You may have heard about the new regulations released by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) in April 2020. These new rules have many ramifications, the main one being whether casinos allow credit card use on their websites or not. Many in the industry have had to make adjustments due to the abrupt and unexpected nature of these regulations. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the regulations and analyse what they mean for both casinos and players.
The new regulations in summary: as of the 14th of April, 2020, the UK Gambling Commission’s ban on the use of credit cards in any form of gambling has come into full effect. The ban is effective concerning all types of casinos, whether brick and mortar or online, as well as any other services involving gambling or any games of chance. The only exception is for lotteries, and in that case, the exception only applies to non-remote lotteries.
What This Means for Players and Casinos
The main question on prospective players’ minds since that date in April is, “Can you use credit card at casino sites like before?” In general, the answer to this is a resounding “no”. Casinos affected by these new rules appear to be fully complying across the board, since the consequences of not complying far outweigh the inconvenience of simply getting on board with the new regulations. In fact, none of the providers we talked to have voiced any major concerns over the regulations.
This new regulation may at first glance appear to be a major inconvenience for players. Some may say it’s even an unnecessary barrier to entry. Others, however, would say that these measures were timely and necessary, and provide one of the many essential checks and balances that allow for a sane and safe industry, which protects the interests of all involved. This was definitely the stated goal of said measures. Let’s look at the reasoning behind the measures and the evidence that supports them.
These measures were drafted in accordance with the findings of two separate studies done in the year 2019. The UKGC itself undertook a review of online gambling, analysing trends and practices in the industry. At roughly the same time, the UK government was undertaking its own review of the industry. This study is known as the Review of Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures. A public consultation was carried out between August and November 2019.
The findings of the studies were very similar. We can now say the following with scientific certainty: out of the United Kingdom’s population of roughly 66.65 million (all 2019 figures), 52.40 million are aged 18 years or over. Of these, 24 million gamble, and almost half of this 24 million (10.5 million) gamble online. This is where the hard data ends, but it is estimated by UK Finance that somewhere around 800,000 gamblers do it with credit cards.
The Commission didn’t stop there. They undertook an independent study and found that some 22% or so of people who gamble online are officially considered to be problem gamblers by one definition or another. Of these problem gamblers, it would appear that a disproportionate number of them resort to using credit cards for their gambling. In fact, this could be considered to be one of the “tells” of a problem gambler; the fact that they tend to rely on their credit cards.
Crazy Times, Sane Measures
Based on these numbers, the logic behind the credit card ban is clear. Credit cards account for roughly 8% of all gambling-related purchases under the purview of the UKGC. Of those 800,000 or so accounts that were using credit card casinos’ options for deposits, many belong to problem gamblers. Also, it should be kept in mind that out of those 800,000 accounts stated above, many have options to deposit and are not relying solely on credit cards. To sum up:
- A small portion of gamblers use credit cards
- Of these, at least half, but maybe more, are problem gamblers
- Banning credit cards will have little negative impact on non-problem gamblers
It is thought that these new measures will have a positive impact on limiting problematic gambling while minimizing the negative consequences that can occur with any type of regulation. Non-problem gamblers are barely affected by not being able to use credit cards, since they are gambling responsibly and not impulsively. It’s no problem for them to use another payment method for gambling since they are playing within their financial means already, and thus can make use of the other payment methods on offer.
It is thought that the majority of problem gamblers turn to using credit cards as a form of last resort, the credit cards being their last source of available funds to be used for gambling. Not being able to use credit cards will, in almost all cases, force problem gamblers to stop and think instead of continuing mindlessly. This should have a positive impact as far as minimizing present and potential future gamblers from becoming addicted.
How Will Providers Be Affected?
The negative impact on gambling providers is thought to be even less than that on their consumers. While it’s true that there may be some small loss of income due to these measures, most providers would agree that a healthy and sustainable industry is far more important to them, and that taking the long view will pay off in the future. It’s also true that the short term gains from an addicted gambler won’t last very long.
Providers feel overwhelmingly that the negative aspects of being under a regulatory umbrella are offset many times over by the benefits such a thing provides. The main reason for this is that most of them have understood for a long time that the seal of approval from an organization like the UKGC aids tremendously with things like brand recognition and consumer confidence. Here are some of the reasons providers have given for not having any major concerns over these regulations, in their own words:
- Providers are used to living in a regulatory environment.
- The impact has been minimal.
- Business continues to grow steadily.
- It’s better long-term for problem gamblers to convert to responsible gamblers.
Problem Gamblers: Long Term Solutions?
These measures are one hundred percent aimed at helping curb the problems of gambling addiction and problem gambling within the UK and elsewhere. The data shows that these regulations will have a substantial impact on these issues. The measures are aimed specifically at credit cards because problem gamblers are often fond of using money that’s not their own to gamble. Also, the fees and interest charges incurred on these credit cards are often seen as losses that need to be “made up”.
It should be noted that the best outcome for a problem gambler is considered by many to be that they learn to gamble responsibly. There are many philosophies behind this argument and its counterpoint that is honestly beyond the scope of this one article. However, as much as possible, it’s an optimal outcome because it would allow the gambler to exercise his freedoms responsibly, and allow the provider a more sustainable income, as opposed to the “crash and burn” of the addict.
Can a Gambling Addict Become a Responsible Gambler?
It’s definitely possible for a person addicted to gambling (or anything else) to change their behaviour and beat their addiction. Admittedly, these cases are rare as of this writing, but it does happen. Gambling addictions are serious, and should be treated just like any other addiction, be it food, substance abuse, or anything else. We can’t possibly hope for this legislation to completely solve the problem of gambling addictions. All we can hope is to curb their worst effects, as a start.
These rulings have the following premise behind them: either it is possible for an individual problem gambler to eventually become responsible with his gambling, or not. In either case, the rulings will help. And, in the best of cases, the rulings may help people with mild to moderate issues with gambling. This is because they will not have access to their credit cards for this purpose, and will hopefully learn to pace themselves and gamble in a more measured and moderate manner.
Part of a Larger Strategy For Credit Card Casinos to Improve
We’d like to put this last ruling into a larger context. The UKGC has, over the past couple years, concerned itself greatly with the issue of problem gamblers and gambling addiction. Social responsibility is something that is clearly seen as key in this industry. Besides bringing stability and sustainability to the industry itself, there are very profound ethical considerations here. Businesses in the UK (and generally everywhere) have an ethical responsibility to the consumers they interact with.
In 2019, the UKGC had also instituted other measures, such as lower limits on maximum stakes in fixed-odds betting, along with stricter measures for age and identity verification online. Also, it should be noted that other legislation has, as of March 31st, required online casinos to include links to and information regarding the GAMSTOP program, the UK’s own online gambling self-exclusion scheme. From now on, the providers’ licenses will be contingent on these things being duly implemented.
More On GAMSTOP
GAMSTOP is considered one of the great successes in controlling the issue of problem gamblers implemented recently by the UK. It works by taking advantage of the gambler in their moments of realization that they have to control the amount of gambling they are participating in. Simply put, the user has the option of self-blocking all gambling sites, and pre-determining the time for which those sites will stay blocked. The user has complete control over these parameters.
The great part of GAMSTOP is that it operates on a voluntary basis. Instead of taking draconian measures, GAMSTOP allows the user to self-regulate. What makes it successful is that a user cannot undo a block once it’s been activated; he must wait it out. The brilliance of this is that it’s not a third party saving the gambler from himself (something which is intrusive and frankly mostly ineffective). The gambler makes the decision, and then is obligated to abide by it.
Are Credit Card Casinos not on Gamstop?
Most credit card casinos available to UK-players are non-UK casinos which means that they are not on Gamstop.
Players who have signed up for Gamstop but wants to be excluded from these as well, must do so manually but unlike some people believe it is still perfectly possible to exclude yourself from a gambling site not on Gamstop.
The credit card casinos which is also gambling sites not on Gamstop normally offer much higher free spins on their slots, since they don’t follow the restrictions from UKGC.
Predictions For Future Measures
At this point, we predict that further regulations will be pending at some point later in the year. However, it would seem that we will be in for a round of editing and tweaking existing measures, rather than just stacking new ones on top of the old ones. Things are going to need to be assessed in real life before any further actions are warranted, and the UKGC is likely to follow this paradigm simply because common sense dictates it.
Possible new measures may include making GAMSTOP more flexible and possibly tying it in with a user’s financials. This would allow for more subtle management by the user of the particular way in which they gamble. An example of this would be to set temporary daily or weekly limits on the part of the user, independent of the casino’s own regulations. Another possibility would be for the user to declare certain accounts as completely off-limits for gambling, temporarily or permanently.
Will These Measures Be Enough?
Some people think that the credit card ban doesn’t go far enough. Neil McArthur, chief executive for the UKGC, is one of them. He went on record back in January as someone who feels that the credit card ban is going to need to be supplemented with other measures. McArthur stated: “We also need to continue the work we have been doing with gambling operators and the finance industry to ensure consumers only gamble with money they can afford to spend.”
In 2019, DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) officials had a series of meetings with online casinos and financial institutions. These meetings were focused on how technology could be used to help implement further measures that could allow for potential problem gamblers to be spotted early on and flag them in some way. We feel strongly that these measures, if ever put into practice, need to be respectful of an individual’s right to privacy, and would urge legislators to keep this in mind.
Voluntary Is Best
It would seem clear that the credit card ban and GAMSTOP have both been constructed with the individual and individual civil liberties in mind. This is to be applauded, and the hope is that things will continue in this vein. The idea should always be based on the individual; we want to work with the problem gambler and give them all the tools to help themself as much as possible. People always do things better when they are self-motivated.
There’s an old joke, “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the light bulb has to want to change!” By working in tandem with the problem gambler, we are confident that we will find that we make much greater strides towards reducing the issue of problem or addictive gambling. These strategies need to be focused on giving the individual the appropriate tools to manage their activities with their own willpower.
The Role of Financial Institutions and Credit Card Casinos
Banks and other financial institutions also have their part to play. It’s not hard to understand how important it is for banks in 2020 to be socially responsible. There are so many things a financial institution can do to help do their part in curbing compulsive or addictive gambling, or any other sort of problem gambling. Once again, it’s imperative that we try to put things in the hands of the individual consumer as much as possible.
The aforementioned meeting of the DCMS also touched on these matters. One good idea that came out of the meetings is the idea of requiring all banking and financial apps to include a switch that blocks spending on any gambling site. This is a great idea because those with a budding gambling problem can control themselves using the switch, without any further measures being necessary. Another positive to this is that a user typically already has the banking account installed, so it’s very easy.
Big Data to Fight Gambling Addictions?
There is also some possibility of the ethical use of big data, specifically financial data, for purposes of analysis and research. Of course, it’s important to note that this has already been taking place; the studies referred to in this article would have been impossible to undertake without such data. It makes sense for banks and financial institutions to continue working with the competent authorities on these matters. This is definitely a case of the greater good.
Once again, the data must continue to always be used in an ethical manner. The logical position on this is clear; the data must always be properly collectivized and anonymized to protect and ensure the privacy of all concerned. Some may be tempted to go a step further and use this data to flag individual gamblers, and enact further measures, such as further restricting them or even directly contacting them. This is controversial and potentially dangerous; we cannot recommend such actions.
The Pandemic and Problem Gambling
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the current environment is in many ways not conducive to mental health in general. Corollary to the above, we are seeing a huge spike in instances of addictive behaviour. This includes abuse of alcohol and other potentially addictive substances (caffeine isn’t the exception either), eating disorders of every type, and, unfortunately, gambling addictions are no exception to this. The world has seen huge increases in irresponsible gambling practices since March.
One could certainly say that the pandemic and the resulting lockdown measures we have all been experiencing wasn’t directly responsible for the credit card ban, especially since it was planned since the beginning of the year. However, it has definitely been a factor, a catalyst for exactly the type of behaviour the credit card ban was originally intended to curb. It could also be said that the credit card ban came at just the right time, in a sense.
Current Factors Exacerbating Problem Gambling
The lockdown has caused many people to become unemployed or underemployed, causing financial difficulty for many people. People are living in fear because of the pandemic. People often have excess amounts of free time because of the lockdown. There is tons of uncertainty about the future. People’s social lives have been radically altered by the current bio-security measures. Conversely, people often get over-accustomed to sheltering in place and can tend to become somewhat asocial in some cases.
Gambling Should Be a Diversion, Not an Escape
What all of this comes down to, and to sum things up, is that people, these days more than ever, are looking for an escape. This is, unfortunately, the number one precursor to any type of addiction. Research on addiction shows clearly that this is a major risk factor for addiction. People often gamble (or do anything else) to excess as a means of leaving reality behind instead of dealing with reality head-on, which is often painful but psychologically necessary in the long term.
Lamentably, it’s easy for some people to cross the line and end up gambling when it’s no longer fun. This brings us back to why the credit card casinos ban has been enacted and why GAMSTOP is necessary in this present day as methods of keeping these impulses under control. Willpower is at the heart of any discipline, and any tool that helps the individual develop his own willpower is bound to be effective. Here’s a quick list of psychological best practices when gambling:
- Set limits and respect them.
- Never use money you don’t have.
- Set time limits on gambling.
- Give yourself days off from gambling.
All of the above points will put, and keep, the individual gambler in a positive spiral. And the best thing about these practices as they are implemented is that they build character. The more you gamble (or do anything else) responsibly, the better you get at being responsible in general. Also, the more you implement gambling best practices, the easier it gets to implement them. Eventually, responsible gambling becomes a habit. This should be the goal of any reasonable gambling legislation.
Our Conclusions and Final Predictions
To conclude this article, we predict that the current measures that have been put in place in 2019 and earlier in 2020 are going to be effective. It has already been mentioned that some minor tweaking is probably going to be needed in the near to mid future. It doesn’t look like anything beyond minor tweaking will be needed. These measures are designed to be effective. There are many reasons why we can be so confident in these measures.
The current changes to regulations have been put into place based on solid research and good science. They have been deliberated on and analysed by the top professionals and experts in the industry and in the government. The philosophy behind them is also, we feel, accurate and valid. They have been designed to fully respect the individual and allow for things to be put back into the individual’s control. To put it another way, they will allow an individual to get his willpower back.
It’s hard to say what the future will bring in these uncertain times. But the online gambling industry is bound to keep growing in leaps and bounds. The fact that social responsibility has come to the forefront of the gambling industry and is here to stay is something to be celebrated. We should be grateful for these new measures, which will continue to make the industry more ethical and sustainable, and increase its positive reputation with the general public.
FAQ regarding credit card casinos ban
No. As of April 20th, this is no longer legal but some non-UK casinos are still open to UK players and offer this possibility.
If it’s a UKGC licensed casino, they are breaking the UKGC restrictions and can loose their license.
It’s for safety measures, to protect gamblers and prevent compulsive gambling.
Yes, the best and most important one is called GAMSTOP. But to be protected from all casinos, also check their alternatives and manual self-exclution.
Not directly. The pandemic, however, has in some cases increased the gambling numbers in the UK.