Expect Some Significant Reforms from the UK Gambling Commission Soon

A parliamentary report looking at the activities of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) was released in late June, and it had plenty to say about the regulator. The Public Accounts Committee, an influential body within the UK House of Commons that scrutinises government spending, was scathing about the regulator, at one point calling it "toothless" and "torpid".

The UKGC is one of the world’s most respected regulatory bodies in the gambling industry, and its influence extends well beyond the UK’s borders. The report, however, criticised the regulator for failing to act on problem gambling, and for failing to take account as to whether any of its punitive measures against companies breaking its rules have been effective.

However, there is a wider debate going on in the UK around gambling, and it could have repercussions for the UKGC and the industry as a whole going forward. At its heart, is the scrutiny of how much player spend and how easy it is to spend that money. We have seen some action already taken with the lower limits on FOBTs (fixed odds betting terminals) in bookmakers’ shops.

UKGC has changed betting limits

Yet, there is a feeling in the industry that this ‘censorship’ of games will extend to the online world. If you play poker, or games like traditional blackjack online, there is probably less reason for concern as it seems the political will is to go after high-octane games like video slots and roulette.

We have already seen small forays into this area with the exclusion of “Bonus Buys” from UKGC-regulated casinos. A Bonus Buy is like a cheat feature with slot machines, allowing you to buy the game’s special bonus feature for a price. Often, the cost of this Bonus Buy will be 100 x the bet stake. The UKGC banned this practice in early 2020, although some developers made some workarounds. Bonus Buys are still possible elsewhere, but as mentioned, the UKGC is influential, and other regulators follow its lead.

Labour wants to change the industry

The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has a healthy majority in Parliament, but it is worth noting that he is starting to poll behind Labour’s Keir Starmer. The Labour Party, out of power for a decade now, has long made it a priority to completely upend the gambling industry in the UK. We do not expect another election for a few years, but, then again, who knows with the current state of UK politics? In any event, Labour’s growing influence in the area will undoubtedly cause the government to act.

Of course, reform is not necessarily a bad thing. Much of the criticism levelled at the UKGC is technical in nature, with MPs disappointed in the level of revenue-raising from gambling companies, not the UKGC’s commitment to responsible gambling. But these tax reforms take a lot of time to address – if at all – so you should not expect any big revenue changes from your poker provider any time soon.

More importantly, perhaps, there is a focus on player protection and fraud prevention. You can expect some movement in this area, probably with more focus on KYC (Know Your Customer) policies from providers. Most of us can agree that it is a good thing when an operator is strict on the registration process. Yes, it can be a bit annoying with things like document verification, especially if you are trying to withdraw your bankroll. However, it’s always better to play with the peace of mind that you are working with a responsible operator, and that the tools are there to help control your play should you need them.

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