when they complete the registration process. This done via age verification software vendors, or by getting the player to send proof of identity, such as an image of a passport or driving licence.
  • The forced removal of ‘buy feature’ aspects of slots and other games. Most online video slots have features such as bonus games or free spins. Since 2019, some slot games have had an option which allowed a player to ‘buy’ a feature as opposed to ‘earning it’ by landing a specific combination of reels. Such options were expensive, though. The UKGC announced that this was, to them, an encouragement for players to spend more money than they might normally, and so they banned such slots with ‘buy feature’ options.

Other changes are currently being discussed:

  • The complete banning of VIP schemes and loyalty point systems, which are known as ‘high-value customer schemes’. Some parties have argued that such schemes are too much of an incentive, and that – as many are based on a ‘the more you wager, the better the benefits’ system they encourage players to gamble more money than they would do otherwise. The UKGC has recently tasked GVC Holdings – the owners of Ladbrokes, Coral, Foxy Bingo and others – to come up with suitable recommendation for VIP schemes that are fair to the customer, a move that has been criticised by the Gambling APPG in the parliament.
  • A restriction on multi-tired and ongoing bonuses. All casinos offer a welcome bonus in the form of a matched bonus or bonus spins. Some casinos also offer matched bonuses on their second, third, fourth and fifth deposits. Others offer bonuses on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. The recently-created Swedish Gambling Authority has adopted a model where such ‘reload’ bonuses are banned, and it is thought that the UKGC are considering following suit.

When all this is taken into consideration, it’s clear that the UK gambling market is becoming less and less attractive to gambling companies. Over the past five years a number of leading gambling firms have pulled completely out of the UK market.

The UKGC are not shy in enforcing their rules

Break the rules and pay the penalty seems to be the UKGC mantra. Among the fines that have been handed out by the UKGC in recent years are:

  • £7.8 million 888 (August 2017) for failing to protect vulnerable players, including, due to a date flaw, 7,000 players who had chosen to self-exclude being able to still play bingo at the site. Failure to monitor problem players too, including one who wagered and lost £1.3 million in 13 months.
  • £7 million Stride Gaming (November 2018) for failing to monitor player interaction and engagements, lack of due diligence checks, failing to keep records of customer financial transactions, failure to provide proper risk management, failure to prevent money laundering and failure to provide staff with anti-money laundering and financial transaction monitoring training.
  • £5.9 million GVC Holdings (July 2019) for failing to put into place effective safeguards to prevent consumers from suffering gambling harm, and to prevent anti-money laundering.
  • £2.2 million InTouch Games Limited (May 2019) for failings at their (then) five UK-facing online casino sites mFortune, Pocket Win, Mr Spin, Dr Slot and Cashmo Casino. This fine did not stop InTouch Games opening a sixth casino in November 2019, Casino 2020.
  • £1.8 million Silverbond Enterprises Limited (September 2019) for failings in regard to social responsibility and anti-money laundering. The UKGC is not only tough online but in the real world too as Silverbond own the Park Lane Club in Mayfair.

So, with the danger of record-breaking fines, limits on player incentives and player payment methods, and stricter anti-money laundering and social regulations, just how attractive does the UKGC hope the UK gambling market will become? Will 2020 be as tumultuous to the industry as 2019? Only time will tell.

BONUS READ: The GRH APPG at war with the UKGC … again!

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