Like all government-backed regulatory bodies in Britain, the UK Gambling Commission often gets hammered from one side for being too soft and blasted from another for being too tough. By and large, though, criticism goes under the radar. For instance, it has never faced the kind of media scrutiny like that aimed at fellow regulatory body, Ofqual, which came under the spotlight after the exam results fiasco this summer.
And yet, while the UKGC will consider that it is doing a good job when it is not making the news, there have been several measures implemented recently that deserve plaudits. Not only is the UKGC making an effort to promote responsible gambling in the UK; it is laying out a blueprint for other gaming regulatory bodies to follow across the world. Still, as we will explain below, its next moves will be crucial for iGaming businesses, and we wonder if the UKGC will go too far.
First, though, a look at some of the positive moves made by the body. For a start, there was the banning of the use of credit cards for deposits at betting and gaming sites in the UK. Few could argue with the sense here, even if it might be a little inconvenient for players. Another good move – one that drew little attention outside the gambling industry – was the elimination of reverse withdrawals. In most casinos and betting sites, a withdrawal would be subject to a pending period – usually of around 24 hours. In that period, players could cancel the withdrawal, putting the money back into the account. The UKGC has deemed that withdrawals cannot be reversed like this. It’s basic nudge theory, but it helps create a cooling-off period.
UKGC set to look at affordability
Measures like those mentioned above should be commended, but it gets a little more complicated when we start looking at some of the proposals for the future (some from campaign groups rather than the UKGC itself). Not only do they threaten the industry’s viability in a business sense, but there are also question on how they impact personal freedoms.
For example, the regulation of stakes. We know that betting limits in physical machines in bookmakers shops are different to, say, those found in a 3D roulette site based in the UK. Online casinos have been allowed to offer games from very small stakes to very high ones, whereas there was a clampdown on maximum betting stakes on FOBTs (fixed odds betting terminals). The maximum stake was cut to £2 last year on these machines, but online games have not yet been regulated.
SMF report suggests tougher regulations
That might change, though. A report set out by the SMF (Social Market Foundation) has recommended that there is a cap of £100 per month on UK deposits. Wagers on games like slot machines would be capped between £1 and £5, and there would be restrictions on the design of non-slot games, i.e. table and card games. If players were to want to spend more, they would have to prove it is within their financial means through credit and affordability checks.
Most observers would agree that setting parameters where people can only gamble within their means is a good thing. But, then again, where will the line be drawn? How far do you delve into someone’s background to check if they can afford to make a £50 bet on roulette? And, couldn’t the same person walk into a high-end London casino and place large bets on the high-stakes tables?
There isn’t an easy answer here, and nor is it clear whether this is an avenue that the UKGC will go down. But striking that balance between player protection and personal freedom is the remit of the UKGC, and many observers will hope they continue to do that.