UK Gambling Commission to Step Up Regulation in 2020

Just before the United Kingdom’s December 12th election, we reported on the gambling-related policies of the main parties and what they might mean for the future of the business in the country.

Now that the dust has settled around court jester Boris Johnson’s gleaming new Conservative majority, many other key players in the UK have been putting their takes on the matter out there, too.

UK Gambling Commission to ban loot boxes?

‘Skin in the Game’

Chief among the concerns of regulators heading into the New Year is that zeitgeist political punchbag—video game loot boxes.

For the uninitiated, loot boxes are unlockable or purchasable crates of in-game content that offer anything from extra artwork, voice lines, and aesthetic changes (aka skins) to in-game advantages for the player.

Loot boxes can undoubtedly encourage gambling among young people. The UK market for them was nearly £700 million in 2018.

However, many games that feature minimal, purely cosmetic, and completely free loot box systems can easily be lumped in with—and demonized alongside—serious gambling ventures like Counter-Strike skin trading sites.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Health is an influential think tank based in the Civil Service-dominated area of Whitehall in London. Last week, they published a report which argues that loot boxes are ‘polluting’ the UK’s youth.

“The rise of loot boxes and skin betting has seen young people introduced to the same mechanisms that underpin gambling, through an industry that operates unchecked and unregulated on the back alleys of the internet, which young people can access from their bedrooms,” said RSPH CEO Shirley Kramer in a press statement.

Strong language, indeed. However, will the new Tory government follow up on any of the RSPH’s advice?

Analog to Digital

The Tories committed to a complete review of the Gambling Act 2005 in their manifesto. A recent report chaired by senior party member Ian Duncan Smith called it ‘an analog law for a digital age’ and stressed the need to update it.

This could, however, mean a number of changes—or barely any at all.

Prevailing winds in parliament suggest that loot boxes will be top of the agenda, but other reforms may be considered, too.

Don’t forget it was Theresa May’s previous conservative government that drastically reduced the maximum wager on Fixed Odd Betting Terminals in high street betting shops.

The Tories may have a reputation as the party of big business and fat cats, but they aren’t averse to squeezing the gambling industry when public opinion tells them to, either.

Another measure that the UKGC is currently consulting or writing reports on is the possible exclusion of credit card deposits at UK online casinos.

The All Party Parliamentary Group also published a report back in November that called for a similar £2 limit on slots stakes for online casinos. The report included a few questionable statements that were even challenged by the UKGC itself.

“This report does not reflect our considerable action and progress on most of the areas of concern… we look forward to being given the chance to outline that work to the APPG,” stated a UKGC spokesperson.

It’s unclear what this will mean for new casino sites launching in 2020, but most certainly it will create a more competitive environment for the smaller casinos.