Will Online Slots Be Limited to £2 Per Spin?
February 18, 2020
This is a closed question, demanding a “Yes” or a “No” response but, truth be told, there is nothing straightforward in the betting industry just now. The fact is, there is a fierce tug-of-war between the betting companies and regulators, who are seeking to curb problem gambling by introducing a raft of piecemeal measures.
Online slots are the latest form of gambling in the sights of Parliament and the Gambling Commission and the drive to limit slots to £2 per spin – mirroring the £2 maximum stake introduced on FOBTs in betting shops on 1 April 2019 – may well succeed. However, the limit may have less effect than intended, as it is thought that gamblers will merely look for other online casino offers and products iinstead.
That said, even the fact that the measure is being considered has had a major effect on the share price of gambling companies as investors have sold off shareholdings in anticipation of further restrictive regulation.
The gambling industry was deregulated way back in 2005 when the Labour government, under the leadership of Tony Blair, introduced the Gambling Act. This allowed an increase in competition and advertising that allowed the gambling industry to prosper. Since 2005 the industry has experienced massive growth, fuelled by technological change which has increased both the number of products available to users, and the number of gamblers through, for example, ready access to mobile apps.
But regulators are now seeking to put the brakes on this burgeoning growth, with the objective of protecting vulnerable people from problem gambling. Researchers reckon that up to half a million people in the UK are showing signs of problem gambling behaviour and many believe that this is fuelled by betting companies through intense sports advertising, VIP schemes, and the channelling of football supporters to betting sites to access live coverage of football games.
The Gambling Commission, the government body responsible for regulating gambling in the UK, is intended to protect the vulnerable and it advises the government on gambling-related issues. Its board, known as Commissioners, report to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. But the latter is in a state of flux, having had 12 Culture Secretaries in just over 12 years and 10 gambling ministers. Of these 22 elected ministers, only three held their posts for more than 2 years, so it is little wonder that government strategy has been piecemeal and largely reactive in nature.
During this vacuum of leadership, the power of the Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group (what a long-winded title) has grown and its ten MP’s have been instrumental in recent regulatory changes. The Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, Neil McArthur, has drawn flack from these MPs as it was revealed that betting companies’ representatives sit on all three of the working groups the Commission has set up to look at improving safeguards for vulnerable people. The Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Group, Labour MP Carolyn Harris, is scathing and says “This is the gambling industry marking their own homework” but McArthur has responded in a robust way, claiming “We’re controlling this process, I’ve set the agenda and the timetable and I’m determined to hold operators’ fees to the flame to deliver what’s promised. Some of the operators involved…have been on the sharp end of our enforcement activity but as a result they’re in no doubt about the consequences of getting this wrong”.
While the Gambling Commission is adopting a collaborative approach with gambling companies, the Parliamentary Group continues to push for more restrictions and McArthur has now committed to a review of on-line stakes and prizes in the short time frame of six months. If he is able to adhere to this timetable we should know by the autumn whether there will be a £2 limit for online slots. But in the longer term, it is surely advisable that there is a comprehensive review of the industry and a mechanism put in place to act quickly and reasonably to regulate an industry which is constantly developing and adapting to new technology and market conditions.