UK Regulator Clarifies Position on Auto Top-Up
The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) is due to take over total control of the United Kingdom’s online gambling market on the 1st of November this year, delayed from the 1st of October as per our recent article about a legal challenge. What has been widely circulated, on internet forums as well as direct emails from providers, is that the auto top-up feature coming to many online-poker sites would be removed for all UK facing poker clients following the instigation of the new regulations.
The decision had not been readily accepted by UK poker players, with claims that it put UK poker players at a significant disadvantage against those they would be playing against who did not have the restriction against auto top-ups. Yesterday, the UKGC issued a blog that clarified their position on the matter. They have now stated that the auto top-up features are not barred from UK-facing poker clients, but it is recommended that sites do not offer the feature.
This advice is part of the UKGC’s responsible gaming mandate, and the poker auto top-up feature is caught in a regulation that appears to be designed to help players of online slots and pit games to be able to manage their play more easily. The advice was issued in Remote Gambling and Software Technical Standards 2014 (RTS14) in the section titled “Responsible product design.” The passage below is the one that triggered this issue:
RTS implementation guidance 14A
By actively encourage, we mean the inclusion of specific features, functions or information that could reasonably be expected to encourage a greater likelihood of the behaviours described occurring. For example:
i. the amount of funds taken into a product should not be topped up without the customer choosing to do so on each occasion, e.g. when a customer buys-in at a poker table they should have to choose
As you can see, this is titled as “implementation guidance,” but this has been taken by those in the industry as being a requirement rather than a suggestion (probably due to the wording, and the example given). Yesterday’s blog, however, explained the UKGC’s position in clearer terms:
The RTS is structured in such a way as to include a ‘requirement’ which must be met as well as ‘implementation guidance’ that licence holders should comply with or find another means of meeting the overall aim and requirement of the remote technical standards (further details below).
In the case of RTS14 (page 24 of the pdf) the licence holder can either:
(a) not offer automatic-rebuys, or
(b) if they do offer auto-rebuys they ensure that other protection mechanisms are in place.
Before yesterday’s clarification, sites had already advised players of the requirement to make the change, and as yet we haven’t seen any of them confirm the re-inclusion of auto top-ups in UK-facing clients. However, it’s expected that these sites will be contacting UK players in the near future, to reverse this decision following this clarification. In order to return the auto top-up feature to their software, the sites will be required to have a full responsible gaming policy in place, to satisfy the regulation’s requirements.
What is not clear is if this clarification was due to pressure applied by UK-based poker players, or if the poker providers providing the services interpreted the regulations and guidance incorrectly. I reached out to the UKGC earlier today to try and clear up the timeline of this situation, and the reply I received directed me to the blog post linked and quoted above. I would have expected that a long consultation and conversation to have taken place between the UKGC and online operators to have happened during the writing of these new regulations. The fact that the auto top-up had been written out of UK facing poker clients suggests that this new “clarification” of the regulations was not shared with the operators earlier in the consultation process.
The recent player led petition for the auto top up function to be re-instated to UK facing online poker was begun on 2+2 only 10 days ago by Richard Richardson, who posts as “Richas” on the internet poker forum. In his first post about the petition, Richardson wrote:
“With automatic top up removed players would face having a different decision and different style on different tables played at the same time. This would be a significant disadvantage for such players compared to the non-UK players who do not face this complication. This would affect the fairness of the game to the disadvantage of UK players.”
Richardson also makes it clear in his post that the auto top-up feature in poker does not indicate problem gambling. It is a key part of the game strategy in both cash games and rebuy tournaments.
Given the wording in the regulatory documents, this is a strange clarification from the UKGC, as I would have expected this issue to have been resolved much earlier behind closed doors. Whether it was just missed, or if the pressure applied by Richardson’s campaign had an effect, we’ll probably never know. What is probable is that the auto top-up feature is going to be returned to UK poker clients, and we can but hope that the UKGC will remain this responsive to future issues encountered by UK-based players.