It’s been yet another successful year for UK’s online slot space. The industry has increased its market share over the traditional bookmaker and land-based casino space once again, with more and more players opting for a modern-day approach to gaming. This has subsequently resulted in slot machine developers and online casinos alike getting more competitive – whether that’s in the form of enhanced RTPs and payouts, or more generous bonus offers.
With that being said, what does the future hold for the online slot arena for 2020 and beyond? Many from within the industry note that uncertainties lie ahead for UK based operators – especially considering the ongoing saga of Brexit. As such, our ‘UK Slot Review Guide 2020’ sought to explore what players should expect in the coming year.
Brexit – Will it impact UK slot players?
With uncertainties still surrounding the outcome of Brexit, it remains to be seen what sort of deal the UK will eventually walk away with. At the time of writing this guide, we are just a few days away from the December 2019 General Election.
If Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party does win a majority government, then it is expected that the Withdrawal Agreement he attempted to pass last month will get the green light in parliament. If it does, then it will be pretty much business as usual in most sectors – at least while the transition period is still in play.
However – and this point is crucial in the context of the UK slots space, it is widely believed that the eventual UK-EU Treaty will implement vast restrictions on the free movement of people. This means that UK citizens could be required to obtain a visa to live, travel, and work in EU member states, and Visa-Versa for EU citizens looking to do the same in the UK.
This doomsday scenario could have a major effect on UK slot players, which we will explore in more detail in the next section of our UK Slot Review Guide 2020.
A relocation of UK operators?
With hundreds of UK operators now active in the online slots space, many of these companies have one thing in common – they have a physical presence in mainland Europe. Notably, this typically covers two jurisdictions in particular – Malta and Gibraltar.
Regarding Gibraltar, this includes major betting firms such as Betfred, William Hill, Unibet, Betvictor, Coral, and BoyleSports. One of the overarching reasons that UK slot companies have decided to set up shop in Gibraltar is the highly favourable treatment of VAT (Value Added Tax).
In a nutshell, UK betting companies have the capacity to write off VAT, which is especially useful when engaging in costly marketing and advertising campaigns. The British government may no longer permit this favorable treatment when the UK does eventually leave the EU – and we all know what happens when bookmakers (and any business for that matter) encounter an increase in operational costs – they are usually passed on to the end-user.
Similarly, UK slot sites that are based in Gibraltar also have a workforce to think about. For those unaware, the small overseas territory is an awfully expensive place to live in comparison to bordering Spain As such, the vast majority of employees will choose to secure accommodation over the border, subsequently making the seamless commute from Spain on a daily basis. However, with the free movement of people at risk in a post-Brexit world, this may no longer be an option.
Ultimately, this could have a direct impact on you as a UK based slot player, not least because operators will be forced to cover the costs of relocating, and a potential loss of favourable VAT treatment. This could come in the form of reduced slot bonuses or worse – reduced RTPs and payouts.
It is not just UK operators that could feel the brunt of Brexit. On the contrary, many from within the industry point the impact that Brexit could have on software providers. If you think about some of the key players in the slot software space, you might be thinking about the likes of NetEnt, Playtech, Yggdrasil, NYX, and Gamesys. What do most slot developers have in common? Well, two things in particular.
Firstly, they all have a presence in the highly lucrative UK online gambling sector. In order to gain the required regulatory approval for access to the UK market, developers must be in possession of a Gambling Commission license. For those based in mainland Europe, this is a somewhat seamless process for software providers, not least because rules and regulations between the UK and EU are aligned – especially with regards to anti-money laundering, player protections, and auditing.
The second common denominator is that most software providers that dominate the UK slot space are actually based in Europe. For example, you have Playtech and Yggdrasil in Gibraltar, and NetEnt in both Malta and Sweden. Once again, this is mainly due to the tax advantages that such locations offer, as well as the ease in which software providers can attract European talent.
However, both of these common denominators are at risk in a post-Brexit world, meaning that there is a real possibility that developers could pull out of the UK market if regulatory matters are no longer conducive.
Progressive jackpot networks
Leading on from the above section on software providers, it would be foolish to exclude the impact that Brexit could have on the ability for UK players to access highly lucrative progressive jackpot networks. Let’s take NetEnt as a prime example. Among others, the software provider is behind the likes of Mega Fortune and Hall of Gods – both of which average million-million pound jackpot payouts.
NetEnt is able to offer these life-changing jackpots as per its progressive network. In other words, games such as Mega Fortune will be hosted by hundreds, if not thousands of independent online casinos throughout both the UK and Europe. Every time a player spins the reels, a percentage of their stake will be added to the centralized progressive network pot.
And how is NetEnt able to achieve this? Once again, this links back to the freedoms of the Single Market and crucially – the free movement of capital. You see, whether the player is accessing a progressive slot game from the UK, Malta, Romania or Sweden, the process is the same. NetEnt can seamlessly move funds across borders without paying tariffs, meaning that UK players benefit from heaps of progressive jackpot games at the click of a button.
However, with the UK all-but-certain to leave the Single Market in a post-Brexit world, this could have a detrimental effect on British punters being able to access their favourite progressive jackpot slots. With software providers unlikely to go through the regulatory hoops of setting up in the UK, they might simply decide to exit the market.
2020 UK slot review on Taxation
With the UK government recently approving a reduction in maximum FOBT stakes from £100 per spin down to just £2, this created a huge hole in gambling-related tax revenues for the UK purse. As such, it was somewhat inevitable that the government would tax other segments of the gambling industry to replace the shortfall. With that being said, the UK government decided to target the highest growing sector in the space – online casinos.
As of October 2019, UK operators will now be required to pay a tax of 21% – 6% higher than the previous rate of 15%. On the one hand, this is a tax to be paid by the operator in question, not the players themselves. However – and as we have already mentioned in our UK Slot Review Guide 2020, when gambling firms encounter an increase in operating costs, it is ultimately players that feel the brunt. This viewpoint was fully supported by an almost instant crash of UK gambling-related stocks on the tax-hike announcement.
So that beggars the question – How will UK slot players be affected by the recent hike in taxation? Well, this is likely to come in one of three forms.
Firstly, there is a real possibility that the glory days of enhanced slot bonuses could come to an end. If you’re a seasoned online slots player, then you will know first hand that bonuses have been getting more and more competitive in recent years.
This is mainly due to the exponential growth of the online segment, with casinos required to up the ante with welcome bonuses (to attract new players) and ongoing promotions (to retain existing players). This in itself comes at a cost for online casinos, as bonuses are yet another expense for operators to make considerations for.
They happily do this though, as it is hoped that once the bonus has been consumed, the player will remain on the platform long-term. Nevertheless, with UK-based online casinos now being hit with a 6% increase in taxation, they might begin to tighten their belt with what they offer.
A second avenue that UK-based slot providers might take in replacing a shortfall in profits is that of reduced RTPs. For those unaware, the Return to Player, or simply RTP, refers to the long-term advantage that the slot machine has over its players. This averages between 94% and 96% in the UK market. The higher the percentage, the lower the house-edge is for the player, and thus, the more chance they have of walking away a winner.
While operators have no input in the RTP per-say (as this is installed by the underlying software provider), they do have the option of choosing which titles they license. As such, with online operators looking to recoup the loss in profits that the tax hike will yield, they might be tempted to focus on slot games that offer lower RTPs. In doing so, they will retain a larger proportion of what goes into the machine.
Much like in the case of the RTP, online casinos have no input in the specific payout of a slot machine. On the contrary, the payout multipliers are installed by the software provider behind the slot title. However, once again, UK operators have the final say in which slot titles they decide to license, meaning that they might focus on slot games with lower payouts.
Will we see more innovation from UK firms?
If you have read our UK Slot Review Guide 2020 up to this point, then you’ll likely be thinking that our projections on the upcoming year are all doom and gloom. This isn’t the case at all, as the possible effects of Brexit that we have discussed thus far are all ‘worst case scenarios’. In reality, it could be business as usual for a good number of years – especially if the Brexit gridlock in UK parliament continues.
With that being said, any business that is worth its weight in gold must prepare for the uncertainties of the future. This sentiment couldn’t be more fitting for the UK gambling space. Our view is that UK operators will already be preparing for the potential negatives of Brexit, and hopefully, this could lead to a more innovative home grown strategy. As we have discussed throughout our guide, there is a huge reliance on the benefits that the Single Market yields.
Whether its software providers located in Mainland Europe, the ease at which non-UK based online casinos can obtain a Gambling Commission license, or the tax advantages that being headquartered in countries such as Malta and Gibraltar presents – the UK needs to start innovating for a post-Brexit world. Could this see UK startups revolutionize the slot software space, or see old-timers such as Barcrest up their game with more releases? Alternatively, could we see ‘UK-only’ progressive networks pop-up, or even UK operators relocating back to Britain – subsequently resulting in an increase in jobs?
What ever does happen, the uncertainties of Brexit could be a positive thing for the UK slot space. Ultimately, whether or not the UK can benefit from a new world order will be entirely dependent on firms themselves. Are they prepared to adapt and change for the better?