Following a statement by senior Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith who declared that it’s “outrageous” that the UK has no maximum stakes on online slots, a group of British politicians is proposing an overhaul of the country’s laws regarding New Zealand online casino gambling, including legislation that would cap max bets on slot machines at £2.
The bi-partisangroup (APPG) has been studying gambling issues in the UK. They are recommending that online slots be given the same treatment as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), and that maximum stakes should be slashed to £2.
The UK has some of the most liberal gambling laws in the world. Gambling is a big part of the British economy and is a favored pastime for a large percentage of the population. The UK is home to some of the oldest bookmakers in the world. The government regulates the industry to protect players and provide individuals aged 18 and over with a supervised form of entertainment.
Gambling is deeply rooted in UK culture but it wasn’t until the Betting and Gambling Act of 1960 that commercial bingo halls, lotteries and sports betting could operate openly. Betting shops were legalized in 1961 and enjoyed immediate popularity which put street bookies out of business.
These shops were still “rough” places but by the 1980s, improvements were made with betting houses beginning to offer a more comfortable and welcoming environment. Couches and chairs, TV screens and refreshments became an accepted part of the decor in these corner bookie shops.
Commercial casinos with table games were established after the passage of the Gaming Act of 1968. These establishments featured slots and table games. Internet gaming legislation was updated with the Betting and Gaming Duties Act of 1981. That Act outlined restrictions on advertising and conducting offshore gaming services in the UK, The 1981 legislation remained the most relative piece of law that the UK had regarding Internet gaming until 2005 when the Gambling Act of 2005 was passed.
The Gambling Act of 2005 included the regulation and licensure of all forms of gambling including Internet gaming. The focus of the 2005 Gambling Act was to insure that gambling doesn’t become a source of crime and disorder, to ensure an open and safe gambling environment and to prevent underage gambling.
The Gambling Act of 2005 states that all operators and individuals who offer gambling services to British customers or advertise to that public must be licensed by the UK Gambling Commission. The Act makes it legal to participate in online gambling as a UK resident -- this includes online casinos, poker rooms, sportsbooks, lottery sites and bingo sites.
The act was updated in 2014. The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 again states that remote gambling operators who provide services to UK gamblers must be licensed by the UK Gambling Commission. This means that, even those operators whose equipment and physical operations are located outside the UK must obtain a license.
The UK does not tax gambling wins.
Until recently, the requirement to obtain a license was the only obligation that offshore operators needed to fulfill in order to provide gambling services to UK residents. Now, some members of parliament, as well as gambling critics and activists, are trying to obligate operators of online slots to the same maximum bet that operators of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals have been restricted to since April 2019.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, known as FOBTs, have been a popular gambling attraction in the UK for many years. The terminals once offered a wide range of betting options and the quick turnover meant that people could win -- or lose -- massive amounts of money within a very short time. In April a new law went into effect that cut the maximum stakes on FOBTs from £100 per play to £2. Betting shops, where the machines were installed, saw their profits plummet and many shops have closed.
The APPG now wants to see the same £2 minimum applied to slot machines at land-based and online casinos. A APPG report called existing laws “analogue legislation in a digital age.” It said that the legislation that was written in 2005 is “ill-suited” to today’s online gaming sector.
Senior Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, vice-chair of the APPG, said that it’s “outrageous” that there are no stake limits for online casino gambling. Operators are, he said, “able to continue to offer inducements to the vulnerable without proper sanction.”
Not everyone agrees. Critics say that if the government restricts the stakes on online slots, players will head to the black market where accountability and player protections are either non-existent or, at best, weak. They say that some operators might pull out of the UK market all-together.
Other recommendations by the APPG include restrictions on VIP accounts and banning the use of credit cards as a deposit method. The APPG notes that there have been several reports in recent months of operators who encourage high rollers by offering them gifts and other incentives.
According to the UK Gambling Commission, “The report does not reflect our considerable action and progress on most of the areas of concern set out in the report, and we look forward to being given the chance to outline that work to the APPG.”
Observers believe that current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson supports the idea of imposing tighter regulations on the gambling industry.