It was almost inevitable that, as the online casino industry became more established and greater profits could be made, it was going to start attracting operators who fail to live up to the high standards required of them.
As a result, there have been calls for the whole industry to be more tightly regulated, especially as even the most recent legislation is already looking distinctly out of date.
The protection of players is paramount to businesses running successfully and the reputation of the whole industry relies on it. So ethical and fair operation is critical – and failure to act in this way could be disastrous.
Regulation in the UK
In the UK all online casinos need to be registered with an organisation called The Gambling Commission. Set up in 2006 as part of new gambling legislation introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour Government, this is the body that oversees all aspects of the industry.
In order to be granted a licence there are a number of requirements that any online gambling operator must be able to demonstrate:
- It must not be a source of crime or disorder
- Be used to support crime
- Be conducted in a fair and open way with all players having an equal chance of winning
- Children and vulnerable people must be protected from harm caused by exposure to gambling.
In May last year the Commission acted on all of these areas to bring in new, more tightly regulated rulings. For example, criminals using online gambling sites to launder money has been an issue in the past so far stricter identification checks were introduced with casinos being given the power to demand several forms of verification before accounts can be opened and money deposited.
This is also aimed to identify more effectively people who have asked for their gambling to be curtailed as it has been a problem in the past. This is a group that has even found it difficult when asking for assistance with their issues on Google has simply generated more encouragement to gamble.
Ensuring that people who have identified themselves as irresponsible gamblers can exclude themselves from gambling is key for ethical casinos.
Some of the biggest fines that have ever been imposed on offending casinos have been for failing to prevent players who have chosen to self-exclude from gambling. The seriousness of the offence is underlined by the fact that these are fines that run into the millions of pounds – £19.6 million in total in 2018.
Examining the whole area of self-exclusion, the Commission found that across the industry 1.6 million people had asked to be prevented from gambling but there were 135,700 examples when they had been allowed to gamble anyway.
Reputable casinos take measures to identify and protect their customers who may be a risk from problem levels of gambling.
Fines have also been imposed for failure to check on players’ identities closely enough as well as for a number of other data protection issues. Most recently of all, one of the biggest names in the field has been fined £3 million for failing to carry out adequate “Source of Funds” investigations including one example in which they accepted a screenshot of an alleged balance in dollars on a cryptocurrency trading site as sufficient proof that the player, and the money they were planning to deposit, were 100% legitimate.
Of course, this is not what one would expect, or experience from an ethical online casino.
Not only do reputable casinos make sure that they have comprehensive and legitimate identification for all players, they also have many provisions in place to allow them to self-exclude from gambling. A great example of an operator that follows these guidelines is 888, a highly regarded online casino in the UK with solid responsible gaming systems and practices in place.
User agreements and policies
Ethical casinos will also have a comprehensive user agreement that will be prominently displayed on their website which sets out both the player’s and the casino’s responsibilities in a clear and unambiguous way. The more reputable the casino is, the more detailed this agreement will be, hopefully covering every eventuality.
But, no matter how fair the casino may be, there will always be situations in which complaints are made so having a formal and agreed policy for dealing with these is an important element of acting ethically. Players must also have the right to appeal to a higher authority, generally the Gambling Commission, if they find themselves still in dispute with the casino and its operators.
As an extra reassurance for players who want to know if the online casino also operates to high ethical standards, most also display the logos of organisations whose principles they adhere to. These include eCOGRA, an independent body who check that the games themselves are fair. By testing that the payout percentages are as advertised and the software used by the site really does generate random outcomes in games, eCOGRA then produces a certificate which should be readily accessible online, with a link to it from the casino’s site, to confirm that playing on them is fair, the operator functions honestly and behaves responsibly and that players are protected and their monetary deposits are safe.
What’s next for casinos in the future?
While the regulations for being recognised by eCOGRA are already strict, all the signs are that regulation is set to become even more rigidly enforced in the future. There is currently talk of many of the UK’s gambling laws being changed to bring them up to date with the state of the industry today and the UK government has shown that it is willing to take on the gambling industry if necessary. Proof of this came in 2019 when the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals was reduced from £100 to £2 and this year when credit cards will no longer be allowed as a method of payment for gambling.
So, it’s time for the online casinos to start acting more ethically than ever before – or face up to the consequences.