Gambling regulation is back in the spotlight again with a raft of new proposals brought forward by the UK government. The UK Gambling White Paper published in April set out proposals for the most significant changes to gambling regulation in the UK since the Gambling Act 2005, building on efforts in 2021 to tighten up the rules around online slots.
The 2021 changes saw the banning of autoplay and auto spin features, spin speed caps, reverse withdrawals and on winning sounds and animations for wins less than the initial stake. While the white paper acknowledged these changes have been effective, it concluded more still needed to be done.
Next on the slate is a proposed £2 stake limit for slots for under 25s, aimed at reducing the potential harm for those staking too aggressively per spin. While the proposals aim to target those who might be at risk of problematic gambling behaviour, there is some concern that it could push people towards the black market of unregulated casinos and slot sites.
So does the proposed policy stack up, and what might it mean for slots fans going forward?
The Gambling-related harms evidence review, conducted by the UK Government, estimates that 0.5% of the UK population show signs of problematic gambling behaviour and a further 3.8% of the population are at an elevated risk.
There can be little doubt that gambling harms remain a problem for some players, particularly those playing slots. Figures from GamCare show the percentage of gamblers seeking support for problems with slots has nearly doubled over the past five years, with around 60% seeking help from the charity identifying slots as one of their main challenges.
These figures compare with 34% of gamblers in 2018-19, highlighting a significant increase in the proportion of problem gamblers struggling with slots. More generally, some 73% of those seeking help from GamCare and the National Gambling Helpline did so in relation to online gambling, adding impetus to the efforts from regulators and the government to tighten up the rules.
The government remains live to these concerns. Since the Gambling Act was written into law in 2005, various incremental changes have been introduced to better govern slots and online gambling more generally, heading in an ever-increasingly restrictive direction. The policy aim of the government is to protect players at risk and introduce rules that make it harder for those vulnerable to problem gambling falling into financial difficulties.
There remains much rumour around the £2 per spin staking limit, which is just one figure the government is looking at as part of their ongoing consultation on the white paper. Irrespective of the level, it seems clear the government is heading towards bringing in a cap on the per-spin stake for online slots.
The proposed changes
The white paper looks to distinguish by age bracket in a number of its recommendations, including the proposed stake limit. It breaks down gamblers into two groups— those aged 18-24, and those over 25, with the specific aim of addressing gambling harms in young people.
The £2 figure was widely rumoured before the white paper was published and met with concern from certain quarters of the gambling industry. As a significant revenue generator for gambling companies, the prospect of limiting slots as far as £2 met with understandable resistance. GamCare has even opened up discussion about a possible £2 stake limit across the board, regardless of age. Some opponents have suggested such a low limit could push slots players, young and old, into murkier, less regulated gambling waters. Recent changes in online gambling behaviour in Germany strongly suggests the Government should tread carefully when considering stake limits.
However, this doesn’t tell the full story. The government is looking at £2 as a minimum for its per-stake limit, but this could come in as high as £15 per spin. The proposals are still out for consultation, and the government has yet to indicate its preferred position while considering the wider range of options.
What this could mean for slots fans
The implications of a stake limit will vary, depending on the age and type of slots player. For younger, less experienced slots fans, the prospect of a maximum per-spin limit will be unattractive—especially for those who like to chase the largest jackpots from single spins. Similarly, the sweeping nature of the proposals means those with deeper pockets, or who aren't vulnerable to problem gambling will be caught up by an artificially low stake limit, potentially limiting how they play.
There is a concern that these players could be pushed into the unregulated sector, where there are no limitations or protection – including for any winnings – resulting in players far more likely to get their fingers burned.
This is an argument the Gambling Commission doesn’t accept, branding it a ‘tactic’ to push back against the drive for greater regulation. But it remains true that some players will find the maximum stake limiting, and may be driven to alternatives that lack safeguards.
More experienced slot players will likely be less affected by the maximum stake limit, even if it’s set as low as £2. Veteran slot players tend to play for longer and lower stakes anyway, typically in the 20p to £1 range, in the hope of chasing down the bigger multipliers. It’s more likely that changes to autoplay, longer spin speeds and restrictions on bonus buys will be more off-putting for experienced slots player than a maximum stake ever would be.
With many operators already enforcing loss limits, another of the white paper proposals coming down the track, there’s an argument for whether stake limits are even needed at all. If the maximum loss is capped, does it even really matter that there’s a maximum stake in play, or might this be better handled with the loss limit as the ultimate backstop?
For me, these are two solutions to the same problem, which makes one of them redundant. I’d prefer the loss limit for its overall impact to the per stake limit and would tend to favour the least regulatory approach to getting the result.
It remains to be seen which side of the fence the regulator comes down on. What’s far from doubt is that another big change is coming to the regulation of online slots.