Earlier this month the UK Gambling Commission floated the idea of affordability checks for all online gambling activity exceeding £100 per month.
The idea is currently out for consultation with industry workers and consumers and sees the UKGC attempting their own reforms ahead of what could become bigger changes in the upcoming year.
Talks of a reformed Gambling Act have been consistently tabled and shelved over the years, with the original 2005 Act coming into play before the phenomenon of online gambling ever took hold.
Since 2005 the online gambling landscape has changed dramatically and critics of the 2005 Act believe it is long overdue for reform, something that the UKGC are more than aware of and something that they are arguably pre-empting with their latest proposal to changes in UK gambling law.
It would be far too easy to suggest that operators will want to see the bill thrown out. If it proves to be a success the £100 limit could slow down or, and this is very unlikely, prevent further changes entirely. If the industry does throw the proposal out the media backlash will be savage.
As usual, the operators who will suffer the most if the bill is given the green light are those who will struggle to get the affordability checks done quickly. For huge UK operators like Bet365 and William Hill the infrastructure can be dealt with swiftly and if more staff are required to operate it they will have the funds to ensure it happens.
Further hits to smaller operators could be one too many and competition within the UK market could become less diverse. Ultimately, whilst this will involve an initial outlay for the big firms, they could gain some of that back as customers with money to burn move away from the smaller casinos who take too long to verify their spending.
As for consumers, those who have a gambling problem will welcome the reform. Even those who want to curtail their spending may appreciate having a system in place to take care of that. Those with money who are happy to lose more than £100 per month on gambling will have to wait for affordability checks to be carried out.
Whilst affordability checks currently exist for players looking to take advantage of VIP offers, there can be no doubt that more will need to carried out if the threshold drops to £100 per month. Scott McGregor, the chief operating officer and co-founder of beBettor gave some indication as to what the consumer may experience when the idea of affordability checks was first floated back in July of this year.
“There are only so many checks that can be done manually whereas technological tools are able to check hundreds of thousands of customers per day, providing additional intelligence on those customers.”
McGregor then went on to state that geo-affordability checks are an effective “first-screening tool; it makes an assessment on any given individual based on largely open source income, demographic and property data but, crucially, without invading an individual’s privacy, affecting one’s credit score or leaving marks behind on any records.”
That final part is vital and has to be an assurance for all consumers in the UK who need to know that their data is not being shared or passed on or that bets accumulating to a £101 in a single month won’t affect their credit score.
This means that the big change for consumers will be a toss up between the inconvenience of affordability checks or the protection of those who have a gambling problem. When looked on in that light, you would imagine that the inconvenience is one that can be endured for the sake of something much more important.
This is coupled with claims from the UKGC that some operators are still not doing enough to support problem gamblers. A statement from Gambling Commission executive director Tim Miller read: “While some operators have continued to improve their customer interaction processes, our evidence shows that many online operators are not setting thresholds for action at appropriate levels. We are clear on the need for gambling companies to take further action and that the Commission must set firm requirements to set consistent standards.”
It is perhaps also worth pointing out that if a check is proved successful, meaning a customer has the financial background to justify spending more that £100 in a month on gambling, that they will be allowed to do so. It is also worth pointing out that the proposal is for a loss limit, not a deposit limit, meaning that affordability checks are carried out to see if consumers can afford to lose £100 in a single month.
Ultimately, when looked at beyond the headlines, not a huge amount will actually change if the proposal do come to light, certainly not for your typical punter. For those who can afford to lose large amounts of money and want to continue doing so, they will face some inconvenience but, then again, the inconvenience of ID checks in the UK has proved minimal so far and perhaps the same will occur if the £100 maximum loss does come into play.
As for pre-empting changes that could be on their way a result of wholescale regulatory reform, I don’t honestly believe that this proposal alters very much.
What we can expect is that further changes will come and that the UK will eventually become one of the most heavily regulated countries in the world. We have already seen Betsson pull all but one of their brands from the UK market and it is likely that more will follow as bigger changes come into play.
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