Reino Unido: As recomendações da Gambling Commission podem ter um impacto significativo nos jogadores

When the Gambling Commission published its long-awaited review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures last week, the final document ran to nearly 50,000 words. Yet the news reports and...

When the Gambling Commission published its long-awaited review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures last week, the final document ran to nearly 50,000 words.

Yet the news reports and analysis that followed concentrated almost exclusively on a number, £30, which was taken by some at least to be the Commission’s recommendation for the new maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

On closer inspection, it was no such thing. The recommendation was “£30 or less”, leaving the final decision to Matthew Hancock, the culture secretary, who is thought to favour the £2 maximum bet on all FOBT content that has long been sought by campaigners against high-stakes gaming in shops. It could still be £30, £2 or something in between. But the understandable focus on FOBT stakes diverted attention from a long list of warnings and recommendations in the remainder of the review which could prove to be equally significant, if not more so, for the average punter.

Online gambling firms, in particular, can expect to receive close attention from the regulator in the months ahead. In areas such as account restrictions and closures, “dormancy” fees, hiding behind unfair T&Cs and retaining stakes while refusing to pay winnings, some firms are notorious among punters for carrying on as though they can do as they please. A final showdown is far from imminent, but a close reading of the review does at least suggest that Wyatt Earp has checked in to the Tombstone saloon.

One example is that the current regime which allows punters to open an account, fund it and start gambling in less than five minutes seems most unlikely to survive. Instead, gambling firms will be required to know a great deal more about their customers before taking their money, and may also be required to set a limit on their deposits and stakes that corresponds to the information that has been provided.

In addition to making it more difficult for problem gamblers to bet with stolen money, this could also have a knock-on effect on high‑staking winning punters, who can get their bets on only by resorting to multiple alias accounts. The days when a bookie takes a 25‑grand bet from a 19-year-old student and starts asking questions only when they are looking at a £1m payout could be drawing to a close.

There is also a strong hint in the review that gambling on credit is on borrowed time, and a clear sign that the complete absence of staking limits when it comes to online gaming will also be addressed. “This position looks increasingly anomalous,” the review says. “It is vital that the remote sector demonstrates that the risks associated with remote gambling are being managed effectively and comprehensively. If they fail to do so, the case for imposing controls on stakes and prizes comparable to those on gambling products posing similar risks in the land-based sectors will be very strong.”

One issue which did not get a mention in the Commission’s review – since it was outside its scope – is the account restrictions and closures that continue to plague many punters betting on racing and other sports.

They are the backers who fall into the wide gap between purely recreational punters – who are not price conscious – and full-time professionals looking to stake five-figure sums.

Here too, though, the mood music seems quite positive. Representatives of punters’ groups met with senior Gambling Commission officials on Thursday to discuss the possibility of a minimum bet limit becoming a requirement of a bookmaker’s operating licence, and apparently left believing that it will, at some point, become a reality.

Back in the retail sector, betting shop staff will be delighted that the review suggests single-staffing of betting offices is inappropriate to an environment which includes FOBTs.

“Appropriate staffing levels are key to the detection and mitigation of harmful play,” it says. “There must be serious doubt about the extent to which a single member of staff on their own in a betting shop, even at less busy times of the day or night, can simultaneously look after the counter, remain alert to the possibility of under-age play and money laundering and still be expected to identify potentially harmful play and make appropriate interventions.” The warning for retail firms that use single-staffing in shops until long into the evening is clear.

As for the eventual maximum stake for FOBTs, that is for Hancock to decide. The review does, however, open up a potential new line of attack for opponents of the machines should the minister cave in to industry pressure and duck a £2 limit.

Roulette, it makes clear, is “by far the most popular game” on FOBTs, and also the one which would be most affected by a £2 limit, as players tend to spread their stakes across several bets on every spin of the wheel. A £2 maximum per spin could mean that “roulette would no longer be a commercially viable product”.

But the fact that it produces a pressurised – almost frantic – staking pattern in a high-speed environment could be seen as a good reason why roulette, at least, demands tighter regulation than other casino-type games.

Like bookmaking, roulette’s origins date to the late 18th century, but for almost all of that time, the two went their separate ways. An amendment to the Gambling Act to restrict roulette to casinos would find supporters on all sides of the House.

Source: The Guardian