UK gambling stakeholders say new online casino game design rules have done little to limit gambling harm, but might have made things more fun.
Since October of last year, online slots games in the UK have been required to implement changes to game design that include making sure there are at least 2.5 seconds between each spin and removing “auto-play” features.
The Gambling Commission said that the new rules would make online gambling “safer by design” and were developed after initial proposals from an industry working group led by Playtech were beefed up by the regulators.
But in a panel at the CasinoBeats conference in Malta this week, organised by SBC, several industry representatives argued the alterations are not doing much to decrease gambling harm.
Paul Foster, managing director at consultants Crucial Compliance, said “most of the changes don’t make any difference whatsoever”.
On the subject of time between spins, he noted that players can simply have multiple games open with different operators and hop between them while the cooldown time elapses.
“These changes are not consumer-led, they are not benefiting the customer,” said Foster.
However, Dan Spencer of EPIC Risk Management, who now advises the industry on responsible gambling and is an addict in recovery, said that although he was uncertain the new game design rules are making a major positive difference to gambling harm, they may have improved the quality of the customer experience.
“How exciting is it to be told you’ve won, when actually you’ve lost? I don’t think that’s entertaining,” he said.
The commission’s October rules update included banning “sounds or imagery which give the illusion of a win when the return is in fact equal to, or below, a stake”.
The same is true of auto-play and extremely rapid spin times, Spencer suggested.
“Why not try these things and find out?” he said, “because I would argue those things are making your games worse, not better”.
Operators have also warned that toughening rules pushes players into the black market's arms, but Michael Byrne, of affordability provider Department of Trust, disagreed.
“The idea that we make some changes to spin speed and that people will suddenly look for operators in Curacao, I don’t think that’s really a big issue,” he said.
Byrne said he views operators that allow players to lose large sums in a short space of time as a much more pressing concern and said he expects the government to introduce mandatory affordability checks around weekly losses, probably set at about £400.
Details of the government’s plans will appear in its long-awaited white paper, with reports earlier this week suggesting that although affordability will not be introduced at the harshest-possible £100-a-week level, £2 maximum stakes are to be imposed on online slots.
EPIC’s Spencer said he did not back the tough stake limit, which would match that placed on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in 2018 after a long battle by campaigners.
“A £2 stake is not the right thing to do,” he said, citing a lack of harm reduction on FOBTs.
“If we want to understand what players need, we need collaboration. The industry needs to be open to that conversation and speak to people that have been harmed by gambling,” he said.