Insights White Paper Consultations: Responsible Game Design

On 26 July 2023, the Gambling Commission (“Commission”) published its first series of White Paper consultations. These four consultations, which are due to close on 18 October 2023, address the following four areas:

  • improving consumer choice on direct marketing;
  • strengthening age verification in premises;
  • remote game design; and
  • remote gambling: financial vulnerability and financial risk.

On the same date, the UK Government (“Government”) published its open consultation on proposals for a maximum stake limit for online slots games. This consultation will be open for 8 weeks, closing on 20 September 2023.

Our blog post: “The Gambling White Paper: Product Restrictions – What’s the spin on the spins?” provided our detailed analysis of the key proposals around product restrictions, namely stake limits, responsible game design, player centric tools and prize draws and competitions. The remote game design consultation and the Government’s stake limit consultation do not deliver any major surprises to the industry and largely follow what was set out in the White Paper, which is summarised below.

Gambling Commission: Remote Game Design Consultation

The intention of this consultation is “to make online products safer and to increase consumer understanding about game play by reducing the speed and intensity of those products”. As such, the proposals are designed to extend the safer game design requirements previously introduced for online slots to other forms of online gambling.

  • Proposal 1 – player-led “spin stop” features: it is proposed that RTS 14E to apply to all gambling as opposed to just slots. Gambling systems must not permit a customer to reduce the time until the result is presented.
  • Proposal 2 – speed of play: proposal of new RTS 14G for all casino games (excluding peer-to-peer poker and slots), which sets a minimum speed of 5 seconds per game.
  • Proposal 3 – autoplay: change RTS 8 to make clear that auto-play cannot be offered for online gambling.
  • Proposal 4 – effects that give the illusion of “false wins”: it is proposed that RTS 14F to apply to all gambling as opposed to just slots. Gambling systems must not celebrate a return which is less than or equal to the total stake gambled.
  • Proposal 5 – operator-led simultaneous products: it is proposed that RTS 14C to apply to all gaming (including bingo) and betting on virtual events as opposed to just slots. Gambling systems must not offer functionality which facilitates playing multiple slots games or products at the same time.
  • Proposal 6 – display of net position and time spent: it is proposed that RTS 2E and RTS 13C to apply to all casino games (excluding peer-to-peer poker) as opposed to just slots. It is proposed that all gaming sessions must clearly display a customer’s net position, in the currency of their account or product since the session started and the elapsed time should be displayed for the duration of the gaming session.
  • Proposal 7 – information security standards: it is the Commission’s view that licensees that utilise cloud services should be aware of any risks this presents to the business; how the provider deals with information security and which party is responsible for dealing with any issues that arise.

Many B2B developers will have expected these types of measures to be proposed but notwithstanding the prior experience of developing certain responsible design features around online slots in the UK market, technological changes cannot be implemented overnight, particularly with developers under competing demands to deliver platforms and products which meet technical standards in jurisdictions around the globe. It will be interesting to see not only where the Commission land on the proposals having received feedback from stakeholders, but also the timelines for implementation.

UK Government: Consultation on proposals for a maximum stake limit for online slots games

The White Paper committed to consulting on a stake limit of between £2 and £15 per spin to structurally limit the risks of harmful play including large losses, binge play, and loss chasing. The Government’s consultation sets out four options for consideration and consultation:

  • a maximum online slots stake limit of £2 per spin;
  • a maximum online slots stake limit of £5 per spin;
  • a maximum online slots stake limit of £10 per spin; or
  • a maximum online slots stake limit of £15 per spin.

In addition, the White Paper committed to consult on slot-specific measures to give greater protections for 18 to 24 year olds who the evidence suggests may be a particularly vulnerable cohort. The Government’s consultation sets out three further options:

  • a maximum online slots stake limit of £2 per spin for 18 to 24 year olds;
  • a maximum online slots stake limit of £4 per spin for 18 to 24 year olds; or
  • not introducing a specific statutory stake limit for 18 to 24 years olds (meaning they could access the general maximum limits above), but instead introducing specific requirements on operators to consider age as a risk factor for gambling-related harm which could justify a range of mitigations, including limiting access to higher staking opportunities on a case-by-case basis.

What is of note in the consultation, is the introduction of a definition for online slots, a definition that largely follows the definition found in the Remote Technical Standards. For the purposes of the UK Government’s consultation, the definition of online slots is as follows:

“Remote casino games of a reel-based type (including games that have non-traditional reels or which combine elements of other games within a slot game mechanic).”

The wording in bold is new and it isn’t, as yet, obvious what the draftsman had in mind but it isn’t there by accident.

The consultation also makes clear that, “the Gambling Commission has powers to update the remote technical standards definitions to respond to emerging risks or boundary pushing products”.  Inevitably an element of future proofing was always going to be present to avoid clever games developers creating something outside the “stake limit” box.

Leaked versions of the White Paper seemingly pointed towards a £5 per spin stake limit but it would be dangerous to place reliance on drafts which could have chopped and changed with Cabinet reshuffle after Cabinet reshuffle and so stakeholders on both sides of the debate will need to put forward evidence to support their preferred options.

Next steps

As the industry reviews and analyses the various consultation from the Commission and the Government, it is important that key stakeholders recognise that this is a rare opportunity for the industry to engage with the Commission and the Government and share knowledge and data which can impact the outcome of the consultation process.

In the past, the industry has felt that their detailed responses to consultations have fallen on deaf ears; however, in a speech delivered at a conference in 2022, Tim Miller, Executive Director of the Gambling Commission, unveiled the Commission’s new stance to consultations and stated that, “our enhanced approach to consulting will enable all stakeholders to feel and see that their voices are heard”. As such, it is important that the industry makes their ‘voices heard’ in order to ensure that results of the consultation reflect the interests of the sector, at large.

For any help with your responses, please feel free to contact any member of the Betting & Gaming team here at Wiggin LLP.