In July 2020, we blogged about the Gambling Commission’s consultation on online slots game design and reverse withdrawals, which proposed several changes aimed at reducing gambling-related harm caused by online slots games by reducing the intensity of slots play. The consultation proposed amending the Gambling Commission’s Remote gambling and software technical standards (“RTS”) to introduce new controls on online slots and to remove operators’ ability to reverse customer withdrawal requests.
The consultation closed on 3 September 2020, and on 2 February 2021 the Gambling Commission published its consultation response, announcing the new measures to be introduced in the updated RTS. The new provisions, which come into force on 31 October 2021, are clearly marked in red within the updated RTS, which are now available online.
Neil McArthur, now former Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, said:
“This is another important step in making gambling safer and where the evidence shows that there are other opportunities to do that, we are determined to take them.”
The Gambling Commission, as expected, has proceeded with almost all of the proposed changes set out in the consultation document. We set out below the changes to the RTS and the Gambling Commission’s rationale for their introduction.
Display of elapsed time and net position
Expenditure and time spent gambling have been identified as the most relevant data points in minimising the risk of gambling related harm for consumers. From 31 October 2021, licensees providing slots will be required to permanently display consumers’ net position and time spent during slots gaming sessions on the screen. For the purposes of this new RTS, a “gaming session” begins when the game is opened or once play commences.
Display of elapsed time:
RTS requirement 13C
The elapsed time should be displayed for the duration of the gaming session.
RTS implementation guidance 13C
- Time displayed should begin either when the game is opened or once play commences
- Elapsed time should be displayed in seconds, minutes and hours
In relation to display of net position:
RTS requirement 2E:
All gaming sessions must clearly display the net position, in the currency of their account or product (e.g. pounds sterling, dollar, Euro) since the session started.
RTS implementation guidance 2E:
- Net position is defined as the total of all winnings minus the sum of all losses since the start of the session.
Prohibiting auto-play functionality for online slots
The Gambling Commission’s proposal to prohibit auto-play functionality received low rates of support from all consultation respondent categories. Concerns raised ranged from the evidential basis for banning auto-play, to suggestions that auto-play could be used as a way to control gambling expenditure, and that removing it may negatively affect access to play for those with disabilities or other physical conditions. Given the views expressed, the Gambling Commission carried out further research (set out in Annex 2 of its consultation response), which, it states, supported its concerns regarding the potential intensity impact of auto-play. In our view, the Gambling Commission’s further research was very limited in scope. The sample size, which the Gambling Commission considered to be a “sizeable base”, was a mere 190 adults (from 358 online slots players) who had indicated they had used auto-play.
The Gambling Commission is therefore introducing a new RTS provision which will prohibit auto-play for slots from 31 October 2021.
RTS requirement 8C:
The gambling system must require a customer to commit to each game cycle individually. Providing auto-play for slots is not permitted.
Prohibiting reverse withdrawals
Reverse withdrawals allow customers to change their mind about withdrawing funds from their account by cancelling a withdrawal before the transfer to their bank or wallet is completed. In its guidance to remote operators issued on 12 May 2020 in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Gambling Commission advised that remote operators should “prevent reverse withdrawal options for customers until further notice”. The changes to the RTS mean that this temporary ban on reverse withdrawals will be permanent from 31 October 2020. Importantly, the prohibition on reverse withdrawals will apply to all remote operators, and not just remote operators offering slots games.
RTS requirement 14B:
Consumers must not be given the option to cancel their withdrawal request.
RTS implementation guidance 14B:
a. Once a customer has made a request to withdraw funds, they should not be given the option to deposit using these funds. Operators should make the process to withdraw funds as frictionless as possible.
Prohibiting multiple slot games
The Gambling Commission consulted on this proposal due to concerns regarding the introduction of functionality deliberately designed to encourage play on multiple slots simultaneously via a split screen. The new RTS requirement will prohibit operator-led functionality specifically designed to facilitate such play, but will not go as far as proposed in the consultation in requiring licensees to ensure that customers can only play one slot game at a time across multiple tabs, browsers, applications or devices, on the basis that this would be very complex to implement (though the Gambling Commission is continuing to explore this as part of its Single Customer View project).
RTS requirement 14C:
The gambling system must prevent multiple slots games from being played by a single account at the same time.
RTS implementation guidance 14C:
a. Operators are not permitted to offer functionality designed to allow players to play multiple slots at the same time. This includes, but is not limited to, split screen or multi-screen functionality.
b. Combining multiple slots titles in a way which facilitates simultaneous play is not permitted.
Introducing speed of play limits
The Gambling Commission is introducing a minimum game cycle of 2.5 seconds for online slots. The new provision also applies to any game played with funds made available to a customer in lieu of a stake, such as bonus funds.
RTS requirement 14D:
It must be a minimum of 2.5 seconds from the time a game is started until a player can commence the next game cycle. It must always be necessary to release and then depress the ‘start button’ or take equivalent action to commence a game cycle.
RTS implementation guidance 14D:
a. A game cycle starts when a player depresses the ‘start button’ or takes equivalent action to initiate the game and ends when all money or money’s worth staked or won during the game has been either lost or delivered to, or made available for collection by the player and the start button or equivalent becomes available to initiate the next game.
b. A game cycle starts when a player depresses the ‘start button’ or takes equivalent action to initiate the game and ends when all money or money’s worth staked or won during the game has been either lost or delivered to, or made available for collection by the player and the start button or equivalent becomes available to initiate the next game.
Prohibiting player-led ‘spin stop’ features
The Gambling Commission is introducing the proposed requirement to prohibit features that speed up play or give the illusion of control such as turbo mode, quick spin and slam stop. Features that allow customers to skip the animation that plays after the result is communicated are still permissible, as are “genuine” choice elements of play such as picking which box to open, or the number of steps to progress in a feature and/or bonus round.
RTS requirement 14E:
The gambling system must not permit a customer to reduce the time until the result is presented.
RTS implementation guidance 14E:
a. Features such as turbo, quick spin, slam stop are not permitted. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but to illustrate the types of features the requirement is referring to.
b. This applies to all remote slots, regardless of game cycle speed.
c. This requirement does not apply to bonus/feature games where an additional stake is not wagered.
Prohibiting effects that give the illusion of “false wins”
The Gambling Commission’s consultation set out its concerns about the fairness of celebratory effects and the psychological impact that this could have by inducing a “hot state” in a customer, and proposed prohibiting such effects where the return is less than or equal to the amount staked. Despite concerns from many licensees that this would require redesign, redevelopment, internal and independent testing, the new RTS provisions will prohibit such effects in the circumstances set out in the consultation.
RTS requirement 14F:
The gambling system must not celebrate a return which is less than or equal to the total amount staked.
RTS implementation guidance 14F:
a. By ‘celebrate’ we mean the use of auditory or visual effects that are associated with a win are not permitted for returns which are less than or equal to last total amount staked.
b. The following items provide guidelines for reasonable steps to inform the customer of the result of their game cycle:
- Display of total amount awarded.
- Winning lines displayed for a short period of time that will be considered sufficient to inform the customer of the result. This implementation should not override any of the display requirements (as set out in RTS 7E).
- Brief sound to indicate the result of the game and transfer to player balance. The sound should be distinguishable to that utilised with a win above total stake.
The suite of measures set out above must be implemented by licensees by 31 October 2020, although members of the Betting and Gaming Council (“BGC”), or supplying BGC members, will find that implementing the BGC’s Code of Conduct, they are one step ahead and will already have introduced some of the Gambling Commission’s new measures, including slowing down spin speeds and banning certain gaming features such as turbo play and multi-slot play.
Importantly, those licensees required to implement the new measures should bear in mind that they must satisfy themselves that they are offering games that are compliant. Where they are not sure, any existing game will require independent retesting by a Gambling Commission-approved testing house. Given that demand on external testing houses is likely to be high as licensees surge to implement the new measures, we would urge that licensees review their games now with a view to ensuring that testing is complete and games are updated in time for 31 October 2021 deadline.
If you would like any advice on implementing the Gambling Commission’s new RTS, please get in touch with us.