The United Kingdom Gambling Commission is constantly looking to update and refine its rules and regulations for betting companies and game operators. Whether it be stopping the use of auto-spin on slots or ensuring that the fastest they can go is 2.5 seconds per spin, there are always changes afoot if the organisation thinks that it can make things safer and better for punters. One of the things that it banned a couple of years ago was the bonus buy slots, which allowed customers to buy straight into the bonus games of slots.
The UKGC felt that this was a dangerous feature for problem gamblers, given that it allowed them to pay money in order to head straight to the ‘business end’ of a slot game. It is common for players that make it to the bonus feature on a slot to feel as though they are almost certainly going to win something, so by bypassing the gameplay in order to head straight there, punters might have felt as though they were more likely to win big more regularly. What happened to them and are they gone for good?
What Were Bonus Buy Slots?
Online casino games are constantly being evolved and changed. There is a desire to keep them as fresh and relevant as possible, to say nothing about the fact that there is a need to ensure that customers keep coming back to play slots even after it feels as though they’ve played every slot that there is to play. The constant evolution of slots leads to many new ideas being introduced, which is how bonus buy slots came into existence. Some of the most exciting games online have excellent bonus features, but getting to play them can be hard.
There are all sorts of things that need to be triggered before you’ll be able to play bonus games, with a risk being that you can play for a long time and never end up triggering the bonus feature simply because of the way that Return to Player percentages work. For some punters, that isn’t good enough, with the desire being to play the bonuses as soon as possible. Given that casinos and the companies responsible for making slots are always on the lookout to make as much money as they can, an idea soon came to the fore.
Allowed Customers to Go Directly to Bonus Feature
In short, bonus buy slots allow customers to pay a fee in order to go directly to the bonus feature of the slot game that they’re playing. Those that either created the game or offer it on their platform set a price tag that they think is fair that allows punters to skip the queue to get to the bonus, so to speak. The game type is aimed at people that are willing to pay well over the odds of their stake in order to head straight to the heart of the action. It skips the part where you have to land certain winning symbols, allowing you to go straight for the big prize.
The first slot game that offered the bonus buy is believed to have been White Rabbit, which was created by Big Time Gaming. A small fee paid in addition to the original stake allowed bettors to jump straight to the bonus feature. It became very popular with certain punters, who enjoyed the fact that there were able to spend an amount of money to head straight to the moment in the game that would normally be the culmination of several hours of play, if, indeed, they were ever actually able to trigger the slot’s bonus feature round.
How Much Bonus Buys Cost
Obviously every online slot is a unique experience, even if they are the same skin with a different gameplay experience in some cases. As a result, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to paying for a slot bonus round, with each game having its own price attached. In the days when you could play such games in the United Kingdom, you could be looking at anywhere between 50 and 100 times the stake unit, or even over that amount in some cases, meaning that it wasn’t a cheap experience to enjoy.
The amount punters are charged on such games is based on a calculation of how much you would be likely to pay to reach the bonus round if you played the game normally. Let us imagine that the feature of a particular slot is 18 free spins, which would normally be triggered after about 340 spins. This would mean that you’d need to pay close to 340 times the stake in order to skip straight to the 18 free spins feature. That is a lot of money to pay for a feature that ultimately might not result in you winning anything anyway.
The key thing to remember when looking at buying a slot bonus is that you’re skipping straight past everything in order to trigger the feature early. Whilst that is a good thing insomuch as it is a time saver, it also means that you’re skipping spinning the reels. This means that you’re also skipping any possible wins that you might enjoy a long the way, so though it might take you 340 spins to trigger a feature, a lot of those spins would see you get at least some money returned to you by the natural playing of the game.
Why Was This Feature Banned?
The most obvious question that most people reading this will ask is why the Gambling Commission decided to ban the use of bonus buy slots to UK customers. After all, you would still be able to pay to head straight to the feature game if you played the slot in other countries, so the technology is still very much active. Whether they called it ‘buy a bonus’, ‘feature drop’ or ‘feature buy’, online casino operators that offered their products in the United Kingdom were told that they would need to remove it from games from 2019 onwards.
The decision came two years after the aforementioned White Rabbit slot had been released onto the UK market, so the Gambling Commission certainly had plenty of information to be looking at in order to help it reach a decision. The UKGC said that the slot games themselves were allowed to remain in play, on the proviso that the feature to buy straight to the bonus game was removed. The Gambling Commission chose to ban them on the understanding that they failed to meet their technical standards, with Remote Gambling & Software Technical Standard 14A stating:
Gambling products must not actively encourage customers to chase their losses, increase their stake or increase the amount they have decided to gamble, or continue to gamble after they have indicated that they wish to stop.
It is clear that asking a customer to pay in order to unlock a feature is something that encourages punters to increase the stake that they’re playing with. With some slots asking bettors to pay huge amounts to head straight to the bonus feature, there is little doubt that it was something that broke the rules and regulations put in place by the UKGC.
Some Operators Still Offered Them
Any operator that has a licence issued by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission had to obey the rules introduced by the organisation in 2019. This meant that if you were playing on a licensed casino then you almost certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to play a game that offered the chance to buy a bonus. The problem was that some companies did indeed keep offering them, leading to the UKGC issuing a reminder that that shouldn’t be the case, specifically citing six operators that did just that.
The statement referenced one game that was asking players to pay in excess of £3,000 to head straight to the bonus feature of the game. Little wonder, therefore, that the organisation felt as though customers were being encouraged to bet more than they normally would by the feature. The thinking was that such excessive figures would encourage unhealthy relationships with gambling, which the Gambling Commission had long been trying to claim down on and was wary of any company that tried to get around it.
As well as RTS requirement 14A, the UKGC also referenced RTS requirement 3A in its statement. Requirement 3A states the following:
An explanation of the applicable rules must be easily available to the customer before they commit to gamble. The content including artwork and text must be accurate, and sufficient to explain all of the applicable rules and how to participate. All reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that the content is understandable.
It was felt by the Commission that buy-in features broke both requirements, which is why the six operators still offering games that allowed a bonus buy were contacted and removed the games in question from their sites. The issue for punters, meanwhile, is that any bonus money that they’d won having bought into a bonus feature would, in essence, be illegal. As a result, the money could be reclaimed by the casino, with the casino likely being forced to pay back the original stake money as a result, which isn’t ideal for anyone.
Example Slots That Offered Bonus Buys
Having explained what they were and why they were banned in the United Kingdom by the Gambling Commission, it is worth taking a quick look at a popular game or two that offered bonus buys as a feature. It will help to explain how they work and why it was that some players enjoyed playing them so much, given the money that they won as a result.
There is no better place to start than with the slot game that started it all. Offered to the public by Big Time Gaming, the White Rabbit slot offered what the company referred to as a ‘Feature Drop’. How much you needed to pay to trigger it would depend on how much your stake was, with those paying 10p per spin getting 15 spins for £10. For the particularly well-off, the option to pay £2,000 in order to get 15 spins at £20 per spin was there, which was obviously a huge amount of money for no guarantee of success.
The bonus feature saw punters get 15 free spins. Unlocking 12 symbols on a reel triggered the White Rabbit Clock, which awarded up to 12 more spins. If you landed 12 symbols you could also trigger the Queen’s Reels with Wilds and Red Queens, with MEGAWAYS offering as many as 248,832 options in the bonus round. As many as 75 free spins could be unlocked, though more often than not users got nowhere near this much. It was an expensive feature that offered no guarantee of success, so was hugely risky.
Another game that offered a bonus buy feature was Extra Chilli, also part of the Big Time Gaming wheelhouse. Based on the idea of a market stall on the streets of South America, buying the bonus would allow you to spin the Free Spin Gamble Wheel, which would see punters rewarded with as many as 24 free spins. With as many as 117,649 ways to win thanks to the six reels and the ability to see up to seven symbols landing on them, it isn’t hard to see why Extra Chilli was a popular game with punters.
Bettors could stake between 20p and £40 on each spin, meaning that the cost of buying into the feature could be prohibitive for many customers. Triggering it would see punters get unlimited win multipliers, which started at 1x and grew with every reaction. They only appeared in the extra reel during the feature, with three scatter symbols awarding four extra free spins and four scatters seeing eight extra free spins awarded. Overall, the game promised bettors the chance to win big, but at an expensive risk.