The UK Mobile Casino Industry: A Year In Review

The UK’s online and mobile gambling industry is in a constant state of flux; it’s always changing, with new casino sites and games launching on a regular basis and the UK Gambling Commission – the regulator for all things gambling – constantly announcing new changes to its license policies and conditions. All of this can be incredibly hard to follow, and since it can also be interesting to look back at how things change, we thought we’d put together a Year in Review post that details all of the big changes that have happened in the last year and beyond.

The UK’s Online Gambling Industry Beginnings

Gambling has deep roots in the United Kingdom, as it has remained popular for centuries among the British people despite numerous attempts to prohibit and regulate it. Gambling at casinos was incredibly popular after the 1960s and was legalised with the Gaming Act 1968, which allowed for additional casino-style venues. Meanwhile, online gambling took off in the mid to late 1990s, and developer Microgaming was the first studio to create and release casino content.

Back then, casino websites were incredibly rudimentary, featuring only basic visuals and games. By the time the UK government signed the Gambling Act 2005, which legalised all forms of gambling and created the UK Gambling Commission – the organisation responsible for regulating all forms of gambling, including online – the industry had grown tremendously. There were hundreds more games, developers, operators, and casinos, and all varied in their theme, gameplay, visuals, promotions, and more.

The Smartphone

When the first touchscreen-friendly smartphones launched in the late 2000s and became increasingly popular, more and more people began gaming on their web-friendly smartphones, pushing casino operators and game developers to acknowledge the mobile-based preference and create content that was compatible and friendly with mobile devices.

Developer NetEnt was one of the first to develop with the mobile audience in mind. Back in 2011, the studio released its unique Touch series, which were games that featured touch-friendly controls. Some of the studio’s popular Touch games included Jack And The Beanstalk, Big Bang Touch, Magic Portals Touch, Fruit Shop Touch, Jack Hammer Touch, Blackjack Classic, Starburst, and numerous other titles.

NetEnt Touch

From there, numerous other developers began releasing touch-friendly casino games and casino mobile apps and revamping their site to make it mobile-friendly too. When Apple and other smartphone manufacturers removed Adobe Flash support – which was used for most casino games – developers were pushed to start developing their games in HTML5, making them compatible with both desktop and mobile browsers or apps.

Since then, mobile gaming has become increasingly popular and now almost all UK casinos are mobile-friendly and a majority of all games are compatible with smartphone devices. However, it’s important to note that throughout all of that time, regulations, game developers, and operators all changed, and they continue to do so now too.

2022: What’s Happened So Far

2022 has been somewhat of a quiet year so far; we’ve seen game developers launch a slew of casino games, including Play’n GO, Microgaming, Yggdrasil, Pragmatic Play, and numerous others. We’ve also seen studios like Relax Gaming grow their aggregated content by adding other development groups too, adding more games to its partnered casino operators, and we’ve seen existing UK-licensed development groups launch their products internationally.

Regulation And The UK Gambling Commission

When it comes to regulation, there’s been a few changes. In April 2022, the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) announced new rules changes that will come into effect on October 1st, 2022. As we reported, the rules will ban celebrities and influencers of “strong appeal to children or young persons” from appearing in gambling advertisements.

What’s more, gambling operator Novibet surrendered its UK license in February due to “commercial reasons” and encouraged all users to withdraw their remaining funds and look for alternative mobile casinos.

Meanwhile, the UK Gambling Commission issued several financial penalties to UK gambling operators. The first was to BV Gaming Limited, which trades as BetVictor. The Commission fined the group £2 million for fairness, money laundering, and social responsibility failings. Then, in March, operator 888 UK Limited was fined £9.4 million for money laundering and social responsibility failings, and Sky Betting and Gaming’s Sky Vegas was fined £1.17 million for self-exclusion breaches, distributing a promotional offer to self-excluded and unsubscribed marketing players, and breaching the Commission’s license conditions for socially responsible gambling.

In May, the Gambling Commission fined operators Jumpman Gaming and Progress Play for a series of failings, and it suspended Goldchip’s operating licence with immediate effect over concerns it was carrying out activities contrary to the Gambling Act 2005 and not in accordance with its licence conditions.

Meanwhile, in June, developer Leap Gaming acquired a UK license, and the Gambling Commission announced changes to its licensing process, stepping away from the current model where gambling operators each have a single dedicated account manager towards a new model where licensing is comprised of four sub-groups.

Also in July, gambling operator BetBull closed down its business and ceased all operations, and a slew of bingo-based casinos operated by 888 Holdings were acquired by fellow operator Broadway Group after the two firms’ deal made back in February 2022.

The Gambling Act Review

The March fines were announced as the UK government continued its review of the Gambling Act 2005, which was originally set to be completed at the beginning of the year but was delayed to May 2022, and then indefinitely. As the review was carried out with the intention to impose tighter restrictions, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) issued warnings on the dangers of the overseas illegal online gambling market. To corroborate its argument, the BGC highlighted a study in February that showcased how increasing restrictions in other countries pushed players overseas to illegal websites, suggesting that similar could happen in the UK.

Despite this, reports from early July suggested that the UK government were expected to implement a ban on free bets and VIP packages for users that incur heavy losses, introduce new affordability checks, and impose a maximum bet limit of between £2 and £5 for casinos.

Responsible Gambling Services, Tools, And More

The BGC’s warnings come at a time of great importance, as England’s NHS confirmed it had faced record demand for gambling support at the beginning of the year. Despite this, the NHS announced its decision to stop accepting funds from GambleAware and the wider gambling industry to fund its gambling treatment services. The NHS confirmed that from April 1st, it would now fund its own services.

In May 2022, the ASA released a new report revealing that children’s exposure to gambling advertisements has dropped by 25% since 2010, although charity GambleAware called for more to be done to help users.

Most recently, in July, charity GamCare issued a warning that the cost of living crisis has seen Brits turn to gambling as a way of making money as more and more people struggle with their finances.

New Game Developers And Casino Changes

MansionBet Closure

Although it seemed more people than ever were gambling in 2022, many gambling operators were still forced to close or leave the market. Mansion Group were one of the said operators, announcing in March that they would be closing their MansionBet sportsbook service to shift its focus solely to casinos. The MansionBet sportsbook will officially close on March 31st, and all registered users were urged to withdraw any remaining funds and find an alternative UK mobile casino.

While some operators faced difficulties, others excelled throughout 2022. SkillOnNet, for example, expanded its payment selection by adding Apple Pay to all of its mobile casino sites in the UK, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, and Germany. Similarly, operator Betway expanded its accepted payment selections with the addition of Trustly.

In May 2022, 888 shareholders approved the company’s acquisition of William Hill‘s non-US business, and the acquisition was finalised at the end of June, as the company had anticipated.

Meanwhile, other acquisitions announced in May include Light & Wonder (Formely Scientific Games) taking over game provider Playzido, and Microgaming completing the sale of its Quickfire distribution business to Games Global.

On top of all of this, casino Jeffbet acquired a UK licence from the Gambling Commission and launched its casino with ProgressPlay casino games, including slots and live content.

More recently in June, Evolution continued its string of acquisitions after announcing an agreement to purchase developer Nolimit City as part of its efforts in becoming the “world’s number one provider of online casino games”.

2021: A Look Back

2021 was a busy year for the UK gambling industry. Like with the others that came before it, we saw numerous game developers launch new basic and groundbreaking casino games, gambling operators and developers launch in the UK market or leave it, numerous studios announce new content agreements to expand their reach across the UK and internationally, and more.

Games, Development Studios, And Casino Changes

From the above, developer Synot Games acquired a UK gambling license in January, followed by table game developer Spribe in February, Jogo Global in October, and then HITSqwad in November. In May, we saw operator LeoVegas launch its Blue Guru Games studio with the aim to develop 20 games in total by 2023.

Later in the year, we saw Evolution complete its acquisition of Big Time Gaming – adding the studio to its subsidiaries alongside NetEnt, Red Tiger Gaming, and Evolution – and we saw Microgaming sell its Quickfire distribution business and games to the newly-founded developer Games Global Limited.

While all of the above happened, popular gambling operator SkillOnNet made headlines when it launched new casinos Zebra Wins and PlayToro, both of which utilise the same game selection and promotional content as most other SkillOnNet mobile casinos.

Regulation & The UK Gambling Commission

While game developers experienced much success, the UK Gambling Commission decided to shake up the industry at the beginning of the year by announcing new restrictions for online slots. The restrictions included a ban on slot features, a speed limit on spins, and a ban on certain imagery.

In addition, the Commission was busy regulating operators it felt failed to adhere to its license conditions. The Commission issued a fine of £1.3 million to White Hat Gaming in January, as well as a fine of £3.4 million to Intouch Games and a fine of £6 million to Casumo, both in March. Much of the failings centred around operators failing to adhere to best practices or the conditions of their licenses.

In May, operator Stakers surrendered its UK operating license after its appeal against the suspension of its license by the Gambling Commission – issued after the Commission uncovered a series of failings – was dismissed. Around the same time, Nektan (Gibraltar) Limited, which operated a slew of popular mobile casinos, had its license suspended for breaching the conditions of its license.

The Commission found itself in hot water in March after conducting an investigation into BetIndex Limited’s Football Index website and suspending its license. The site, which allowed users to purchase “shares” on football players and earn based on their performance, fell into administration after reducing the dividends it paid to customers, triggering the Commission’s investigation and suspension.

Football Index Closure

The collapse of Football Index directly impacted dozens of customers, and the Commission came under pressure from the government and the public for its slow reaction to the situation. Things got worse when, in April, the UK government launched an inquiry into the collapse of Football Index and to analyse the action taken by the Gambling Commission.

Months later, in September, the Parliamentary All-Party Betting and Gaming Group (APPBGG) launched an inquiry into the UK Gambling Commission’s effectiveness and competence, launched as a direct result of Football Index’s closure and after the APBGG received several criticisms of the regulator.

In addition to the above, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) issued multiple sanctions. In February, the ASA banned a “socially irresponsible” advert from Ladbrokes that appeared on All4 in October 2020, followed by a second sanction in July. The second ad featured three men watching a football game while looking “tense and nervous” – the ad was deemed socially irresponsible and banned.

The Gambling Act Review

During the Football Index backlash, the UK government confirmed that it would look into the UK Gambling Commission as part of its review of the Gambling Act 2005. The review launched in December 2020 with a call for evidence and was expected to end in 2022 with the publication of a White Paper report.

Although it was unknown what the Gambling Review would lead to, an immediate outcome was UK National Lottery operator Camelot increasing the minimum age required to play the National Lottery from 16 to 18 in April and shutting down all access to lottery products for people under the age of 18.

Throughout the year, it was also theorised that the Gambling Act Review would lead to a ban on gambling sports sponsorships, sparking a debate that lasted into 2022. The reports sparked concern among football teams and caused several English Premier League (EPL) clubs to hold meetings in March to discuss the future of gambling sports sponsorships. It also led the English Football League (EFL) to criticise the decision, claiming it would be “catastrophic” for smaller clubs who received funding from sponsorships and were already struggling as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Covid-19 Pandemic

Speaking of Coronavirus, 2021 was a struggle for people and businesses all over the United Kingdom due to the pandemic. As the UK public was ordered to work from home and businesses forced to close, numerous gamers in the UK turned to online and mobile casinos, leading the UK Gambling Commission to change its guidance and warn operators to continue protecting players during lockdown and warn them from taking advantage of users.

As this happened, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) campaigned for brick-and-mortar casinos as they were forced to close from customers. The BGC continuously called on the government to reopen brick-and-mortar casinos and betting shops after lockdown ended, and called for more monetary support for the land-based gambling market.

Responsible Gambling Services, Tools, And More

To combat the dangers of gambling in an ever-important time, gambling operators and charities announced numerous new tools, initiatives, and services to help players. In March, charities GamCare, Gamban, and GAMSTOP partnered to launch their joint responsible gambling campaign #TalkBanStop, which was designed to promote each of the charities’ services; Gamban’s blocking software, GamCare’s support services, and GAMSTOP’s self-exclusion tool.

In April, PlayOJO made headlines when it partnered with Neccton to launch its ‘Safe Mate’ gambling tool, which helps customers monitor their gambling behaviour by tracking how much they deposit and wager, and how much time they’ve spent gambling over a period of time. The groundbreaking tool also provides players with personalised feedback and communication.

Media giant YouTube also chimed in, banning gambling advertisements from its masthead slot at the top of the website or app in June to help vulnerable people and minors from being exposed to gambling. Alongside gambling, ads for alcohol, drugs, elections, and other political content were also banned.

The UK Gambling Commission also did its part by approving an £800K settlement for a new public health program to tackle gambling-related harm in Yorkshire and the Humber in September.

Two months after that, LeoVegas Group announced the launch of a new deposit limit initiative for its customers. The initiative, which is still available now, uses third-party data and a proprietary risk prediction model to create new personalised deposit limits for all players when they make their first deposit.

Finally, online bank Monzo, who is one of the few banks in the UK to allow customers to block gambling transactions, partnered with TrueLayer to launch a universal gambling block for the financial services industry, including banks, credit cards, loans, and e-wallets, allowing them to block all transactions with gambling operators.