If you’ve not spotted it already, there’s some potentially massive news from the Government today, that could literally change the look of online bingo in the near future. The Minister for Culture, Media and Sport Gerry Sutcliffe today released a statement about his plans to undertake a review of the current licensing system for remote gaming regulation. Back in April 2009 he announced a review of the current system, and today’s statement comes as notice of intent to begin consultation on implementing a new system for all gambling sites who are licensed outside of Britain.
The proposed changes will effectively impact on the roughly 98-99% of existing online bingo suppliers, including those owned and run by the major retail chains. If it comes to fruition, it will make all these sites unable to target the UK under their current licensing situation. Currently, any overseas operators are able to target UK players. Legally, only those who are licensed in one of the Gambling Commission’s white-listed areas or the EU can advertise to UK players. However, under these new proposals, only sites who are licensed directly in the UK will be able to provide remote gaming to UK players.
The move is aimed to protect UK consumers by regulating that all online gaming sites adhere to the UK’s strict gambling regulations. It’s fair to say that currently, some areas within the EU are ripe with online bingo licensees who’s practices are questionable, and far from consumer friendly (yes I’m looking at you Cyprus and Malta). The proposals aim to curb the wide range of licensing variants by insisting only one will be followed, the UK’s own one.
It’s early stages yet, and there will be a long consultation process now between the Minister and the Gambling Commission to decide exactly how these new extended gambling licenses will work legally, but already I’m sure lots of bottoms are doing the 5p 10p dance in the gaming market.
On the one hand, it will help to stop a lot of the shonky and greedy practices we see out there in online bingo land, helping to protect UK players from getting ripped off. I’m sure the steady stream we have of them in the complaints section is just the tip of the iceberg, but a lot of the typical problems that arise would be better protected against with these new regulations.
On the flip side though, many respected UK online bingo suppliers will suddenly be very concerned about their ability to trade in the UK marketplace, and what they will need to do to bring themselves in line when this all settles and is decided on. One of the main reasons bingo companies license themselves abroad is the vast difference in the amount of tax they have to pay, and if these new regulations mean they need to pay tax in the UK as well as licensing here, it will no doubt be a real blow to the industry.
I also can’t help but wonder if the Government is in some way trying to monopolise on its own gamblers, to get maximum revenues out of them. Currently millions of pounds go to these EU states in the tax that these bingo sites bring in. However, if these new regulations mean the industry has to pay tax to the UK taxman, there’s a lot of revenues there for Government.
Personally, these moves have my utmost support, especially if they protect us bingo players and create a much more straightforward system for how our money is used and repaid by online sites. That said, I know it will also cause a lot of potential pain and a lot of extra work for the industry, self included. Many may just decide to get out now and refocus their attention on other marketplaces as a result, but I think those that stay UK based and focused will (have to) provide a top notch bingo for us online players.
As I’ve said though, it’s very early days yet, and there’s no timetable for when this consultation, let alone legal changes will come to be. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it though, and I’m sure I won’t be alone. There’ll be a lot of complaints I’m sure, but from the Minister’s statement, it looks like the industry could be close to getting a good sharp clip around the ear and brought into line with its moral obligations, and that as I’ve said, can only be a good thing.