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Could 2022 be the year we see an end to free bets and promotions in the UK?

Players in the UK enjoy some of the most liberal laws in the world when it comes to iGaming and gambling. Whereas certain countries make a conscious effort to criminalize many forms of gambling, the UK has often been seen as a country that embraces it. That’s not to say that there is no regulation. The 2005 Gambling Act saw measures being introduced and also saw the formation of the UK Gambling Commission.

The issue that many campaigners and charities have right now is that a lot has changed since 2005. Perhaps no one could have predicted the growth in online gambling and the ability to bet by only using a smartphone. This has led to numerous calls for change that could change gambling as we know it in the UK.

What are campaigners seeking?

The Gambling Act 2005, and the UK Gambling Commission, have one main purpose: to protect consumers. The legislation, and the body that it formed, seek to ensure that gambling activities are carried out fairly and that those who are vulnerable are offered protection. With the industry now worth almost £15 billion, campaigners are concerned that these protections no longer go far enough and that without change, gambling addiction will become a bigger issue. Some of the changes that they are seeking include:

An end to free bets and promotions 

Online casinos make great use of free bets, bonuses, and promotions to attract new customers. These are some of the main methods used by online casinos to stand out from the crowd. With more and more operators coming to the fore, they feel a need to offer something special. Indeed, this list showing the best casino offers displays there is still some demand for promotions from consumers. 

The issue that campaigners have with these promotions is that they attract those who are vulnerable. Those with a predisposition to gambling can be drawn in and encouraged to gamble even when it is not affordable. There have been references made to those who have committed suicide having been drawn into online casinos following the offer of a bonus.

VIP schemes 

Online casinos often run VIP programmes. These are set up to reward players who show loyalty to the casino and play regularly. Often, membership of a VIP programme is down to how much is being spent. By spending a certain amount, players are rewarded with more bonuses, quicker withdrawals, and even invited to VIP events. 

While VIP programmes can be worthwhile for players, campaigners are concerned that they encourage excessive gambling. There is research to show that VIP players tend to be more prone to problem gambling than non-VIP players. For this reason, campaigners and charities would like to see such programmes banned. 

Online stake limits

There have been recent changes when it comes to placing bets on physical fixed-odds betting terminals. These changes have seen stakes being limited to just £2. The idea behind the change was to offer protection for those who may gamble on impulse and begin to spend more than was affordable. Campaigners are calling for similar measures to be introduced to online casinos.

What is being asked for is a £2 limit for all online casino games. This would mean that players could not stake more than this per spin or per hand of cards/spin of the wheel. Given that there are casinos that allow players to stake thousands of pounds, this could have a huge impact on the industry as a whole. It is expected that operators will resist such a change, or at least try and negotiate higher stake limits.

Restrictions on advertising 

Can anyone remember TV adverts for cigarettes? Of course, it has been some time since these have been seen. They saw an outright ban in order to reduce the risk to public health and, in particular, to prevent children from being tempted to start the habit. There is an appetite to see something similar in terms of online casinos and sports betting.

There is reason to believe that an outright ban on advertising is unlikely, but there may be restrictions. Whereas there is already legislation around adverts not appealing to children, campaigners want to see greater controls such as restrictions on social media and the time that TV adverts are shown. 

A look at self-exclusion 

At present, online casinos have self-exclusion available as an option. This sees players declaring that they need to take a break from gambling and then excluding themselves. During the time that they are excluded, they are unable to play any of the games that are on offer. The problem is that they are simply able to go across to another online casino and continue to gamble. 

Campaigners are supportive of the ability to self-exclude. What they are looking for is self-exclusion to apply to all casinos. As soon as someone is saying that they have a problem, the expectation is that a casino should share this information with other operators. This would prevent someone who believes that they have a gambling problem from experiencing further harm. 

Is the call for change justified?

You are unlikely to find those who operate in the iGaming industry denying that gambling can have a negative impact on people’s lives. The only potential argument revolves around the extent of the problem. Problem gambling can be defined as gambling that is disruptive to the life of the player or their family and where it interferes with day to day life. It is believed that only 0.5% of gamblers have a gambling problem. Of course, every single person is entitled to protection, but are sweeping changes the answer?

Regardless, the truth is that change is coming. Back in 2019, the Government promised a review of gambling legislation. Although it has seen numerous delays and setbacks, it is anticipated that a white paper will be released in the spring of 2022. When we see this, we will be better informed in terms of the extent of any changes that are to come.