Opinion: The United Kingdom Gambling Commission is Overzealous and Hypocritical

Opinion: The United Kingdom Gambling Commission is Overzealous and Hypocritical

With the recent announcement that the UKGC will not be allowing credit card deposits for online gambling, and the hypocrisy of allowing those same cards to be used for lottery purchases, we have to sit back and ask if they are going a bit too far with trying to appear as if they’re “doing something.”

Too Much of a Good Thing?

The online gambling regulatory approach in the United Kingdom is held up as being the absolute best that the world has to offer by the vast majority of gambling experts, myself included. I’ve been in or around this industry for over 15 years, and I know what it’s like when things are the virtual Wild West.

How the UKGC approached regulating the industry has generally been tremendous, but they’ve started making some questionable decisions in the past year or two.

It’s understandable that they feel the need to protect players, and that’s something that we all should be doing as an industry as a whole. However, there comes a certain point when things like diminishing returns come into play, and you can even look at situations where people might be trying to “do something” even when nothing needs to be done in a certain area.

The recent announcement that the UKGC will not be allowing credit card deposits for online gambling is one of those things that’s making a lot of people turn their heads and wonder if they’re getting a bit overzealous.

Details on the Ban

To make things clear, it’s probably a good idea to take a look at what exactly is being banned:

  • Credit card payments cannot be used for online gambling transactions.
  • This ban goes into place sometime in April of this year.
  • Debit cards connected to bank accounts will still be available for use.
  • Credit cards will still be available for playing the National Lottery.

The main reason that they want to ban credit cards from online payments, as explained by the CEO of the Gambling Commission Neil McArthur himself, is that they don’t want people gambling with funds that they don’t actually have. By banning credit card play, they hope to curb this type of behavior.

While this sounds like a pretty reasonable argument on the surface level, there’s a bit more going on here once you start looking at the larger context.

One Issue: Complete Hypocrisy

As we noted above, credit cards are still going to be available for playing the National Lottery. It’s not hard to illustrate that continuing to allow this completely and totally undermines their reasons for banning credit cards from online gambling deposits.

If the goal is to deal with paying for gambling with money the player doesn’t have, then there’s no reason for the National Lottery to be treated differently than online forms of gambling.

Yet here we are. The whole thing is a sham if this isn’t treated like an all-or-nothing issue: You either have to ban credit cards from being used for all forms of gambling, or you have to allow it for all forms of gambling.

However, what you absolutely don’t get to do is act like you’re getting something done and doing the players a huge favor by banning credit cards for only certain types of wagers in certain places. That defeats the entire point.

Another Issue: Becoming Overbearing for Players

When an operator or software developer applies to get a license to operate in the United Kingdom, they know what they’re getting themselves into. They know the burden they are going to take on for making sure that players are taken care of and that the games they provide are up to the specifications that the UKGC has in place.

However, what’s happening here is that they are starting to shift some of that burden over to the players, which is overbearing at the least.

It’s the gambling site’s job, as per the terms of their licensing agreement, to have adequate protections in place for players. Once you start taking away the most popular form of payment for online gambling, while simultaneously allowing players to continue playing with credit cards via the National Lottery, then there’s something else going on here.

Most players don’t want to switch to another payment method because it’s tedious and annoying. Instead, look at the incentive structure here: How many of them will simply shift to playing the National Lottery more often instead?

That’s an issue that’s not really being addressed in the way it should in all of this.

What is the Real Goal Here?

The goal, more or less, that the UKGC has told us from day one is to allow an environment where players can get in on the action from regulated online sites without having to worry about things like getting screwed over by rogue sites or being a victim of problem gambling without having access to ways to get help.

They have put the burden on the operators to make sure that players can afford to make deposits by searching for them on the Internet. They’ve put burden on software developers to adhere to certain guidelines like limiting the amount that players can wager over an individual bet. Since these are the entities providing the games (and profiting from them), it makes complete and total sense that this burden be put on them.

But how is it just or anything but nonsensical to put this burden on the players in terms of which payment options they use (unless they’re playing the lottery, of course).

Credit cards are the most popular option in the online gambling world because of how convenient they are. If you take that way, the only people who are going to stop playing are the people who don’t have compulsive gambling issues. This change could literally lead to a situation where a higher percentage of existing gamblers have issues with problem gambling, and in that sense, it makes no sense.

A Variety of Better Solutions

If the real issue is to stop letting players gamble with money they don’t have, which is what the CEO of the UKGC himself has said, then there are other ways to go about it than outright banning the single most popular option for making deposits ever.

One option would be to require casinos to allow players to opt out from credit card deposits. This could be tied country-wide like other self-exclusion options are, and it would give problem gamblers an out for help without making things super inconvenient for the other 99 percent of people out there.

Another option would be to have players need to opt-in to be able to use credit cards and to have them put specific spending limits on those cards that have to be updated on a monthly basis (or some similar schedule).

The core idea is to protect the people who need to be protected without dragging down the experience of the overwhelming majority of people who just don’t want to be seriously inconvenienced by this.

Other Sources of Credit

There are plenty of other easy sources of credit that players can get, and this ban on credit cards is largely ineffective for protecting the people whom it is supposed to actually protect.

For a simple example, virtually all credit cards allow for cash advance services (with fees). That cash could then be deposited and used to fund an online gambling account.

That’s one more issue with the whole thing and why it’s well-intended but completely misguided, and anyone who lives outside of the bubble of politicians in the “real world” can see that.

Moving Forward

The level to which the UKGC has changed the landscape of online gambling legislation on a global scale cannot and should not be minimized. They have done a tremendous amount for the industry as a whole, and we should definitely be thankful for their work.

With that said, their prior track record does not excuse the fact that this credit card business is one big step in the wrong direction and seems to indicate that their level of zeal in all of this is a bit too high. The discrepancy they have in this action between the credit card ban’s intent and the actual effects is pretty serious, and that’s the core issue of the whole thing.