Last month, the UK government published its long-awaited gambling white paper, but with further consultations set for the coming months, have operators been given the confidence they need to remain committed to the market?
We sat down with Christoffer Ødegården, Head of Casino at the award-winning online gambling affiliate site, Bojoko, to get his thoughts on the contents of the white paper and what it means for operators active in the UK market.
The UK government’s white paper finally dropped this month. As an affiliate active in the UK market, what’s Bojoko’s take on its findings?
The publication of the UK government’s white paper was a significant moment. While it might not have contained all of the answers the industry was hoping for, with further consultations set to take place, it clarified key areas where operators, suppliers and other stakeholders were unsure about what was or what might be expected of them. It also sets out the direction in which the market is heading. We are expecting this to be a catalyst for further investments and market growth.
Uncertainty always puts the brakes on investment, but now businesses can drive forwards with a greater degree of confidence. The Gambling Commission has been very clear that implementing the findings will likely take several years, which means that the industry not only knows what is expected of them but has ample time to adjust.
In terms of the contents of the white paper, we believe its proposals to be reasonable and don’t believe it will have a negative impact on the gaming experience of most players in the UK.
Which of the proposed measures will have the biggest impact on the player experience?
The new affordability checks will likely have the most significant impact on the player experience, but mainly in a positive way, as they will help hinder problematic gaming patterns from emerging. Operators will be required to carry out financial checks if the player incurs a £125 net loss within a month or £500 net loss within a year, with the strictest checks kicking in at a £1,000 net loss a day or £2,000 net loss within 90 days.
Operators will need to carry out these checks with the least friction possible or risk pushing them to another brand where checks are smoother and more seamless. As such, we believe the negative impact on the players themselves will not be excessive or off-putting.
What about proposals related to slot machines, such as restricting slot stake limits and possibly limiting the spin speeds? Could this damage the player experience?
The proposed slot stake limit should not impact the majority of players, as £15 per spin is still quite high. However, there will again be an impact on high rollers as some of these players like to bet well over this limit per spin. It is my understanding that this is one of the areas marked for further consultation, so high rollers may be taken into account here. It’s also worth noting that a lot of operators have shifted focus from VIP players to more casual players. This aligns with earlier changes to UK regulations around VIPs and the incentives offered to them.
As for the possible limits on spin speeds, this may be frustrating to some, but it is a measure put in place to ensure that players are not caught unaware of how much money they have spent. It is understandable that many players may simply wish to speed through their spins to see what they win faster, but it is also a slippery slope of heading away from the fun slots are meant to provide. Gambling should, first and foremost, be seen as entertainment, and watching the spins play out was traditionally part of that entertainment.
We do not yet know if slower spin limits will be enforced, but I can say that when we look at our overview of the best slot sites in the UK, their selections pack enough entertainment, regardless of spin speed. I don’t see players falling out of love with slots over this, but of course, it is taking away a degree of player choice.
In regard to further consultations being necessary, could this remaining uncertainty delay the market growth you are expecting?
It is possible, but the white paper provides clear parameters of where the regulations are going. The added consultations should not be seen as a bad thing; instead, the government wants to ensure that the rules and requirements that are put in place are fit for purpose. I think there has been a fear of the market becoming over-regulated, but with what has been proposed so far and the areas being given further consideration, that is now unlikely to be the case. Many of the proposed changes, such as enhanced affordability checks and max bets per spin on slots, have already been implemented by a long list of UK casinos already.
We have seen many brands pull out of the UK in recent months. Will the release of the white paper counteract this trend?
I believe so. The biggest issue in recent months, well, years, actually, has been the lack of certainty surrounding the white paper and the changes it would bring. There were a few leaks during the process, which led to speculation that the changes would be pretty drastic, but what has actually been published is balanced and proportionate. This, as well as the clarity it brings, will stabilise the market and give operators the confidence they need to commit to the UK in the long term.
In terms of the brands that have pulled out, these cases should not all be attributed to the lack of certainty within the industry. The UK is fiercely competitive, and player expectations are high. If your brand does not meet these expectations, it will be hard to run a viable online casino or sportsbook.
Is there still room for growth in the UK market? If so, where can this growth be found and leveraged?
Absolutely. I think we will see an increase in new brands entering the market now that the white paper has been published. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the white paper and its contents, there have been fewer new brand launches and a general lack of investment in the UK market. This should now change, with plenty of opportunities on the table for those who can come in and deliver a new, exciting, quality player experience, whether for online sports betting or casinos.