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GOOD WAGER? UK Gambling Act Set to be Reformed

THE GAMBLING industry in the UK is worth somewhere around £14-15 billion and creates a staggering 100,000 domestic employees alone. Of this multi-billion industry, £5.3 billion is online, meaning that the currently surging internet gambling space is indicative of massive and continued future growth. Indeed, the lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing following this year’s coronavirus outbreak has seen online casino searches peak at an all-time high.

The Gambling Act and Gambling Commission were created by the UK Government in 2005 and 2007 respectively, for the purpose of legislating and managing the gambling industry in general, as well as the burgeoning online presence of internet casinos whose number and variety have exploded since the early 21st century.

As this rapid growth of online gambling has proceeded, legislation has struggled to keep pace and for this reason the UK Government is now looking to begin a review of the Gambling Act and Commission. While some of the changes mandated by the UK Government have already been enthusiastically embraced by legal operators in the industry, other aspects of internet casinos apparently need revision and a new legal framework, hence the review.

An example of successful legislature thus far includes the Gambling Act’s requirement for online casinos to own and display a gambling license, which has been prudently followed by online casinos. One online slot site, for example, explicitly encourages its UK visitors to “always look out for the UKGC logo and gambling license”, and further directs them to “check whether a slot site has one of these by looking in the footer of every online slot site to find the licensors logo and license number” (source: https://labslots.com). 

Yet new laws and guidelines may be necessary, and it is for this reason that UK Government is now opening its review of the Gambling Act and Commission. Below are five issues that are likely to be included in the current review.

Advertising

In recent years, great emphasis has been placed on the vulnerability of certain audiences, in particular children, to being targeted and influenced by advertisements for gambling. Especially online gambling has seen an increase in advertising across other mobile and desktop-based apps. Findings of research published earlier this year suggested that high volumes of betting ads are likely to disproportionately affect children. Reports from Government officials have confirmed that advertising is an especially high-priority issue for the upcoming review. Actors in the gambling space both online and in physical space should therefore expect curbs to future marketing and advertising campaigns.

Losses and Betting Limits

As part of combating the exploitation of similar vulnerable groups as above, such as children, think tanks such as the Social Market Foundation have suggested an introduction of caps on allowed daily, weekly or monthly losses to gambling online. How exactly this kind of putative rule or law would be enforced, if it is introduced as a consequence of the review, remains unclear. But online casinos in particular should be ready to prepare some kind of infrastructure to allow for this kind of check.

Check-Ins

Following the huge spike in online gambling during the pandemic, the Gambling Commission instituted guidelines instructing online casinos to check in on their players on a minimally hourly basis. This is to be conducted via a phone or web chat and should result in termination of the gambler’s connection if they reveal themselves to be a problem gambler. It is unclear if these guidelines will be extended beyond the pandemic’s course, or if they will be further strengthened as a result of the upcoming review. Making this practice permanent would be a reflection of the Government’s continued attempts to balance the interests of online casino operators with what they deem to be vulnerable persons.

Tax Breaks

In a slightly different area, the Government is expected to pursue some kind of legislation either demanding or else simply rewarding online casinos that are currently offshore returning home. Moving firms onshore as a method of increasing state control over their practices has been a recommended course of action for many years now, but has seen increased pressure following the financial aftermath of the pandemic. While a heavy-handed approach to this issue is not likely given the Government’s general business-friendly position, online casinos should anticipate some kind of financial temptations for on-shoring following the review.

Kitemarking

Related to the above, some parties have suggested introducing a scheme similar to Kitemarking, in which businesses are offered “soft” incentives to onshore and following certain gambler-friendly practices as will be outlined by the review. In such an approach, online casinos will receive some kind of grade or seal of approval indicating to consumers that they are compliant with what will likely be optional adherence to guidelines instituted by the Gambling Commission in the upcoming review.

Conclusion

Whatever the exact decisions of the Government will be in this reform, business operating online casinos should certainly pay close attention and follow developments with interest as there will almost certainly occur some kind of change that will require accommodation into ongoing business practices.

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