UKGC to limit bets for online slots?
Last Wednesday, a committee of British MPs heard from the UK Gambling Commission who is considering placing restrictions on the amount consumers can bet online. Neil McArthur, the CEO of the UKGC, recommended that maximum limits be applied to online betting and that a decision is set to be made within the next six months.
The government’s line was crystal clear: ‘Online slot content games should be reduced to £2 a spin in line with the rules in betting shops. The Gambling Commission must stop being reactive and take action to protect the vulnerable from harm in line with their licensing objectives,’ said Carolyn Harris, of the parliamentary committee on gambling harm.
The effects in the gambling industry were felt immediately. Shock waves occurred despite official talks still being at the consultation phase and no concrete plans in place. Panic rippled through the stock market which saw William Hill take an 8% hit, with Playtech and GVC’s Ladbrokes Coral not far behind with a 7% drop. Other companies might have fared slightly better, but a siege mentally is settling in.
British gamblers have faced a raft of restrictions over the past 12 months. This has included higher taxation and stricter checks for verifying user’s age. Major shakeups began in April last year when the government cracked down on fixed betting terminals or FOBTs.
Brandished the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gambling industry, campaigners objected to the fact that users could place £100 bets every 15 seconds on roulette terminals. The measure to cap them at £2 was introduced much faster than anticipated and wiped billions off the value of gambling providers. This opened the flood gates to an extent, and many felt it was only a matter of time before the online market would come under scrutiny.
The first broadside occurred with the banning of bonus buy options. Bonus buys let players forgo the base game and trigger bonus games by paying upwards of 100x the stake, or more. The use of bonus buys divides the gambling community, but the UKGC took the debate out of British punters hands by banning them outright.
No one in the industry thinks problem gambling is a good thing. Online casinos already have a number of robust measures in place such as strict know your client (KYC) protocols, deposit limits, source of wealth checks, as well as tools to spot and assist with problem gambling. So will placing blanket restrictions on all consumers solve the issue of problem gamblers? Many are skeptical and point to the rise in players patronising offshore online casinos that are beyond the remit of the UKGC. Evidence comes in part from the spiraling number of UK gamblers making complaints after turning to Curacao licensed casinos.
The Betting and Gaming Council represents over 90% of British gambling organisations, and expects the government to seriously consider the online betting limit. Their chairperson, Brigid Simmonds is quoted as saying she agreed that the UK betting industry deserved to be best-in-class and competitive, but came with a warning that ‘…if you are not careful, you could drive people into the black market, which we don’t want to do.’
A timely warning, and the shift to black markets and offshore casinos is not online message board gossip. A recent report by Price Waterhouse Coopers revealed that the unregulated gambling market in the UK turned over around £1.4 billion, and 200,000 gamblers had frequented illegal gambling sites. Clearly, UK gamblers have no problem shifting their business away from legitimately run casinos if the need arises. There is no reason why those figures won’t mushroom further if the £2 restriction sees the light of day.
The fact is that problem gamblers will find a way to bet, whether that is within a £2 limit or with dodgy unregulated or semi-regulated providers. As is often the case with ‘moral legislation’ a vast majority of consenting adults feel penalised for the actions of a much smaller group. A drop in online gambling activity will inevitably result in a decline in taxation and government revenue. Some propose that instead of a blanket ban which forces vulnerable gamblers into the arms of dodgy providers, it would be better to utilise the present tax take and channel it into helping these people out of their situation. Surely that is more positive and proactive than driving people offshore where the concept of player protection is a gamble in itself.