Interview: CEO James Marshall, speaks with EGR on the UKGC's recent proposal for responsible gambling

In recent weeks, the Gambling Commission (UKGC) has issued a proposal to make gambling even safer, and has also reached out to the industry for feedback. Following on from this, James Marshall, CEO of Push Gaming, was invited by EGR to discuss these changes and give his thoughts on how these suggestions could affect gambling for some players, as well as the gaming experience in general. Read on to see what he had to say.

This forms part of a larger interview carried out by EGR with other professionals in the industry. Read the full interview on pdf or access the article online.

What is your overall view of the proposals detailed in the UKGC’s consultation on online slots and do you plan to submit feedback?

We will submit feedback - our overall thoughts are that it's great that the UKGC are reaching out to the industry to have an opinion. We would like to hear more on the evidence for the proposed changes, but we’re confident there has been a good level of consideration – and look forward to the final details of what the Commission plans to enact.

We want to keep our products entertaining whilst keeping them safe. The opportunity to work with the UKGC, or at least have an opinion on proposed technical changes is a great step forward for us to work together to build trust in this industry.    

How could the tighter definition of slots affect game design?

It could have a negative impact. Games have to be fun, not only to be successful in their own right, but also for the market as a whole whilst competing with other forms of digital entertainment. 

I feel there is a risk of focusing on the way games are designed, rather than focusing on data and picking up on potential problem gamblers. The games must be fair and rules must be clear, but we have existing technical requirements and testing to ensure this is the case.

What would be the impact of players being able to reverse withdrawal requests?

I would think that adding too many granular level controls may not be the best way to help tackle the issue of gambling related harm. That said, of course, any changes which can have a positive impact, even if not fully resolving the issue, are welcome. 

From a functionality perspective, operators are likely to have better insight than we do as slot suppliers. From our side, we want players to enjoy our games long term, and a part of that is being able to successfully withdraw their winnings when they are lucky enough to have them. 

Players also have their own individual preferences – which means that there really isn’t a one size fits all solution that will keep all stakeholders happy, so this will certainly require a balancing act from the UKGC. 

What are your thoughts on preventing multiple slots being played by a single account?

There are a few factors at play when it comes to preventing multiple slots being played by a single account. As we can see in Vegas at the moment, some of the most popular slots are multi games, allowing 2-6 slots spinning at the same time. The demand for this is based on entertainment value, and it’s certainly enjoyed by players. However, I don’t think it will be a major issue for operators and suppliers if regulators ban its use. 

How do you feel about the call to get rid of auto-play functions as well as in-game features such as turbo?

If there is clear evidence around this, then it makes sense, if not we are just disrupting the user experience for the sake of change. Not having to click spin every time is handy for the player, it’s also good if you want to set a clear amount of spins in that session. We see auto-play as a useful functionality that should only be removed if there is enough verifiable evidence to suggest that auto-play increases the risk of problem gambling. 

How could all of these changes affect the playing experience? 

It all depends on individual preferences. However, there are certain functions that seem to have a general consensus by those who enjoy playing slots purely for entertainment purposes. 

For example, the removal of the auto-spin function would likely cause a negative experience for players. Given its popularity, it has become almost integral to the game experience for many – so I see this as likely being negatively received as it will mean players will have to revert back to older, less-enjoyed ways of playing slots. 

Do you think these measures will help to reduce gambling-related harm?

I don’t think anyone can  answer this question with confidence either way - and I think this might be the principal issue. However, if or when these requirements are put in place, there should be a clear plan to review them and ensure they are having the desired outcome. 

Could these proposals harm online slots’ growth prospects in the future?

Definitely. You also have to look at the bigger picture and take into account other gambling verticals. For example, think of its effect on general innovation – how does a slower bet-to-result time affect other forms of games?  

We also need to take into account how much turnover is required in a game. Games run at between 92-97% RTP, which means players need to play plenty of rounds in order for the games to make money. Slowing the spin time, while negligible at only 2.5 seconds, still risks making the experience sluggish, and in turn, reducing retention rates and the vertical’s growth. 

How has the slots market performed during the Covid-19 lockdown?

Slots across the board have likely seen growth given the increased demand for entertainment. We’re also seeing a strong push towards the digitalisation for most industries as a result of the lockdown, which will no doubt include gambling. 

Another factor has been the loss of sports during this time, so operators have had to promote other products outside of sportsbook, hence the increase in poker, as well as casino. 

How do you think the online slots market will change or develop over the next six months?

I think what we’re seeing at the moment is an excellent step in the right direction. A regulator pro-actively reaching out to the industry for comment, opinion and our feedback can only be a good thing. This is also a great opportunity for suppliers to work more closely with the regulator and really improve player trust as well as the public’s perception of gambling. If we’re seen to be really taking the right steps towards helping those who have issues with gambling control – then I certainly believe the outlook will be positive