The UK government’s recently published “High stakes: gambling reform for the digital age” White Paper aims to address the challenges of online gambling and promote customer safety.
One significant measure proposed in the paper is the introduction of affordability checks for online gambling operators, such as Betfair, Betfred, Ladbrokes, bet365, William Hill, Paddy Power and all others. These checks are intended to enhance player protection and prevent individuals from experiencing gambling-related harm. In this article, we will explore how affordability checks will work, what to expect from the customer’s perspective and operators, and whether they will deter casual gamblers from sharing sensitive information.
Why is it needed?
As the popularity of online gambling has grown, so have concerns about the potential risks associated with it. The White Paper acknowledges that while online gambling websites can offer safer environments for vulnerable users compared to in-person venues, there is still room for improvement. The proposed affordability checks aim to address the following key risks identified by the Gambling Commission: binge gambling, significant unaffordable losses over time, and financial vulnerability.
Affordability Checks Explained
So, The White Paper outlines the proposed thresholds for affordability checks. At a moderate loss threshold of £125 net loss within a rolling month or £500 net loss within a rolling year, betting and casino operators licensed in the UK will be required to conduct a financial vulnerability check. This check will consider indicators such as County Court Judgements, average postcode affluence, and declared bankruptcies. These checks should be unintrusive and frictionless for the consumer, taking really only a few seconds to process.
For gambling accounts with net losses exceeding £1,000 in a rolling 24-hour period (let’s say you lost your deposit on online slots), enhanced spending checks will be triggered. These checks will provide much better insight into a customer’s financial situation, including factors like discretionary income. The Commission is working with the financial services sector to explore the practical implementation of these checks, which may involve credit reference agencies. The goal is to ensure a customer’s level of spend is not likely to be harmful to them.
Sustained heavy losses over a period of weeks or months will also be subject to enhanced checks. The proposed threshold for these checks is £2,000 net loss within a rolling 90-day period. This will enable operators to assess the risk of harm and consider customers’ source of wealth, especially if it poses additional risks like money laundering.
By the way, the White Paper also proposed an online casino slot stakes to limited in a range from £2 to £15. What to do with the casino bonuses that are used to incentive new signups remains unclear from the regulatory perspective.
Approximately 20% of accounts are expected to undergo the lighter checksAndrew Rhodes, the CEO of the Gambling Commission
In a recent blog post, Andrew Rhodes, the CEO of the Gambling Commission, outlined the potential financial checks that might be instituted following the UK Government’s review of the Gambling Act, as documented in a recent white paper. These proposals, initially discussed in August, are undergoing a six-week consultation period extending into October. The checks are planned to occur at two levels: a “light touch” check for losses amounting to £125 within a month, and a more thorough assessment for losses of £1,000 within a day or £2,000 within 90 days. These assessments, which won’t affect a user’s credit score, aim to evaluate a player’s financial vulnerability and would not grant gambling firms direct access to users’ banking details. Approximately 20% of accounts are expected to undergo the lighter checks, while around 3% will face a full financial risk assessment. Notably, these checks would only apply to online gambling platforms and not to physical betting venues or racetracks. Rhodes stressed that these checks would only come into play during significantly unusual loss periods, taking into consideration the user’s broader gambling history and other pertinent information.
Customer Perspective and Operator Expectations
From a customer perspective, affordability checks may be seen as a positive step towards ensuring responsible gambling practices. These checks are intended to protect individuals from financial harm and prevent excessive losses. For the majority of customers, the checks will have little impact on their gambling activities since they will only be triggered by specific loss thresholds.
Operators, on the other hand, will face increased responsibilities and obligations to conduct affordability checks. The White Paper emphasizes the need for operators to take appropriate actions based on the outcomes of these checks. This may include applying limits to an account or, in severe cases, ending the customer relationship entirely. Operators will also need to ensure that Personal Management Licence holders are accountable for completing the checks at the right time and taking appropriate action based on the findings.
Impact on Casual Gamblers and Private Data
Affordability checks are primarily aimed at identifying individuals who may be at risk of harm due to their gambling habits. Casual gamblers who engage in responsible gambling practices and do not exhibit patterns of excessive spending are unlikely to be significantly affected by these things. The proposed thresholds for checks are reasonable and will mostly target accounts with higher levels of losses.
Regarding private data, the White Paper emphasizes the importance of data minimization and protection. Operators will be expected to use the minimum necessary data to conduct affordability checks, and credit scores should not be impacted. The aim is to strike a balance between player protection and privacy concerns. Open banking and streamlined processes may be explored to minimize the collection of sensitive financial information directly from customers.
The Role of the Gambling White Paper in Protecting Vulnerable Gamblers
While affordability checks represent an important step towards protecting vulnerable gamblers, it is crucial to recognize that they are part of an ongoing evolution in regulatory policy. The UK gambling White Paper builds upon existing principles and regulations, aiming to ensure compliance and industry accountability.
It is expected that the implementation of affordability checks will further improve player safety and reduce gambling-related harm. However, there are still challenges to address, such as customers potentially transferring their gambling activities to unregulated international websites to avoid checks. To tackle this, efforts are needed to encourage operators to share information and find non-intrusive ways to conduct affordability checks.
The introduction of affordability checks in the UK gambling industry marks a significant step toward enhancing player protection and reducing the risks associated with online gambling. The White Paper’s proposals outline reasonable thresholds and emphasize the importance of unintrusive and proportionate checks. While the checks may have a limited impact on casual gamblers, they serve as a crucial safeguard for vulnerable individuals. By formalizing and reinforcing existing industry practices, the White Paper aims to ensure compliance, promote responsible gambling, and protect the welfare of gamblers in the digital age.