How the UK iGaming industry deals with gambling addiction
Gambling addiction in the UK has been a hot topic of discussion in recent years. With not-for-profit groups such as Campaign for Fairer Gambling putting increased pressures on the government to protect vulnerable players, online betting sites must comply with the Gambling Commission’s stance on social responsibility. Crucially, this forces operators to install a range of safeguards that not only encourages players to think about how much they are gambling, but they must also offer a means to stop entirely. This includes pre-defined betting limits and the ability to self-exclude from the betting site in question for a minimum period of 6 months.
Campaign groups argue that these safeguards do not go far enough in protecting those that are no longer able to control their gambling endeavors. In this brief article, we take an in-depth look at just how the UK iGaming industry deals with gambling addiction, and crucially, whether or not it’s effective.
Who drives UK gambling addiction laws?
Before we delve into the specific controls and safeguards provided by online casinos and betting sites, it is important to understand who is responsible for legislating social responsibility. In a nutshell – and as per the Gambling Act 2005, the Gambling Commission regulates the vast majority of the UK gambling scene. This includes land-based casinos, betting shops, and of course – online operators.
The Gambling Commission has its very own LCCP (License Conditions and Codes of Practice), which outlines the regulations that online casinos must comply with. This doesn’t focus exclusively on gambling addiction. On the contrary, it covers everything from anti-money laundering, software developers, betting limits, and more.
Nevertheless, the LCCP makes it clear that UK gambling sites must ensure that vulnerable players are protected. This means that operators need to make players aware of the addictive nature of gambling, and that players can reduce the amount they gamble at the click of a button. Moreover, players must also have the option of self-excluding from the operator if they feel that they can no longer control their gambling.
Should a UK betting platform fail to comply with the Gambling Commission’s LCCP, various sanctions lie in waiting. At the lower end, this includes a monetary fine. For more serious failings, the Gambling Commission can revoke the platform’s iGaming license. This means that the operator would no longer be able to offer its services to UK players.
Ultimately, the LCCP is not set in stone, not least because gambling-related policy is installed at a governmental level. For example, the highly controversial 2018 FOBT stake reduction was determined by Parliament, as opposed to the Gambling Commission itself.
Betting and Deposit Limits
The first gambling addiction control that all UK betting sites must offer is that of pre-defined limits. This often starts at the very offset, whereby the operator will ask you whether or not you want to install deposit and betting limits at the time of registering. However, some betting sites require you to install limits from within your account portal manually.
Nevertheless, the first limit that needs to be considered is that of a deposit limit. You can usually choose from a daily, weekly, and monthly limit. For example, let’s say that you get paid weekly and you want to limit your gambling losses to a maximum of £150 per week.
Once the limit is set-up, you would not be able to deposit more than £150 in a 7 day period. As such, were you to deposit £140 by day 4, you would only be able to deposit a further £10 before the limit resets on day 8.
On top of a deposit limit, you can also control the amount that you stake per bet. This covers all gambling products available at the site. For example, let’s say that you set a maximum stake limit of £50. Whether you are playing slots, blackjack, or betting on sports, you wouldn’t be able to stake more than £50 per game.
However, it is important to note that players do have the option of increasing or removing pre-installed limits. For example, if you wanted to increase your weekly deposit limit from £150 to £300, you could do so within your betting account settings. With that said, operators are legally required to execute a 24-hour cooling-off period.
As such, your limit request would not come into place until the 24-hour period concludes. This is to prevent reckless gambling and thus – give you enough time to change your mind.
The second option available to you if you want to place stricter controls on your gambling is that of a time-out. This option is suitable if you want to continue gambling in the long-run, but you feel that you need to have a short-term break. As such, time-outs can usually be implemented from just 1 day, up to a maximum of 6 weeks.
During this time, you will not be able to access your gambling account. This means that deposits are prohibited, as are bets of any kind. You will not be able to reduce or cancel the time-out period once it has kicked in.
Note: If you are part-way through a time-out period, and you have funds in your account that you forgot to withdraw, you will need to contact customer support. They will then proceed to manually process your withdrawal request.
One of the major flaws with the time-out control is that players can simply use an alternative gambling site. With thousands of online casinos now active in the UK space, it won’t take long for a problem gambler to open an account with a new provider.
The most extreme gambling addiction control available to players is that of self-exclusion. As the name suggests, you will ask to be banned from the casino site in question for a set period of time, during which you will have no access to your account.
This should be for a minimum period of six months, although you can request to be self-excluded for a number of years. In fact, an indefinite self-exclusion is now offered by most UK casino sites, meaning that you will never be able to use the operator again.
Although the specifics surrounding a self-exclusion are virtually identical to a time-out, the former is taken much more seriously by the Gambling Commission. As such, the operator must make every effort possible to restrict you from opening a new account. If it doesn’t – and as we’ll cover in more detail later, the Gambling Commission can utilize the sanctions it has at its disposal.
As a side note, self-exclusion is not reserved just for online operators. On the contrary, all land-based gambling firms – such as casinos and betting shops, must also allow players the chance to self-exclude.
Is Self-Exclusion Effective?
One of the biggest pain-points with the UK’s self-exclusion framework is that it is not 100% fool-proof. In other words, players are often able to bypass their self-exclusion limits by simply opening a new account with the same operator. The overarching reason for this is that the online betting account registration process is autonomous.
Once you have filled in your details, the casino will automatically open your account, not least because it doesn’t have the resources to manually check each and every applicant. Even if it did, players would not want to wait days on end before having their account open.
Being creative with account details
On the one hand, the underlying systems that govern an online casino will be able to check whether a specific user breaches a self-exclusion agreement that it has in place. It does so by matching key details provided in the application with that of its internal system. For example, if the name, home address, and date of birth matches that of the self-excluded player, the account application is likely to be denied on the spot.
However, players have been known to bypass this security check by being somewhat creative with the details that they enter. For example, they might use a variation of their name (such as using a middle name), or by supplying a new address that they have access to. In cases such as this, the betting site might unwittingly allow the player to open an account and thus – deposit funds and resume their gambling endeavors.
Using a new betting site
As we briefly noted earlier, an additional flaw that comes with a self-exclusion request is that the request only bans the player from the specific gambling site. This means that the player can simply open an account with a different online casino. When you take into account the thousands of UK casinos now operational in the online space, self-exclusion fails to achieve its purpose.
How do UK casino platforms enforce self-exclusion?
With gambling addiction policymakers recognizing that deposit limits, time-outs, and self-exclusions can only go so far in protecting vulnerable players, the Gambling Commission has since demanded additional safeguards.
First and foremost, it is important to make reference to the laws surrounding KYC (Know Your Customer). In its most basic form, UK gambling sites must verify the identity of each and every player that uses its platform. The regulations were actually implemented to counter the threats of anti-money laundering and terrorist financing, although they also allow operators to comply with their social responsibility obligations.
The KYC process requires players to upload a copy of their government-issued ID, which can be either a passport or driver’s license. Players will also need to upload a proof of address, which typically permits a bank statement or utility bill.
Ultimately, by manually verifying the identity of new players before they are allowed to make a withdrawal, this allows online betting sites to ensure that the player in question has not previously opened an account. If they have, the operator will be able to see whether or not the player is in the midst of a self-exclusion period.
If they are, the account will be closed with immediate effect, and the original deposit will be returned to the player – less the winnings. This demotivates players from attempting to open additional accounts, as any subsequent winnings will not be honored by the bookmaker.
The Gambling Commission has a range of sanctions that it can utilize if online betting sites do not make every effort possible to prevent self-excluded players. This ensures that operators do not take a ‘blasé’ attitude to social responsibility and gambling addiction.
In fact, the Gambling Commission has issued millions of pounds worth of fines in recent years to those that fail to comply with the regulations outlined in its LCCP.
This includes a £5.9 million fine for major bookmaker Ladbrokes, whereby a single customer was able to gamble £1.5 million in just under 3 years without so much of a question pertaining to the player’s ability to control his gambling.
The Gambling Commission is also able to fine individual license holders that hold top roles within an iGaming company. This ensures that management instructs those lower down the pecking order to meet and comply with their social responsibility obligations.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the most effective control to prevent gambling addiction in the UK casino space is that of GamStop. The scheme – which is run by gambling support charity GamCare, was recently launched to prevent self-excluded players from simply opening accounts with other operators.
Once you have entered your personal information into the GamStop portal, it will then distribute the self-exclusion request to all of the operators that are included in the scheme. Although this currently includes most operators, not all have partnered with the scheme.
However, GamStop notes that in the very near future, each and every UK gambling site will be required to join the GamStop self-exclusion scheme. As such, by completing just a single self-exclusion request, players can ban themselves from all UK casinos operating online.
Players that then attempt to open an account with a non-UK licensed betting site will have little success. This is because – regardless of where the online casino is based, all operators must be regulated by the Gambling Commission if it wishes to service UK players. As a result, the GamStop self-exclusion scheme is the most powerful gambling addiction tool launched in the UK to date.