Gambling in the UK is huge. Recent figures show gamblers spent around £14.4bn between October 2017 and September the following year. The data, from the Gambling Commission, covers spending on everything from horse racing to the National Lottery and online casinos. Yet, while the market has thrived, criticism of the UK’s liberal regulations has led to calls for tighter rules around how people access and play games like slots and bingo as well as bet on activities such as professional sports.
In a recent article about UK online casinos, Marketwatch argued that the reason behind the market’s staggering rise was a lack of foresight regarding the impact of new technology, like for example, the ubiquity of smartphones and fast internet speeds. Together they have given consumers the hardware to easily access user-friendly betting apps and online casinos without the constraints of operating hours or having to travel to a physical location.
It has helped the market grow exponentially. But it has also seen it come under a microscope, the impact of which has been radical legal changes to the way customers can spend money through gambling operators.
How will the credit card ban affect gambling?
The Gambling Commission announced the credit card ban in January. It came after its review of online gambling in which it found more than one in five people using credit were what it termed “problem gamblers”. It surmised that credit availability was having a negative impact on consumers who were also unwittingly encouraged to “chase their losses” to combat the issue of credit card fees.
Effective from 14 April, the changes to the law will mean online and offline gambling products cannot be purchased with a credit card. Tickets for non-remote lotteries – such as the National Lottery – can be purchased with such means but only if purchased with other goods.
For many responsible consumers, the credit card ban will have little effect. The Gambling Commission’s own figures – quoting UK Finance – say that of the 10.5 million gamblers online, less than one in ten use a credit card. Of that figure – about 800,000 people – 22% are problem gamblers. That would be about a third of the total number of problem gamblers according to data released in 2018.
That’s why the credit card ban is one of a number of new regulations that are shaking up the industry including stricter rules around identification and age verification in addition to the new requirement for all online gambling firms to offer the Gamstop self-exclusion scheme.
A Combination of Legal Changes To Create a Safer Industry
Things began to fundamentally change in 2019 with the gambling industry’s self-imposed advertising ban during live sporting events on TV. That will continue in 2024. As will the newly implemented rules around age verification which look to curb the rising numbers of minors exploiting 72-hour gambling windows afforded to them by previous age-check regulations. Now, in order to gamble or use a free bonus, funds can only be deposited after the customer’s age has been confirmed.
Operators must confirm certain criteria before the player is allowed to play – even on free versions of online gambling games. This includes a name and address as well as a verifiable date of birth. Other pieces of information requested by the operator must be provided in a timely manner otherwise the account is deleted.
This will be complemented by the Gamstop scheme which allows players to prevent themselves from accessing gambling sites for at least six months. The free-to-access facility also offers gamblers support if needed during their hiatus.
All licensed operators must offer this as an option to their customers. Once initiated, the operator must return any money held in the customer’s account and prevent access. Name and contact details are also removed from any marketing databases.
While the initiative to self-exclude has been met with some criticism after its unofficial launch in spring last year, the Gambling Commission is now satisfied it’s fit to be rolled out industry-wide.
Speaking about the latest measures, Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission Chief Executive, noted the scale of the UK’s gambling market and that it was the commission’s mission to ensure it remained safe and fair. Following its online gambling review, he added that the changes are indicative of continued efforts to raise the standards for consumers.
Culture Minister Helen Whately said: “Whilst millions gamble responsibly, I have also met people whose lives have been turned upside down by gambling addiction.
“There is clear evidence of harm from consumers betting with money they do not have, so it is absolutely right that we act decisively to protect them.”
Gambling will continue to remain a big business in the UK. Even after the credit card ban initially negatively affected the share price of gambling companies, the market soon bounced back. And Germany, one of the major European countries to outlaw online gambling until now, is acknowledging consumer demand. In the UK, having learned a number of crucial lessons over the last few years, the sector has improved safety, fairness and reliability to remain a leader in the digital age.