UKGC Plans to Protect Vulnerable Punters

The UK Gambling Commission plans to introduce measures to prevent underage visitors from betting on play-money sites.

The United Kingdom Gambling Commission [UKGC] has announced a series of proposals designed to protect the country’s most vulnerable citizens from exposure to certain aspects of online gambling. The proposals published by the UKGC on Monday, March 26, include a ban on operators that allow customers to play free-to-play demo games before they register and provide their age. The commission also announced its continuing investigation into whether or not credit-card usage should be banned altogether.

The possible ban on free-to-play demo games before ID and age verification is part of an ongoing push by the UKGC, prodded in part by anti-gambling activists, to prevent children from accessing any interactive game connected to real-money online gambling. Most online sites and services offer some sort of free-play access that seldom requires registration; the Gambling Commission’s plan would reverse that equation, forcing sites to conduct ID and age verification before allowing access to any of their games.

According to the Gambling Commission, there are five main points to the proposed changes and action. They include:

  • Further protecting children by banning operators from providing free-to-play demo games until a consumer’s age has been determined
  • Improving the speed and effectiveness of age verification processes
  • Ensuring operators set limits on consumers’ spending until affordability checks have been conducted
  • Tackling unacceptable marketing and advertising and unfair terms, and improving complaints and disputes procedures
  • Strengthening requirements to interact with consumers who may be experiencing, or are at risk of developing, problems with their gambling.

Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission Chief Executive, said: “Britain has the largest regulated online gambling market in the world and we are continually looking for ways to make it even fairer and safer for consumers.

Pre-emptive measures

“The proposals we have announced today are intended to protect children better, reduce the risks to vulnerable consumers and build on the measures we already impose on operators to know their customers and intervene at an earlier stage before consumers experience harm.”

Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, sounded similar notes: “We are committed to ensuring the gambling industry is safe and sustainable. These proposals for additional regulations will strengthen the controls already in place and further safeguard children and vulnerable people from the risks of online gambling.”

Here at VegasSlotsOnline, the biggest free-to-play casino game website in the world, the plans are to immediately comply with the UKGC proposal regarding age verification, should that proposal become law. Such an edict will have a wide-rippling effect on all sorts of Internet-based games, many of which seek to convert play-money visitors to real-money play.

Regarding real-money online slots operators, there is at least one small silver lining. The UKGC has launched several compliance actions against operators who have offered slots titles that have been accused of targeting a youthful audience. Such titles often include cartoon-style animation or fictional characters from previous generations. In the event of a pre-emptive ban on all non-age-verified play, such enforcement actions would likely become moot.

Also prominent on the UKGC’s must-do list is the agency’s plan to force UK-facing operators to conduct thorough KYC (Know Your Customer) checks on customers who, to paraphrase the agency’s words, begin wagering larger amounts.

The call to set spending limits until such “affordability checks” can be conducted can best be viewed in a public context: Numerous high-profile addictive-gambling episodes featuring gamblers stealing money and gambling it away have been featured in the British press in recent years. In many of those episodes, UK-facing firms have been found negligent in performing background checks into the source of those gamblers’ funds.

Cards off the table?

That continued regulatory pressure serves a secondary purpose – it would also protect diligent operators from some of the bad press associated with these stories. However, the Gambling Commission’s plans regarding future endeavors spread far beyond such extreme addictive-gambling tales; the agency is considering whether the use of credit cards to fund gaming accounts should be banned altogether.

The Gambling Commission has identified five areas, including the credit-card issue, where more work will be done in the coming year. The five areas include:

  • Assess the effectiveness of the current tools available to consumers to manage their gambling
  • Review gambling product characteristics to identify whether particular features pose greater risk of harm than others
  • Review our requirements on the protection of customer funds and consider whether there are sufficient protections around dormant accounts
  • Consider whether gambling on credit should continue to be permitted
  • Consider whether we need to make changes to ensure that consumers can withdraw funds more easily.

More detail on the credit-card issue was offered in the Gambling Commission’s just-published “Review of Online Gambling”. According to that report’s summary: “Concerns have been raised regarding the offering of credit and allowing gambling on credit cards as it increases the risk that consumers will gamble more than they can afford. We support the principle that consumers should not gamble with money that they do not have and plan to conduct further work on gambling using credit in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of associated risks. We plan to consult on the options that emerge from this review.”

UK-facing operators generally garner 10% to 20% of their revenue from such credit-card deposits, according to the UKGC. Banning such activity altogether would likely generate significant industry resistance, and it’s not clear that such a ban would impact the most addictive behavior. The report cited even worse options, such as “the danger of some consumers switching to more risky and higher cost payment methods such as pay-day loans”.

The UKGC also made clear that gambling operators weren’t solely to blame for gambling-related credit issues, citing reports showing that banks had made unauthorized credit-line increases to a million or more United Kingdom banking customers.