For the last couple of years, the UK gambling industry has waited with bated breath as the government set about collecting data to support recommendations and potential legal changes.
Nobody knew quite how far this white paper would go in shaking up the current UK gambling landscape, but now the review is finished and we have a better idea of what could be on the cards.
Why the review came about
The Gambling Reform White Paper is the result of the largest research project in this industry since many of our current gambling laws came into effect in 2005. Legislation has evolved over the years but new tech has given rise to a complete overhaul.
Since the last major law change, smartphones have continued to become easily accessible and online gambling has taken off in a big way with apps and optimised website access. But as with the majority of gambling laws around the world, they have failed to keep up with the modern landscape as nobody was quite prepared for the explosion in iGaming usage.
A huge uptick in usage during the pandemic of 2020 also highlighted how far this industry has come in the last 15 years and how operators in the area have been enjoying their moment in the sun as they set about onboarding as many customers as possible.
One of the main concerns is and always has been customers spending beyond their means and as a result, banning credit cards as a form of payment was fast-tracked to curb a growing onslaught of debt in 2020.
However, there are many ways to make a deposit into an online casino account and more needed to be done to protect consumers from the temptation that gambling products present.
While the vast majority of players stick to their own strict budgets and enjoy the occasional flutter, it has been widely accepted in recent years that a small minority struggle to do so and more needs to be done to better protect them.
What changes are being considered?
The Gambling Reform White Paper is some 200+ pages long and references myriad areas where the UK gambling industry could make improvements and how lawmakers should consider imposing mandatory changes.
As you can imagine, a review carried out in such depth has raised a lot of points that need addressing but there are a few standout mentions that have become hot topics since its publication.
As with several of the recommendations, there appears to be a desire to implement one set of changes for 18 to 24-year-olds and another set for anyone older. Whether or not this distinction will be upheld as suggestions are considered, is another matter.
On the subject of stake limits, you may have heard the £2 figure mentioned in relation to this review in some speculative form or another over the last few months. And it appears that there was indeed no smoke without fire as far as this change is concerned. This figure could be set as a potential £2 cap for those in the 18 to 24 age group.
However, this seems to be the lowest limit that the government is looking to put in place on online slot machines and for other age ranges it could end up being anywhere up to £15.
Understandably, gambling operators are keen to have some clarity on this situation as soon as possible as it could have huge implications on their profit margins.
Little is done at the moment to curb overspending by individuals and limits are widely self-governed. Recommendations were made in June 2022 but operators didn’t have time to keep up with some of the changes, so they were postponed until the official review was released last week.
This has been picked up as one of the main problem areas as, naturally, those with an inclination to spend beyond their means won't necessarily inhibit themselves by selecting realistic deposit and loss limits.
Rather than making it mandatory for all customers to be means tested before playing, there is a little leeway proposed that allows customers the freedom to play until a certain amount of losses have been accrued. At that point, the gambling operators should step in to check their financial situation and ensure they are playing with money they can afford to spend.
It has been suggested that anyone losing £125 in a month or £500 in a year should be subject to a fairly low-level check to ensure that no large outstanding debts or bankruptcy show up. For those spending even more, the mandatory checks could be more invasive.
If a customer loses £1,000 in a day or £2,000 over the course of 90 days, then enhanced credit checks may be performed and possibly even payslips requested to check that the player is not spending beyond their means.
The above figures could be slashed in half in the case of those in the 18 to 24 age group.
Bonuses, Loyalty Schemes & Wagering Requirements
One area that may not have to wait for legislative changes is improvements to how promotions are marketed with an immediate recommendation to make all forms of promo advertising strictly opt-in. But the deals in question may have to wait for further consultation before any other changes are seen.
VIP and loyalty schemes have been subject to reforms in recent times but the government wants to go further to ensure that players are not rewarded for making losses.
There is also the question of wagering requirements—that have been a particular bugbear of online casino customers for many years—and while no set figure has been put forward, it is likely that a cap on wagering requirements will be enforced in due course.
At present, there is a voluntary system in place whereby gambling operators contribute towards gambling addiction research, education and treatment. Unfortunately, not all operators have pulled their weight with some making contributions as little as £1.
New laws could see this levy become mandatory and demand that all gambling firms in the UK pay a fixed 1% of their revenue that will go to the NHS to fund problem gambling areas. This is just a suggestion for now and it is unknown if this will make it into statute.
The next steps
Much of what has been discussed in the recent white paper is subject to a one-year consultation period that begins in the summer of 2023. This will give politicians a chance to make suggestions and amendments to any proposed laws before they are finally presented to Parliament for a vote. It could be several years before some of these changes take effect.