Further gambling consultation – laying down the gauntlet on slots design

The Gambling Commission yesterday announced a new consultation on online slots game design. In its recent update on progress made by certain industry working groups, the Commission was openly critical of the initial code of conduct proposed made by Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) members in this area. The Commission expressed frustrations that the industry was not addressing all the issues raised by the newly formed Experts by Experience Group. The BGC are due to publish an updated code by the end of September which is expected to address some of this criticism. The commencement of the consultation today would suggest the Commission is not prepared to wait until then to move the discussions on game design forward.

The Commission states in its introduction to the consultation that:

The aim of this consultation is to make play of online slots safer by: – adopting some proposals from the industry working group and ensuring a consistent approach for all relevant licensees, not just BGC members; andconsulting on additional ways to keep consumers safe – over and above the contents of the draft code provided by industry.

The Commission is particularly concerned with the intensity and speed of play of online slots. This is a politically charged issue. The Commission has, wrongly in our view, come under fire from various quarters for allowing the industry the opportunity to devise the new code. It is also accused of not being tough enough generally and the recent report from the House of Lords Select Committee demanded action from the Government, the regulator and the industry in a number of areas, including game design and related harm indicators.

Perhaps this explains why the Commission is consulting on the industry’s first set of proposals with a deadline for responses ahead of the expected date of publication of the industry’s second set of proposals. It is a curious timetable but certainly lays down the gauntlet for the BGC in terms of where the revised code is pitched.

Nevertheless, critics of the Commission from within the industry are crying out for regulation backed by evidence led findings and should therefore be encouraged to participate in the consultation, not least as the Commission have seemingly shoe-horned in a section on reverse withdrawals. This certainly feels like a reaction to the industry view that the Commission was regulating on the hoof when it temporarily suspended reverse withdrawals without any form of consultation as part of its COVID-19 emergency (see more here).

The consultation offers a chance for the industry to rebut a perhaps not unreasonable presumption that a reverse withdrawal is a potential red flag from a social responsibility perspective. In any event, it was always tempting to conclude that this lockdown prohibition would never be lifted.

We encourage anyone with a position on these topics to respond. With new gambling legislation a racing certainty, a progressive discussion is critical for the future of the industry – the level and nature of the engagement will have a profound impact on the outcome. A completely polarised debate in the current environment wouldn’t bode well.

The consultation is open until 3 September and can be accessed here.