The big shift in regulation in 2014 that all gambling operators dreaded (and many were ultimately defeated by) was the point of consumption tax. The introduction of a tax on what operators made from UK players meant a massive increase in running costs, and the closure of a large number of sites. The UK governement won’t leave the industry alone, it seems, and the first lot of new legislation for this year has just been announced. There have been few surprises in some instances – with tighter regulation on real money gambling – while in social gaming there has been a shocking lack of new legislation.
The changes will mean a huge upheaval in the way players experience online and mobile casinos. While the introduction of new laws on offers and ‘time-outs’ will mean the way casinos look and behave will need to change substantially, the fact that the Gambling Commission has decided against regulating social gaming means that the continued shift towards social games and apps with in-game purchases seems set to continue indefinitely.
This round of legislation has introduced a number of new rules which operators have a whole 14 months to comply to. While with all kinds of law making there are ins and outs that would bore the socks of a mole, there are a few interesting points which are bound to change how players interact with casinos.
Firstly, if you’ve ever played on a betting machine in a bookies in the UK, you’ll probably know that after a certain time, it will require you to take a moment of reflection. These time-outs are designed to make sure you don’t get too absorbed and lost in the game, and hopefully make sure you don’t lose all your money without really noticing where it’s gone.
The new rules laid down by the Gambling Commission will require mobile and online casinos to conform to these same laws. What this effectively means is that when you’ve been playing for a certain amount of time, a notification will come up on screen reminding you of how long you’ve been playing and how much you have spent.
It, along with the other rules I’ll discuss below, is aimed at improving the social responsibility the operators have towards their players, ensuring players can keep track of their play, and hopefully diminishing the effects of problem gambling. Despite support throughout the gambling industry for curbs on problem gambling, it has long been a criticism of time-outs on betting machines that they can be opted out of and skipped, and there is no indication that this wouldn’t be the case for online and mobile games using the same technique.
Have you ever accepted a bonus, placed a free bet, or taken extra spins, only to realise that the deal was nowhere near as good as it sounded, and being laboured with heavy wagering requirements or worse? The UK Gambling Commission is clearly worried that players are being tempted by offers which indicate they can claim free money, without really understanding the terms and conditions. It’s generally thought that if operators benefit from this kind of miscomprehension, they have made money through dishonest means.
That is why as part of the new rule, operators will have to be explicitly clear about exactly what players can expect from any offer or bonus they opt into. I for one will be perfectly happy with this move, as I have always been an advocate of transparency in the industry. While it might mean more reading, if it also means not being caught out by unfair and unscrupulous operators, I’m all for it.
In a surprise turn of events, when the Gambling Commission reviewed the status of social gaming, it decided that because it did not resemble real money gambling enough, it would be excluded from any of the rules and restrictions which real money operators are subject to. This is great news for players and operators alike, as it means that games creators and social casinos have free reign to create whatever playing environment they think their players will love.
We have already been witnessing a surge in social gaming in the wake of the POCT debacle, and the changes to the EU VAT laws, so the fact that social gaming will remain unregulated while real money gaming faces tighter restrictions will surely mean we’ll be seeing another boost in popularity for social games and casinos when these laws come full into effect.
The legislation review looked at all aspects of the gambling industry, and not just the online and mobile side. One of the new rules that will only affect land-based operators is that all casinos, bookmakers and other betting operators will need to be part of a nationwide network which documents every player who has chosen to self-exclude from gambling. The hope is that players won’t simply be able to self-exclude in the William Hill shop on the high street, then simply wander into the Ladbrokes next door.
I fully support this step towards changing attitude towards responsible practices in the gambling industry, but I do wonder why this piece of new legislation – which could save many people struggling with problem gambling lots of money every year – isn’t being put in place for mobile and online operators too. It almost seems as if it would be easier to do this online. This is just me commenting on this point – wouldn’t it be a good idea if all sites knew when a certain player wanted to self-exclude? What do you think?