Casinos UK vs. Responsible Gambling: What can be done?


The debate between those who wish to gamble for their own enjoyment, and those who would prevent gambling to protect the vulnerable, is one that has raged for centuries. Yet today, in 2021, it’s perhaps more timely than ever.

With people all over the world experiencing various forms of lockdown, it’s understandable that many have turned to the internet and digital entertainment to break the monotony or act as a distraction. And if there’s one thing the internet has plenty of, it’s online casinos. In fact, punters in the United Kingdom may not realise just how many casinos there are, as UK residents are only permitted to see advertising for fully-licensed UK casino sites.

The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC), the regulator responsible for licensing online casinos in the UK, has adopted various measures to try and protect problem gamblers from harm. Some of these ‘spoilers’, such as limiting bonuses or enforcing delays between slots spins, may have the unintended consequence of pushing customers to try non Gamstop casinos instead of UKGC-licensed sites.

These UK non Gamstop casinos generally offer the same player experience as those in the UK (if not better, given the lack of spoilers at these sites), but generate no revenue for the UK through tax, and offer less protection to players in terms of responsible gaming tools or Gamstop exclusions.

So how does the UKGC solve this problem, whereby some of the users they are most committed to helping are being driven into harm’s way by the very measures they are adopting? Is it possible that the UK government would criminalise these users by making the use of non Gamstop casinos a crime?

The Use of Gamstop

The term ‘non Gamstop casino’ originates from the Gamstop organisation, a UK body founded to try and protect problem gamblers through the use of voluntary self-exclusions. The difference in the case of Gamstop is that a single self-exclusion automatically applies to any and all UKGC-licensed casino sites.

As internationally-based sites, licensed abroad in regions such as Panama, Curacao and Costa Rica, non Gamstop casinos do not possess licences from the UKGC, and are therefore ineligible to join the Gamstop scheme. Because of this, UK players serving current Gamstop exclusions are able to easily sign up and play at non Gamstop sites. The result is that the scheme is easily circumvented, especially by those it was set up to most vigorously protect.

This is a significant group of players for various reasons: from a moral perspective they are most at risk of addiction, and so are most in need of help to stay out of harm’s way (although a moral argument also exists that everyone should be able to make their own decisions). From a financial point of view, it’s an inconvenient truth that casinos benefit greatly from those customers suffering from gambling addiction. Casinos are therefore in the awkward position of having to push away the customers they need the most.

Gamstop provides vital assistance to UK gamblers, but it is failing to protect many of those who need it.

Why plays on Casinos not on Gamstop?

There are plenty of reasons why UK punters may choose to play at a non Gamstop casino site and, as alluded to above, unfortunately some of those reasons originate with the UKGC and its efforts to discourage certain behaviour.

Measures adopted by the UKGC, or discussed for future implementation, include such things as:

  • Slower spinning reels in slots games
  • Restricted deposits
  • Limited deposit bonuses
  • Lowered maximum stakes
  • Mandatory delays between slots spins
  • Restrictions on free play and free gifts

It’s clear that the intention behind these decisions is to reduce some of the excitement, incentive and fast pace of play that many casino players particularly enjoy. And so players are continuing to search out non Gamstop casino sites in order to recapture that freedom and excitement.

But the fact is that UK players who could benefit most from these steps to limit their play are likely to be the ones most put off by these measures. And the unintended result is that these players are finding themselves playing at non Gamstop casino sites, where not only are any potential Gamstop exclusions not upheld, but the responsible gaming tools available are likely to be less effective.

Non Gamstop Casinos UK – No Marketing but the Players’ Choice

There are two things in particular about non Gamstop casinos that may seem at odds with each other, but that once you understand the legal landscape make logical sense. These two facts are:

1) these non Gamstop casinos are trending like crazy, and 2) you probably haven’t heard of any of them before!

How can something so obviously popular be, at the same time, a seemingly well kept secret? The answer lies, once again, with the UKGC.

Any online casino wishing to advertise or market their products to UK customers has to be in possession of a UKGC licence. A casino site not on Gamstop is therefore not permitted to run traditional adverts online, or even in places such as Facebook, meaning UK gamblers are using search engines to access these sites.

Again, measures taken to protect UK punters – in this case from seeing adverts exhorting them to join non Gamstop casinos – have unintended consequences, as casinos not on Gamstop attract attention by trending online.

Casinos not on Gamstop Accepting UK Players via various payments

Funding an online account is a vital link in the process of gambling online, and so it is another area where the UKGC takes a regulatory interest. Visit most non Gamstop casino sites and you’ll notice that certain payment methods will probably be missing, most notably PayPal.

However, efforts to restrict payment methods for casinos not on Gamstop are hamstrung by the nature of the industry: new payment methods are constantly springing up, from new forms of ewallet to cash vouchers to cryptocurrencies.

For some players, this open-minded approach to new payment options holds an appeal all of its own, especially as many cryptocurrencies allow for increased levels of anonymity. Again, it could be that steps taken by the UKGC in a bid to reduce the appeal of licensed sites are effectively pushing players towards non Gamstop casinos.

How can UK licensed casinos compete?

As we look at the efforts the UKGC is taking to try and protect vulnerable gamblers, we imagine a see-saw: the more they try to dis-incentivise players from gambling at licensed sites, the more players will use non Gamstop sites.

But the UKGC only has responsibility for the United Kingdom, and takes its duties towards vulnerable gamblers seriously. How can it successfully protect players if the preventative steps it is taking are making the problem worse? And how can UK licensed casino sites compete, if the playing field is being slanted against them thanks to steps specifically designed to negatively affect the playing experience?

Perhaps UK players could choose to opt-in for these safety measures, such as slower spin speeds, or at least be able to opt out if the data shows their gambling habits are well within control? Or, as UKGC-licensed operators are able to share player data thanks to the Gamstop scheme, maybe operators could build in safety measures to be triggered automatically by player behaviour, but across all licensed sites? That way a customer would not be able to ignore their own self-destructive behaviour on one site by simply joining another.

Whatever the solution, it’s clear that steps need to be taken to redress the balance and stop the flow of UK punters to non Gamstop casinos where they may be less protected, and where the tax on their spend flows out of the UK.

Win-win or Lose-lose Situation?

The UKGC’s current approach to regulation is designed to benefit UK customers as well as UK businesses. But is anyone actually benefiting?

  • UK casino players are having their playing experience intentionally spoiled, using measures designed to reduce fun and the bonuses they can receive.
  • UK operators are imposing restrictions which result in them losing business to overseas competitors.

Given these facts, it’s hard to see a winner in this scenario beyond the non Gamstop casinos themselves. This obviously runs counter to the intentions of the UKGC, so the current situation must change, and soon. Just how and when that happens, we’ll be fascinated to see!

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