On 8 June 2023, the Gambling Commission (the “Commission”) published its assessment of the online game design changes that were introduced in October 2021. The Commission’s changes focused on online slot games and included limiting the speed of spins, prohibiting features that accelerate gameplay and banning auto-play, all of which were thought to increase the intensity of play and therefore, the corresponding risks to players. The online games design changes came into force on 31 October 2021 following a public consultation (see our Law Now article here) in 2020.
Gambling Commission’s findings
Following the changes, the Commission reported a shift in gambling behaviours and attitudes. The key impacts include (amongst others):
1. Decreased play intensity on online slot products
The report found that since the changes were introduced, there has been a decrease in ‘binge gambling’ on slots games, as well as a reduction in reported gambling on multiple games or tabs simultaneously. While the proportion of sessions lasting more than one hour decreased from 7.8 percent to 6.9 percent, the general engagement with slots nonetheless increased, as they continued to become more popular: the monthly average following the changes rose from 32.6 million sessions to 39.2 million sessions.
2. No observed increase in staking activity resulting from the limit on spin speeds
The Commission observed general reductions in stake sizes following the changes. For stake sizes over £2, there was a reduction of over 165 million spins six months after the changes, and a reduction of 9.5 million spins for stake sizes over £10. At the highest staking levels, the number of stakes over £100 reduced by over half, despite the number of staking events on slots products increasing over the same period.
3. Binge gambling remains stable
Previously identified as the gambling product mostly commonly associated with binge gambling, the Commission’s research indicated that the proportion of respondents experiencing a ‘binge’ on online slot games has remained stable. Whilst the proportion of players spending more on online slots than they can afford to lose decreased slightly, there was a reported decline in the proportion of past four-week slot players stating that they had spent more than they can afford to lose ‘at least sometimes’. Slots do, however, still appear to be viewed as a product that is easy to become engrossed in.
4. Consumer awareness mostly unchanged, but stays high
The reported levels of consumer awareness of how much time and money is spent, as well as the number of complaints, have remained mostly unchanged. At the same time, the Commission reported that there was no substantial evidence to suggest that the enjoyment of gamblers had been significantly negatively affected by the changes.
Implications and next steps
The Commission hopes that the long-term consequences of the online games design changes will improve levels of trust in the gambling industry, which have already been rising according to the latest quarterly telephone survey.
Tim Miller, Director for Policy and Research, commented that: “Our assessment of the changes to online slots games has shown indications of reduced play intensity with no significant negative impacts on play or behaviours…That’s positive, but we aren’t complacent and will continue to monitor this specific part of the sector for both any unintended circumstances, or non-compliance.”
The online game design changes pre-date other regulatory changes that have since emerged in the gambling industry, including the introduction of a voluntary cap on stakes for slot products and the release of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s gambling reform for the digital age paper (see our Law Now article here). Following this momentum, the Commission plans to further consider the findings from its online games design impact report in future reform proposals for other online products and games. The Commission intends to consult on further proposals this summer.
Article co-authored by Jure Tus, Trainee Solicitor at CMS.