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One of the biggest impacts to the online betting industry over the last twenty years, was the introduction of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) in 2007. The need for regulation was becoming increasingly apparent, so the UKGC brought in significant changes to the transparency of the gambling sites in terms of bonuses and any related conditions. Many believe the new legislation is a marked improvement, but there are others who find them frustrating, including customers and the sites themselves. The banning of credit cards as a payment method was one such change which caused a ripple affect throughout the industry.
Most of us thought we’d have a break over covid, but we were very wrong because the UKGC brought in further restrictions. This ‘package of strict measures’ had to be in place by the 31st October 2021 and was said to be a way to protect players and enhance the controls on online slots.
The need for the amendment changes or more specifically, ‘a way to make online games safer by design’, was raised during a public consultation. Throughout July 2020 the UKGC gathered information from various organisations and groups, including GamCare. Their focus was to review what risk intensive play elements of online slots had on bettors.
The initial response from many of the gambling operators was a denial of the connection between auto-play and the increased risk of gambling addictions. But the UKGC didn’t agree and instead found that the majority of players were at risk of harm.
This of course will have an impact on you as an online player, so we’re here to explain what it means and cover all of the changes introduced.
The UK Gambling Commission Changes from 31st October 2021
Auto-Play is Banned
Most of you will probably have heard of auto-play, but you may not be sure what it is. It’s the term used for the option where the reels spin continuously until the credit runs out, without the player having to click on the spin button.
Auto-play has been a popular option for players who don’t want to repeatedly hit the spin button over and over again. But it’s also important for players who struggle with disabilities, who may not be able to click continuously. Some use it so that they can play multiple games online, for example they can use auto-play on slots as they play bingo.
It may be obvious why the UKGC and GamCare would find auto-play a problem, but we like to ensure we provide you with full details. Because this option means that you don’t have to click to play, you can end up spending a lot more than originally intended; especially if you have a gambling addiction. Even the fact that you can play two games at once, means you’re betting twice the amount.
Removing this would mean that if you wanted to bet then you had to work for it by clicking. It’s also a way of making you aware of how much you’ve wagered and the amount of credit which is left. The key to minimising the impact is to make gamblers conscious of their actions as they play.
Minimum Game Cycle Speed to Be At Least 2.5 Seconds
We’ll begin by saying that a game cycle is the period of time between you hitting spin and then being allowed to hit spin again. Previously the game cycle was pretty much automatic, but the new rules introduced by the UKGC increased it to 2.5 seconds. This means that when you hit spin, you will have to wait 2.5 seconds until you can do it again, even if the original spin completes in less time than that. Having this new rule means that gamblers will play at a slower speed, and as such they shouldn’t bet through their money as quickly. It is hoped that this will lead to more control as they wager.
Speed Up Features
There are two aspects to this regulation, the first being the banning of turbo buttons which bypass any animations and speed up actual game play. The other area is the illusion given to the gambler that they have control over the outcome of the game. This one isn’t easy to pinpoint down because there are many examples where players can believe that they have some influence. To give you an example, within a feature round when the player has an option to pick a bonus hidden under a symbol. In reality the choice made the player has no impact on the game, because the outcome has already been determined by the Random Number Generator (RNG). Because many bonus features have pick-me options, the only way to resolve the illusion of choice is by removing any player interaction. Instead, when a prize is due then the game would just give a reward.
This change was something we whole heartedly agree with and join the many addiction charities who criticise its use. It came as no surprise that the UK Gambling Commission was in agreement with its removal.
Reverse withdrawals can be found when a player chooses to remove their winnings. Previously when they clicked the cash out button, many casinos would have the player wait for a set time period before the withdrawal request was actually completed. The site hoped that the player would retract the withdrawal request and use it to continue playing. As you can imagine the consultation period found that the option of reverse withdrawal was an enticement for players and as such posed a threat to the vulnerable.
This change means that when you cash out, you have made your decision and cannot change your mind. If you want to use the money as credit, then you will have to add it again as credit from your bank.
Removal of Sounds and Imagery Which Create an Illusion of a Win
We have to admit we hadn’t even realised or considered this, until we read it in the UKGC consultation findings. For wins that amount to less than or equal to the original stake, the gambling site can no longer celebrate it as a win with sounds or imagery. To give you can example, if you paid £1 to spin and you win 50p, essentially you have walked away with 50p less. Previous to the changes, you would have received a celebration by images and sounds purely because you had won. This will only occur when you have won more than the original stake, so taking our example, if you landed a £1.50 win.
Total Losses Must Be Clearly Displayed for the Player
A difficulty for problem gamblers is stopping themselves from spending more than they wanted to or can afford. This is made worse by the fact that you don’t really have anything on the screen or game indicating how long you have been playing or the amount you have wagered.
The introduction of a section on the screen which states how much a player has lost, will provide a constant reminder. This will hopefully influence them to make the right decision and stop betting when they reach a point that they cannot afford, thus reducing harm to the player.
UK Gambling Commissions Response to the Changes
Within the consultation there were many gambling operators who felt that the decision to remove auto-play was unfair. They specifically mentioned that players with certain disabilities would be penalised. Their reasoning did not deter the UKGC from their decision, which they felt was to protect the vulnerable.
This was backed by the Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission who said that ‘drastic action’ was needed and “to make online games safer we are introducing a ban on features that speed up play or give the illusion of control over the outcome. We are also introducing a ban on auto-play, losses disguised as wins, and slot spin speeds faster than 2.5 seconds. This is another important step in making gambling safer and where the evidence shows that there are other opportunities to do that, we are determined to take them.”
Summary of Slot Game Auto-play Ban
It’s extremely clear that amendments such as these are a picture of the things to come. We have seen significant changes to the industry since the UKGC was introduced, all with a focus on protecting vulnerable players from the affects of gambling. With that in mind, there is an inference that should the UKGC need to make further changes, they will without hesitation and thought to the response by operators.
Will these changes have an impact on the level of addiction within the UK? We will have to see. Some feel that the removal of auto-play may cause players to spend more, because they have full control of their betting rather than setting a specific amount. Auto-play creates a gap in play, whereas now the bettor is repeatedly hitting the button and not considering how much they are spending.
For the sites, they will have an issue with determining what is an illusion of control, because this overarching requirement could see the loss of many of our favourite slot games.
As you can imagine, although there are many who applaud the changes, there is a sense of trepidation that the things we love about online gambling will be stripped away. The excitement of a feature bonus with a pick-me option gave a slot game an additional thrill and we are sad to see it go.
For further information on the recommendations and responses to the regulation changes, check out the UK Gambling Commissions paper.
For those of you who have enjoyed this article then we have plenty more, including Gambling Winnings Tax in the UK Explained, Why are Credit Card Payments Banned on UK Gambling Sites and Pachinko Games Online.