How UKGC´s Proposals Could Affect Online Poker Players

UK Gambling Commission (UKGC)Last week, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) released recommendations to enhance consumer protection throughout the UK´s gambling industry. The proposals are far-reaching and could affect online poker players – including players around the world who play on a platform sharing a UK database.

The UKGC is the United Kingdom´s regulatory authority for all things gambling related – including online poker. Following a comprehensive study of the UK´s gambling industry, the Commission last week released a “Review of Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures Report” (PDF) containing  recommendations to enhance consumer protection.

Although the primary focus of the report is Fixed Odds Betting Machines (FOBTs), the report makes certain recommendations that, if applied to online poker, would have significant implications for both operators and players. Potentially, they may also affect online poker players around the world who play on a platform sharing a UK database.

Could Limits be Applied to Poker Bets?

One of the most reported recommendations is a proposed limit on bets made on FOBTs. Slots games would have a limit imposed of £2 per spin, while the maximum a player could stake in the spin of a roulette wheel would be £30. Although there was no mention made of limits being applied to any other form of gambling, there is a precedent for limits being applied to poker bets.

When online gambling was regulated in Spain in 2011, a limit was applied to the maximum big blind in cash games (€10) and the maximum buy-in for multitable tournaments (€250). There were also limits introduced on how much a player can deposit in a day (€600), week (€1,500) and month (€3,000). Those limits remain in force, affecting players who play on PokerStars´ pan-European network.

Although there have not been any calls to apply limits to poker bets in the UK, it is not inconceivable an extension of the FOBT proposals could be considered to include other forms of gambling. If this were to be the case, the limits may not be as drastic as those applied in Spain, but they could make a difference to many high-rolling online poker players – especially in the world´s biggest online poker tournaments.

The End of Play Money Poker Games?

Possibly more realistic is an end of play money poker games. This could come about if recommendations to prevent minors accessing online gambling sites are adopted. The recommendations would place an obligation on online operators to conduct age verification, ID verification and affordability verification checks before allowing players to access any part of their websites.

The rationale behind the recommendation is to prevent minors becoming addicted to gambling games by playing on the free games offered on casino websites. The ID verification procedure would be brought forward from the point of withdrawal to the point of deposit, while the affordability verification check is there to ensure gamblers do not wager more than they can comfortably afford to lose.

If the same criteria is applied to online poker operators (most of whom also operate online casinos), the additional work may not make it justifiable to continue supporting play money poker games. The operators may withdraw the games altogether, or make it a prerequisite of playing on the site that players purchase play money chips rather than top them up for free.

Other Recommendations that could Affect Online Poker Players

We spotted three other recommendations that could potentially affect online poker players – and all of them positive (so they likely will not happen). The first recommendation concerns scrapping reversible withdrawals. These benefit only a handful of poker players, while online operators get to keep hold of players´ funds for up to three days – earning the poker operators a little bit of interest each time.

The second recommendation poker players will cheer is the scrapping of rollover requirements before requesting a withdrawal. Many online poker sites offer first deposit, reload and no deposit bonuses on the proviso that players will forfeit the bonus if they request a withdrawal before meeting specific rollover requirements. Many players would be glad to see the back of this proviso.

Finally, the UKGC feels online gambling operators should make the terms and conditions of their promotions clearer. We often find when writing articles for PokerNewsReport that some online poker operators go out of their way to make the terms and conditions of their promotions well beyond the comprehension of the man in the street. Publishing terms and conditions in plain English would certainly make our jobs easier, and enhance the consumer protection of players who participate in them.

The UKGC will now consult with the UK´s Government and industry stakeholders to see which of the recommendations can be enacted voluntarily, which need to be applied by law, and which should be included in the UKGC´s license conditions and codes of practice. Further updates on the recommendations should be released throughout the year.