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UK Online Casinos 2018: A Year in Review

This year, we’ve witnessed the launch of some exciting new casinos and games in the UK as well as the launch of sports betting in the United States. Meanwhile, the UK Gambling Commission revealed some startling discovering regarding problem gambling and the general public have all been increasing calls for a ban on gambling advertisements following the World Cup.

It’s been a wild year and 2019 is set to be even crazier. With the cuts on FOBTs and Brexit just around the corner, no one is sure what the new year will bring. But before we even get to 2019, let’s have a look back at what happened this year in the gambling industry.

The UK Gambling Commission

This year was a pretty big one for the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC). The firm commissioned several studies and found some shocking statistics, including a huge increase in the number of underage people gambling. The Commission also issued a crackdown on gambling advertisements and worked harder than ever to protect players.

The Rise of Underage Gambling

The rise of underage gambling proved to be a huge issue in 2018 and something the UK Gambling Commission is working hard on improving.

One of the most controversial studies from this year touched on problem gambling among children. An audit by the UKGC found that the number of children aged 11-16 who suffered from a gambling problem had quadrupled to 55,000 over the last two years. The study also discovered that an additional 70,000 children were at risk and around 450,000 minors bet regularly. In fact, more children admitted to gambling than smoking or drinking alcohol.

The findings were described as “deeply concerning” by the Church of England. The bishop of St Albans, the Right Reverend Alan Smith, said the report should act as a “warning” to parents before adding that the public should “start taking the dangers of gambling seriously”.

Weeks before, the UKGC published a report revealing that almost 90% of pubs throughout the UK failed to prevent children from gambling on their premises. The Commission had partnered with local authorities to check whether pubs were following UK law.

Helen Rhodes, Programme Director at the UKGC, announced the news in a speech, saying: “We are extremely concerned that pubs across England are failing to stop children playing gaming machines designed for adults.”

On the same day the firm published their report, the UKGC wrote a letter to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), outlining their findings and urging for improvements. The BBPA responded to the letter, claiming they were taking the findings “very seriously”.

To combat the growing number of underage gambling, the UK Gambling Commission announced several proposed changes or actions in March aiming to tackle to the problem.

The Commission proposed banning operators from providing free-to-play or demo games until a consumer has verified their age, improving the speed of the age verification process, urging operators to set limits on spending and reviewing marketing and advertising.

Gambling Among the Scottish

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the UK Gambling Commission discovered that Scottish people are far more likely to gamble than anyone else in the UK. The Commission’s survey revealed that 66% of adults in Scotland had spent money on gambling activities throughout 2016 compared to 56% of people in England and 55% in Wales.

The survey also found that the National Lottery was the most popular form of gambling in Scotland as over half of all Scots bought a ticket at some point in 2016. Out of the people surveyed, 10% of Scots said they participated in online gambling. Meanwhile, the survey’s results revealed that only 1.2% of those questioned in the 2016 health survey were problem gamblers, a consistent rate with previous reports from 2012 and 2015.

Tim Miller, Executive Director of the UKGC, promised to work harder with the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board to protect and support vulnerable gamblers and those with gambling addictions.

The Pledge

The UK Gambling Commission has repeatedly promised to help and protect players. Their promise was brought to new heights in November when the firm urged gambling operators to make gambling in the UK the fairest and safest across the globe.

Speaking at the Raising Standards Conference, Neil McArthur, the Chief Executive of the UKGC, said: “I want consumers in Britain to enjoy the fairest and safest gambling in the world and to achieve my aims I need your support: I need you to work together to make sure you are the best – the fairest, safest – gambling operators in the world.”

New Advertising Rules

Along with its various studies, the UKGC brought in several new rules to protect gamblers. The new rules, which came into effect on October 31, were part of the Commission’s crackdown on the gambling industry.

The rules ensure that customers receive fair treatment from casino operators and are protected from misleading promotions or irresponsible gambling advertisements. Operators were also made to display the terms and conditions more clearly beside each bonus and promotion. Also, the rules made casino operators liable for their third-party affiliates and if an affiliate was found to be breaching the new rules, the operator would face repercussions.

The Commission’s Business Plan

In April, the UKGC published its business plan which outlines its focuses and priorities for 2018-2019. The report explained how the Commission plans to protect customers, prevent harm, raise standards in the gambling market and improve its own regulation.

By mid-2019, the UKGC hopes to have explored public attitudes towards gambling advertisements which consider the impact of advertising on children, young people and vulnerable people. They also hope to issue a crackdown on the impact of harm related to gambling. Also, the Commission hopes to assist money laundering taskforce (FATF) and implement any changes necessary to reduce money laundering.

The Fines

In addition to publishing reports, surveys and studies, the UKGC continued regulating the online casino industry and imposed fines on any casino operators that failed to follow the firm’s rules and keep players safe. This month, the firm fined Casumo, Videoslots and Daub Alderney a total of £14 million combined for failing to protect customers. Casino operator CZ Holdings was also banned from providing gambling services to users in the UK.

Casino operator Rank Group, which owns Grosvenor Casino and Mecca Bingo, was fined £500,000 in October after it failed to protect a VIP problem gambler who managed to lose £1 million that was credited to him within a 24-hour period. The Commission launched an investigation and discovered that the operator failed to support the player and, despite self-excluding himself from the operator’s online casinos in 2016, was visited by a General Manager of Grosvenor Casino. Shortly after, the Rank Group revealed that its sales had dropped drastically over the last four months, its Grosvenor Casino revenue fell 7.2% from last year and its Mecca Bingo revenue fell 5% due to a decline in visits over the summer period.

Also this year, Paddy Power was fined £2.2 million by the Commission over similar reasons and for failing to prevent stolen money from being gambled. Paddy Power’s chargers involve two customers who used stolen money at the firm’s Betfair Exchange. One of the customers was Simon Price, the former boss of Birmingham Dogs Home, who stole around £900,000 from the charity over four years for gambling. In addition, an additional three customers were allowed to gamble in shops and online without Paddy Power undergoing mandatory responsibility checks.

What Happened in 2018?

A section detailing the biggest news stories of 2018. For example, Rank Group controversy over VIP player, NHS launching a gambling addiction centre in Leeds with GambleAware, FOBTs cuts, Ireland doubling betting tax, people/organisations (Labour Party/Church of England) calling for a ban on gambling advertisements etc.

A lot happened in 2018 outside of the UK Gambling Commission. We’ve seen organisations and the general public call for a ban on gambling advertisements as well as a change to the maximum wagers allowed on FOBTs, although implementation of the law was pushed back to 2019. Meanwhile, the NHS published several studies relating to gambling addictions and even formed a partnership with a well-known gambling charity to help those in need.

Banning Gambling Advertisements

This year saw France win the 2018 World Cup, however, the event sparked an outcry over gambling advertisements. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched an investigation into several betting and gambling firms after it received over 100 TV gambling-related advertisement complaints. The betting and gambling firms were accused by the public of using psychological tricks in advertisements to manipulate customers and target vulnerable viewers such as children and problem gamblers during the World Cup.

Shortly after, the Labour party announced several new policies to help tackle problem gambling, though they would only come into effect if Labour wins the next general election. The policies included a ban on gambling advertisements during live events, a £100 million-a-year levy on gambling operators to help fund addiction treatment, a new rule allowing addicts to ask their bank to block gambling transactions and another rule that would stop users from being able to use credit cards to pay for bets or deposits.

As they announced the new policies, Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of Labour, described problem gambling as a “public health emergency” and stated the government must “face up” to the negative effects of gambling.

While the announcement was criticised by the Conservative party, the boss of Ladbrokes and Coral, Kenny Alexander, agreed with a ban on gambling advertisements during live sporting events. However, in an interview with City AM he went further and suggested that gambling advertisements should be banned before the 9 PM watershed. Alexander stated the number of gambling advertisements broadcasted during football games “got out of hand” before he suggested that the gambling industry as a whole should tighten regulations.

The Church of England, the LibDems, SNP and Lord Chadlington, a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, all voiced support for a ban and urged the government to ban ads during sports events when they could be watched by minors.

As the calls for a ban became more vocal over the latter half of 2018, Sky TV announced plans to limit the number of gambling advertisements shown per commercial break. CEO of Sky UK & Ireland Stephen van Rooyen made the announcement in November and stated that the number of ads has become “deafening” and that it was the “right thing to do”. The firm also announced AdSmart, a service expected to launch in 2020 that will enable users to block gambling advertisements when watching television.

The continuous uproar over gambling ads reportedly led several British gambling ads to agree to a television advertising ban. According to the BBC, the Remote Gambling Association (RGA), which owns Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and Bet365, voluntarily agreed to ban adverts during live sports events.

The BBC’s report caused a panic among gambling investors as shares for William Hill, GVC Holdings, Playtech and Paddy Power Betfair all fell. However, the RGA later denounced the BBC’s report, stating that the firm hadn’t made an agreement nor an announcement on any bans.

Several days later, however, the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) confirmed that a ban on gambling advertising will begin in 2019. Under the ban, no betting adverts will be shown during live sporting events before 9 PM in the UK. However, horse racing and greyhound racing are exempt from the ban.

The NHS and Gambling Charities

The NHS has also been working hard to help problem gamblers. The National Health Service announced in October that there had been a 50% rise in the number of people hospitalised for gambling addictions in 2017. The organisation revealed that over 100 people were admitted due to their gambling addiction which was so severe patients needed hospital treatment. The report noted that the rise was a significant increase from the number of people who were treated in 2000 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) first recognised gambling disorder as a medical condition.

Figures released by the NHS also revealed that only 1.4% of all gamblers develop an addiction compared to the 11.5% of regular fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) users who develop addictions.

The NHS also announced plans to open its first ever gambling addiction clinic located outside of London next year in partnership with the GamCare Network. The proposed clinic will provide treatment for people in the North of England.

Meanwhile, the National Gambling Helpline revealed that calls to its service had risen by 30% over the last five years. Official figures released from the charity, funded by Gamble Aware, showed that they had answered over 29,000 calls between 2017 and 2018, up from 22,875 for 2013-2014. Ana Hemmings, the Cheif Executive of the National Gambling Helpline, said that around two-thirds of the calls were about financial problems and 50% of those callers were worried about their mental health.

FOBTs

The UK government came under fire after rumours suggested that it had decided to delay its £2 cap cup on FOBT (Fixed-odds betting terminals) until October next year.

The cut was first announced in May when the government accepted recommendations from the UKGC to set a new maximum stake of £2 on the machines, a huge cut from the current max cap of £100. Following the announcement, bookmakers warned that the change would lead to job losses throughout the gambling industry and campaigners and MPs urged for gambling companies to be given until April 2019 at the latest to prepare for the changes.

Jeremy Wright, the Culture Secretary, issued a statement announcing that the stake reduction would be delayed until April 2019, squashing rumours that it wouldn’t come in until October.

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Gambling Overseas

A section discussing the rise legalisation of sports betting in the US, the rise of online gambling in the US. Could we see more online gambling in 2019? Can also touch on Macau and the typhoon – what happened to the casinos?

The US

One of the biggest things to happen in 2018 across the ocean was the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the ban on sports betting in May. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 barred gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports. However, the decision to overturn the law gave American states the go-ahead to legalise the activity.

Since the law was overturned, casino companies have been launching their own sportsbooks at their real-life and online casinos. In October, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) approved the state’s first two sports betting licenses, awarding them to Penn National’s Hollywood Casino in Grantville, Dauphin County, and Greenwood Gaming’s Park Casino in Bensalem, just outside of Philadelphia. Throughout the year, casinos formed partnerships with other companies in order to provide sports betting in specific states, even before the activity was legalised in the state.

Wynn Resorts partnered with European mobile sportsbook company Redbull to target the US, MGM Resorts struck a deal with the United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC), a Native American tribe, to offer sports betting in California for whenever it becomes legal. Meanwhile, Caesars Entertainment opened their sportsbook in Las Vegas and New Mexico became the sixth state to offer sports betting after the Santa Ana Star Casino and Hotel in Bernalillo, situated just outside Albuquerque, launched their own sportsbook.

While this happened, the US was struck by hurricane Florence which caused major damage to the Carolinas. The terrifying hurricane led to the direct deaths of 30 people across Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia as well as the indirect deaths of 25 other people.

Shortly before the hurricane hit the United States, Bruce Deifik, the owner of the new Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, offered shelter to hurricane evacuees. Deifik offered hotel rooms to evacuees on the condition that they provided a valid driver’s license proving they live in the areas affected by the hurricane. Just several days after making the announcement, however, the Ocean Resort Casino revealed that they were fully booked during the dates the hurricane was expected to hit America.

Macau

On the other side of the world in China, the region of Macau was hit by typhoon Mangkhut. The casinos in the enclave, situated an hour’s ferry ride away from Hong Kong, were closed after the government ordered a lockdown for the night. The casinos reopened the next morning but stocks fell as much as 2.1% due to the 33-hour closure.

Typhoon Mangkhut marked the first time Macau was forced to shut down its casinos since licenses were given out back in 2002. Around 21,000 homes lost power, around 7,000 lost internet access and 40 people were injured. The typhoon hit mainland China a day after Macau casinos were shut down, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. It killed 127 people in the Philippines, six in mainland China and one in Taiwan.

Could Brexit Affect Online Gambling?

Brexit is just around the corner and everyone is worried about its effects on the UK. One major concern many people have is how Brexit could affect the online gambling industry.

One of the ways Brexit could impact the industry is through regulation as the UK Gambling Commission and the British Government must decide whether European residents can enjoy the same benefits as UK counterparts and whether they can access UK-based online casinos.

In addition, Brexit could change several laws leading many European-based operators to refuse accepting players in the UK. On the other hand, European-based operators may be forced to obtain new gambling licenses to offer their services in the UK. Brexit could make the process harder

What’s also important to note is that many casino operators are based in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man (Such as 888Sport and PartyPoker) and offer their services to players in the UK and throughout Europe. The island has been the subject of dispute for several years between the UK and Spain, despite being classed as part of the UK.

If the UK does leave the EU, Gibraltar will have to leave too. However, this will cause several problems as many gambling industry workers cross the border from Spain for work. In fact, it’s thought that around 60% of the gambling industry live in Spain and travel to Gibraltar for work. Brexit may make it harder for Spanish workers to cross the border for work, causing major problems for them and potentially causing them to leave.

Lastly, the biggest worry facing casino operators is if Brexit does well for the UK, other countries may decide to leave the EU too. The EU currently has laws in place to create a safe gambling industry, but if the EU splits up each country will have to form its own rules. This could to further problems as operators may need to apply for multiple gambling licenses to operate in specific countries.

All of this will restrict the number of online casinos available to players both in the UK and the EU. Low competition will mean that online casinos will be less likely to offer promotions and bonuses to players, ultimately affecting your winnings.

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The Awards

Like every other year, 2018 saw several casino operators win awards for their contribution to the online gambling industry. We thought we’d take a look at four of the biggest events in the gambling industry to find out who won.

The International Gaming Awards 2018 (IGA)

The International Gaming Awards 2018 is a well-known online gambling awards ceremony. It celebrated its 12th ceremony in London this year and saw Microgaming pick up the iGaming Software Supplier award. In addition, SlotsMillion bagged a win for Innovator Operator, Yggdrasil won an award for Innovator Supplier and LeoVegas won Live Casino of the Year.

The awards didn’t stop there, however, as Mansion Casino won Online Casino Operator, William Hill won Online Gaming Operator and Mr Green was nabbed the Socially Responsible Online award. On top of that, Play’n Go was named best Slot Provider and Videoslots best Slots Operator. Finally, The Ritz Club received an award for Socially Responsible Land Based casino.

Women in Gaming Diversity Awards 2018 (WiG)

The WiG Awards also saw several leading online casinos pick up awards. The event, created to support gender equality, celebrated its eighth annual ceremony which took place in London in May. During the event, awards were given out to:

  • Industry Pride of the Year: Playtech (Lucy Owen)
  • Outstanding Contribution: Aspers (Marieanne Carmody Weir)
  • Company of the Year: Microgaming
  • Employee of the Year: Aspers (Debbie Wyatt)
  • Hidden Talent of the Year: Microgaming (Jeriel Bacani)
  • Innovator of the Year: Videoslots (Lorraine Sammut)
  • Leader of the Year iGaming: Play’n Go (Lena Yasir)

eGaming Review Awards 2018 (EGR)

The EGR Awards is one of the biggest ceremonies in the gambling industry. This year’s event took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on October 25 where awards were given out to GVC Holdings for Operator of the Year, William Hill for Mobile Operator and Slots Operator, GVC Holdings for Casino Operator and the Betsson Group for Customer Services Operator.

Along with that, Evolution Gaming’s Lightning Roulette was named Game of the Year, Sky Betting & Gaming won an award for Socially Responsible Operator and GVC Holdings won an additional two awards for Casino Operator and Bingo Operator through PartyPoker. Lastly, Rank Group won an award for Mobile Casino Product and Paddy Power Betfair won for Horse Race Betting Operator.

Malta Gaming Awards 2018

The Malta Gaming Awards is one of the biggest events in the gambling industry. It took place in Malta on November 27 and even saw the President of Malta join in on the fun! At the event, Pragmatic Play won for Best Slot Game, LeoVegas won an award for best Casino, Play’n Go won an award for Games Vendor and Microgaming was named best Slots Platform.

In addition to that, NetEnt won the award for RNG Casino Provider and Trustly won the Payments Provider award.

Gaming Awards: Looking to 2019

While most of the major 2019 game awards aren’t for several months, some events have already begun shortlisting casinos and game providers for awards. The EGR Nordics Awards 2019 have already announced their shortlist and online casino Play OJO has been nominated for three major awards at the event, set to take place in January 24, 2019.

The popular casino has been nominated for Best Marketing Campaign, Best Casino Operator and Most Socially Responsible Operator. Competing against Play OJO for Casino Operator are Betsson Group, ComeOn! LeoVegas, Metal Casino, Mr Green and Videoslots. Play OJO will also have to battle against the Bethard Group, Genesis Global Limited, LeoVegas and Metal Casino for the Best Marketing Campaign Award.

Lastly, the online casino is up against the Betsson Group, Casumo, Global Gaming, Mr Green and Videoslots for Socially Responsible Operator.

Other awards at the event include Mobile Operator (Betsson Group, Genesis Global Limited, Global Gaming, Mr Green, LeoVegas), Nordics Operator (Betsson Group, ComeOn!, Genesis Global Limited, LeoVegas, Metal Casino, Mr Green), Customer Services Operator (Bethard Group, Betsson Group, Cashmio, Casumo, Genesis Global Limited, LeoVegas, Videoslots, Mr Green) and Casino Content Supplier (Evolution Games, Microgaming, NetEnt, Play’n Go, Playtech, Pragmatic Play, Quickspin, Red Tiger Gaming, SG Digital, Yggdrasil).

What to Expect in 2019

It seems as though 2019 is already jam-packed. As the new year comes in, we’ll see the Government finally apply the maximum wager cuts to FOBTs and the ban on gambling advertisements during live sporting events. The consequences of Brexit will greatly shape the year, though it’s still unknown exactly how the gambling industry will be affected.

Aside from that, we can expect the same great bonuses and promotions, even more exciting and fun casino games and the launch of several more unique casinos. It’s going to be an exciting year and we’re counting down the days until New Year.