This is a guest contribution by Nigel Hall. If you would like to submit a contribution please contact Bill Beatty for submission details. Thank you.
On May 7th 2019, the U.K. Gambling Commission announced that all affiliate websites and online casinos could only offer a free play slot to a user from the U.K. once their age had been verified by a 3rd party.
This was overwhelmingly well received throughout the iGaming industry, as the safeguarding of children within the U.K. against gambling is extremely important, especially with the advancements that we have seen in technology over the last decade or so.
In fact a recent report revealed that a staggering 53% of children in the U.K. own a mobile phone by the time they are seven years old. Even more startling is that by age eleven, 9 out of 10 children will indeed have their own device.
Remarkably the legislation brought in by the UKGC in 2019 failed to cover games that are accessible throughout social media platforms, with the regulator referring back to a paper that they published in 2017, where they outline that they have not yet advised the government to apply additional regulation to the social casino sector.
The thinking behind this it would seem is that free to play games are there to encourage, or prime players to eventually access a real money version of the game that they are playing. This is a valid argument, but the reasoning behind any new legislation not being put in place against social casino games is that there is no real money version of that game within the app for the player to access.
Now it is whole heartedly agreed that there should be a failsafe in place so that children cannot access a demo slot on a casino website. But what is a little puzzling is that if they could, it would be very difficult, and theoretically impossible for them to then pass the strict verification process that the operator has is place to play for real money.
However, anybody that has played a social media game will be well aware that whilst these apps are ultimately free to download, there are always “ In-App Purchases “ that you can make to level up, or to receive extra lives and coins.
When these games happen to be gambling related, you could comprehensively argue that children may well become addicted to these games, and whilst they may not be able to access a real money version, they can through top up cards or monthly phone contracts make real money purchases, whereas at a casino you cannot.
So how is it that these games that are in an abundance across social media platforms such as Facebook, and directly accessible through a device from the app store or google play have slipped through the net?
Well, online casinos that operate in the U.K. are of course bound by the conditions of their license, so this makes it a lot easier for the UKGC to bring in to force legislation and monitor it. This wouldn’t be an option against the social media giants, that can operate and supply free play games to users of the U.K., as they do not need a license from the UKGC to do so.
This whole series of events has personally left me scratching my head, especially with the recent trialing of raising awareness around gambling in secondary schools.
It seems astonishing, that whilst the government are introducing these new teaching methods into the curriculum, and placing the onus on the individual to make a correct and measured decision about their actions. They are not directly engaging with those who offer the main sources of influence that are thrust upon the younger generation, and enforcing them to improve their social responsibility.
Social media in all aspects has exploded in recent times, and it would seem that those within power in the U.K. have so far failed to tie up all of the loose ends when it comes to the ease that a child can access a gambling related game.
These trends will surely continue to grow as we see the technology available to us all continue to expand. This is increasingly worrying with children already on average spending 3 hours and 20 minutes a day on their mobile devices. With gambling related content forever in their faces across social media, that is only one click away without a single failsafe in place to protect them.
It’s appreciated that it can be easy to stand back and criticise, so what could the government or regulator do to try and reduce the amount of gambling products that children are exposed to within this area?
Working closely with tech companies and social media platforms like Apple and Facebook could be a potential way forward, with an age verification of sorts needing to be in place for a user to download or access anything from app stores or online.
Another option could be to involve network providers so that users of their sim cards or WIFI would need to be age verified before certain content is downloaded. This is already in place from companies such as EE, although that is specifically aimed at accessible content that is age restricted through websites, but there is a framework in place that could be further explored.
What is absolutely certain about the whole situation though, is that the niche of social media games will continue to grow. The regulator for the U.K. is set to review the gambling act that first came into force back in 2005, with pressure being applied through various sections of the government to tighten up around online activity, due to the digital age that we now live in.
It’s critical that this review doesn’t solely focus on those companies that provide real money gambling games. This is the perfect opportunity to get some solid legislation in place around social media games, so that children can receive as much protection as possible in an ever changing online environment.
About the author
Nigel Hall has been working in the gambling sector for 22 years, both land based and iGaming. He is also the owner of the website https://www.bigtimegamingfreeplay.com/.