MPs call for £2 betting limits on online slots and other gambling restrictions

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A cross-party parliamentary group has called for upper betting limits of £2 per spin on online slot machines. Stake limits are just one of several proposals the group has made to prevent and reduce any online gambling-related harm. The group has also criticised the UK Gambling Commission for not doing enough to tackle gambling addiction. The Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group (GRH APP) has presented a report that is the result of a six-months’ inquiry. This inquiry was launched after parliamentarians, academics, charities and individuals who have experience gambling addiction and their families, expressed their worry about the high levels of harm online gambling can cause. 

What is the Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group

The Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group has been created with the aim to provide a forum of discussion on and investigation into the impact of gambling- related harm on individuals and their communities. The group consists of members of both houses of Parliament- the House of Commons and the House of Lords- and wants to bring politicians of all political parties together to discuss measures that can reduce the negative impacts gambling can have on communities across the UK.

The Group’s Condemnation of the Government and the Gambling Commission

The GRH APP’s report reveals that the online gambling industry continues to prey on vulnerable gamblers due to the lack of action by Government and the Gambling Commission. The group has gone as far as calling the Gambling Commission “not fit for purpose”. The report further reveals that there is a great disparity between online and offline gambling when it comes to exercised controls. For offline gambling there are strictly enforced betting and deposit limits in place. The FOBTs, fixed-odd betting terminals found in high street betting shops, have an upper betting limit of £2 per spin. The Parliamentary Group sees no reason why the same limit can’t apply to online slots. In addition to stake limits, the group wants to restrict the use of debt in the form of credit cards for the funding of online gambling as the group sees this as harmful. It believes much more could and should be done to prevent online gambling related harm. 

According the report, the Government has acknowledges that online gambling related harm can be greatly reduced by putting limits on stake levels. However, the Government as well as the Gambling Commission have failed to limit stake levels for online providers in line with land-based venues. The report further states that the Gambling Commission gives priority to other aspect of regulation but not to what the parliamentary group considers a key issue; online betting stakes and prizes. While criticising  Government and the Gambling Commission, the group calls on online gambling providers to sign the Charter for Regulatory Reform as a signal of intention and support for the Charter’s proposals and recommendations.

The report’s key recommendations concern the introduction of new gambling legislation with a stronger focus on harm prevention and include:

  • as mentioned above, introduction of stake and prize limits for online gambling providers in line with land-based providers;
  • ban on the use of credit cards for online gambling;
  • improved affordability checks and a bigger role for banks in relation to these checks;
  • restriction of VIP accounts and gamblers’ incentives;
  • Improved measures to protect at-risk and vulnerable gamblers including the simplification of providers’ terms and conditions so these are easier to understand;
  • A more responsible approach to advertising to protect children and vulnerable people;

Furthermore, the report recommends:

  • that support for gambling related harm and the treatment of gambling addiction is paid for by the NHS;
  • the introduction of a levy of 1 per cent to fund research
  • the transfer of commissioned research from the charity Gamble Aware and the Gambling Commission to public health bodies and independent research councils;

The group’s Chair, Carolyn Harris MP stated that this report “highlights the urgent need for a root and branch review of the regulation of online gambling. Stakes and prize limits online would be a major step forward in reducing the harm caused by the sector.”  About the Gambling Commission she said: “ it is not at all clear why the Gambling Commission is not looking at this as a matter of urgency. It is an abdication of its responsibility as a regulator”

UK Gambling Commission rebuffs the group’s criticism

While the group has called the Gambling Commission ‘not fit for purpose’ failing to look at issues such as betting and prize limits for online gamblers, the Gambling Commission disputes its ineffectiveness. The regulator’s Chief Executive Neil McArthur has outlined the Commission’s plans for the near future in a recent speech at a CEO Breakfast Briefing in London. These plans include measures in regards to stakes, VIP activity and marketing and what the Commission calls ‘safer product design’.  McArthur stated in the speech that the Commission “will be gathering data on online play and […] stake limits. We already know that harm can occur for consumers at any stake level and that effective use of account-based play data can be used to protect players”. The Gambling Commission has also criticised the group for not having consulted the regulator for its report. A spokesperson said: 

We are disappointed that this report has been released before we have been given the chance to give evidence to the APPG” The Commission further stated that “the report does not reflect our considerable action and progress on most of the areas of concern set out in the report, and we look forward to being given the chance to outline that work to the APPG,”

The Commission claims that protecting vulnerable people and children is at the heart of its work and that it is constantly looking for ways to make its policies more effective while keeping up to date with changes in technology and consume behaviour. “We take tough enforcement action against anyone who doesn’t comply with the rules and will continue to tightly regulate the gambling industry. We recently carried out a comprehensive compliance review, involving 123 online casino operators, which resulted in 45 online operators being forced to submit an action plan to raise standards. A further 14 online operators were the subject of enforcement investigations which resulted in tough sanctions. This work continues.” The Commission further claims that in addition to looking at the possible effect of imposing stake limits, it is also looking into the effects of the use of credit cards to fund online gambling. 

What would online betting and prize limits mean for players?

While the Parliamentary Group is criticising the Gambling Commission’s ineffectiveness and the Commission claims it is working hard to protect vulnerable gamblers, no one seems to ask what the proposed measures might mean for ‘regular’ players. If any of the report’s recommendations in regards to betting and prize limits and restrictions to VIP programmes are implemented, the high roller especially will be seriously affected. Not only do online providers derive a lot of revenue from VIP players, the excitement of a high roller’s game lies in big stakes that come with chances to win big prize money. It is not likely that bigger players will stop playing due to regulations and instead, these players will take their game elsewhere. This could trigger a rise of activity at unregulated online casinos, which might put all types of players at risk. 

Balancing gambling excitement with protecting vulnerable people

Gambling is as old as human existence and has entertained and captivated players across the world for eons. Gambling addiction is a real and serious issue that can cause great harm to individuals and their communities. For governments it is always a fine line to tread between free enterprise and individuals’ free will on the one hand, and protection of the vulnerable on the other. In which direction the scale is tipping depends on what the government finds more important. A country like the Netherlands chooses to favour protection of vulnerable individuals and has for that reason very strict online gambling regulations in comparison to some other countries. The UK however, unlike the Netherlands, has a far bigger gambling culture and people are likely to gamble, whether the state puts restrictions in place or not. The likelihood of the implementation of stricter regulations for online casinos will depend on what the government finds more important: free enterprise and tax revenue or the reduction of online gambling related harm. Although the Parliamentary Group consists of members of all parties represented in parliament, the result of the upcoming general election might give more clarity on the likelihood  of the report’s recommendations becoming law. Even if there is the will to implement stricter regulations, this won’t happen overnight.