There has been a lot of talk about what will and what won’t be changed when the whitepaper for the review of the Gambling Act 2005 is introduced next year. The Gambling Commission has been presiding over altering the legislation involved in the act so as to cater to today’s gambling industry in the United Kingdom. Rumours have already abounded over what will be included in the adjustments, with both players and gambling operators concerned for the future of the sector.
The initial review of the act was launched by the UK Government in December of 2020. Through this, it aimed to ensure gambling laws in the country are fit for the digital age currently being experienced. Amongst various other suggested changes to the law, it has been proposed that gambling operators can only accept wagers of up to a specific amount, and at the same time, customers can only experience losses of a specified amount. Naturally, this has been met with backlash already, considering that the bets are how the operators make their money, and in the same vein, some players don’t want to be restricted by such limits on their stakes.
While nothing has been set in stone with regard to this already, it didn’t stop some from taking the proverbial bull by the horns. In September, Flutter Entertainment proceeded with launching a £500 loss limit for any gambler under 25 in the United Kingdom and Ireland. As of September 6, Flutter’s Paddy Power, Betfair, and Sky Betting and Gaming brands within the countries were restructured to support this setup. This was labelled as a way to protect younger players and encourage sensible spending at the sites owned by Flutter. The operator did also mention that the deposit limit could be removed for those customers who could demonstrate an income to sustain higher spending levels.
But there is a question to ask here. If deposit limits, stake restrictions, and loss limitations are included in the proposed changes to the Gambling Act 2005, will this have a knock-on negative effect? Could people be encouraged to place bets with bad value attributed to them? After all, if you are restricted to staking £100 per month for example, then you could be more tempted to engage in bets with longer odds or incorporate your funds into an accumulator. Comparative to the more competitive singles bets, these options tend to be of worse value, especially to someone who is used to dealing with individual wagers.
What Limits Can We Expect?
It is all part of the process of reviewing the Gambling Act that various suggestions have been put forth to the Gambling Commission. And when it comes to account limitations, the regulatory body first questioned whether mandatory restrictions should be introduced to the legislation for gambling in 2019. It sought out additional information on this in the proceeding months and years, with the last update to it coming in September of 2021.
And throughout the past couple of years, what exactly has been suggested when it comes to incorporating limitations on UK gamblers? Well, first of all, online stake limits have been brought up as a potential inclusion in the new legislation. Limits are already in place for fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops, which were reduced from £100 down to a much lower £2 per round. The online sector has been largely left untouched in relation to this though, although the same £2 limit has been proposed for online table games and slot machines. Should this be introduced, it is likely to have a huge impact on the industry, though. Upon first hearing of the news, shares in betting firms plummeted, which is exactly what happened when the news broke on FOBT reductions.
Alongside this, the time between spins/hands has been targeted as well. Primarily due to the fact that even with a stake limitation in place, bettors can still spin the reels of a slot every few seconds (and even quicker if playing in turbo mode). It would still be possible to reach lofty heights of thousands of pounds in bets within an hour’s gaming session, for example. Potentially, the changes will see gamblers restricted from placing bets on a casino game or sporting event in quick succession. Perhaps a 30-second break between wagers will be introduced to cater to this potential law change. As a result, the number of losses someone could experience within a given timeframe would be mitigated, and a customer is given more time to reflect on their gambling activity.
But even before you get to the gaming part of your time at a casino or betting at a sportsbook, you will need to deposit. It is possible that changes will be made to the threshold with regard to the amount you are able to deposit into your account. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the United Kingdom, the Gambling Commission introduced temporary limits on the amount that new customers could deposit and wager. This was done because operators had no prior knowledge of new customers and their spending habits, and therefore, it served as an affordability check. There has been talk of carrying this kind of legislation into the new act, though. If it happens, new customers could be restricted to depositing £50 or £100 until proper checks have been completed. And this would also affect the potential bonus rewards they could receive, too.
Is it possible that these changes would actually affect the way a person chooses to bet, though? And are the changes really going to end there? After all, there has even been talk of setting up an alternative regulatory body to the current Gambling Commission. Such a new company to deal with things could make the restrictions even tighter and more harshly enforced for online bettors and gamblers.
Changes Already Being Made, and the Potential Effects
It’s not only the Flutter brand that has introduced certain new rules into its setup, either. Earlier on in November of this year, the LeoVegas Group took the decision to assign individual deposit limits to its UK customers. This, it said, was part of a wider effort to increase safer gambling interactions as well as improve its overall affordability checks on its registered players. Upon making their first deposit at LeoVegas, the platform will assign them a personal deposit limit, and this will continue to be evaluated as the gamer’s gambling data allows. This is just another case of an online operator trying to get ahead of the potential changes that could be introduced in due course. LeoVegas has been the target of the authorities in recent years, after it was discovered that the operator goaded a gambling addict who had been suspended into spending £20,000 on a sister site. Perhaps this is a way of it trying to turn over a new leaf before it is forced to do so by law?
That is one scenario where players could feel themselves being targeted against their will, though. If one player deposits £100 for the first time while another only deposits £20, this is not foretelling of how much they actually can afford to gamble at an online site. In truth, it could very well be that the latter of these two people can afford to do so more than the former. Personalised deposit limitations are quite controversial in this respect.
What about sports bettors as well? What sort of bets are considered to be a common average for UK gamblers when it comes to online sportsbooks? On average, research shows that British people tend to spend about £2.60 per week on gambling, totalling roughly £135.20 per year. This is, of course, no reflection on the amount of money that some high rollers spend on sports bets. £10 or £20 could potentially be one of the minimums for many people, while it is thought that various gamblers of VIP status often wager more on the outcomes of such events.
But if someone who would usually be comfortable placing a £30 bet on Manchester United to win against Everton at odds of 6/4 then finds he is restricted, could it lead him to place something alternative? For example, putting Manchester United into an accumulator with Arsenal, Tottenham, Leicester City, and Manchester City with a £10 stake so as to increase the odds? And while this may increase such, it also increases the margin for the bookmaker alongside. Therefore, the player is decreasing their own value in the process, which is never a good betting situation.
Opinions on Changes Potentially Being Made
Back in February of this year, The Guardian put forward an opinion on the potential changes to the UK’s gambling industry. The article focused on the news of sports teams facing the prospect of no longer being able to be sponsored by gambling companies initially. That reform is something that campaigners said was long overdue for the industry so as to divert sports fans’ attention from the gambling advertisements.
Yet despite this particular potential change, it was the speculation over deposit limits and stake limits that brought about a particularly negative opinion. Within the article, it stated:
“Any accompanying limits on how much gamblers can deposit or lose could also prove critical”,
comparing the potential change to the reduction in the betting limits on FOBTs mentioned earlier.
That was the thoughts of Alun Bowden, a Senior Consultant for Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. He continued on to say that it is quite “impossible to gauge the potential impact”, although it is “not improbable” that some operators have the possibility of losing more than half of the current revenues that they make if such limits are introduced. This is because the income from web-based casinos and sportsbooks has been consistently rising since 2016. In fact, it contributes to about 30% of the industry’s annual £10.8 billion income (excluding the National Lottery).
As well as Bowden, Dan Waugh of Regulus Partners spoke of a reduction in activity at gambling sites if such barriers were introduced to the scene. Especially in terms of stricter affordability checks. He said:
“If it’s the case that consumers are required to produce bank statements or payslips in order to gamble above a certain amount, a significant number of people would not bother”.
One thing that gambling operators have been discussing in recent times as a way of fighting back against such dramatic changes, is to highlight the strong possibility of the UK’s black market. If people were so restricted at legal and licensed online operations, then what is to stop them turning to a black market provider where things would undoubtedly be a lot easier to proceed with?
“Illegal offshore is a proper threat to bear in mind”, said a Senior Executive, despite being highly supportive of tougher regulations being introduced to the UK gambling industry. “You’ve got to be careful and reasonable in what you do. A £2 limit on table games would give you a problem with the black market”,
And while it is probably true to say that the Gambling Commission would likely be provided with additional power to deal with such – if it remains an active regulatory body – it isn’t clear how effective such moves could be. After all, Australia is very tough on offshore platforms providing Aussie gamblers with access to their services, but many platforms still get through the cracks. What is the UK able to do any better so as to ensure that this works in a better way?
Of course, it’s all fine and well to have a negative reaction to such changes, but campaign groups and MPs favouring those curbs have a sturdy argument, too. Reformers have been receiving financial backing from Derek Webb, who is a wealthy ex-professional poker player, as well as a casino game inventor. His low-profile involvement has actually sparked some claims that there is self-interested meddling taking place by the casino industry, although those claims are not really supported by much evidence.
For now, it is simply a waiting game for the gambling sector and the publication of the whitepaper in 2022.