Over the past three years, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has implemented regulations that specifically target online slots and the broader online gambling industry. However, some argue that these regulations are suffocating the online slots industry.
Expanding Landscape of Regulations
Since 2020, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has increased the stringency of regulations, implementing stronger measures to safeguard players through licensing conditions and codes of practice. This regulatory approach has been particularly focused on addressing concerns related to slot games, which are the most popular casino games in the UK and have the highest average losses per player. According to UKGC data, the average monthly spending for slots players is £67, surpassing spending on casino products (£36) and real event betting (£45). These regulations have specifically targeted features of slot gameplay, such as feature buys and spin speeds.
In 2021, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) unveiled a comprehensive set of measures aimed at enhancing the protections and controls for online slot players, making the games less intense, safer by design, and empowering players with increased control over their gambling activities. As part of these changes, the UKGC implemented strict rules that banned:
- Quick spin features or any features that create the illusion of player control over the outcome of spins.
- Spin speeds faster than 2.5 seconds per spin.
- Auto-play functionality, which can lead to players losing track of their spins and spending.
- Sounds, imagery, or animations that create the illusion of a win when the actual returns are lower than the amount staked.
- The slot machine must show the cumulative amount won and lost throughout the entire playing session.
These measures were implemented to address concerns related to the intensity and design of online slots and promote safer gambling practices among players.
Over the past three years, the UK has implemented several regulatory changes in the online gambling industry. This includes the banning of reverse withdrawals, which previously allowed players to wager funds that they had requested to withdraw, as well as prohibiting the use of credit cards in UK-licensed online casinos. Affordability checks have also been introduced to assess players’ financial capacity to gamble.
These changes have significantly impacted operators and slot developers, creating a tense environment as regulations continue to evolve. The government is currently in the process of updating the 2005 Gambling Act to align with the modern era of online gambling. The expected updates may include further affordability checks, potential per-player budgets, slot stake limits, and a single customer view that allows gambling operators to share information. Additionally, new regulations for slot sites, such as changes to bonus offerings and advertising practices, are likely to be introduced as part of the update.
How has the expanding regulatory landscape impacted the slot machine industry in the UK?
The UK slots industry 2020-2023
The UK online slots industry, which generates over £2.9 billion in gross gambling yield (GGY) annually, has experienced changes due to the growing regulatory environment. Recent data released by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) comparing Q3 of the financial years 2022-23 and 2021-22 has shown some interesting trends.
Despite a 2% increase in GGY for slots in 2022-23 compared to the previous year, the total number of bets or spins increased by 8%. Average monthly active accounts also saw a significant rise of 13%. Additionally, the number of slots sessions lasting over 1 hour increased by 11%, surpassing 9 million for the first time in UKGC data. These figures indicate a rise in spending, number of spins, active players, and longer playing sessions in the online slots industry.
However, it’s important to note that the data provided by operators, which was used for the analysis, may not cover all UK operators and may not account for players who shifted from in-person to online play during pandemic-related closures, potentially affecting the impact of regulatory measures.
Interestingly, this financial data contradicts the viewpoint of industry operators, such as the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), which has conducted research suggesting that the increasing regulatory environment has coincided with growth in offshore gaming. The BGC’s research is supported by offshore gambling revenue figures and case studies from other European gambling jurisdictions with stricter regulations, such as Norway. However, the BGC acknowledges that the increase in UK offshore gambling cannot be directly attributed to specific policies.
The Impact of Innovation
Aside from financial considerations, implementing measures such as reducing game speed and banning certain features like bonus-buy and auto-play can impact player enjoyment by slowing down gameplay and reducing risk. Additionally, increased regulations may place constraints on game developers, potentially stifling innovation within the industry and leading developers to consider leaving the market or shifting focus to emerging markets like the US instead of the UK.
However, there is currently no evidence of game developers or slot sites leaving the UK market. Furthermore, despite the new regulations, the pace of innovation in the industry appears to be unaffected, with a consistent number of slot releases in the UK and new mechanics, bonus features, and ideas being introduced regularly. Many developers have also adopted localisation techniques specifically for the UK market, developing different versions of their games for international audiences and UK players, which comply with the local regulations, including the absence of feature-buy, auto-play, and reduced spin speeds.
Achieving Equilibrium: Balancing Safety and Revenue
As the gambling industry anticipates potential regulations and stake limits outlined in the forthcoming white paper, stakeholders and operators have expressed concerns about whether the current UK regulations are becoming overly restrictive, driving the industry towards offshore gambling options. However, finding the right balance between revenue generation and player safety depends on one’s perspective. The truth is that these two objectives are not mutually exclusive, and can indeed be aligned. Online casinos can achieve success by growing revenue while prioritizing player safety. Nevertheless, it is crucial for regulators to acknowledge and understand the need for balance if the gambling industry is to sustain its growth.