UKGC clamps down on free play casino games to curb under-age gambling

gambling commission

UK Gambling Commission reminds gambling operators of the importance of age verification checks for free-to-play games on affiliate websites.

New regulation for age verification checks at online gambling sites came into play on 7th May 2019. The regulation sought to protect vulnerable people, including minors and those with gambling problems, from the potential dangers of real money gambling. Under the new rules, gambling sites must verify customers’ identity before they can deposit, gamble, claim bonuses or play free games.

Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, said that these changes were “intended to protect children better, reduce the risks to vulnerable consumers and build on the measures we already impose on operators to know their customers and intervene at an earlier stage before consumers experience harm.”

However, this regulation didn’t contain explicit provision for free-to-play casino games available at affiliate marketing websites.

It could be argued that the discrepancy came because the new age verification regulation applied to UKGC licence holders- a licence that isn’t legally relevant to affiliate marketers in the gambling industry.

However, with a 2018 report by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) finding that 13% of young people aged 11 to 16 have played gambling-style games online, it’s apparent that more needs to be done to prevent young people from accessing these games.

Reinforced Guidelines

On 1st July, the UK Gambling Commission released a statement clearing up the discrepancy. The statement made reference to the Social Responsibility codes detailed in the Commission’s Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP), a document with which all UK-licensed gambling operators must comply.

The statement reiterated phrases in code 1.1.2 that “Licensees are responsible for the actions of any third parties with whom they contract.” It also pointed out that licensees must hold third parties accountable as if “as if they were bound by the same licence conditions and subject to the same codes of practice as the licensee.” These echoes of the LCCP demonstrate that, while the third-party affiliates aren’t held accountable for minors accessing the free games, the gambling operator is.

Of course, this need for age verification is nothing new; it has been detailed in the LCCP since its most recent edition released on 7th May. The statement follows a list of changes to regulation concerning consumer protection in the gambling industry and is simply a reiteration of details that UK-licensed gambling operators should already understand.

Immediate Action Required

Given that the regulation on age verification has been in place since the beginning of May, the UKGC recognises the urgency for a change to the availability of free-play casino games. The Commission has urged operators to take immediate action with affiliates that are not already compliant with these reinforced guidelines.

A gambling operator’s failure to ensure its UK-facing affiliates abide by these guidelines could result in regulatory penalties for non-compliance with the LCCP.

Age Verification Process Unclear

The Commission has not given specific guidelines on how affiliates should conduct this age verification, but has stipulated that “it must be robust enough to ensure the licensee that the customer exists and that they are 18 or over.”

While this need for age verification only applies to consumer-facing affiliates, B2B licensees are still expected to cooperate with B2C counterparts to prevent young people from accessing free casino games.

Exactly how the Commission will take action on operators found to be in relationships with non-compliant affiliates is yet to be seen, but with industry regulation tightening across all avenues of the gambling industry, it’s clear that consumer protection is more important than ever before.