February 3, 2021
The Gambling Commission has announced a raft of new measures designed to make online casino games safer by design. The move follows a consultation that the Commission launched last year with the public and players, the gambling industry and other stakeholders.
The new rules include the outright ban of four key features of online slots games:
- features that speed up play or give the illusion of control over the outcome;
- slot spin speeds faster than 2.5 seconds;
- auto-play – which can lead to players losing track of their play; and
- sounds or imagery which give the illusion of a win when the return is in fact equal to, or below, a stake.
Other changes include:
- a permanent ban on reverse withdrawals – a function which allows consumers to re-gamble money they had previously requested to withdraw; and
- operators must clearly display to the player their total losses or wins and time played during any online slots session,
(herein referred to, collectively, as the ‘New Rules’).
The New Rules will need to be fully implemented by online operators no later than 31 October 2021.
What is interesting, and perhaps disappointing to note, is that the Commission chose not to mention in its press release the significant work that has been carried out by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) and its members in the area of responsible game design – an issue we considered in a previous post. Given that the New Rules, in large part, effectively enshrine into regulation the BGC’s Game Design Code of Conduct (the ‘Code’) that was released in September 2020, this would have been a good opportunity to shine a light on the positive and proactive steps that the industry has taken (and continues to take) in this area. The absence of this may have contributed to the mainstream media styling this as a “clampdown”, while making no reference to the work the industry has been doing.
The Commission does go on to reference the Code at various points throughout the response to the consultation document; however, such instances are often framed as the Commission not deeming that the Code does enough.
In August 2020, we wrote that the Commission (wrongly, in our view) came under scrutiny from the House of Lords Select Committee in its report ‘Gambling Harm – Time for Action’ for not doing enough in respect of game design and related harm indicators. Since that time, there has been continued scrutiny of online operators in the mainstream media and increasing pressure on the Commission to do more, all alongside the ongoing review of the 2005 Gambling Act and the Commission’s role as regulator.
It is unclear whether any of the New Rules will be impacted by the final output of the DCMS’ ongoing review of the 2005 Gambling Act which, in its Call for Evidence, included various references to responsible game design.
Finally, although the issue of stake limits is not dealt with in the Commission’s New Rules, if games are now going to be, by their very design and function, of “safer” design and, we must conclude, present a reduced risk to players, it is notable that certain regular critics of the industry took the opportunity to ignore that and, instead, repeat their demands for the introduction of stake limits. As with any regulatory change, it is important to evaluate the impact of current requirements when making an argument that they don’t go far enough.
The full response to the consultation can be accessed here.