Published with the permission of EGR.
As the UKGC opens up its consultation on online slots, EGR Intel finds out how a ban on auto-play, turbo buttons and reverse withdrawals could affect the playing experience
Regulatory scrutiny of the UK online gambling sector seems to have been the order of the day lately. In just a matter of weeks, the industry has been hit with a report from The Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group calling for an end to in-play sports betting while a House of Lords report proposes to ban gambling sponsorships in sport. The latest area to come under the spotlight is online slots as the Gambling Commission (UKGC) announced last month that it had opened up a consultation on the design of slots games to make them safer for consumers.
The consultation, which opened on 9 July and closes on 3 September, aims to build on the previous efforts of an industry working group on safer game design. The group, led by Scientific Games and Playtech, was appointed in January to join forces with the Betting and Gaming Council to work on drawing up a draft code of conduct.
While the UKGC did acknowledge that the industry’s suggestions would make online slots games immediately safer, it did not consider the measures by themselves to be sufficient.
Suppliers such as Relax Gaming are keen to provide their input to the consultation and urge their peers to do the same. “Relax Gaming intends to supply its views in the open consultation – it’s an important part of the regulatory process and the more stakeholders participate, the more comprehensive the gathered information will be,” explains Alexia Smilovic, chief regulatory officer (CRO). “Jurisdictions rarely ask their licensees’ opinions prior to shaping the requirements, so this opportunity should not be missed.”
Smilovic also welcomes the UKGC’s initiative to support the work initially carried out by the BGC group by considering the industry’s input before adopting extra measures. “Valuable feedback on issues pertaining to player protection, especially from lesser-known suppliers, emerges from wider inclusions on these discussions,” she adds.
Push Gaming CEO James Marshall is also keen to submit feedback and appreciates the UKGC reaching out to the industry for its views. “The opportunity to work with the UKGC, or at least have an opinion on proposed technical changes, is a great step forward for us to work together to build trust in this industry.”
As part of the consultation, the UKGC has proposed a suite of new controls aimed at reducing the potential for consumers to be harmed by their gambling on the most intensive products (online slots) as well as removing the ability for operators to reverse customer withdrawal requests.
The proposed suite of enhanced controls will be incorporated within the remote gambling and software technical standards (RTS), which sets out the specific technical standards that licensed operators and software suppliers need to meet.
Time to define
As there is currently no separate licence for remote slots, which fall under casino, the UKGC proposes to define online slots within the RTS. The proposed new definition would be: slots, definition: casino games of a reel-based type (includes games that have non-traditional reels). Licensees will be responsible for informing the test house if the game is a slots title when they submit it for testing. Any attempts to design or redesign slot products to circumvent the definition may be considered a breach of RTS.
Push Gaming’s Marshall believes it could have a negative impact on game design and he feels perhaps the focus has been misplaced. “I feel there is a risk of focusing on the way games are designed, rather than focusing on data and picking up on potential problem gamblers. The games must be fair and rules must be clear, but we have existing technical requirements and testing to ensure this is the case,” he explains.
On this point, Relax Gaming’s CRO believes the tighter definition will affect many aspects of game design production, which has been seen in other jurisdictions where more detailed definitions of casino games and variants have been incorporated into regulation. “This has limited the creativity on classic supplier practices such as devising hybrid concepts or creating new representations of classic games. In this sense, any supplier operating across several European regulated markets already assimilated parts of that challenge.
“The proposed UK product design requirements, combined with this tighter definition, is taking things a step further, as it will control the games proposed to UK players in an attempt to limit unwanted behaviours rather than simply classifying their eligibility to licensed operation,” she explains.