As the COVID-19 crisis continues to impact consumer habits and increase the threat of problem gambling, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has focused on reverse withdrawals as part of its strengthened set of safeguards.

The body has affirmed its commitment to protecting gambling consumers, underlining the additional risks that have been presented by the crisis and subsequent lockdown, which in turn have placed a heightened focus on those utilising reverse withdrawals. 

The Commission, supported by academic research, lived experience and expert advice, already considers the use of reverse withdrawals as a potential flag for potential gambling harm.

In terms of the tool, the UKGC has outlined it is accelerating processes to eradicate it from the UK gambling space as it continues to elevate protection for consumers. It follows continued warnings of its risks.

It stated: “We know that there has been a reduction in the use of this facility by approximately 7% compared with March 2019. This could be because there has been a reduction in gambling overall and a small number of larger operators have voluntarily withdrawn the facility. 

“However, we also know that consumers who do use the facility, do so on average 4.7 times per month. Therefore, it is likely to be contributing to the heightened risks of more intensive play for engaged gamblers.

“Most online operators offer consumers the facility to reverse a request to withdraw funds in their gambling account. Consumers can use this facility to change their decision to end gambling, and either extend their session without taking a break or spend more than they originally intended.

“Given this, we are accelerating our plans to take action in this area. We want to remove the ability for consumers to reverse a withdrawal. This would help support consumer decisions for safer gambling and in some cases limit the length of time a player can continue without taking a break.”

Furthermore, the body also detailed in its report that the lockdown isn’t prompting many people to start gambling. Citing YouGov research that showed only 0.2% of adults surveyed had started gambling for the first time during the past four weeks.

Additionally, the majority of those who are gambling are playing at the same rate or less. For example, the YouGov research shows that three-quarters of recent gamblers indicate that they have not increased the time or money they have spent on gambling.

That being said, the body understands – via operator data – that there has been an increase of extensive sessions by UK gamblers, with the total number of sessions lasting more than 1 hour increasing by 23% compared with the same period last year.

In order to halt this and protect consumers, the UKGC is introducing controls on the length of time players can play in a session without a break. 

However, it is easy for consumers to switch to another operator once their time limit has been reached. Consequently, it underlined customer interactions as a more impactful way of mitigating the harm from longer sessions.

It emphasised that important interactions between operators and customers should already be taking place, not only throughout the crisis but as standard safeguarding practises for operators.  

In order to limit the effects of the current crisis when it comes to problem gambling, the UKGC is focusing on efficiency, with new interaction measures being implemented within days.