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Assessment of online games design changes

Gambling Commission report focusing on research conducted into the impact of the online gambling games design changes.

Published: 8 June 2023

Last updated: 8 June 2023

This version was printed or saved on: 16 April 2024

Online version: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/report/assessment-of-online-games-design-changes

Executive summary

The evidence presented in this report shows reduced play intensity on online slots products since the changes were introduced.

There is no increase in staking activity in response to the limit on spin speeds.

The report shows no changes for some of the identified metrics with no negative affects observed. Some potential reasons for why limited changes were observed for those metrics are explored in the Limitations section of this report.

There has been no significant, negative impact on the enjoyment of the games on gamblers as a result of the changes.

Some of the identified outcomes will require longer-term monitoring. However, attributing any observed changes to those outcomes to the online game design changes will become increasingly difficult.

Outcomes and summaries

These are the main outcomes and summaries for the report.

Reduced play intensity

The changes have had a positive impact on play intensity, as the popularity of slots products continues to grow.

Consumers are better informed and have improved understanding of their interaction with the products

Reported awareness has not changed and remains high.

Reduced 'binge gambling' on slots games

Reported binge information is stable, with a positive indication for post-change financial losses. Slots are still viewed as a product that it is easy for people to become engrossed in.

Increased gambling within the intentions and means of consumers

The ability of gamblers to stay within their intended play duration has not changed significantly.

Reduced complaints about remote gambling industry

The number of complaints about remote gambling businesses have remained static and no impact on online slots complaints can be discerned as complaints are not currently coded by product. This is a long-term outcome where it will be difficult to attribute changes.

Gambling businesses take safer gambling measures more proactively

New measures have been introduced but these cannot be attributed to the changes to slots products. They are more likely to be directly impacted by other motivations.

Increased trust in gambling and gambling businesses

The level of trust in the gambling industry has increased, though it cannot be attributed to these changes introduced towards the end of 2021. This outcome is a potential long-term consequence.

Reduced 'problem gambling' rate for online slots

It is very difficult to assess the impact of the changes on ‘problem gambler’ rates before and after the changes were implemented. Results for the Health Survey for England in 2018 and 2021 are not comparable due to the change in methodology between survey years and data from the new Gambling Survey for Great Britain is not yet available.

Assumptions and summaries

These are the main assumptions and summaries for the report.

Consumers do not increase stake in response to slower gameplay

There is strong evidence that staking has not increased as a result of the changes.

Consumers do not increase session length in response to slower gameplay

Session length, especially the proportion of long sessions, has decreased.

Consumers do not simultaneously play on multiple tabs or accounts

There has been a statistically significant reduction in reported simultaneous slots play.

Developers do not seek to implement measures to bypass the game design changes

There has been no notification or detection of any breach of the regulation through the development of new games but we continue to engage where we see potential issues.

Consumers do not transfer their gambling to more harmful games

The evidence suggests there has been no sizeable displacement to any product.

The position and time are 'clearly' displayed and noted by consumers

Reported awareness is high, though the rate has not changed since the slots game changes were introduced.

Consumers do not increase loss chasing as a result of their net position

The evidence suggests that there has been no increase in loss-chasing because of the changes.

Consumers are not displaced to the offline or unlicensed illegal market

There is no evidence of displacement to the offline or unlicensed illegal markets.

Inconvenience and reduced enjoyment for gamblers is minimised

There is no evidence of reduced enjoyment for leisure gamblers.

Introduction

Background and approach

Aims

The main aim of the changes introduced for online slots products was to make them safer by limiting spin speeds, removing certain play features, and increasing the visibility of relevant information. Alongside these changes, the permanent ban on reverse withdrawals was announced. This was introduced on 31 May 2020.

The Gambling Commission focused on online slots because of the features which increase the intensity of play and the corresponding risks to players. These features may have contributed to slot games having the highest average losses per player of online gambling products.

However, it was recognised from the outset that the introduction of multiple measures at the same time would make it very difficult to attribute any observed changes to a single measure. There were two other significant complications for attribution of observed changes. One relates to the ongoing impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) in late 2021, which impacted land-based gambling premises and online gambling behaviours. The other relates to voluntarily introduced changes by gambling businesses, which impacted different aspects of data collection at different times and to varying degrees.

When introducing these changes, the Commission was mindful of potential unintended consequences of the changes that were introduced, including the risk of increased staking-behaviour, increased session-length, or a negative impact on player experiences.

The consultation on online slots game design and reverse withdrawals (opens in new tab) and the accompanying consultation response on online games design and reverse withdrawals have more information on the aims of the changes.

Theory of Change

A Theory of Change (ToC) is a description of how and why a particular action is expected to result in a desired change. One of the strengths of the process is that it allows the identification of metrics (represented as outcomes and assumptions), which should be monitored to provide an indication of whether the intended aims are being met.

The Gambling Commission conducted a ToC exercise prior to the introduction of the changes in October 2021.

The key initial outcomes for the changes to online slots products were identified as:

The long-term outcome and goal is a reduction in gambling-related harms as a result of slots products.

Assumptions that were identified as having the potential to impact the delivery of these outcomes included consumer session-length and staking behaviour. It also included assumptions around consumer behaviour for:

Other assumptions related to the visibility of presented information, any inconveniences introduced by the changes and whether gambling businesses attempted to bypass the changes.

Other outcomes were longer-term goals that are likely to be harder to attribute to this package of measures. These include:

Methodology and limitations

Methodology for key sources

Many of the findings detailed in this report are based on our Online Tracker Survey and Market Impact data.

Online Tracker Survey methodology

An online survey was conducted by Yonder Consulting through their panel. A nationally representative sample of approximately 2,000 adults per wave aged 18 years and over in Great Britain was used.

Data was collected quarterly, with the data from 2020 onwards collected during some form of national or local restrictions due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Base sizes for different questions can be found in the various figures throughout this report.

The contract between the Gambling Commission and Yonder concluded after the March 2022 wave, which is why it was not possible to collect further data after that time.

A list of questions for each wave can be found in the Appendices section of this report.

Market Impact data

The Market Impact data is collected from some of the largest online gambling businesses and covers approximately 80 percent of the online market by Gross Gambling Yield (GGY). Therefore, data should not be compared to Industry Statistics data.

The Commission has been collecting and publishing Market Impact data since the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020 to add an additional layer of insight onto its ongoing monitoring and understanding of changing consumer behaviour.

The Commission conducts quality assurance on the data that is received, but the accuracy of the data is still subject to the quality of the provided data.

Limitations

The impact of the changes

Not all the measures introduced in October 2021 will affect the play of all online slots players. There are many people who gambled without using slam stops (the now-prohibited features that speed up play) and played at a slower pace than 2.5 seconds per spin. This group will still benefit from the additional session information and, although they may not consciously be aware of any change, they will also no longer see losses celebrated as wins.

One of the measures banned games with split screen designs. However, it is not possible to prevent gambling behaviour where an individual opens another tab (or browser on a different gambling account) to continue to play multiple slots products simultaneously. Therefore, reports of playing on multiple tabs simultaneously may be accurate, but that does not mean that there has been a breach of regulations. Similarly, the Gambling Commission cannot prevent individuals taking other actions to bypass the removal of autoplay functionality which cannot be detected by gambling businesses. The measures that were introduced in October 2021 still introduced friction to those behaviours.

Limitations of the assessment

In addition to the previously mentioned methodology limitations, there are several other limitations that are worth consideration.

The online tracker information is reported behaviour, which is subject to recall inaccuracies. Inaccuracies are increasingly likely when respondents are trying to think about a prolonged period (in this instance, 12 months).

The survey respondents reported that they engaged in online slots gambling in the last 12 months. For the latter two waves of the survey, we don’t know if the gambling and any reported impacts occurred before the changes, after the changes, or both.

While we would like to see the impact of the changes on sub-samples of slots gamblers (depending on Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) score, for example), this was often not possible to do thoroughly because of small sample sizes.

Some of the outcomes identified in the Theory of Change section of this report would need to be monitored for longer to identify any impact of these changes. By then, it is likely that a large range of variables will make attribution even harder. Further assessment of these metrics is unlikely to be insightful in relation to these game design changes.

As well as the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdowns, another significant change that is likely to have impacted gambling behaviour is that members of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) committed to voluntarily introducing changes as part of their Game Design work, with a Betting and Gaming Council published Codes of Conduct (opens in new tab) (PDF) being established. These changes included many of the features that were subsequently changed for the entire industry as part of these game design changes. The consequence for the assessment is that many of the survey respondents in the baseline pre-change wave(s) may already have been gambling on products that had been changed voluntarily.

The other change that may have had a significant impact is that some gambling businesses voluntarily introduced maximum stakes for online slots products. For those that previously staked at high values, this is likely to have had a greater impact on staking behaviour than the product changes.

The period since the changes were introduced have also coincided with gambling businesses continuing to develop their safer gambling algorithms and conduct a greater number of interactions.

The impact of coronavirus (COVID-19)

The COVID-19 lockdowns that were first introduced in March 2020 have had a significant impact on gambling behaviour and the financial circumstances of players. The Institute for Government website provides a timeline of United Kingdom (UK) government coronavirus lockdowns and measures (opens in new tab) (PDF) and for the impact on gambling behaviour, see the Gambling Commission’s Consumer COVID-19 research.

These changes were introduced by the end of October 2021. Towards the end of 2021, COVID-19 rates had begun to rise again (the preceding lockdown period ended on 19 July 2021) with the spread of the Omicron variant. In early December, the country moved to 'Plan B' measures, meaning working from home was encouraged with compulsory face masks in most public indoor venues and NHS COVID passes for specific settings.

An increase in COVID-19 rates is associated with a reduction in land-based gambling, although the impact would be significantly less for this period compared with the periods with mandatory closures. A simple hypothesis associated with an increased reluctance to gamble in venues due to COVID-19 is that this could lead to some displacement to remote gambling. We did not see a significant increase in online gambling because of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Outcomes

Reduced play intensity

Summary

It appears that the changes have had a positive impact on play intensity as the popularity of slots products continues to grow.

When looking at play intensity, it is necessary to consider session length, financial losses, and staking behaviour.

Session length

Data from a sample of gambling businesses was collected for a comparison of six months prior to the changes and six months after the changes. This data shows that the mean session length decreased.

Looking at longer sessions, the proportion of sessions lasting over 60 minutes fell from 7.8 percent to 6.9 percent.

Across this same period, there was a notable increase in the number of slots sessions. There was a monthly average amongst the sample of gambling businesses of 39.2 million sessions in the six months following the slots changes, compared with the six months before October 2021, when the monthly average was 32.6 million sessions. The number of sessions lasting more than one hour each month increased approximately 6.1 percent on average during the same time period, although, due to the increase in the total number of slot sessions, the proportion of sessions lasting more than an hour actually decreased.

Financial losses

Looking at financial losses for active online gambling accounts, there was a small decline in the proportion of accounts experiencing a monthly loss of over £50, over £200 and over £1000 as can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Monthly player loss before and after slot design changes

A bar chart showing monthly player loss before and after the slot design changes. Data from the chart is provided in the following table.

Figure 1: Monthly player loss before and after slot design changes.
Monthly player loss More than £50 (percentage) More than £200 (percentage) More than £1000 (percentage)
6 months before changes 26.7% 10.3% 1.9%
6 months after changes 26.6% 10.0% 1.7%

Staking behaviour

Since the changes came into force, there have also been changes in staking patterns for slots products amongst the sample of gambling operators that provided data.

Figure 2: Stake size before and after the slot design changes

A bar chart showing stake size before and after the slot design changes. Data from the chart is provided in the following table.

Figure 2: Stake size before and after the slot design changes.
Stake size Greater than £2 (percentage) Greater than £10 (percentage)
6 months before changes 3.9% 0.2%
6 months after changes 3.3% 0.1%
Change in number of spins Negative 165.0 million Negative 9.5 million

Figure 2 information

For stake sizes more than £2, there has been a reduction of over 165 million spins six months after the changes. For stake sizes over £10, there has been a reduction of 9.5 million spins.

At the highest staking levels, the number of stakes greater than £100 has reduced by over half, falling from 396,442 (0.001 percent) to 174,943. This is despite the number of staking events on slots products increasing over the same period. This is a metric that may have been impacted by any gambling business voluntarily introducing a maximum stake below £100, where £100 was previously available to consumers.

Consumer awareness

Summary

Reported awareness has not changed and remains high.

This outcome is most closely linked to the new requirement for gambling businesses to clearly display session length and expenditure information when gambling on online slots products.

We included several statements on our Online Tracker Survey aimed at those who reported gambling on online slots products. The responses indicate that awareness of how much time and money is spent remains high and did not change significantly in the months immediately following the implementation date. However, this statement relies on participant recall, and it is therefore unclear whether participants are reflecting on their slots play before and/or after the online game design changes came into force.

Figure 3: Awareness of time and money spent while playing slots

A line graph showing player awareness of the time and money spent playing slots. Data from the graph is provided in the following table.

Awareness of time and money spent while playing slots.
Statement September 2021 (percentage) December 2021 (percentage) March 2022 (percentage)
I am aware of the length of time I spend playing per game 76% 76% 77%
I am aware of the amount of money I spend playing per game 86% 80% 84%
Base size (individuals) 325 268 330

Reduced binge gambling

Summary

Reported binge information is stable, with a positive indication for post-change financial losses. Slots are still viewed as a product that is easy for people to become engrossed in.

Prior to the changes being announced, online slots products were identified in research into hot states and binge gambling (part of our research to understand why people gamble), to be the gambling product most commonly associated with binge gambling. Some of the features prohibited in the online game design changes were associated with binges.

Our online tracker data indicates that the proportion of respondents experiencing a 'binge' on online slot games has remained stable, as can be seen in Figure 4, and that slots still appear to be viewed as a product that is easy to become engrossed in.

The proportion spending more on online slots than they can afford to lose decreased slightly, with a significant decline in the proportion of past four-week slot players stating that they had spent more than they can afford to lose at least sometimes (56 percent prior to the changes, 48 percent after the changes).

Figure 4: Experience of binge gambling while playing slots

A line graph showing player experience while playing slots.Data from the graph is provided in the following table.

Experience of binge gambling while playing slots.
Statement September 2021 (percentage) December 2021 (percentage) March 2022 (percentage)
I have recently experienced a 'binge' whilst playing online slot games 33% 25% 33%
I spend more money playing online slots games than I can afford to lose 33% 22% 25%
I think it is easy for people to become engrossed whilst playing online slots 82% 78% 83%
Base size (individuals) 325 268 330

Gambling within consumer means

Summary

The ability of gamblers to stay within their intended play duration has not changed significantly.

A key component in reducing gambling-related harms is for consumers to gamble within their intentions and means. The two key gambling behaviours to consider for gambling within intentions and means are financial expenditure (discussed in the Reduced play intensity section of this report) and time.

To monitor progress on time spent on slots products, a statement was included in the Online Tracker Survey. The proportion of respondents reporting that they spend more time than intended when playing online slots games was statistically stable across the period monitored.

Figure 5: Experience of spending more time than intended when playing slots

A line graph showing the number of players spening more time than intended when playing slots. Data from the graph is provided in the following table.

Experience of spending more time than intended when playing slots.
Statement September 2021 (percentage) December 2021 (percentage) March 2022 (percentage)
I spend more time than I intend to when playing online slots games 42% 34% 37%
Base size (individuals) 325 268 330

Complaints

Summary

The number of complaints about remote gambling businesses have remained static and no impact on online slots complaints can be discerned as complaints are not currently coded by product. This is a long-term outcome where it will be difficult to attribute changes.

One of the potential positive long-term outcomes of changes to online games design and other regulatory measures introduced by the Gambling Commission is an improved gambling environment with consumers having fewer grounds for complaint.

The total number of customer complaints to remote gambling businesses between October 2021 and September 2022 remained statistically stable (186,053 complaints, a slight decrease from 189,194 in 2020 to 2021). However, this complaints data is not product-specific and the number of complaints can also be impacted by access to the complaints process through reduced friction and a large number of other variables.

It is not possible to distinguish whether complaints are related solely to one product or issue, as they are often multi-faceted.

Safer gambling measures

Summary

New measures have been introduced but these cannot be attributed to the changes to slots products, they’re more likely to be directly impacted by other motivations.

The online game design changes are part of an ongoing trend of regulatory changes that includes the prohibition of gambling with credit cards online and consumer interaction requirements that intend to make the gambling environment safer for players. One potential long-term outcome of these changes is that this trend is acted-upon by the gambling industry.

Since the online game design changes have been announced, there have been several new initiatives by gambling businesses and trade associations, such as a voluntary cap on stakes for slot products and more sensitive algorithms that have led to increasing the number of interactions. However, the Gambling Commission is unlikely to be aware of all developments.

Gambling businesses have introduced safer gambling measures proactively over a long period of time and it is not easy to assess whether there has been an increased number of measures introduced following the game design changes to online slots products in October 2021. Therefore, despite new measures being introduced, these cannot be attributed to this regulatory change. It is equally possible that measures were introduced as a result of the the Gambling Commission’s customer interaction guidance in anticipation of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) High Stakes: gambling reform for the digital age paper (opens in new tab) that was published in April 2023 or reasons entirely unrelated to Gambling Commission activities.

Increased trust in gambling providers

Summary

The level of trust in the gambling industry has increased amongst gamblers, though it cannot be attributed to these changes introduced towards the end of 2021. This outcome is a potential long-term consequence.

Another potential positive long-term outcome associated with improved information provision and reduced harms because of gambling products is increased trust amongst gamblers in the gambling industry.

As reported in our quarterly telephone survey, the level of trust in gambling amongst those that reported gambling in the past 12 months increased significantly in 2021, though the proportion that do trust the industry is still low. The observed increase in 2021 cannot be attributed to the game design changes which were only introduced towards the end of 2021. This outcome is a potential long-term consequence and attribution to any single factor is always likely to be difficult.

Figure 6: How far do you agree that in this country, gambling is conducted fairly and can be trusted?

A line graph showing the percentage of players that agree that in this country, gambling is conducted fairly and can be trusted. Data from the graph is provided in the following table.

How far do you agree or disagree that in this country, gambling is conducted fairly and can be trusted?
Statement September 2021 (percentage) December 2021 (percentage) March 2022 (percentage)
How far do you agree or disagree that in this country, gambling is conducted fairly and can be trusted? 32% 32% 36%
Base size (individuals) 1,111 1,023 2,042

Reduced 'problem gambling' rates

Summary

It is very difficult to assess the impact of the changes on ‘problem gambler’ rates pre and post changes. Whilst the Health Survey for England was undertaken in 2018 and 2021, results are not comparable due to the change in methodology between survey years. The new Gambling Survey for Great Britain will be able to track this information in the future, but given that it is currently in development and won’t be launched until the end of 2023, data is not available for inclusion in this assessment.

It is reasonable to hope that if there are positive impacts recorded for the preceding outcomes, the final impact should be a reduction in the experience of gambling-related harms because of online slots products. The best proxy for assessing harms that is available at this time is the proportion of gamblers that are considered to be ‘problem gamblers’ according to the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth version (DSM-IV).

The Gambling Behaviour in Great Britain report (2016) from multiple health surveys reported that 9.2 percent of respondents were considered to be ‘problem gamblers’ according to either the PGSI or DSM-IV for ‘online gambling on slots, casino or bingo games’, and this rate was 8.5 percent in the Health Survey for England (2018). The Health Survey for England (2021) does not currently report rates of ‘problem gambling’ by activity but results are not comparable to 2018 due to a coronavirus (COVID-19) enforced methodological change.

The Gambling Commission is currently developing the Gambling Survey for Great Britain pilot, a new survey for collecting timely information on consumer gambling behaviour. However the results will not be comparable with Health Survey results due to methodological differences. The recorded rate is also likely to differ as a result of focusing more accurately on online slots products, rather than ‘slots, casino or bingo’.

Assumptions

Staking behaviour

Summary

There is strong evidence that staking has not increased because of the changes.

It would undermine the impact of the game design changes if those who were gambling slower changed their behaviour and offset slower play by increasing their staking.

As highlighted in the outcomes section of this report, there has been a reduction in staking proportions following the changes to slots products at each of the over £2, over £5, over £10, over £20, over £50 and over £100 thresholds. The sample of gambling businesses reported an increase of over 1.3 percent (one billion and events) in stakes of £1 and below over the six month period.

Session length

Summary

We can be confident that session length, especially the proportion of long sessions, has decreased.

As with staking, the changes could undermine the impact of the game design changes if those who reduced their spin speed subsequently changed their behaviour and increased their session length to the extent that they were no longer gambling within their intentions or means.

As highlighted in the outcomes section of this report, the proportion of sessions lasting over 60 minutes reduced from 7.8 percent in the six months prior to the changes to 6.9 percent in the six months post-changes. Amongst this sample of gambling businesses, this sample comprised over 430 million sessions.

Use of multiple tabs

Summary

There has been a statistically significant reduction in reported simultaneous slots play.

Consumers do not simultaneously play on multiple tabs or accounts The game design changes prohibited the functions designed to allow consumers to play two slots games simultaneously. However, gambling businesses do not have sight of and cannot influence consumer behaviour if they have accounts with other gambling businesses. If consumers gamble with multiple gambling businesses simultaneously, it would undermine the aim of this change.

The Online Tracker Survey data from past 12 month online slot players indicates that there has been a significant reduction in reported simultaneous slot play.

Figure 7: Experience of players using multiple tabs, browsers or accounts simultaneously while playing online slots games

A line graph showing the percentage of players using multiple tabs, browsers or accounts simultaneously while playing online slots games. Data from the graph is provided in the following table.

Experience of players using multiple tabs, browsers or accounts simultaneously while playing online slots games.
Statement September 2021 (percentage) December 2021 (percentage) March 2022 (percentage)
I play online slots games on multiple tabs, browsers or accounts simultaneously 31% 17% 22%
Base size (individuals) 325 268 330

Games design

Summary

There has been no notification or detection of any breach of the regulation through the development of new games but we continue to engage where we see potential issues.

Another assumption identified in the Theory of Change section of this report was the risk that slots games could be designed or 'bundled' in a different way that resulted in similar play behaviour without constituting a breach of regulations.

New games entering the market are tested by an independent test house. There are also horizon-scanning methods within the Gambling Commission for new products that have the potential to be contentious or innovative. Through these avenues, the Commission has not identified any non-compliance with the new requirements or any introduced that attempts to ‘bundle’ games together.

We continue to engage where we see potential issues with classification of products.

Displacement to other games

Summary

The evidence suggests there has been no sizeable displacement to any product.

Another potential consequence of the game design process that was highlighted in the Theory of Change section of this report was the risk that consumers adapt more harmful gambling behaviours.

The Gambling Commission’s market data does not show any sizeable increase in revenue for other gambling products. The data identifies that, despite decreasing stake sizes, spin speeds, and session length, the revenue from slots products has continued to increase. In the sample of gambling businesses taken, there were 35.6 billion spins in the six months prior to the changes and this increased to 36.5 billion spins in the six months afterwards.

Figure 8: The number of spins by players using multiple tabs, browsers or accounts simultaneously while playing online slots games

A bar chart showing the number of spins in online slots games before and after the changes to online slots games were introduced. Data from the chart is provided in the following table.

Experience of players using multiple tabs, browsers or accounts simultaneously while playing online slots games
Statement Six months pre-change (billions) Six months post-change (billions)
Number of Spins 35.6 36.5

Time and position

Summary

Reported awareness is high, though the rate has not changed since the game design changes were introduced.

One of the game design changes that was introduced was the requirement for consumers to be provided with more information to keep track of time and money spent on a session. This would be undermined if the information was insufficiently visible.

We asked past 12 month slot players to indicate their agreement with several statements on the Online Tracker Survey, relating to awareness of time and money spent per game. The reported awareness is high, although this rate has not changed since the slots game changes were introduced. As this question was put to those that reported playing slots games in the last 12 months, we cannot be certain whether respondents were reflecting on a slots session with the newly displayed information or prior to the introduction of the changes.

In addition, there have been no concerns highlighted throughout Gambling Commission activities regarding the visibility of the information on slots products.

Loss chasing

Summary

The evidence suggests that there has been no increase in loss-chasing as a result of the changes.

A highlighted risk of increased awareness of session expenditure is that some consumers may be motivated to gamble beyond their original intentions to win back any money that has been lost.

Metrics relating to consumer motivation for behaviours such as loss chasing can be difficult to track so proxy metrics are being used. From the sample of data obtained, mean session spend has decreased since the changes were introduced and the proportion of monthly player losses exceeding £50, £200, and £1000 have all decreased. Session length has also decreased since the changes were introduced.

Displacement to other markets

Summary

There is no evidence of displacement to the offline or unlicensed illegal market.

As with the risk of displacement to harmful gambling behaviours discussed previously, the potential of displacement to largely anonymous land-based gambling activities was highlighted. The risk of displacement to the unlicensed illegal market was also highlighted, with the latter being a particularly undesirable potential consequence.

Comparisons of participation in land-based activities before and after the games design changes is challenging due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19). It is inherently difficult to robustly measure the scale of the unlicensed illegal market. However, there is no evidence to suggest a causal link between the online game design changes and the promotion or uptake of illegal product offerings.

Preventing illegal gambling is a key priority for the Gambling Commission. We do this by monitoring intelligence and collecting evidence to inform our enforcement approach and by working closely with a range of stakeholders to disrupt illegal activity.

We welcome the Government’s commitment in The High Stakes: Gambling Reform for the Digital Age White Paper (opens in new tab) to give us increased powers to support disruption and enforcement activity, such as to pursue court orders which require internet service and payment providers to take down or block access to illegal gambling sites.

Inconvenience for gamblers

Summary

There is no evidence of reduced enjoyment for gamblers.

As well as making online slots products safer for those that were experiencing gambling-related harms, the Gambling Commission also wanted to minimise disruption to those who were not experiencing harms.

Through our Online Tracker Survey, we found no evidence of reduced enjoyment for gamblers. In addition to that feedback, there has been increased gambling frequency on online slots as a product since the changes.

As an indicative measure, there have been a very small number of complaints to the Commission’s Contact Centre (0.17 percent of calls over 12 months) about the changes, mainly the removal of autoplay. It should be noted, however, that this is not a highly reliable indicator as it depends on consumers reaching out to us. The most frequently mentioned reason in those complaints was reduced awareness of gambling activity, followed by physical discomfort, and highlighting the availability of 'auto clicker' workarounds.

Figure 9: Enjoyment of players playing online slots games

A line graph showing the percentage of players who enjoy online slots games before and after the changes. Data from the graph is provided in the following table.

Enjoyment of players playing online slots games
Statement September 2021 (percentage) December 2021 (percentage) March 2022 (percentage)
I enjoy playing online slots games 66% 67% 73%
Base size (individuals) 325 268 330

Conclusions and next steps

This review of the impact of online games design changes shows evidence of reduced play intensity on online slots products since the changes were introduced in 2021. This review also considered assumptions that could undermine the effectiveness of the changes, and found no evidence of negative impacts on player behaviours.

We understand the importance of evaluation to understand the impact and effectiveness of regulatory changes and the Gambling Commission has made commitments to that effect in relation to upcoming work. We consider it important to share our evidence relating to the impact of these changes. The limitations to this review and evidence have been highlighted.

The Commission has committed to extend our work on product features, which initially focused on online slots, to strengthen rules relating to intensity of play on other products. This was reflected in the Government's The High Stakes: Gambling Reform for the Digital Age White Paper (opens in new tab). Consideration of the impact of the 2021 changes to online slots products will be considered as part of the evidence base for the consultation into other online products and games.

We intend to consult on further proposals in summer 2023.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Online Tracker Survey Questions (September 2021 to March 2022)

The following questions were asked to all who have played online slots in the past 12 months.

Thinking about online slots games, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

  1. I am aware of the length of time I spend playing per game.
  2. I am aware of the amount of money I spend playing per game.
  3. I spend more time than I intend to when playing online slots games.
  4. I spend more money playing online slots games than I can afford to lose.
  5. I have recently experienced a ‘binge’ whilst playing online slots games.

Respondents were given the definition of binge when they hovered over the word.

A gambling binge can be described as a moment when you spent more than you’d intended while gambling, or you ignored any spending limits you usually give yourself.

Respondents were also asked to respond to the following questions

  1. I play online slots games on multiple tabs, browsers or accounts simultaneously.
  2. I enjoy playing online slots games.
  3. I find it easy to stop playing online slots games when I want to.
  4. I think it is easy for people to become engrossed whilst playing online slots products.

Respondents could select from the following responses: