Changes could be coming to how remote gaming operators conduct business in the United Kingdom. The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) recently published a lengthy consultation document titled Remote gambling and software technical standards, which outlined 17 proposed changes, which if implemented place higher standards on licensed operators and improve consumer protection.
Before any of the proposals outlined below are implemented, industry stakeholders have until Jan. 17, 2017 to share their opinion with the UKGC. However, the UKGC did already conduct pre-consultation discussions with stakeholders, whose opinions are reflected in the document.
After the stakeholders' responses are reviewed and considered, the UKGC will notify the European Union of the proposed changes. Assuming no issues arise, the changes can be implemented three months later, with the document sharing the new standards of operations for remote gaming operators to come into effect in the summer of 2017.
1) General changes to format and layout - The document proposes new standards for how customer balances and transactions are displayed. This should have a minor effect on most gaming operators and their customers.
2) Session history and display net deposits - The main point in this proposal is that gaming operators will be required to display at least 12 months of deposit and withdrawal activity. Many gaming operators already provide this, such as PokerStars, but they provide a smaller period of time within its client. However, using PokerStars as an example, they always quickly provide this information whenever requested and it should be a minor change for the gaming operator to add to its client.
3) Restricted display device - The UKGC proposes that less information be required to be displayed when less space is available such as on a smartphone or smartwatch. The gambling commission also asks stakeholders whether there should be other circumstances where less information should be required to be displayed.
4) Display of Commission licensed status - The UKGC proposes that the format by which gaming companies display that they are licensed by the gambling commission be posted along with a link to its website. Once again, questions are presented concerning the best policies for how this would work for restricted display devices.
5) Displaying transactions - Most of this proposal has little to do with online poker and more to do with sportsbooks, especially those with frequently changing odds for in-game wagering. The commission seeks to standardise options for customers to accept changing odds along with sufficient information explaining the changes.
6) Game identifier – The UKGC proposes a minor change that if implemented would require operators to display the game version to its customers. It is also possible that this proposal will include details about the supplier as well.
7)Live return to player monitoring - This proposal suggests that operators that offer games of chance should be periodically monitoring their data to make sure the returns are similar to what they are advertising them to be. This likely will not apply to poker operators that offer a game of skill. However, while not specifically suggested, one could stretch this proposal to believe it would also apply to lottery-style poker games where the prize pool is randomly determined after players are registered and before the first cards are dealt and to promotions where odds of winning certain prizes are published.
8) Play-for-fun games - The UKGC proposes that play money games follow the same rules as real money games. This proposal is most likely geared towards play money casino games instead of play money poker games.
9) New and emerging game designs - This proposal addresses issues where the player returns are increased the longer they play or the higher they bet. The questions and proposals relating to this section primarily relate to casino games.
10) Peer-to-peer poker - As the title of this section suggests, this is one of the bigger proposals for online poker operators and online poker players. The proposal seeks to standardise methods of detecting cheating along with providing clear information on what happens with confiscated funds.
The section asks for input on four major areas including collusion, bots, third-party poker software and poker hand histories. One of the main suggestions here is to ask operators to document how they are detecting cheaters and to focus on the gameplay of customers on a risk-based approach by "periodically checking their gameplay statistics for unusual behaviour."
Additionally, online poker operators will be required to monitor how successful their cheating and collusion detection methods are.
11) Use of third-party software - The UKGC outlined types of third-party poker software in this section that are designed to work alongside online poker clients (included but not limited to):
- Programs designed to interpret, analyse or assist with live poker hands
- Heads-Up Displays (HUDs)
- Seating scripts
- Software designed to automatically participate in gambling on behalf of a human (sometimes referred to as a ‘bot’)
The commission is also aware of how gaming companies change their policies from time to time in an attempt to improve their poker ecology. The proposal here does not stretch toward suggesting to poker operators which third-party poker software should be prohibited.
However, it does suggest that it should be clearly displayed on the website and periodically update their players via email or other forms of communication. Currently many poker operators do display this information, but not in a way that new or recreational players would easily find.
"The fair and open licensing objective requires licensees to ensure customers have access to sufficient information to make an informed decision about a gambling product," the UKGC stated in the proposal. "Our evidence suggests that the information provided about third party software is inconsistent, hard to find or not made available altogether. This can leave less informed players at a disadvantage to those competitors who choose to use third party software."
A big example of how online poker operators combat predatory activity aided by certain third-party software tools came just last month when partypoker implemented changes to make hand history files for ring-games anonymous and allowing players a one-time screen name change to combat the effectiveness of HUDs and seating scripts, especially with information that could have been obtained via data mining.
While in this case, no changes were made to what third-party software is prohibited with seating scripts already illegal and HUDs still allowed, partypoker did share when changes were released that anyone caught using banned software would be issued a warning before being banned entirely for any further offences.
12) Financial Limits - This section suggests that players should be allowed to set their own financial limits on how much they spend, allowing consumers to stay within their gambling budgets. There are also questions regarding cases where different limits can be set for separate products, having that information displayed clearly.
13) Reality checks - This section focuses on social responsibility allowing players to set reality checks for themselves in certain circumstances. The proposal is separated between play account level and product level reality checks.
14) Live dealer studios - The proposal regarding live dealer studios relates purely to games that are not electronic, where live dealers are employed. In theory, this could apply to poker if a licensed operated does employ live dealer poker games; however, the standards suggested are primarily related to casino games.
15) Progressive jackpots - The UKGC acknowledges that progressive jackpots for casino and bingo games are becoming increasingly popular and proposes standards which include how to handle when a ceiling is reached for jackpots, how often the jackpot amount is refreshed and auditing standards.
It is possible this could apply to poker operators that offer games, such as on Full Tilt where players can use their loyalty points to enter The Deal, which awards a jackpot when a certain hand is randomly hit.
This might also be the case for online poker rooms that provide progressive jackpots for their lottery-style Sit & Go formats, including PKR Poker, who offers a random progressive jackpot for its Jackpot Sit & Go.
16) Virtual sports odds - In this section, proposed standards on virtual sports and how odds are displayed were issues identified for review. Also discussed is sharing the odds on who will win, which can be provided since this is typically determined based on a random number generator (contrary to live sports games).
17) Information Security Standards - The UKGC proposes to further standardise security measures employed by licensed gaming operators to "to ensure that customers are not exposed to unnecessary security risks by choosing to participate in remote gambling."
Time will tell whether or not all or some of these proposals will eventually be implemented or modified. Many of the proposals are common sense to be implemented and are likely to receive little friction from stakeholders, while others might be debated as being too burdensome.
*Lead image courtesy of geograph.org.uk.