Are Sweeping Changes Ahead for Online Gamblers in the UK?

A report released by a Parliamentary Group investigating gambling harm contains proposals that could significantly change the online gambling landscape in the UK.

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UKA report released by a Parliamentary Group investigating gambling harm contains proposals that could significantly change the online gambling landscape in the UK.

The UK´s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm is the successor to the Parliamentary Group responsible for achieving a reduction in maximum stakes for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) found in the UK´s betting offices. It was formed to investigate potential harm from online gambling that had been reported during the investigation into FOBTs.

The group has just published its interim report (PDF) after conducting six months of public and private interviews. The report is critical of the lack of controls in place to prevent potential harm from online gambling in the UK, critical of online gambling operators for exploiting the lack of controls, and critical of the UK Gambling Commission for allowing the situation to continue.

Among twenty-eight recommendations made by the All-Party Parliamentary Group, five, in particular, could significantly change the online gambling landscape in the UK:

Limits on Amounts Gambled in One Transaction

The Group believes if the amount which can be gambled in one transaction is limited, this will also limit the harm these products cause; and while the report only specifically mentions reducing the maximum stake for slots games (to £2 in order to bring them in line with FOBTs), concerns are raised about players “doubling up” to chase losses (as in the Martingale betting system for roulette).

If limits are applied to all forms of online gambling, this could have implications for regulated online poker in the UK. It might not be possible in the future to play no limit or pot-limit cash games at regulated sites above a certain stake level, or enter tournaments with buy-ins of more than (say) £10. The likely consequence of this would be to drive players to unregulated sites.

A Ban on Credit Card Deposits

In early 2018, the Citizens Advice Bureau called for a ban on credit card deposits in a report compiled for the UK Government´s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports (DCMS). The UK Gambling Commission stated it was in favor of the ban at the time, but nothing ever came of the proposal. Now the report calls for credit card deposits to be banned immediately.

The purpose of the proposed ban is to stop problems gamblers building up debts on their credit cards in order to feed their addictions. If this recommendation is accepted, it shouldn´t have that much impact on online poker in the UK, as online operators can accept funds via a variety of banking methods. It will just make it more inconvenient for problem gamblers to get their fix.

An Industry-Wide System of Affordability Checks

This proposal calls on the online gambling industry to develop software that prevents a problem gambler opening accounts with multiple operators when they cannot afford to gamble. The report claims the average disposable income across the UK is £450 per month, so gamblers that want to deposit more than that should be asked to confirm they can comfortably afford it.

The reason for the affordability checks being industry-wide is to prevent a problem gambler depositing (say) £300 with one operator, £300 with a second operator, and a further £300 with a third operator to avoid scrutiny of their finances. The group suggests a “Single Sign-On” mechanism that would mean gamblers in the UK would have to use the same username and password for all gambling accounts.

A Restriction on Bonuses, Incentives, and VIP Accounts

A few years ago, a restrictions on bonuses, incentives, and VIP accounts would have a serious impact on UK poker players; but, due to the way in which player rewards have been reduced over time, it´s rarely the case players go chasing Poker Points in order to achieve the next status level because the rewards just aren´t worth it – although it might stop bonus hunters opening new accounts every three months.

This recommendation is more geared towards online casinos offering time-limited bonuses with heavy rollover requirements or invitations to sports bettors to qualify for a VIP account by gambling a minimum amount each month. Naturally if this recommendation is adopted, there will be some fallout for online poker players, but the impact on the financial benefits will be minimal.

Licensed Operators should Withdraw from Unregulated Jurisdictions

This is the biggy as far as online poker in the UK is concerned. The Group recommends that “Gambling Commission licensees should cease active trading in jurisdictions that have not formally legalized remote gambling”. This would mean either that poker sites would have to withdraw from “grey markets” (i.e. Germany, Russia, Brazil, etc.), or withdraw from the UK market.

This recommendation affects practically online poker site operating in the UK and, if adopted, would starve UK players of liquidity. Sites such as PokerStars, 888 Poker, and Party Poker (that have a presence in the ring-fenced EU market of Spain, France, and Portugal) might be able to include UK players in their EU market, but this would be subject to what other recommendations are adopted (i.e. stake limits).

More Work Still to be Done before Final Report Released

It has to be stressed these recommendations have been made in an interim report and are subject to change. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm still has to conduct public and private interviews with the DCMS, the Gambling Commission, and the Advertising Standards Authority to determine its final recommendations.

However, considering the way the Group was instrumental in getting a reduction in stakes for FOBTs against the gambling industry´s wishes, it is likely that many of the interim report´s recommendations will be adopted to some extent. The Final Report will be released in the New Year and its recommendations could be changing the landscape of online gambling in the UK by this time next year.