Gambling legislation and consumer protections haven’t changed much in the UK since the adoption of the Gambling Act of 2005. Yet, with the proliferation of online operators and the flooding of the market in the last two decades, the issue of underage gambling has come to the fore.
Recently, the UK Gambling Commission declared that Britain’s betting industry is getting out of control, especially in the wake of coronavirus and massive spikes in online activity among people at home.
What started with limiting bonus offers for new customers has now become, with multi-party consensus, fairly comprehensive gambling legislation to address underage gambling and other consumer protections that are being discussed and implemented this year.
Underage Gambling in the United Kingdom
According to statistics released from the UKGC, up to 450,000 children between ages 11 and 16 bet regularly in the United Kingdom. The situation is even more desperate now, with families at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, and online activity as the go-to medium for lockdown entertainment.
In a statement from earlier this year, UKGC chair Neil McArthur, speaking to online casino operators, affirmed that “Protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed by gambling has always been a major priority. And we are very mindful – as you should be – of the fact that the risks of harm arising from online gambling have increased as a result of recent events.”
The law, as it stands, states that players must be at least 18 years of age or older to participate in any form of gambling, whether it be online, sports betting, or any other parimutuel betting system.
Education and Awareness
Underage gambling has been a major focus for both the UKGC and the British government for the last two years. As a commitment to tackling the issue, a new initiative was announced in March 2020.
Through the Department of Education, the Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) program planned to introduce new classes designed to teach children about the negative effects of gambling. The initiative plays into broader efforts designed to protect children across the UK.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, however, normal school services have been on-hold, delaying this program until further notice and prompting more direct action in the meantime.
Identity and Age Verification
The best way to combat underage gambling is for the online operators to ensure they know the identity and age of players before they are allowed to engage in any gambling-related activities.
In order to do so, the Commission has instructed online casinos to manually verify the age of their customers by asking them to provide some form of identification that will be checked by a compliance team.
The UKGC has created an easily downloadable toolkit to help online casino operators remain in compliance with age verification policies.
Previously, online gambling businesses were allowed 72 hours to carry out age verification checks on players. Under these regulations, operators could not permit customers to withdraw winnings until age verification has been completed and were also required to return stakes if the player was found to be younger than 18 years of age.
However, to further protect against the risk of underage gambling, new rules have gone further, requiring operators to verify customer age before the customer can deposit funds into an account or gamble with the licensee with either their own money or a free bet or bonus.
Not even FTP games are safe for the possibility of underage gambling. The Commission is now also requiring that customers must be age-verified by operators before they are able to access free-to-play versions of gambling games of any kind.
Restrictions on Credit Card Payments
Earlier this year, the UKGC announced that making deposits at an online casino using a credit card is officially illegal in the UK. Previously, young kids might have been able to get hold of their parent’s credit cards to make payments or deposits. With this new legislation, however, e-wallets are the new norm.
PayPal and other popular e-wallet providers announced that they would contact customers to make sure they are aware of the new legislation and to replace their credit cards on file with valid debit cards instead
The most potent aspect of this legislation is directly connected to player identity verification. An ideal solution to this problem has now been put in place. Henceforth, platforms are restricted from accepting payments from cards that do not match the name on the account.
With age, identity, and payment verification, there now seems to be a perfect storm of factors to prevent the unlawful participation of underage players in online gambling activities.
Protecting Children and Operators
Despite the possible annoyances of increased regulation and bureaucracy, the aim of the UKGC has continued to be protecting consumers, the vulnerable, and casino operators at the same time.
New guidelines and laws are put in place to ensure that transactions are handled fairly and both players and operators know who they are truly dealing with. In the online world, identities can be hidden, complicating an already complex situation surrounding the tenuous world of online gambling and reactionary regulation.