GC working groups agree to ban under-25s from VIP schemes

1 April 2020

Gamblers aged 25 and under will be banned from joining operators' VIP schemes in the UK while those permitted to join will be subject to new controls, as part of a series of voluntary reforms intended to reduce gambling-related harm in Great Britain.

The new restrictions on VIP schemes were announced alongside significant changes to advertising practices, as well as new guidelines for game design, including a minimum 2.5-second slot spin speed.

The Gambling Commission will now launch a consultation on adding the restrictions agreed upon by operators to the Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP). However, it expects Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) members to restrict and prevent under-25s from joining high-value customer schemes within three months. 

Furthermore, all customers eligble to join VIP schemes will be required to pass a series of checks relating to spend, safer gambling and enhanced due diligence, before they can take advantage of incentives. Reward programmes will also be required to have full audit trails, detailing operators' decision-making processes and specifiying management oversight and accountability. 

VIP schemes have proved particularly controversial, after Gambling Commission data published in January this year revealed that while just 2% of customers at nine leading operators are VIPs, they account for 83% of deposits.

This agreement was reached through one of three industry working groups established by the Commission in January this year, involving over 30 operators and suppliers, and coordinated by the BGC. This saw the Commission run workshops with those that had experienced gambling related harm first-hand, supported by input from problem gambling charity GamCare and its service users. 

The VIP working group was led by GVC Holdings, while Sky Betting and Gaming oversaw a group looking at changes to advertising practices, while efforts to develop new standards for responsible game design were led by Scientific Games and Playtech.

Through these working groups, further changes to advertising practices and processes, and changes to game design, have also been agreed.

The advertising working group's efforts have resulted in the industry committing to taking action to reduce the amount of online advertising seen by children, young people and vulnerable adults.

These actions include compiling a list of common “negative search terms” such as those around self-exclusion. The industry also agreed to gather “better and more consistent” data, in order to make sure that targeted ads do not target vulnerable groups.

Like VIP schemes, the industry agreed that social media and “pay-per-click” (PPC) advertising should also only be targeted at those aged 25 or over when possible. Gambling-related YouTube channels and content must also feature age restrictions going forward.

In addition, the industry also said that it would adopt and send to all affiliates a new code of conduct, which the Commission said will be amended and updated regularly.

The industry working group added that it would establish a permanent cross-industry Adtech Forum, which it said would “ensure an on-going focus on making further progress in this area, including conducting and evaluating trials of advertising technology”.

The Gambling Commission said it was satisfied with these commitments and would expect them to be enforced from July.

The game design working working group, meanwhile, agreed to set a minimum spin time of 2.5 seconds for all slot games. It has also committed to removing features which “may encourage intensive play”, including slam stops and turbo buttons, as well as split screen slots which the Commission said were “associated with potential loss of control”.

A more detailed plan of work is to be released in September 2020, alongside a final code of conduct.

However, the regulator said that it believed the group needed to do more work to remove harm in the area of game design.

“The Gambling Commission’s view is that while some progress has been made, this work must now go further and faster, in particular around using demographics and behaviours to indicate risk,” it said. “The Gambling Commission will now consult on the priority areas for immediate action as soon as possible.”

“By working together with operators and seeking the views of people with lived experience of gambling harm we have been able to make significant progress, although there is always more to do," Gambling Commision chief executive Neil McArthur added. "We will now consult on the necessary changes to our rule book to ensure all operators have to meet the new standards."

Brigid Simmonds, chair of industry body the Betting and Gaming Council, said she was pleased to see the industry come together to help tackle key problem areas.

“I am pleased with our members’ hard work and continued commitment to delivering substantial progress on the three safer gambling challenges set by the Gambling Commission on high value customers, advertising and game design,” Simmonds said. 

“These measures, along with our recently announced 10 pledge action plan for Covid-19 safer gambling and our 22 industry safer gambling commitments, will significantly transform and improve the environment for our customers and the wider public.

“We agree with the Gambling Commission that there is still more work to do and we will rise to the ongoing challenge.”

McArthur said it was important that the changes were implemented quickly.

“We have been encouraged by the progress on VIP incentives, safer advertising and safer products," McArthur said. "We set these challenges in order to deliver real and rapid change for consumers in key areas of risk. However, it is important these commitments are implemented as soon as possible. It should not take months to implement safeguards many would expect to be in place already."

McArthur added that the implementation of the new rules may be difficult for some operators while many are still affected by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

“I recognise that the Covid-19 outbreak will impact on next steps and actions, in particular land-based operators," McArthur said. "I welcome the fact that the operators involved and the BGC have remained committed to progressing this work during these difficult times. That is a positive sign of their commitment to make the industry safer.

“Ultimately actions speak louder than words and any operator that does not put consumer safety first will find itself a target for enforcement action.”