Transparency and integrity in online gambling are essential for consumer confidence and the industry’s legitimacy. Pavlos Sideris, Director of Double Up Media, says no wagering bonuses are one of the most effective ways of raising confidence levels among players.
Providers must test products, random number generated (RNG) games must be certified as fair, licenses acquired and payout rates published. These measures are necessary for players to understand if an online casino is fair or if the game is rigged against them.
While high standards of fairness and testing have existed since online gambling began, and despite the UK being one of the most regulated gambling markets globally, the UK Gambling Commission says “public perception that gambling is fair and can be trusted has fallen from 49% in 2008 to 29% in 2020”.
This means operators must do more to increase consumer confidence in their products and how they operate. This requires a sustained effort, especially when it has been found that some consumers struggle to understand ‘industry jargon’ and associated mathematical concepts.
The pandemic and the impact on consumer confidence
The COVID pandemic and the media attention surrounding it are considered to have compounded the failing confidence rates in British players. It turned the spotlight on the industry as many critics and MPs issued stark warnings about a surge in gambling and, therefore, problem gambling with calls for a heightened need to protect players, especially those vulnerable to addiction.
In response, operators were quick to adopt measures to ensure players were not exposed to greater risk, creating a 10-point pledge and agreeing to a TV and radio advertising ban. For spots already booked, they decided to air responsible gambling messaging instead. However, social media ads and direct messaging remained in place (this is important to note, as, according to GambleAware, in 2017 the industry spent over £1.5bn on advertising and marketing and around 80% of this was online).
While industry critics said the 10-point pledge was a weak response, to the operators’ credit, government data showed that “overall participation in gambling declined over the period of Covid-19 lockdowns in Great Britain”. Although a small proportion of people gambled more during this period, players attributed it to boredom and more free time rather than addiction or predatory terms and conditions or advertising targeting.
The no wagering movement
The no wagering movement is a more concrete example of how operators and affiliates can use fairness as a way to raise customer confidence in the industry.
No wagering bonuses represent a way for the industry to tackle unfair terms and conditions, which were first highlighted as problematic in 2017 by the Gambling Commission and Advertising Standards Authority.
Following player complaints over confiscated winnings and refused withdrawals, the Commission clamped down on operators that weren’t acting transparently with regards to their promotional terms and conditions and made them clearly display any significant T&Cs alongside all promotions.
In response, some of the UK’s biggest online casinos removed bonuses for a short period, while others, including PlayOJO, Betfair and Paddy Power, took the radical step of offering bonuses without any wagering requirements at all.
The trend caught on and the rise in no wagering casinos hugely impacted the industry as well as players, showing that it is possible to be profitable, fair and genuinely put players first. However, according to Pavlos Sideris of Double Up Media, the no wagering momentum has met resistance.
For some time it seemed like most operators were lowering wagering requirements and placing fairness ahead of profits, but the number of sites offering low or zero wagering requirements has reduced throughout the industry; despite the significant rise in players searching for this type of bonus.
This may change however, because in 2022 the Gambling Commission reported concerns that wagering requirements may encourage excessive play, meaning high wagering requirements would no longer be tolerated.
Player responses to the removal of wagering requirements have been positive. This shows that increasing fairness does increase customer confidence. Aoife Keyes, affiliate manager at Paddy Power Betfair, has commented: “We recognise that players expect to be treated fairly and so have axed wagering requirements on our free spins across casino, games and Vegas (portals). The uptake has been significant, and we are onboarding record levels of players due in part to our fairer promotions.”
Meanwhile, SkillOnNet’s PlayOJO, which offers no wagering on all bonuses, outperforms the brand’s other 39 sister sites, including wagering, showing that fairness increases profitability and confidence.
The way forward
With the UK gambling reform underway, new restrictions very likely and the growing offshore market, there has never been a better time for operators to lead the way and promote transparency and fairness.
Ultimately, less confidence in the industry means less engagement. While fairer promotions are one way to move forward, a key staple is ensuring that operators communicate clearly with consumers about their actions to increase integrity, guarantee safety and implement fairer gameplay.