Last year we wrote about the incoming reality checks that the UKGC planned to bring into effect from November 2015. Reality checks were suggested by the UKGC as the best way for casinos to keep players informed about how much time they were spending and to remind them to stop if need be.
Since then, little has been mentioned about the specifics of how reality checks will be implemented, even though we're in the period where they should be being set up. So how will they effect our casino time? The UKGC has finally gone on record to explicitly lay out their introduction in their January newsletter. So let's break down their recent announcement and see if it answers the burning questions we all have.
The Rules of Reality Checks
To bring you the information as simply as possible, here's everything expressed in the recent newsletter broken down into the questions that you want answered.
What Are Reality Checks?
If you don't want to look through our previous article, then this seems like the best place to start. Effectively reality checks are a reminder to you about your playtime. They should appear as a text box, which interrupts your game to let you know that you've been playing for a certain period of time and then gives you a selection of options, such as freezing your account or continuing.
It's a method that is supposed to allow casinos to take an active interest in potential problem gambling. Since the assumption is that someone with an actual gambling problem won't be the one to end their session, casinos now remind every customer of their playtime at regular intervals.
They can't stop the player continuing, but now they can at least put their gambling time in perspective, with the hope that anyone worried about their gambling habits, may have an epiphany and possibly try to sort out their situation.
Where Will Reality Checks Be Found?
Reality checks will be found on nearly all remote gaming platforms, with a few exceptions. Bingo and remote win lotteries will be the services where reality checks must be included. Remote win lotteries will include: virtual table games, live dealers and slots.
It will not apply to all betting activities. For instance, peer-to-peer poker won't be affected, due to the natural breaks in play that this type of betting already provides. Virtual sports betting will also not be affected. Effectively, the general consensus from the UKGC is that any form of betting which doesn't allow for breaks of play built into the system, will require the casino to implement reality checks to create these breaks and remind players that they have been gambling for an extended period.
How Will Gaming Sessions Be Measured?
The periods during which player's playtime will be monitored is known as a gaming session. Once the player has racked up enough hours within a single game session, then the reality check will kick in. This makes sense, since it would be strange to do reality checks on individuals who actually have very short and controlled gambling sessions.
But until now, the UKGC haven't plainly stated what will constitute a gaming session. Their current stance is that it's up to the casino to make the decision. They've openly stated the scheme is new and so they don't want to weigh it down with a single method, when they don't even know if there is a best method yet. However, they do theorise about the potential best metric to base a gaming session on.
It will definitely have to be focused on one of two criteria:
- A continuation of the original gaming session e.g from the moment you log onto the casino
- A product level implementation e.g each individual game would count as its own gaming session
The gaming session being counted as the total playtime of the player's account would appear to be optimal approach. It would mean that the entire time players were at the casino would count as a gaming session.
This would give the most accurate view into a player's habits. It's very rare that players would play a single game long enough to activate the reality check and so they would end up avoiding it altogether, even if they had set it for their own benefit.
This isn't to say that player's couldn't abuse the reality check system even if their entire casino playtime was monitored. They could always logout of their casino account and then resume playing. But this in itself would suggest that they would ignore reality checks anyway. It may also be possible to set it up so that it reminded you every hour of play, regardless of if you've been logged out in the meantime.
The idea being, that you may play for 55 minutes, log out, play a further 5 minutes and then receive your hourly reality check.
Either way, there does seem to be a superior gaming session method, but the very fact that the UKGC are leaving it up to casinos, shows a level of flexibility and experimentation with the system. It'll be interesting to see which one takes preference over the course of the next few years, but either way, the casino will have to inform you which method they have chosen in their Ts & Cs, so look out for that info on a casino to casino basis.
When Will I Be Made Aware of The Changes?
Right now. But in actual fact, this is another thing left up to the casinos. The UKGC may seem to be playing softball with a lot of rules here, but it does genuinely appear that they want the system to evolve organically, which is very reasonable given what control they could have if they chose to wield it.
They come up with 2 possible scenarios:
- The player will be emailed from the casino and be given details of how reality checks work as well as a link for players to set up the system on their account
- Players will be directed to reality check options the first time they sign in after reality checks are widely enforced
- New players will be given the option to do all this during registration
The only specific factor that they insist on is that these options must be very easily accessible to players at all times while on the casino. This is obviously a way to prevent more scrupulous casinos hiding it behind a fortress of menus. However, this rule looks like something that will have to be enforced over time on an individual basis.
So the real answer is, the casino will let you know when you log in or through your contact information. So the best thing to do is make sure your contact information is up to date with your casino, as it should be already, and await further instruction. It's the casino's job to contact you, not you to contact them.
How Long Can I Set Reality Check Reminders Apart?
This function has been left up to the casino's discretion by the UKGC, but the underlying rule is that it must at least be “reasonable, realistic and appropriate for the player”. This may sound as vague as before, but they make reference to a minimum period that reality check reminders should be set to by default.
There's no further mention of the minimum period, but we can assume it's every few hours, if not less, meaning that there is clearly a default that the casino must adhere to. However, individual casinos are given the option of offering players a generous range of alternative reminder times, to suit their own means.
How Will Reality Checks Affect My Game?
The UKGC had already explained this back in November, but it's good to clarify it here. Reality checks are set to interfere with play as little as possible. It is unavoidable that you will be interrupted while you're in the process of playing a game, but never during an important moment.
As we've already stated, peer-to-peer betting isn't included under reality checks, so you'll never be interrupted whilst playing with others, outside of the live casino of course.
But on single player casino games, reality checks will be set to remind you after each round has been played. In a game like blackjack, this would be after a hand has been played and you're preparing to place your next bet. In slots, this would be when the reels have spun and the game has come to a standstill. Even during autoplay, the autoplay would be paused in between spins to remind you.
How casinos can get reality checks to recognize when games have come to a suitable pause is yet to be seen. Having the system know when a slot or hand of blackjack has come to a standstill is simple enough. But when it comes to live casino games, knowing the exact times to interrupt you may become more sketchy. The UKGC and casinos will certainly have to work on this issue, but we imagine a technical issue like this will be left up to casinos alone.
We can be sure of one thing, there will be a few complaints and growing pains in the early days. How they handle the issue will be the interesting aspect of the whole ordeal and hopefully, one that is dealt with swiftly.
The Rules of Reality Checks
So there you have it. A quick breakdown of everything to do with reality checks at casinos. As you may have garnered, there's still the odd hiccup here and there. Technical concerns about when reality checks should take place will certainly have to dealt with soon. Even simple things like how gaming sessions will be tracked appears to still be up for consideration.
But many of the gaps in the UKGC's plan seem to have been left in purposefully, in order to allow the system to grow and adapt to the wants of the player. It's clearly a concern for the UKGC to monitor players without affecting their casino experience. That is at least an honorable goal for the system.
We just hope that, in trying to be inclusive of new ideas, the whole scheme hasn't been left too vague and ultimately destructive to player enjoyment.