UK points towards settling on staking limits & risk checks

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As the end of February approaches, speculation mounts on how the UK government will proceed to apply financial risk checks and staking limits as part of the Gambling Review, which remains under its White Paper consultation phase.

Attention turns to the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) carrying out its seven White Paper consultations in 2024, examining technical elements related to: “Socially responsible incentives, customer-led tools, transparency of customer fund protection, annual financial contributions to research, prevention, and treatment, regulatory data reporting, financial penalties, and financial key event reporting.”

Launched in November, the proceeding consultation phase was scheduled for a period of 12 weeks and set to close by February-March 2024.

Prior to initiating the second phase of White Paper consultations, the Commission stated that it remains committed to implementing the recommendations put forth by the Gambling Review (published in April 2023), which include financial risk checks and staking limits as part of the UK gambling’s regulatory future.

As cited by Tim Miller, Executive Director on Policy Development for the Gambling Commission, “the consultations will not reopen debates on White Paper recommendations”.

Yesterday, Rob Davies of the Guardian, reported that the government “is set to impose new limits of as little as £2 a spin for online slot machines, the Guardian understands, in a move that could cost casino companies hundreds of millions of pounds”.

As reported, the ‘Guardian understands’ that on Friday the government will announce its intentions to apply a £2 stake limit on player accounts under the age of 25, imposed on “digital casino-style games”.

Further restrictions will see the government apply “a higher limit of £5 a spin” for player accounts over 25, as policymakers take an approach to stake limits on online casino games mirroring the £2 limit applied to fixed-odds-betting-terminals (FOBTs) machines in 2019.

 A £2 and £5 stake limit would see the Gambling Commission support the toughest measures of the White Paper consultation on stake limits applied to online casino games.

On staking limits, the consultation instructed a review of between £2 and a £15 ‘upper limit’. Preparing for regulatory changes, remote-licensed gambling operators have reduced staking limits on online casino games to £10 per spin, incurring reported costs and losses of over £200 million.

The White Paper consultations will proceed to a parliamentary debate on 26 February, in response to the UK racing’s petition to “abandon financial risk checks as proposed by the White Paper”. 

The petition, which garnered 103,000 signatures, reiterates the concerns of UK racing stakeholders who maintain that horse racing faces a £250m downturn in lost income over the next five years should checks be implemented.

Racing stakeholders cite that ‘unintrusive checks’ are infeasible on moderate levels of spending resulting in a net loss of £125 within a month, or £500 within a year. As detailed by the petition: “We believe such checks – which could include assessing whether people are ‘at risk of harm’ based on their postcode or job title – are inappropriate and discriminatory.”

Financial risk checks are recognised as the most conflicting issue of the Gambling Review’s pending affairs. This morning, GambleAware published independent polling data by IPSOS, stating that “60% of adults support the introduction of financial risk checks within the gambling industry”. 

Public support for risk checks is even stronger among those personally affected by someone else’s gambling; they are more likely to view these checks positively, believing they will reduce gambling harms.

As such, GambleAware states that the government needs to apply financial risk checks as a ‘preventative measure’ and support a robust prevention strategy to protect individuals from the negative impacts of gambling harms and addiction. 

GambleAware CEO, Zoë Osmond, stated: “It’s imperative that proactive measures are taken to address the root causes of gambling harm, including comprehensive education programs and awareness-raising campaigns, stronger regulations to protect vulnerable populations, and sufficient funding for treatment and support services. 

“By prioritising preventative action and ensuring the industry takes some responsibility for protecting individuals against unaffordable losses, we can mitigate the detrimental impact of problem gambling on individuals and society as a whole.”

The research has been published in anticipation of a parliamentary debate next week. GambleAware is concerned about an industry push to abandon or weaken proposed financial risk checks happening against a backdrop of increasing gross gambling yield in casino games reaching £4bn in 2023.