It’s finally here. The UK gambling reform white paper that experienced delay after delay saw the light of day on Thursday, April 27, 2023. Presented to Parliament on this day, the white paper started by focusing on change. It stated that the landscape of the UK gambling industry has changed in a significant way. Since the 2005 Gambling Act came about, the world has moved to a more digital approach. This has affected many areas of gambling, including the land-based sector. Because of the changes, the government wanted to review the industry and its laws. Through the new reform, it wants to ensure that regulation meets the challenges.
At the heart of the review is ensuring the balance is right. This means that there is enough consumer freedom as well as protection from harm. A particular focus on protecting children and young adults features in the white paper. What exactly does the white paper suggest with regard to gambling reform?
Protecting People Online
During its research and investigations, the government looked at the online sphere especially. It found that particular elements from this area come with an elevated risk of harm. At the same time, vast developments in technology present new protection opportunities. This is central to making sure that the framework fits in with the digital age.
The idea is that the Gambling Commission will consult on new obligations for operators. This will see licensed brands conduct checks on their customers. As a result, they will be able to understand if their gambling activity is likely to be harmful.
The government agrees with people being free to spend their money how they like, though. To protect players, it proposes the introduction of a system of financial risk checks. Those checks need to be proportionate to the risk of harm occurring. The changes outlined are as follows:
- Assessments start with unintrusive checks (£125 net loss within one month or £500 within a year).
- Escalate to checks which are more detailed at higher loss levels (£1,000 loss within one day or £2,000 within 90 days).
- The triggers for enhanced checks should also be lower for players aged 18 to 24.
- The Gambling Commission will also consult on sharing the data on high risk players as a mandatory process for all operators.
These changes are, without a doubt, a necessity, following many fines issued by the UKGC. One of the latest of these saw a record £19.2 million handed out to William Hill. Some of the failings of that company was not protecting customers, they were able to spend (and lose) huge sums of money without any checks taking place.
Updates to online game design rules are also expected. This will see a focus placed on reducing the speed of play. The government also proposes to introduce a maximum stake limit for online slots. A range of between £2 and £15 is part of the white paper.
Measures to provide greater protection to 18 to 24-year-olds are also up for consultation. This includes options for a £2 limit, £4 limit or individual-based approach.
The Commission also wants to make tools like deposit limits mandatory for players. This eliminates the need for them to opt-in. Instead, they will be able to opt-out.
Marketing and UKGC Power Changes
It is clear to the government that online bonus offers can present risk and so it intends to add even tougher restrictions on both bonuses and direct marketing. It aims to track the practices surrounding online VIP schemes, too. After the Commission strengthened protections on these in October 2020, the number of players on them has declined.
The government also calls on operators to target online advertising away from children. The Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority are working together on this. They will tackle content that may be inappropriate for young people. It will continue holding licensees accountable for affiliate marketing activity.
The government has noted the decision of the Premier League to remove gambling sponsorship from the front of player shirts. This, it said, is in line with new rules. Yet it believes sports governing bodies are better positioned to decide on an approach to this.
The white paper focuses on the Gambling Commission, too. This will receive new powers, allowing it to take a more ambitious approach to enforcement. Utilising data from operators and specialist employees, it will improve its regulation. The government also aims to review the Commission’s licence fees for 2024. This will ensure it has the necessary resources to keep improving.
The UKGC could receive powers to force internet service providers (ISP) to block access to illegal operators. It could also do the same with payment providers in the UK.
A statutory levy is also on the horizon, which operators will pay. The Commission will collect that levy, with the rate it is to be set at not yet determined. Four major operators committed to increase contributions to GambleAware in 2020. This included a cumulative £100 million for treatment services. That will continue being delivered.
Dispute Resolution, Children, Land-Based Gambling
It is difficult for the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and contact centre of the UKGC to deal with 2,000 complaints each year. Instead, the government wants to introduce a gambling ombudsman.
This will ensure further protections for customers comes at a faster pace. The ombudsman will operate in line with Ombudsman Association standards. It will also be credible with gambling customers. All licensed operators would then have to provide access to the ombudsman. This would ensure that customers experience an equal level of protection.
The government expects that such an ombudsman will be set up and ready to go within a year. The process for appointing this will begin in the summer of 2023.
Safeguarding of children from gambling harm is a priority for the government, too. To tackle underage gambling, the age limit for the National Lottery was recently raised to 18. That age limit is already applied to many society lotteries and football pools. Cash-payout Category D slots may also increase their minimum age to 18 alongside.
The Gambling Commission aims to move forward from “Think 21” to “Think 25”. The government also challenges bookies to improve age verification measures on-course. The lower thresholds for online financial risk checks mentioned earlier will also come into play for 18 to 24-year-olds.
With land-based casinos, there will be an increase in machine allowances. That is all subject to fees and mandatory licence conditions as per the Gambling Act 2005. Casinos will also be able to offer sports betting within their establishments.
Credit will be offered to non-UK residents, subject to thorough financial risk checks. This comes about due to banks withdrawing their facilities for the processing of foreign cheques. There will also be adjustments to gaming machines located in bingo halls.