As the UK election campaigning comes to an end ahead of an unusual December poll, operators are bracing themselves for tougher regulations. Each of the three main parties have included tighter gambling controls in their manifestos but it’s the Tories that have pulled ahead in the early polls.
PM Boris Johnson released the Conservative manifesto at the end of November, a few weeks ahead of the 12th December election. The opinion polls suggest that the Tories will wake up to an enhanced majority in the House of Commons on the 13th so this party’s promises are the ones operators are giving the most weight too.
On the agenda (aside from ‘getting Brexit done’, which has been the battle cry for the Tories throughout their campaign) is a review of the 2005 Gambling Act. The party says that the Act, which at 14 years old is practically ancient history in online gambling terms, requires updating to reflect the vast technological changes that have occurred since it was launched. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Gambling Act was the very first piece of local legislation related to online gambling, so it can hardly be considered completely unfit for purpose.
A review of the Gambling Act will definitely involve scrutinising the loot box mechanic. While some MPs do not believe that loot boxes - in which a player pays for the chance to win virtual items for use within certain video games - meets the definition of gambling, there is mounting pressure to tighten controls on this activity.
The UKGC has provided statistics that suggest that some children have been pushed towards actual gambling because of their exposure to loot boxes. Politically speaking, this would be an easy win for the Tories as the general population tends to favour drastic action when it comes to children’s safety.
The role of credit cards in gambling is also likely to be reviewed. The UKGC is currently holding a public consultation about whether credit cards should be banned as a payment method for gambling activities. This move is not completely unexpected as earlier this year, a working group of MPs investigating gambling had indeed recommended a ban on credit cards, as well as setting a maximum limit for online slot wagers at £2, which matches the one enforced on fixed odds betting terminal machines.
The banks are also likely to weigh in on the issue. A number of UK financial institutions have already rolled out features that let customers restrict how and where they can use banking services with the aim of reducing access to potentially harmful activities, including online betting. These combined pressures mean that operators will be looking at how to handle restrictions on one of the most popular payment methods around.
The Liberal Democrats and the Labour party have also weighed in on the issue through their manifestos. The Lib Dems support a full credit card ban while Labour are leaning towards a complete overhaul of gambling regulation. Despite the polls indicating a Tory win, there is no way to predict who will hold a majority in parliament but for operators, any outcome is likely to mean further regulation and a tougher operating atmosphere.