Online gambling operators will have to verify customers’ ages and identity details faster under new rules to protect children and the vulnerable, the regulator has announced.
Operators have until now been allowed 72 hours to carry out age verification checks, which must be completed before the operator can allow the customer to withdraw winnings or return stakes if the person is found to be underage.
From May 7, operators must verify age before the customer can deposit funds into an account or gamble with either their own money or a free bet or bonus, the Gambling Commission said.
Customers must also be age-verified before they are able to access free-to-play versions of gambling games on licensees’ websites.
While free-to-play games are not technically gambling because there is no prize involved, the commission said there is no legitimate reason why they should be available to children.
In March last year, the regulator announced some online operators were treating customers unfairly by requesting additional identity information when they attempted to withdraw winnings.
Around 15% of complaints to its contact centre were about licensees not allowing a customer to withdraw funds until they submitted certain forms of ID.
The new rules require licensees to verify, as a minimum, the name, address and date of birth of a customer before allowing them to gamble, and ask for any additional verification information promptly.
They must also take reasonable steps to ensure information on their customers’ identities remains accurate.
The changes follow a consultation and ongoing regulatory action into the online sector.
Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said: “These changes will protect children and the vulnerable from gambling-related harm, and reduce the risk of crime linked to gambling.
“They will also make gambling fairer by helping consumers collect their winnings without unnecessary delay.
“Britain’s online gambling market is the largest regulated market in the world and we want to make sure it is the safest and the fairest.”
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “These significant changes mean operators must check someone’s age before they gamble, and not after. They rightly add an extra layer of protection for children and young people who attempt to gamble online.
“By extending strong age verification rules to free-to-play games, we are creating a much safer online environment for children, helping to shut down a possible gateway to gambling-related harm.”