The Gambling Commission, on 2 February 2021, announced a package of strict measures "which will strengthen the protections and controls for those who gamble through online slot games."
As we discussed in our October article, BGC's Game Design Code of Conduct: a positive step for responsible game design, the Commission consulted during the summer of 2020 on proposed changes to the design of online slots, with a view to making them safer for consumers, and proposed to make permanent the temporary prohibition on reverse withdrawals imposed early in the first Covid-19 lockdown. The response to the consultation has now been published and confirms the Commission's intention to proceed with most of the proposed changes set out in the consultation document.
The new rules include the ban of four features of online slots games:
- features that speed up play or give the illusion of control over the outcome – the non-exhaustive list of player led "spin stop" features given by the Commission includes turbo mode, quick spin and slam stop;
- slot spin speeds faster than 2.5 seconds – acknowledging concerns expressed by some stakeholders that 2.5 seconds may not be long enough, the Commission stresses that the requirement must be considered as a wider package of measures designed to reduce the overall intensity of gameplay;
- autoplay, which can lead to players losing track of their play – the Commission came to this decision based on additional data collection and research alongside its consideration of responses to the consultation; and
- sounds or imagery which give the illusion of a win when the return is in fact equal to, or below, a stake ("false wins") – the Commission's view is that this will help make games safer by increasing players' understanding of their play experience, particularly by balancing the following risks against the potential cost and complexity of implementation.
Other changes include:
- a requirement for operators to display clearly to the player their total losses or wins and time played during any online slots session; and
- a permanent ban on reverse withdrawals for all online gambling – i.e. consumers must be prevented from cancelling a request to withdraw funds.
Timing and comment
The new measures will need to be fully implemented by operators by 31 October 2021. In the meantime, the Commission has already updated its Remote gambling and software technical standards (February 2021) to reflect the measures. In relation to reverse withdrawals, the Commission has included implementation guidance that operators should make the process to withdraw funds as frictionless as possible. This also come into force on 31 October 2021, but until then the temporary restriction on reverse withdrawals introduced in May 2020 remain in force.
Most of the new restrictions will not come as a surprise to gambling operators. As we discussed in our October 2020 article, a number of the measures will already have been adopted by BGC members by September 2020; however, the measures announced on 2 February will apply to all British licensed operators. As we predicted last year, however, the Commission has gone further than the BGC code, in banning autoplay and permanently prohibiting reverse withdrawals.