The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of online gambling since the industry took off more than two decades ago. No country on earth has a broader choice of online casinos, bingo sites, and sports books, but recent events raise doubt on whether the UK will continue to lead the Internet gambling world into the future.

For several years, the Gambling Commission, the regulator of all things gambling, has introduced new rules that operators must follow to avoid a hefty fine. Looking at the early signs, it’s pushing both operators and players away.

Recent Regulatory Changes

In an effort to make remote gambling safer, the Gambling Commission introduced several new restrictions, bans, and rules for operators to follow.

For example, gambling websites in the UK cannot accept credit cards to accept deposits from players, whether directly or indirectly. So, a player who funds their PayPal wallet with a credit card is technically not allowed to use it at an online casino or betting website.

Further restrictions were applied to VIP schemes, designed for so-called “whales” or players who wager high amounts. Online casinos now have to conduct full audits on a customer’s affordability before granting VIP status. The problem? To perform such an audit, operators must request several sensitive documents like bank and income statements, credit card reports, and more. Players are often unwilling and uncomfortable sharing these documents.

Game design and reverse withdrawals have also been impacted by the UKGC’s new rules, slowing down games, limiting the wager per spin at slot machines, and banning the reverse withdrawal feature. While this undoubtedly benefits players at risk of addiction, it greatly impacts the user experience of those who seek a fun gambling experience.

A set of additional rules was introduced late last year and more changes are expected to be introduced in 2024, according to this year’s Gambling White Paper.

The Immediate Impact on Casino Operators

The impact on casino operators has been nothing short of dramatic, considering the new rules mean a drastic cut in revenue at a high risk of multi-million-pound fines.

Big names like Genesis Global and InTouch Games have exited the market recently after receiving fines above £1m and having their operating licence suspended following concerns that activities may have been carried out contrary to the Gambling Act.

Besides operators surrendering their permits, the number of smaller gambling firms entering the British market has slowed down due to the increased risk. As a result, the variety of online casinos and other gambling websites has become much smaller for players.

To combat this trend, some well-known operating companies like LC International and Aspire Global have focused more on the concept of casino sister sites. By reusing their gambling platform like games, payments, and customer support and only adding a new design, operators can relatively easily launch different brands that attract a broader clientele of gamblers.

Will Players Exit or Adapt?

Besides the impact on operators, looking at the player’s response is important, especially for those at risk of gambling addiction and needing to be protected.

Ultimately, the Gambling Commission wants to ensure that operators do not exploit players and drive them into bankruptcy while enriching themselves. A noble mission, without a doubt! Early signs, however, show that tighter restrictions cause quite the opposite.

As the Betting and Gambling Council (BGC) reported earlier this year, the number of UK punters visiting unregulated gambling sites has tripled between January 2022 and January 2023. In December 2022 alone, an estimated 250,000 people visited a black-market online casino or betting site compared to just 80,000 the year before.

The consequences are potentially dire, considering the unregulated gambling websites don’t follow any of the UKGC’s rules, are not connected to the self-exclusion system GamStop, and often don’t offer tools to players that help to control their gambling habits.

Balancing Regulation with Player Experience

Looking at the status quo in the United Kingdom, it becomes clear that balancing regulation with player experience and expectation is crucial to establishing a healthy remote gambling market. While there is no doubt that at-risk players should be protected at all costs, it cannot come at the expense of players in complete control of their gambling activity. Once regulations push players away from regulated gambling sites into the uncontrolled black market, a concerning rise of more problem gamblers is only a matter of time.