Over the last two years, slot design and the rules about responsible game design in the UK have been a focus of the UK Gambling Commission, with many recent changes brought into force. In May of this year Bacta, The Bingo Association, and Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) announced that they’ve finalised a new and safer code for land-based machines in the UK, bringing land-based terminals up to the same operating regulations as online games.
New slot restrictions
Since 2020, the UKGC has very much honed in on responsible game design, looking chiefly at slot games. Why? Slot games see the highest average player loss compared with other casino games and are also the most popular form of casino gaming in the UK. The new code for land-based slots has been in the making since 2020 and began with a UKGC working group set to tackle issues such as marketing, VIP schemes, and game design.
The code is jointly created by Bacta, The Bingo Association, and the BGC and compliments the new rules introduced for online slots in October 2021. These include banning auto-play, a 2.5-second minimum speed for slot spins, the removal of celebrating losses and displaying the total wins, losses, and playing time for each player.
A minimum game cycle of 2.5 seconds: Total spin speeds must now be 2,5 and above. The cycle starts when the player presses the spin button and ends when won stakes are available and the spin button becomes available again.
Removal of turbo and auto-play: No auto-play or turbo-play features that increase spin speeds are allowed. Auto-play is removed as it may lead players to lose track of their wins/losses during a playing session.
Rules for celebrating losses: Wins below the stake size will be labelled with the win amount clearly displayed and no celebratory noises allowed. Only a brief sound is permitted to make the player aware of the result. Wins that are larger than the stake are allowed to use celebratory noises, as this is not classified as disguising losses as wins.
Potential effects on the industry
“We welcome this code as another example of industry driving higher standards to address the issues of risk and we will continue to introduce further measures based on evidence in our fight to prevent harm.”
BGC Executive Director, Wes Himes.
The general response to the new code has been positive, with industry stakeholders leading the charge and helping develop the code. As land-based slots are undergoing some of the same changes already in effect for online slots, it compounds earlier effects on the industry, which will become visible in stats like average slot losses per minute. This will affect how much slot machines can collect and payout over time, potentially reducing total revenue figures.
The new rules may also affect player enjoyment, as the pace of play on UK slots has been slowed down, turbo spins banned, and the manual triggering of each spin now enforced, all of which could see players reduce their overall playing time. However, a key part of the code, the removal of gamification elements on losing spins (spins where the win is less than the stake and in the past were celebrated as a win) can only be a positive for players, allowing them to note more easily their total spending and more significantly, losses.
UK slots and the general gambling industry at large is one of the top-performing gaming markets globally, and contributes over £450m in UK tax revenue yearly. While the new rules are hailed as a success of the industry coming together, there is concern that the greater focus on safer gambling measures and regulation has come at the cost of a growing black market, which has bloomed alongside heightening UK restrictions, and ultimately removes money from the economy and puts more players at risk.
In a market such as the UK, where the UKGC has recorded problem gambling rates of 0.2% for this year, some have argued that the regulatory conditions are becoming too restrictive, making the market less attractive to players, operators and suppliers. However, the chief role of the UKGC is the protection of players, and the new slot rules aim to better safeguard players from spending sizeable sums of money in short time frames and from confusing negative gains as wins. Thus, it is a positive development, unless it leads more consumers away from safe UK land-based and online gaming towards the unregulated market, which is a key concern for industry stakeholders.
The new code for land-based slots comes ahead of the imminent White Paper release. The White Paper will detail the new laws coming into place for the UK gambling industry and it is expected to bring further sweeping reforms.