Online slot games ‘highly addictive’ despite new limits, say bereaved parents

The Government announced the plans on Friday as part of efforts to tighten regulation on the online gambling sector.

Adults aged 25 and over will face a £5 stake limit “to counter the increased risk of significant harm and life-changing losses” from online slots, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said.

However, Charles Ritchie said these online slot machines will still be addictive.

Mr Ritchie founded the charity Gambling With Lives with his wife Liz after their son Jack took his life after battling gambling addiction.

Liz and Charles Ritchie speaking on the steps of Sheffield Town Hall in 2022 following the conclusion of the inquest into the death of their son, Jack Ritchie (Dave Higgens/PA)

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that his son’s addiction began with real-life slot machines, so they know “just how addictive these are”.

“Reducing the stake basically means you lose money at a slower rate,” he said.

“But the games themselves remain highly addictive, they are high-speed products, and really until there is action taken on the speed of play then they will remain addictive.”

Mrs Ritchie added that the games are built to draw gamblers in.

“It is built to keep people playing until they become addicted,” she said.

“The speed of play is an absolutely key feature of that. The real difficulty with this measure is it says it’s all about money, but it isn’t all about money.”

Mrs Ritchie added: “Well it’s the beginning of a welcome step, but there’s a long way to go.”

“The principle is established, that this form of gambling is very, very dangerous, it’s dangerous for the public.

“It takes a measure that is about products, not about people.”

There is currently no limit on the amount that gamblers can stake on online slots.

In 2019 the Government imposed a limit on stakes on the equivalent machines in betting shops – called fixed-odds betting terminals – from £100 to £2.

The DCMS described the new limits as a “landmark moment” for the regulation of online gambling.

Easily accessible online slot games are one of the most addictive forms of gambling, and can be associated with large losses, long sessions and binge play, according to evidence presented during a consultation over the proposals contained in the Government’s gambling White Paper.

Evidence from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities showed that young adults could be particularly vulnerable to gambling-related harm, with under-25s having the highest average problem gambling score of any age group.

NHS survey figures also showed a problem gambling rate of 8.7% for online gambling on slots, casino or bingo games – one of the highest rates across gambling activities.

Young adults had lower disposable income, ongoing neurological development impacting risk perception and common life-stage factors such as managing money for the first time, the DCMS said.

Evidence also pointed to a stronger link between gambling-related harm and suicide among young adults.

Gambling minister Stuart Andrew said: “Although millions of people gamble safely every single day, the evidence shows that there is a significantly higher problem gambling rate for online slot games.

“We also know that young adults can be more vulnerable when it comes to gambling-related harms, which is why we committed to addressing both of these issues in our White Paper.

“The growing popularity of online gambling is clear to see, so this announcement will level the playing field with the land-based sector and is the next step in a host of measures being introduced this year that will protect people from gambling harms.”

Zoe Osmond, chief executive of gambling charity GambleAware, said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement to introduce lower online stake limits for under-25s as an important mechanism to protect young people.

“Our research shows a concerning trend with this age group experiencing an increase in harm arising from gambling and online slots are very high-risk products.

“As we continue our work to tackle this growing public health issue, we will collaborate with the Government and others across the gambling harms sector to ensure there are no missed opportunities when it comes to the introduction of robust preventative measures, including new regulations such as these.”

The limits will come into force in September following secondary legislation, with a six-week transition period for operators to become compliant with the general £5 stake limit rules, followed by a further six weeks for the development of any necessary technical solutions to ensure operators are fully compliant with the lower stake limit of £2 for younger adults.

The DCMS said responses to the wider White Paper measures would be published “soon”.

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