Gambling Regulation Update: Commission announces new measures regulating the design of online slot games

The Gambling Commission has this week announced new measures prohibiting certain features of online slot games – primarily those which affect the speed of play and disguise losses as wins. It has also announced a permanent ban on reverse withdrawals for all types of online gambling. These new regulations will come into force on 31 October 2021, by which point all licensees will be required to have made the necessary adjustments to ensure compliance.

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What are the new regulations?

The new regulations focus predominantly on online slots, though they also implement a ban on reverse withdrawals for all forms on online gambling. Players who request to withdraw money from an account will no longer be allowed to cancel such instruction once made. This will apply to all remote operators.

The regulations affecting online slots implement an outright ban on:

  • Features that speed up play or give the illusion of control over the outcome (e.g. ‘turbo play’ or ‘slam stop’ features);
  • Slot spin speeds faster than 2.5 seconds;
  • Autoplay functionality (i.e. a player must always be required to release and then depress the ‘start button’ or take equivalent action to commence a game cycle);
  • Sounds or imagery which give the illusion of a win when the return is in fact equal to, or below, a stake;
  • Functionality designed to allow players to play multiple slots at the same time (e.g. split screen or multi-screen functionality);

Operators of online slots will also be required to clearly display a player’s total losses or wins and the amount of time the player has spent playing during any online slots session.

These new regulations will come into force on 31 October 2021, by which point all licensees will be required to have made the necessary adjustments to ensure compliance.

What is the background to these changes?

The new regulations are part of the Commission’s response to its own consultation on online games design and reverse withdrawals, the outcome of which is now available here.

The issue of reverse withdrawals has been previously highlighted by the Commission as a potential source of harm, and these new regulations serve to formalise their prohibition which has already been ushered in as part of guidance to operators during the Covid-19 outbreak.

In focussing the majority of these regulations on online slots, the Commission refers to evidence that this type of game play presents higher risks to players compared with other forms of gambling – including other casino products and real event betting. Regulating the structural design and subsequent customer experience of such games is intended to decrease the risk of addiction and subsequent harm.

Many of the 39 operators who responded to the consultation noted the operational challenges of making the necessary amendments to games and undertaking testing in the period prior to these new regulations coming into force. The Commission has however made it clear that any games which are not compliant by the commencement date will need to be removed until such time as they can be verified.

These regulations do, of course, also come against the background of the ongoing call for evidence into the government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005. All interested parties to that review are encouraged to submit their responses to the call for evidence by email to gamblingactreview@dcms.gov.uk in advance of the deadline of Wednesday 31st March 2021. The terms of reference, call for evidence and instructions on submission can be found here.

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