In a statement on its website dated Feb. 7, 2019, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission revealed new rules pertaining to verifying the identity of customers engaged in online gambling. The new guidelines were crafted following a public consultation and will come into force on May 7.
Going forward, gaming providers will have to verify the identity of users before allowing them to make deposits or gamble – even using free bet or bonus funds. The existing rule, which is being replaced, was that companies had 72 hours to complete age verification, and customers were allowed to make deposits and place bets during that time window.
This change seems to make some sense, on the surface, but the next directive of the UKGC leaves us scratching our heads in wonder. The demand that players’ ages be verified before they can access a site’s products extends even to free-to-play games!
Another element of the new internet gambling regime includes a requirement that firms disclose, in advance, which identity documents will need to be sent before withdrawals will be processed.
Many things that governments propose, when taken at simple face value, appear both harmless and even beneficial on a micro level. It is only when one places that particular piece of the puzzle into position that an observer is likely to have second thoughts insofar as the larger picture is concerned. This is certainly the case when looking at the recent UK proposals for online gambling reform.
The announced purpose of the proposal is to protect at-risk segments of the population, such as those who are underage or are problem gamers, from being "taken advantage of" by various allegedly sinister online gambling operations. Indeed, the Chief Executive of the UKGC, Neil McArthur, elaborated on the reasons for the new regulations:
These changes will protect children and the vulnerable from gambling-related harm, and reduce the risk of crime linked to gambling. They will also make gambling fairer by helping consumers collect their winnings without unnecessary delay.
Also touted in the UKGC’s statement is the fact that conducting identity verification before a user begins to make bets will aid in preventing self-excluded individuals from accessing online gambling services. This is accomplished not just through lists of excluded people maintained by each gambling business but also through a process of rigid regulatory exclusion through the nationwide Gamstop program, which creates a database of those who are not legally permitted to gamble and then bans them at all participating websites.
Even those who are legally allowed to gamble will not be able to do so unless and until they go through a rigorous process of registration and verification. The UKGC claims that conducting ID checks upfront will prevent customers from being surprised by requests to send their documents in at the time of cashout. This issue is responsible for 15% of all complaints lodged with the Commission’s contact centre.
Yet, a close examination of the logic employed in this reasoning shows the gaping holes contained within it. If submitting personally identifying documents is such an onerous chore for users at the time of withdrawal, then would it not also be just as tedious and annoying if mandated at an earlier point in time as the new rules dictate? Moreover, only that fraction of bettors who wind up with positive balances to claim are currently inconvenienced by these processes whereas the new UKGC strictures would extend them to all of those who intend to engage in real money gaming.
So, is this going to prevent gambling by those who are supposed to be excluded from participation? Of course not. Children can use their parents’ identities to set up accounts for themselves. Parents can let their children on to their accounts. People who are banned or have voluntarily excluded themselves from online gambling can simply operate under someone else's account – perhaps a significant other, co-worker, or even their own adult children.
This leaves one to ask if this is really as big a problem as it is alleged to be, and if the new verification regime is going to put a big dent in the problem. Most likely the answers are: No and No.
Certainly there are instances where these things happen, but they are not a statistically significant risk factor. Since there are simple ways of evading the system of verification and also ways of avoiding it entirely – such as patronizing an underground or offshore operation – it seems possible that there are other considerations lurking behind this apparently modest and innocuous proposal.
Evidence that there’s more lurking beneath the surface of this story is found in the realization that this is not the only set of reforms that the UK is pursuing in terms of bringing online gambling under thorough and exact control. For instance, new gambling advertising restrictions were recently promulgated by the Advertising Standards Authority and Committee of Advertising Practice, which work hand-in-hand with the UKGC to regulate (some would say “over-regulate”) the British gambling industry. There’s an increase in the Remote Gaming Duty paid by online gaming entities also looming on the horizon.
These zealous attempts to “protect” the British public raise doubts as to how much safeguarding the supposedly free U.K. population needs and whether or not the government is the best venue for ensuring this “protection.” This is especially evident when we consider the commandment that even games denominated in play chips be available only to those who have been properly vetted. Once again, the justification given for this is an exemplar of the “think of the children” mindset encouraged by nanny-staters everywhere as explicated by Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport:
These significant changes mean operators must check someone’s age before they gamble, and not after. They rightly add an extra layer of protection for children and young people who attempt to gamble online. By extending strong age verification rules to free-to-play games we are creating a much safer online environment for children, helping to shut down a possible gateway to gambling- related harm.
The UKGC concedes that “free-to-play games are not technically gambling (there is no prize involved)” but nevertheless concludes that “there is no legitimate reason why they should be available to children.” This is an ominous instance of the philosophy of “Everything which is not permitted is forbidden”: totally the opposite of the correct constitutional principle.
With every Briton who bets online now submitting ID documents to gaming concerns, the potential for misuse of this information is rife. As long as the government maintains cosy relations with big corporations – never a challenging feat for the overlords of crony capitalism – the authorities are going to be able know EVERYTHING about the participants: who they are, where they live, what they bet, what they win and lose, which financial institutions handle their affairs. In short, there is now a sleepless digital minder from Her Majesty’s Government potentially peering over the shoulders of everyone who lays down a fiver online anywhere in the realm.
When looked at via the narrow focus of efforts to keep online gaming secure, the ongoing avalanche of national regulatory changes happening worldwide do not seem particularly threatening. When one takes into account the general trendline of society, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that we are living in a world where privacy is a commodity that is bought and sold at a rate far above the ability of most people to bid on.
Given Britain's well-known propensity for hushing up the most grotesque criminal activity of the ruling classes, does anyone doubt that these new regulatory regimes are going to be keeping two sets of books? There will be an exceptionally intrusive one where every bet you ever make in your life is going to be chiselled in stone for eternity, and another one for your overlords whose activities will be totally off limits to anyone's perusal. Even attempting to access the records of their gaming activities will undoubtedly be covered by the most draconian of statutes.
The elite have very upscale places to gamble around the globe – ones where the underclasses are not likely to appear in any capacity other than as croupiers and waitresses. Yet, where are the calls for tracking the identities and financial transactions (many of them an order of magnitude larger than the petty sums involved in everyday gambling) of those who frequent tony gambling parlours? They have secured a choke hold on YOUR gaming activities, which they can cut off and throttle down in any way and at any time that they like, while their own gambling entertainments are left mostly alone.
All over the world, the same patterns are playing out. Formerly free societies are being re-feudalized centuries after their fortunate deliverance from such tyrannical treatment. Those that never escaped the orbits of oppression are being repackaged into the same simulacrum of personal liberty being foisted off on those who did manage to break out of the oligarchs' jails long ago.
Look, for instance, at the recent ban on gambling in Albania. Curiously exempt from this prohibition are those establishments in designated tourist areas (that is, vacation retreats for the well-to-do).
For another example, consider Australia’s National Consumer Protection Framework, which was finalised just a few months ago. This is a set of measures that specifically target the online betting beloved by millions but does not treat at all with the much more socially problematic world of brick-and-mortar casinos and betting halls. Perhaps the rich and powerful tycoons who dominate the Australian gambling scene have exerted their not-insignificant influence behind the scenes to ensure that their business ventures are left largely untouched.
Yes, you are free to gamble now – but only where, when, and under those terms set out to narrowly confine your activities. In a world filled with so-called public servants, one has to ask why the public they profess to serve needs their permission to engage in anything?
The world of today seems as if King John told the barons to piss off and put their Magna Carta in the proper orifice. The idea that Britons have rights is dead. What remain in their stead are the grudging privileges that a glowering master will allow to his grovelling underlings. So beg for permission to gamble, prepare to have every transaction you make be recorded and possibly held against you for future proceedings, and enjoy the limited fenced-in area you are allowed to dance about in.
Of course, all of the drawbacks to the UKGC’s heavy-handed edicts apply only to those corporations that are duly licensed to offer gambling throughout the British Isles. There are plenty of other international organisations that are happy to let punters take a flier on chance-based pastimes without obtaining the licensure theoretically required by law. Because these groups are housed in foreign territories, outside the purview of the UKGC and other British bureaucratic bodies, there’s precious little that the U.K. government can do about their activities.
Many of these gaming firms have a lot of experience evading the ordinances of regulators worldwide, and most of them happily transact in the United Kingdom too. They sometimes ask that customers send in papers proving their identity, but this is only done for risk-management and security purposes rather than at the behest of statist busybodies.
For an example of the options that exist for online gamers, look at the international offshore poker rooms for Americans, most of which also gladly welcome Britons through their virtual doors.