Online gambling is a form of entertainment that is enjoyed responsibly by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. From the Las Vegas strip to online casinos, the focus must always be to ensure the consumer has a great time.
I think this has become lost in the drive for responsible gaming and the steps taken to protect those at risk of developing a gambling problem. Safe gaming is important, of course, but overregulation has the potential to do more harm than good.
Overregulation can negatively impact the consumer experience and customer choice, ultimately pushing players away from licensed online gambling sites to unlicensed brands. These brands may offer a better experience, but there are far fewer protections in place.
I fear that the tightening of regulations in markets such as the UK, Germany and Sweden is going to lead to a migration of players away from locally licensed online casinos and sportsbooks towards internationally licensed – or even unlicensed – sites.
Before discussing how regulators, operators and suppliers can strike the right balance between providing entertainment while still protecting players, it is important to first understand how overregulation negatively impacts the player experience.
Taking the thrill out of slots
In both Germany and the UK, recent changes have been introduced to limit spin speeds so that online game rounds take longer to complete. In the UK, the auto play option has also been removed as part of efforts by the regulator to strengthen player protections.
While there is an argument for slowing spin speed, removing auto play has the potential to put some players at even greater risk. Auto spins allow players to monitor their spending and time in a far more comprehensive way than just aimlessly clicking ‘spin’ over an unchecked period.
With auto play, gamers can select a number of spins and now, with the minimum spin speed limit in place, they know how long the gameplay will last and how much it will cost them. This can be combined with a loss limit that will stop the play if that threshold is hit.
Some players don’t like clicking the mouse and prefer to sit back and be entertained while the reels spin. Auto play allows them to do this too and, provided they have a loss limit in place, they know exactly what they are spending.
Bonuses with no bang for their buck
Another area where overregulation is having a negative impact is bonusing. Taking the UK market as an example once again, it is evident from the UK operators on Bojoko that the value of bonuses has dropped in recent years.
Not that long ago it was common for operators to offer four-figure maximum bonuses, however today the largest bonus amount of any operator on Bojoko is £600. If players want a four-figure bonus, they now need to look to offshore brands that are not licensed by the UK Gambling Commission.
The change has not been made to the bonus percentage, but rather the amount it is matched to. A great example of a Bojoko-listed operator changing its welcome offer is Unibet, that previously offered new players 200 per cent up to £200, plus 190 free spins. Now they offer £30 when depositing £10.
Others have moved away from deposit match offers and only provide free spins with low wagering requirements. For some players, the welcome offer is the deciding factor in where they play, and operators offering smaller bonuses are undoubtedly forcing players to turn to unlicensed brands.
More operators are going offshore
The increased appetite for sites that offer a ‘full’ online casino experience is evidenced by the increased number of licence applications reportedly being submitted to the likes of the Curacao Gaming Control Board.
These regulatory jurisdictions subject operators to some scrutiny, but they are nowhere near as stringent as jurisdictions like the UK, Malta and Gibraltar. This being said, their licensees can offer players a more comprehensive experience.
All industry stakeholders understand the need to protect players; especially the most vulnerable. However, we must make sure that we are not taking action for the sake of taking action, and that any regulatory changes are properly researched and considered.
The vast majority of operators want to work in regulated markets and are willing to meet the requirements set, but if those requirements become too onerous, they may look to leave the market – just look at how many brands have left the UK in recent years.
The same can be said for newly regulated markets such as Germany. The regulations here are rigorous, with many operators still unsure if the country is viable. Ultimately, this reduces consumer choice and will undoubtedly fuel growth among unlicensed sites.
The responsibility of regulators, operators and suppliers
Online gambling is entertainment and regulators, operators and suppliers must work together to ensure this remains the case, while also ensuring players are protected. It is a balance that can be struck, but at present I think it is tipping too far in the wrong direction.
The last thing this industry wants to do is drive players away from licensed sites to offshore brands. The direction can be changed, but stakeholders must collaborate to understand how to protect those at risk while ensuring that the majority of players, who gamble responsibly, receive the entertaining experience they are seeking.
This contribution was first carried in the Winter 2021/2022 edition of iGaming Capital magazine, the sister publication to iGamingCapital.mt
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