In February 2019, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) announced new rules for how gambling operators must verify the age and identity of online gamblers.

This new regulation will affect everyone who signs up to online casinos, sports betting sites and lottery sites, but what exactly do the changes involve? Let’s take a closer look at the new gambling age verification measures and how they might affect you.

What are the new measures?

From 7th May 2019, UK online gambling sites must verify, at a minimum, every customer’s name, age and address before allowing them to deposit, gamble or play free versions of games. This also applies to players gambling with a bonus, such as a matched deposit or free bet. Prior to these new rules, operators had 72 hours to verify a customer’s identity, meaning players could deposit and gamble before the verification process was complete.

Why now?

The changes follow the UKGC’s 2018 online gambling review, which highlighted age and identity verification as two key issues that the industry needed to improve upon. In the review, the UKGC voiced its concerns about how underage players could access free-to-play casino games. Concerns were also raised regarding how online gambling sites had failed to identify customers with gambling problems, as well as gambling-related criminal activity.

The report also stated the UKGC’s understanding that some operators were treating customers unfairly by requesting additional identity documents only after they had spent significant amounts of money gambling. This meant that some players experienced lengthy and inconvenient withdrawal processes, with around 15% of all complaints received by the UKGC concerning this issue. Following these findings, the UKGC held a consultation to ask both operators and members of the public for their views on the issue of identity verification.

The aim of the new measures

Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the UKGC, said that the changes “will protect children and the vulnerable from gambling-related harm, and reduce the risk of crime linked to gambling”. Under the previous rules, minors could, in theory, gamble real money online if operators did not carry out Know Your Customer checks straight away, but this will no longer be possible. Jeremy Wright, the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, also said the fact that even free games will be inaccessible until verification is complete will help “shut down a possible gateway to gambling-related harm” for children.

The changes also aim to ensure responsible gambling by early identification of potential problem gamblers. When a new customer signs up, their details will be checked against the operator’s own self-exclusion database, as well as the data held on the GAMSTOP national self-exclusion scheme. Self-excluded players will then not be able to use the site. Having access to more information about a player at an earlier stage will also help operators identify cases in which gamblers have wagered sums “in excess of what their profile would have suggested was affordable”, according to the UKGC. This will help identify potential problem gamblers and gambling-related crimes, such as money laundering, meaning operators can intervene sooner.

McArthur added that the verification changes “will also make gambling fairer by helping consumers collect their winnings without unnecessary delay”. As operators will now have to request any necessary identity documents before players deposit, rather than when they withdraw, many bettors will be able to access funds more quickly and easily.

How will operators verify customers?

While the UKGC has stated that licensees must verify every customer’s name, address and date of birth, it has not specified how this must be done or what documents operators must ask for. This means the process may vary slightly from site to site as each operator can decide how to obtain the relevant information.

While operators may be able to verify customers’ age and identity by checking databases such as the electoral register, there may be cases in which gamblers have to provide identity documents upon registration. This will likely include proof of identity, such as a passport or driving licence, as well as proof of address, such as a utility bill. Players may also be required to provide financial documents, such as a payslip or bank statement, as proof of earnings.

The Commission has stated that operators must also inform gamblers of what information they must provide, as well as how it must be provided, promptly after the account is opened. This may include emailing scans of documents or providing the required information via post.

How will the new measures affect players?

Providing identification documents upon registration may seem like a nuisance to some players, and it could mean an extended waiting period before you can deposit and wager. However, the new measures will benefit online gamblers in the long run. First off, you’ll be able to access funds sooner after landing winnings, as you’ll provide documents before you start playing, rather than before you withdraw. On top of that, the new measures will make the online gambling world a safer space for all, through the identification of minors and problem gamblers, and the tackling of crime. We think that having to wait a short while for operators to verify your identity is a small price to pay for the benefits the new measures will bring to the online gambling industry.

The new identity and age verification measures are a strong step in the right direction. As the gambling industry continues to come under scrutiny from the public, regulators and the media, it’s important that operators do all they can to provide a safer and more transparent platform for online gamblers.