Gambling Commission to Review Online Stakes
The Gambling Commission has told British MPs that it will make a decision on stake limits for online casino games within the next six months. The regulator made the announcement following increasing pressure from MPs to bring stakes at online casinos into line with limits placed on fixed odds betting terminals.
Online Stake Limit of £2 Possible
Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, made the statement whilst speaking to the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group. On February 12th, he addressed the concerns of the APPG, confirming for the first time that the regulator would review its stance on stake limits. As it stands, there are currently no limits imposed on online casino stakes.
McArthur discussed a number of issues with Carolyn Harris, who is Chair of the APPG, alongside Vice-Chairs Ronnie Cowan, Lord Don Foster and Sir Iain Duncan Smith. The APPG pressed the regulator on whether it was fulfilling its duty to protect vulnerable people from gambling harms. It also questioned whether the fines that the Commission imposes for online gambling breaches were effective enough.
On the subject of online stakes, McArthur confirmed that the Gambling Commission would conduct a review of online stakes over the course of the next six months. If the Gambling Commission meets the demands of the APPG in full, online casinos could see a stake limit of just £2 imposed. The stake limit would aim to reduce the amount of debt that can be rapidly accumulated by people who are addicted to online slots.
“A review of stake limits online has been clearly recommended by the All Party Parliamentary Group and is long overdue. I am very pleased that the Gambling Commission has finally seen sense on this. Online slot content games should be reduced to £2 a spin in line with the rules in betting shops. The Gambling Commission must stop being reactive and take action to protect the vulnerable from harm in line with their licensing objectives.”– Carolyn Harris MP, Chair, All Party Gambling Related Harm APPG
Speaking for the Betting and Gaming Council, Brigid Simmonds warned that a limit on online casino stakes could have the opposite effect to that intended. “We need to have an online betting gaming industry in this country which is best-in-class but also competitive in a world where, if you are not careful, you could drive people into the black market, which we don’t want to do.”
James Noyes, the former aide of Labour’s ex-deputy leader Tom Watson, said that gambling online should to be brought into line with gambling on physical slot machines. “It makes no sense that stake limits for physical machines are enshrined in law, yet there is no equivalent for online gambling. Just as there are fixed categories of machines in casinos and arcades, we need to see the same introduced online.”
So far, the APPG has had significant success with its demands. In November, it requested that the Commission place a blanket ban on gambling with credit cards. These demands triggered a plunge in betting company shares, as investors cashed out in alarm. Following a Review of Online Gambling, the Commission agreed to ban credit card gambling at the beginning of the year. Operators have two months left to adjust their services, before the ban comes into full force on April 14th.
The APPG also successfully pushed for stake limits to be placed on fixed odds betting terminals. FOBTs have been criticized for their addictiveness, with campaigners describing them as like ‘crack cocaine’ for gamblers. Before stakes were limited, players could place bets of up to £100. Following years of debate from campaigners and MPs, the maximum stake was brought down to £2 in May 2018. The changes came into effect in April 2019. There was an outcry from the industry following the changes, with William Hill declaring that it would have to shut down 700 shops because of the new policy.
VIP Schemes May Also Face Ban
Another issue that was discussed at the meeting was the widespread use of VIP accounts in online casinos. VIP accounts offer players rewards for gambling frequently. Free wagers, gifts and cash are used to encourage gamblers to keep betting, even if it is beyond their means. According to critics, checks on VIP status customers are inadequate. Some customers have been able to wager with stolen money, while others have been allowed to lose catastrophic sums of money without intervention.
Brigid Simmonds, Chair of the Betting and Gaming Council has spoken about the need for change.
“Our industry recognizes the need to change practices in this area and we will soon publish the terms of a review for a new industry code of conduct. We intend to consult widely on the shape of this new code, to ensure we are always putting the welfare of our customers first.”
Figures from the UKGC show that 50,000 UK gamblers are part of VIP schemes. Operators rely on these customers more heavily than non-VIP customers. In one instance, 83% of an operator’s deposits came from the 2% of customers in its VIP scheme. The Gambling Commission has now agreed with critics, saying that it would be forced to ban VIP schemes if operators did not reign in on the harm that these schemes cause.