UK gambling companies will have an opportunity to allay some of the concerns of politicians when they appear in the UK Parliament to give evidence this week.

The UK sector has been hit by bad publicity and criticism from both media and politicians in recent months, as well as a significant regulatory tightening, which has included curbs on advertising, a cut in the maximum stake of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals and a bad on betting with credit cards, which is due to come into effect on April 14.

And this week the latest development in the ongoing battle over reform of the gambling sector will see some of the UK’s biggest gambling firms appear at the House of Lords. On Tuesday February 4, a number of chief executives at major UK gambling firms will appear before the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry. The two-hour session will also involve the Betting and Gaming Council Chair Brigid Simmonds, OBE.

The Committee will hear evidence from Kenny Alexander of GVC, which owns both Ladbrokes and Coral, Ulrik Bengtsson of William Hill, John Coats, who is a joint Chief Executive at Bet365, Dan Taylor from Paddy Power Betfair and Ian Proctor of Sky Betting and Gaming.

A number of topics related to the way that the industry operates will be discussed, including the industry’s much-publicised five safer gambling commitments. The chief executives will also be grilled about the live-streaming of FA Cup games, and their approach to high-spending customers, both in how they check that such customers are able to afford their gambling and in the link between high-spending customers, VIP schemes and gambling harm.

The Committee are also expected to ask questions about the existing self-exclusion schemes that operate in the industry and the way that gambling firms use non-disclosure agreements in an attempt to prevent customers from reporting breaches of gambling regulations. 

UKGC Partners with Twitter on Gambling Advertising

The UK Gambling Commission  has partnered with leading social media company Twitter to help promote good gambling practice. The partnership will see the UKGC offer guidance alongside Twitter on how individuals can use the various tools associated with a Twitter account to reduce their risk of exposure to gambling advertising and promotions.

And although Twitter is the only social media company to work with the UKGC so far, the regulator has said that they will be working with other social media operators to offer similar guidance.

The UKGC has been concerned about gambling advertising practice for some time. Last October, Neil McArthur, the UKGC chief executive raised concerns with industry leaders about the extent to which vulnerable adults and children were exposed to gambling advertisements. The leadership of the UKGC has been encouraging gambling companies to be more responsible in this area.

Speaking about the link up with Twitter, McArthur noted that advertising spend had soared at the same time that more young people than ever could be potentially exposed to gambling advertising, through social media. He added that the UKGC would be developing more stringent rules on advertising but that in the interim, this type of partnership could help:

“Whilst we work on a plan which sets out new standards for how the industry will embrace advertising technology, I hope that this guidance will play a role in helping consumers to limit the gambling-related content they see on Twitter.”

The guidance provided by the UKGC and Twitter includes advice on how to manage interests associated with your Twitter profile, how to turn off gambling related advertisements and how to use the mute feature on Twitter to protect yourself from being exposed to gambling promotions. For Twitter, the Head of UK Public Policy, Katy Minshall, said that they were happy to be partnering with the Gambling Commission and that they would continue to work with industry partners on the issue.

Start2Pay Announce New Product

Online betting customers could see changes in the way that payments are processed at their favourite betting sites following the launch of a new range of products from a payment specialist.

Global payment operator Start2Pay has announced the development of a range of new pay-out products that will serve the betting industry. The new tools, which are set to be debuted at ICE London, which takes place next week, are aimed at speeding up the payout process and payment speed as well as increasing the variety of payout solutions that operators can use.

The Start2Pay tools will enable both cash outs and deposits through local card methods, as well as bank transfers, electronic wallets, cash terminals, and other payment methods. Speaking about the launch, the Business Development Manager for Start2Pay, Ross Borg, said that they had used their experience in the payments sector to design a service aimed at the betting industry:

“With fully bespoke payout limits for each payment system used, as well as API-based delivery and full control over your transactional data, we’re delighted to be bringing our expertise into betting and gaming, ensuring our partners are ready to enter any new market in line with local payment infrastructure.”

The tools will give operators the ability to process one-click payments and are designed to enable betting companies to manage seamless payments services in more than 100 different payment systems around the globe. The new products are fully certified through the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and the bespoke payments products are already being used by GG. Bet and casino affiliates V.Partners. The CEO at GG.Bet, Phin Smith, added his support for the product, saying that it had helped his company to significantly improve their payment processes across a range of different markets.

MPs Slam UKGC

UK members of Parliament have slammed the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) for their decision to allow a prominent bookmaking company to head an online betting review.

The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) for Gambling Related Harm, Carolyn Harris, said that the decision to allow GVC, which owns both Ladbrokes and Coral, to lead an investigation into VIP programmes related to online betting was both ‘woefully naïve’ and a conflict of interest. Fellow MP, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is also a member of the Group, said the decision was bizarre:

“The Gambling Commission needs to be reformed. This really does show you where the thinking has gone completely wrong. It’s like putting the mafia in charge of looking into organised crime.”

The working group, led by GVC, is set to examine the ways that incentives are used in VIP programmes, and the extent to which they contradict the cause of safer gambling. But the decision to appoint GVC to the role comes just a few months after they issued a £5.9 million fine to Ladbrokes Coral for their failure to protect vulnerable customers.

Speaking on You and Yours, on Radio Four, one woman said that she was given VIP status by a number of bookmakers, at a stressful time of her life when she had turned to gambling. She said she was regularly contacted by gambling companies. At one point, she said that Coral offered her free football tickets and when she turned them down, they gave her a free £200 bet.

In its decision last year, the UKGC criticised Ladbrokes Coral for their failures to protect gamblers, and their promotional practices. In response to the MPs’ criticism, they said that there were many operators involved in the process of reviewing the use of VIP programmes, and that all of those firms were aware that they had to make quick progress on the issue.

Delay in Michigan Sports Betting

Sports betting fans in Michigan may have to wait until 2021 before they can bet on their favourite sports, according to reports in the local media.

Michigan’s gambling regulators have estimated that developing and passing rules for online casino games, fantasy sports and sports betting could take around a year to finalise. That estimate is based largely on the length of time that other states took to develop their own gambling sector.

According to Mary Kay Bean, a spokesperson at the Michigan Gaming Control Board they are hoping that land-based sports betting will be launched at casinos in the state this spring, although that estimate will depend on a number of factors, including applications, review processes and licensing.

But the online sports betting timeline is based on the experiences of other states that have taken the step of legalizing online gambling. State representative, Brandt Iden, who has led the sports betting campaign, said that a similar regulated industry set up in Indiana took up to eight months to bring into being. He said that Michigan was probably facing the same sort of timeline for online betting, which is what he expects to be the main driver of new revenue, although he welcomed the potential arrival of in-person betting this spring:

““Until we’re fully integrated online, I don’t think we’ll be able to capitalize on revenue. But from a consumer protection standpoint, from getting players interested, certainly getting up and going in person is helpful.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill authorising online betting last month following protracted negotiations. The delay was caused mainly by arguments over the threat of online betting to the state lottery and to land-based casinos, which contribute $117.8 million in gaming tax revenue to the state. But many of those casinos have long been in preparation to provide sports betting. MGM has already opened a sports lounge, while Penn National has signed up with online provider The Stars Group and the mobile operator TheScore.Inc.

Pennsylvania Online Poker Success

Online poker has proven to be a big hit with Pennsylvania’s gambling customers, according to figures released for the month of December.

Figures released by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board showed that the state’s only licensed online poker operator, PokerStars, recorded revenue of $2.5 million during December. Online poker betting in the state officially had a soft launch at the start of November, but December was the first month of full trading for PokerStars in the state. Online gambling was originally legalised by the Pennsylvania state legislature at the end of 2017.

PokerStars earned their state gaming license through a deal with the Mount Airy Casino, and so far, the deal appears to be a good one for the operator. Figures show that they average around 400 players using the site at any one time. That figure is four times higher than the PokerStars sister site in the neighbouring state of New Jersey. However, New Jersey poker fans are also able to play through the WSOP.com site, which shares a player pool with Delaware and Nevada.

Although that figure of $2.5 million is less than 1% of the $291.8 million in gross gambling revenue in the state, online gambling is continuing to grow quickly in the state. The online sports betting sector in Pennsylvania is recording revenue that is almost three times higher than the retail sports betting outlets. That replicates the pattern in New Jersey. The Garden State has the second largest betting market in the US, and figures for 2019 showed that online betting produced $8.4 million, compared to just $3 million for retail sports betting venues.

In total, adding in the effect of online table games, slots and fantasy sports, the Pennsylvania online betting market produced $22.4 million in revenue, around 8% of the total revenue, with slots games leading the way, producing $187.5 million in December.

UKGC Issues Slots Features Warning

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has taken further steps to improve the compliance of the UK online gambling sector with a new batch of warnings to operators in breach of the rules.

The gambling regulator has issued a warning to online gambling companies to ensure that all of their games adhere to the strict transparency and safety rules that are part of their licence. The UKGC confirmed that the reminder was prompted by a discovery that six firms operating with UK licences were providing customers with ‘feature buy-in’ options in some slots-style online games.

These features give players the chance to wager significant amounts of additional money in order to access the promoted bonus feature, bypassing the initial rounds of the basic game. According to the UKGC, one game featured a buy-in of over £3,000 to access the bonus feature.

In response, the UKGC has warned operators about this practice. It has also reiterated the existing standards for online gambling in this area.

Specifically, it has reminded operators of RTS Requirement 3A, which requires that a full explanation of the rules regarding each feature must be available to every customer before they make the commitment to buy-in. Firms are also obliged to ensure that all of the text attached to the bonus offer is entirely accurate and to take all steps necessary to explain the content.

The UKGC also referred firms to Requirement 14A. This obliges operators to ensure that no gambling product encourages any customer to chase losses, raise their stakes or to carry on gambling when they have made it clear that they want to stop. The UKGC has also contacted all six of the firms found to be using feature buy-ins and the offending features have now been removed from their sites.

BGC Responds to NHS Criticisms

The leading gambling industry body in the UK, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has responded to problem gambling criticisms made by the National Health Service (NHS).

The NHS have asked gambling companies to step in and take immediate action. In a letter sent to the BGC by Claire Murdock, National Mental Health Director for NHS England, gambling operators have been asked to end credit card gambling ahead of the ban that will take effect on April 14. The NHS also want gambling firms to end VIP experiences and halt live sports streaming.

In her letter, Murdoch said that she was concerned about the offers made by gambling firms, which can include VIP experiences, free tickets and free bets, all of which can suck people back towards gambling activity when they are vulnerable:

 “The gambling industry has a responsibility to prevent the occasional flutter turning into a dangerous habit. The links between the sporting industry and gambling are deeply disturbing, and the tactics used by some firms are shameful.”

She also said that sporting organisations should play their part and turn their focus to the essentials of sport, rather than letting betting firms use sport for profit.

In their response, the BGC said that the entire industry was focused on raising standards. The Chair of the BGC, Brigid Simmonds OBE, said that the industry had brought forward a number of initiatives to limit the risks of problem gambling. These have included a new range of age and identity checks, additional funding for gambling addiction treatment and a voluntary whistle-to-whistle ban on advertising during live televised sports events.

Earlier this week, the UK Gambling Commission announced that credit card gambling will be illegal from April 14. But the calls for a voluntary pre-emptive restriction on credit card betting may strike a chord with the wider public and politicians.

Gamstop to be Compulsory for UK Firms

All UK gaming companies have learned that they will be required to sign up to the national self-exclusion scheme GAMSTOP this spring or face the removal of their licence.

The decision has been made by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) as part of its 2020 strategy to target problem gambling, which also includes an end to credit card gambling. All UK gambling firms have been given a date of the end of March to comply with the instruction.

GAMSTOP was developed to cover the online betting industry. It gives customers the opportunity to self-exclude themselves from all online gaming sites, with one action, removing the need to apply to each company individually. Given that there are more than 200 online firms operating in the UK gambling industry, the UKGC see this as a way to make self-exclusion more effective.

Speaking about the decision, the Chief Executive at the Gambling Commission, Neil McArthur, said that although the majority of UK-licensed firms were already part of the GAMSTOP scheme, it was important that the coverage became universal. He also added that self-exclusion was only one part of the picture, and that it had to work alongside other tools including blocking software:

“Operators must do everything they can to minimise the risk of gambling related harm. That is why we expect the industry to create safe products, know their customers, understand what they can afford to gamble with and identify when they are experiencing harm and step in.”

The announcement has been made alongside confirmation of a complete ban on betting with credit cards, that will be enforced from April this year, which is the latest in a series of steps taken by the UKGC to improve customer protection in the wake of recent political and media criticism of the industry.

EGBA Speaks on Spanish Reforms

Europe’s leading betting industry body has commented on the proposed reforms to the gaming market in Spain that were released last month.

The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) has issued qualified support for the plans, but has also urged the government to make sure that the new rules are both proportionate and balanced.

The plans, which were first published in a 50-page document released by the government at the end of December, include a range of potential measures such as severe restrictions on advertising, as well as ongoing monitoring of all betting activity in the Spanish sector.

In a lengthy statement issues on the official EGBA website, the organisation’s Secretary General, Maarten Haijer, warned the Spanish government that in other countries, many customer protection initiatives ended up being counter productive as they led to online gambling customers shifting towards illegal and unregulated sites, putting them at greater risk:

“The Spanish government should pay attention to this risk and ensure that new measures, which might be considered, are mindful of the need to ensure a high participation rate of players in the Spanish regulated market, rather than the offshore market.

Haijer went on to warn that this was a particularly important consideration when talking about gambling advertising, which he said was an important tool for directing customers to legal sites.

The EGBA statement also said that the new rules should be focused on boosting social responsibility and the protection of under-age and vulnerable individuals. This appears to suggest support for some of the government’s proposals in this area, including a locally-focused initiative that will see the national government cooperating with Spanish regions to ensure that gambling premises are closed before 22:00 and that they are not located near to schools.