The 2005 UK Gambling Act is currently undergoing a complete overhaul. The 2021 Gambling Act, as it will become known, will see much greater emphasis placed on the protection of players. Talks were underway pre-pandemic, but the arrival of COVID-19 and the sudden uptick in the number of people gambling online forced the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC)to make changes earlier than expected. Several emergency measures have already come into force, but there are more changes to come. All UK casino sites are expected to be fully compliant with the new rules by the 31st October 2021.
When the number of online gamblers increased dramatically during 2020, the UKGC were under pressure to act fast in order to protect vulnerable gamblers. The measures introduced in 2020 were as follows:
A ban on reverse withdrawals: Players are no longer allowed to cancel a withdrawal in order to keep playing games at the casino, and a casino is no longer allowed to encourage their players to do so.
Affordability Checks: Casinos are now required to do affordability checks on any player wishing to make a deposit larger than £2000 – this is to ensure that players are not going broke through playing casino games.
Bonus Limits: Casinos are not allowed to offer large bonuses (match deposit bonuses, in particular) to any player who shows signs of problematic behaviour.
Casino Sites Bracing for Change
While the final draft of the new UK Gambling Act has not yet been officially released, top-ratedcasino sites in the UK are already aware of many of the changes that they should expect to face. It has already been made clear that any UK online casinos that fail to make the necessary changes by stipulated date will be heavily penalised. There has, of course, been plenty of disgruntled talk among smaller casinos. Mostly this comes from the fact that many of the proposed changes will see UK casino sites taking a hefty financial hit.
The costs of implementing the required changes to their current business practices will undoubtedly be costly, and the changes themselves will see these site losing a large chunk of their annual revenue. Many smaller sites are justifiably concerned that they will be crushed under the weight of these costs and will have to close their doors. This in turn has led many to voice their concern that the industry will fall under the monopoly of large casino conglomerates that are better able to afford to make the necessary changes-leaving players with less choice regarding where to play, and fewer opportunities to find better odds and bonuses.
The New UK Gambling Act
As previously mentioned, the 2021 changes to the 2005 Gambling Act are primarily concerned with protecting vulnerable players. Many would argue that the changes are akin to the government controlling how people spend their money, and there has been furious debate regarding this issue. The other side of that particular coin is that casinos have been able to exploit vulnerable players for too long, and that even players who would not be considered vulnerable have fallen victim to false promises regarding potential winnings and that casinos make it much to easy for those players to sink extremely large sums of money into their gambling habit.
It seems clear that after having been criticized for taking somewhat of a soft stance up to now, the UKGC seems determined to tighten the reigns on an industry that has become a too big for its boots.
Here are the areas where we will see new rules and regulations take effect:
- Deposit and withdrawal limits
- Time limits
- Loyalty points, VIP schemes, and bonuses
- Identity checks and payments
- TV advertising and sport sponsorship
- Casino ownership
- Company structure
- Deposit protections on customer funds
- Monitoring for problematic behaviour
- Regulation of loot boxes
- Game design
The main aim is to ensure that players are not duped into spending more money than they can afford, which is why affordability checks, deposit and withdrawal limits, time limits, and loyalty schemes are under particular scrutiny. The UKGC also aims to drastically reduce the number of underage and vulnerable players at online casinos, hence the focus on identity checks, TV advertising, loot boxes, and self-exclusion. Game design is also under scrutiny for the same reasons- game designers will no longer be allowed to design games that specifically attract young players.
It would seem that the UKGC is facing an uphill battle when it comes to ensuring that casinos comply with the new rules and regulations. However, there are many within the industry that welcome the changes. Once the dust settles, we should be left with a well-regulated and stable industry. Safety is the main concern for most players, and if the UK gambling industry can continue to provide safe platforms for players, there should be no fear that players will look elsewhere for their gambling needs. And hopefully smaller casinos will still be able to compete with bigger brands.