The Gambling Commission has opened a consultation seeking evidence on the issue of gambling with credit cards. It said that if will "consider whether regulatory interventions such as restricting or prohibiting gambling via credit cards are necessary" if there is an "absence of effective consumer protections to limit the risks of harm posed".
Gambling law expert Audrey Ferrie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said the onus is on the gambling industry to address the concerns that customers may use credit facilities to gamble with more money than they can afford to lose.
"Land-based gambling already has more restrictions in relation to the availability of credit and I can see those rules being extended to online gambling," Ferrie said. "Operators and financial institutions would be well advised to work together to come up with a plan to tackle the concerns of the Gambling Commission, UK government and other stakeholders."
As part of its evidence-gathering activities, the Gambling Commission said it would request information from gambling operators and financial institutions as well as debt relief charities and consumers. It has also invited all stakeholders to submit further information and evidence relevant to the issue.
Information that will allow the regulator to "develop a comprehensive picture of gambling with credit cards, including the scale of their use for gambling and the risks associated" would be of particular interest, the Commission said.
"Evidence of effective harm prevention measures that might serve as robust alternatives to prohibiting or restricting gambling with credit cards" would also be of interest, it said.
The Commission gave examples of the 'harm prevention measures' it would welcome evidence on the effectiveness of. These include the "the full rollout of card-blocking facilities that enable consumers to block gambling transactions via their credit cards" as well as the imposition of "account limits until operators have verified further information about the customer (for example, assessing the levels of gambling spend the customer might be able to afford)".
The Gambling Commission said that gambling with credit cards would be a priority area for its research over the next year, and that "some detailed proposals for further consultation" would be issued after its has analysed the feedback from its call for evidence.
The regulator has also opened a separate call for evidence on 'Category B' gaming machines and player protections.
A £2 cap on the stake that gamblers will be able to place when playing fixed odds betting machines (FOBTs) was confirmed last year and is due to take effect in April. Currently, the maximum stake for 'B2 machines' is £100. However, the Gambling Commission has said new restrictions could be pursued relevant to 'B1' and 'B3' gaming machines. Despite stakes for those machines being capped at £5 and £2 respectively, play can be up to eight times faster than on B2 machines, the regulator said.
"Data indicate that the risks associated with Category B1 and B3 machines are broadly similar to the risks with B2 machines at a £100 maximum stake – the reason why the Commission said last year in its advice to government that it wanted to explore player protection options further," the regulator said. "Those options include tracking play, using time and monetary limits and alerts, and communicating messages about gambling safely."
Gambling law expert Christopher Rees-Gay of Pinsent Masons said the 'Cat B' gaming machines consultation is "a clear indication that there are to be further changes in respect of the stakes, prizes and machine allowances for the other types of Category B gaming machines".
"A clear concern for the Commission is the current ‘speed of play’ for the other machines, as they will, if not changed, be faster than those of FOBTs when the changes are made to FOBTs in April. The consultation reinforces the Commission's agenda in its push for greater consumer protection," he said.
Already this year the Gambling Commission has toughened age verification rules for online gambling, while new guidance aimed at addressing the risk of "irresponsible" gambling advertising has also been outlined.