Slots and bonuses are two areas of online gambling that the Gambling Commission has identified as high-risk areas of play. Put them together, and there’s great potential for fun and harm. 

While casino bonuses are designed to add an extra layer of excitement to casino gaming while stimulating spending, they’ve also been subject to misuse by both players and operators. But this doesn’t need to be the case. 

It is possible, and more so essential, for operators to ensure that bonuses adhere to responsible gambling standards and are offered in a safe way that doesn’t promote dangerous gambling behaviours or unsustainable spending.

The evolution of online slot bonuses

Online slots and bonuses have evolved significantly since the arrival of online gambling. Where once there were only simple deposit match welcome bonuses, we now have many inventive and exciting incentives, including free spins, cashback on losses, loyalty schemes, tournaments, reload offers, and more. 

Similarly, online slots have developed at breakneck speed, becoming more complex and exciting, leading to greater opportunities for in-game bonuses. In many ways, this has also made them more challenging to regulate, leading to rules on game design that have banned some elements, like bonus buys and limited others, like spin speeds. 

Designing safer slot incentives

As the industry expands, so does the need for responsible gambling practices that involve everyone. Operators, regulators and players must collaborate to create an environment that prioritises and encourages player safety. 

To achieve an environment that prioritises safety, operators need to strike a careful balance between fun and responsibility, designing safer slot incentives. The first step must be considering the effects of the bonus and how it will be used (i.e. how much money is a player being asked to deposit and play within, and in what time frame). 

Once deciding if the intent and effect of the bonus are responsible, operators can dive into the details, including the terms and conditions, wagering requirements and withdrawal limits. The Gambling Commission guidelines state that bonus terms and conditions must “treat players fairly”. Communication is the key. This means explaining all bonus terms and conditions and demonstrating them in cases where they are complex. 

Operators must also ensure that consumers of all levels can understand the rules, irrespective of educational level. They must detail all the terms, with the significant ones, like wagering requirements and withdrawal conditions, demonstrated first and at the point of sale.

UK operators, by and large, succeed in following responsible gambling guidelines for bonus advertisements and terms, especially when compared with other gambling jurisdictions. But there is still more work to be done. 

Player protection measures should be at the forefront of how operators advertise slot bonuses. For example, casinos can strategically place safer gambling messages near bonuses, encouraging deposit limits and reality checks and educating players about other support strategies. This can also be replicated throughout the site, encouraging a safer, more responsible online gambling culture.

Tackling wagering requirements

Wagering requirements have long been a bone of contention for players. Now, they’ve come under the spotlight of regulators, with the Gambling Commission last year focusing on how their use can encourage excessive play by binding players to unsustainable spending in short periods.

Wagering requirements can serve as a tool for responsible gambling. Realistic wagering requirements allow operators to provide players with high-quality bonuses that enhance their gambling experience without worrying about bonus abuse. They also dissuade players from viewing bonuses as a way to profit, instead understanding they are gaming incentives.

Ultimately, however, sites offering a no wagering online slots bonus are the gold standard and best option for consumers, as they let players withdraw their winnings without wagering first. This allows players to set their own pace of spending.

Safer loyalty programs

Loyalty and VIP programs are highly popular with UK players, and again, they are another area that has caught the attention of the Gambling Commission in the past. These schemes reward players with extra bonuses and incentives based on their level of spending. 

To be entirely responsible, these programmes should reward loyalty without encouraging excessive or impulsive play, which is a difficult task (encouraging the use of responsible gambling tools like deposit limits and budgets can again be key here).

To avoid overspending issues that have occurred in the past, operators must employ the proper player checks to ensure each consumer's spending is sustainable. Over the last few years, AI and big data capability increases have made this type of information gathering and monitoring much easier. It has also created the potential for more accurate player modelling, which allows operators to target different incentives based on individual play patterns.

With the current data collection and analysis availability, there’s no reason why loyalty schemes should continue to follow a one-size-fits-all model. Operators should consider redesigning loyalty incentives to offer more personalised options that can also be a tool to encourage responsible play and spending.

Moving forward toward more responsible bonus play

Online slot bonuses should create an environment where players are protected and helped to gamble responsibly. Well-designed, carefully thought-through online slot bonuses align with responsible gambling standards, but only when operators design them with responsible gaming in mind.

As the online gambling industry continues to evolve, so will bonuses. Some things to look out for that will guide and improve responsible play include more personalised bonuses, greater player education, improved data analytics and enhanced bonus structures.

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