On Monday, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) published its formal advice to the government regarding its review of brick-and-mortar gaming machines and responsible gambling measures. The 97-page document focuses on how to best make sure customers, especially those vulnerable to the risks of gambling, have an enjoyable and safe experience.
One of the most significant portions of the report has to do with the Commission’s recommendations on fixed-odds betting terminals, or FOBTs. FOBTs are computerized gaming machines like slots that many of us have seen at casinos. Other games that can be played include simulated horse racing, bingo, and roulette. They are “fixed-odds” in that they are programmed to return a certain percentage of the total wagers over the long run. Obviously, players can have sessions where they don’t receive a single penny in payout, but over the long haul, the odds are supposed to hold true.
FOBTs are in betting shops all over the United Kingdom, though even with their ubiquity, the UKGC says that just 1.5 percent of the population plays them each month. As it stands now, the maximum bet on FOBTs, known formally as Category B2 gaming machines, is £100, with a top prize of £500. Games are programmed to last a minimum of 20 seconds (presumably so players can’t plug £100 into the machine every second or two). Those who want to play at the highest stakes – £50 and above – must register or “follow an over-the-counter process.”
Gambling opposition groups have lobbied to have the maximum bet lowered to just £2 and that is almost exactly what the UKGC has recommended. The Commission wants the maximum stakes for slots to be decreased to £2, while the maximum bet for non-slots games should be lowered to £30.
Clearly, the goal here is to limit the risk of ruin for players, which is no doubt admirable, but gaming companies are not going to like this at all, as should the government change the stakes (remember, this is just a recommendation), revenue expectations for gaming firms will take a hit. In fact, when GVC Holdings agreed to buy Ladbrokes Coral Group in December, part of the deal included a contingency that would pay out if the FOBT stakes remained unchanged.
Also in the report are policy recommendations for online gaming operators. The UKGC suggests that because age verification technology is strong, operators should verify customers’ ages before they can deposit money and gamble, rather than be allowed as much as 72 hours from when the player signs up. Additionally, ages should be checked for play money games. Similarly, customers identities should be verified earlier on, rather than just when a player requests a cash out.
And, as we have reported on previously, the UKGC is working with the Competition and Markets Authority, as well as some specific operators, to ensure that online gaming promotional terms are fair and easy to understand. Of particular concern are deposit bonus promotions that have unrealistic playthrough requirements and harsh cash out restrictions, often not allowing players to withdraw their own money before completing any requirements.