Gambling has a rich and colourful history in the United Kingdom, dating back to pre-Roman times. The latest statistics from the Gambling Commission attest to the fact that the gambling industry is thriving in the UK. According to figures from October 2018 to September 2019, the Gross Gambling Yield per year in Great Britain was a substantial £14.3 billion. Online casinos make up a big piece of this pie, with a GGY of £3.2 billion. Google search interest in UK online casinos hit an all-time high during lockdown, and is continuously on the rise.
The cancellation of sports events and closure of brick and mortar casinos is driving punters online, and there has never been so much to choose from. Online casinos can be accessed from laptops, phones, tablets and computers, and offer thousands of casino and table top games. There is also an increasing amount of live dealer games where you can play against a real dealer in real time. So how what are the UK authorities doing to protect the public from the potential harms associated with online gambling?
Preventing underage gambling is relatively easy in physical casinos and gambling venues. Security personnel check IDs at the door, and only let adult customers inside. Things are not so simple online, especially with a computer and internet savvy generation of youngsters. Up until early 2019, online gambling businesses had been allowed 72 hours to perform age verification checks. Winnings could not be withdrawn until age verification was completed, and stakes had to be returned if the user was found to be underage.
The problem with this approach is that there is nothing stopping children from depositing funds and gambling during those initial 72 hours. This weak spot was addressed by new rules introduced by the UK Gambling Commission in March 2019. Operators are now required to verify customer age before allowing them to deposit funds into an account, or gamble with free bets and casino bonuses. The Commission goes a step further by insisting that access to free to play games (without any wagers or prizes) should also dependant on age verification.
The Gambling Commission is also making big steps in clamping down on potential money laundering. In early 2020 they issued a record breaking £11.6 million penalty to Betway for failing to verify the origin of a VIP customer’s money. The amount in question was in excess of £8 million deposited over four years. The customer lost more than half of that amount. There was another case where a customer lost £187,000 in two days without the operator asking for any information regarding the source of the funds. According to new regulations, origin checks are mandatory for any large amounts of money being wagered.
A total of £19 million in fines was issued by the commission last year to UK online gambling operators that failed to comply with rules and regulations. In a further move to cut down on problem gambling, the commission also banned the use of credit cards for online gambling. When this rule came into effect, there were an estimated 800,000 people in the UK using their credit cards for gambling. This prohibition on credit cards stops people from gambling with money that they do not have, and minimizes the risk of serious financial harm. The more stringent ID verification rules also increase the chance of detecting someone who is attempting to gamble while self-excluded. This applies to individual operators’ self-exclusion schemes as well as to Gamstop, the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme.
Apart from regulating how online casinos are run, the gambling commission has also clamped down on how online gambling operators can advertise. Ads should not be misleading, and should not be appealing to children in any way. For example, using cute bunnies to advertise Easter casino bonuses or gingerbread men for Christmas free spins is now a big no-no, backed up by a hefty fine. Furthermore, marketing material for online casinos must not include any children, or any individuals who seem to be under 25.
To avoid misleading customers, operators are required to prominently present all significant conditions that apply to any advertising or promotional material. Another way that the UK is making gambling better is that casinos must handle their player’s money fairly. It is now forbidden to be sluggish in paying out legitimate winnings or to hold on to their cash for prolonged periods of time. If a player’s winnings are being unreasonably withheld, the operator is liable to fines and sanctions.
For the most part, online gambling is an enjoyable and harmless pastime for hundreds of thousands of people in the UK. There are, however, inherent risks in this market. Underage gambling, problem gambling and money laundering are all valid concerns. As the industry grows and evolves, so do the regulations and safety measures. Existing measures are continuously being improved, and new ones are being developed. All to ensure that the online gambling experience is safe and fun, and that those who should not be gambling are kept away from sites.