The aim for 2018 was to sort this and my photography blog out and at least for the first couple of the weeks of the year that was on track. Since then it’s been pretty much downhill as I’ve ended up back in the hotseat and in front of a computer for what feels like eons. The reason for this is ‘compliance’, a term that probably sends a chill through many in the online gambling industry.
Compliance pops up in my emails pretty much every day. The last time I had the word used so much was in Flight Of The Navigator, a 1978 Disney movie, that’s about a kid who gets abducted by aliens. The abducting alien spaceship (Max) uses the word ‘compliance’ when David Freeman makes a request. Interestingly I always thought Freeman was played by the kid from The Wonder Years – apparently not, it’s a guy called Joey Kramer who in 2016 ended up as a bank robber! Wow!
Anyway, back to online gambling compliance. Towards the end of 2017 The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) got stuck into sorting out issues regarding the promotion of casinos, bingo, sportsbook etc. You may recall some operators being fined for ‘fake news’ advertising that actually stemmed from their affiliate partners.
So to start things off, affiliates had to get their sites up to date, making sure things like “18+”, “Terms & Conditions Apply” and “Please Gamble Responsibly” were all visible. All good things in my opinion!
However, some operators got a little more spooked by The UKGC intervention and demanded a little bit more. In one case, affiliates could only use the copy provided by the operator. Affiliates could also no longer promote the brand by mentioning their promotions. A good way of controlling content but not very useful for uniqueness or for finding an angle to send traffic their way.
To make life more fun this all occurred at about the same time a multitude of sites changed their welcome bonus offers. The UK Government now tax bonus money, operators don’t want to be taxed and The UKGC want clearer terms on bonuses etc. So these changes meant a lot of review alterations and updates. A tedious job, but not a problem.
The UKGC then decided that they weren’t too keen on ‘cartoon imagery’ that – to be honest – had become a little prevalent in advertising online gambling. Fluffy toys from Fluffy Favourites, cartoon cats on bingo sites, even a yellow duck on a portal site were all conspiring to encourage Little Johnny to grab a credit card, login to to a casino by circumventing all age controls and start spending the contents of his piggy bank.
A fluffy elephant on a website Little Johnny doesn’t visit is supposedly a greater hook to gambling than the rip-off 2p shuffle machines that populate every seaside arcade and encourage play by paying out tickets that can be converted to cheap plastic tat. In short, spending £10 of 2ps for a 5p plastic unicorn keyring is good gambling for kids, but be wary of any casino slot featuring a cartoon character.
So the next stage for affiliates was to remove all images – logos, screenshots, etc – that featured anything remotely cartoony. Even our own Loquax logo had to be changed – not just on loquaxbingo.com but on loquax.co.uk as well.
Just when you thought that was that.. along came more bad news. Some operators didn’t want affiliates making their own images. Making your own images includes taking screenshots of the brand’s homepages. The brand’s homepages which should by definition be compliant and therefore not an issue if it was used as a screenshot to illustrate a review or article.
Initially we started to just replace screenshots from operators who had requested they not be used. Then we figured that it was actually just easier to get rid of them altogether. So all screenshots were replaced by generic gambling images. A good move because the general consensus is that screenshots are best avoided.
And there’s more! By this point we’d closed four sites down completely. These were old and not being updated but it was simpler to remove them than get them up to date and compliant. Our efforts were concentrated on getting Spins, Penny Bingo and Loquax up to date and all seemed to pass the required tests. Except the goalposts changed again.
In the last week of February we started getting notification that the phrase “Terms apply” was insufficient when advertising an offer (e.g. £5 no deposit bonus, terms apply). Instead the correct way to advertise an offer was “18+. New customers only. £5 bingo bonus. 1 bonus per player. Bonus credited within 72 hrs of valid card registration. 5x wagering requirement. Bonus valid for 7 days (bonus removed)”.
This therefore required more time filling in boxes, coding extra bits and trying to figure out how to squeeze in ‘War And Peace’ into a space that could barely contain a haiku. The result was that offers had to be removed in many call to action locations. There was no leeway on this either, which was good because 2 days notice to make big changes to a site’s structure is always welcomed.
Now we’re up to date but I suspect that this isn’t the end of compliance requests. I suspect in time we’ll have to use copy provided by operators or not be allowed to write about what they’re doing. Content may have to be checked before publication and it wouldn’t surprise me if age verifications were needed for affiliate sites.
Whilst I’m all for improvements in the way online gambling is advertised, the last few months have been nothing short of farcial. The definition of ‘compliance’ varies from operator to operator. Whilst one is happy for a screenshot, another one isn’t. Whilst one is happy with a 40x40pixel 18+ image at the foot of the site, another wants it bigger. Whilst one is happy for you to write content about promotions, Bet365, the Voldemort of online gambling, don’t want you to mention their promotions.
All the extra work has been a pain, but some of it probably needed to be done. I’d rather have just done it in one go rather than stop/start/stop/start as described above. On top of this, it’s all been done with an iron hand inside an iron glove: “if you aren’t compliant we will terminate your partnership” and that has put a strain on relationships that extend back over 10 years in some cases. That approach is fair, provided everyone is on the same hymn sheet and facing the same direction.
And they’re not because The UKGC and people behind compliance didn’t sit down and provide clarity from the start. Anyway, what’s done is done – we’ll see what happens next.
Focusing On The Year Ahead
So it’s now back to doing what I had planned to do at the start of 2018. Ideally I’d like to be working part-time and staying relatively stress free. The latter will be achieved provided no more ‘compliance’ emails come my way asking for yet more changes.
On a more positive note, I’ve still got the photography blog to merge into this one and I still need to get out more with the old black box. Fortunately there’s a big trip coming up soon and that should add plenty of images to the portfolio.