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Friday, September 7, 2018
 
by Andrew Tottenham  

Managing Director, Tottenham & Co

The European Commission has finally decided to drop its action for illegal State aid against the Greek government in a case about entry fees payable by visitors to the Greek casinos. The background to the case is that each Greek casino, until a change in the law in November 2012, had to charge an entry fee to every visitor, but the amount charged depended on whether the casino was originally owned by the Government or the by the private sector.  
 
When six new casino licenses were originally issued in 1995, there were three existing casinos, all state-owned: Mont Parnes (Athens), Thessaloniki, and Corfu. The law stated that the new casinos had to charge €15 for each entry and the government-owned casinos only €6. For their troubles the casinos were allowed to keep 20% of the amount collected, handing over the remaining 80% to the government. (Today, "government-owned casino" is a bit of a misnomer; two are now privately owned and Mont Parnes is 51% owned by Regency casinos.) 


by Luke Haward
CDC Gaming Reports
 

Kansspelautoriteit, the gaming regulator for the Netherlands ("KSA", for short), might have a name to tie your tongue in knots, but their finger is on the pulse of the challenges facing the gambling industry. They recently announced a meeting with members of the industry to discuss "the risks of the increasing mix of gaming and gambling", a fascinating topic indeed.

As with anything affected by the pace of technological change, the factors influencing the issue are guaranteed to multiply and diverge or converge with bewildering speed in the years ahead. Regulators and even analysts often struggle to keep pace with a technological marketplace which is developing at an exponential pace - understandably, since without infinite resources it's hard to keep pace, let alone predict what the future will hold.



The Euro News Revue
Andrew says: The Kindred Group, owners of 32 Red and Unibet, are again pushing for the privatisation of the online arm of Svenska Spel. Svenska Spel is a Swedish state-owned company that had a gambling monopoly until the government decided in April of this year to open up the online sector to competition from private operators. Kindred wants the Government to go further and privatise the business, believing that it is incompatible to have one part (land-based casinos) a protected monopoly and the other competing in the marketplace. I don't expect anything to happen soon.
Luke says: Genting's new HQ, now based out of Malta, has seen the appointment of Betsson's former Group Marketing Director Jeremy Taylor as Managing Director to head up their new ambitions. They already have a strong presence in the UK, of course, as well as online and mobile gaming offerings, and the word is that they are planning strong expansion in both verticals. The GentingCasino.com and GentingBet.com brands are widely expected to be the main areas of focus for the new Malta office, but Genting have been looking into expanding its brick and mortar empire in recent months too, with five new subsidiaries set up in Japan during this year, as they contend for a casino license there.  
Luke says: This lengthy and interesting interview from SBC News with Lyndsay Wright, Director of Strategy, Brand & IR at William Hill, sheds light on their recent "zero harm" initiative. Granted, this effort was something that the firm agreed to put funds towards in the wake of major failings with regard to customer protection and hefty penalties issued last year, but the hope is that it's more than just a rebranding effort. Wright lays out Will Hill's goal of being "the safest place to do gambling", acknowledges past mistakes, and speaks out for supporting players before they become problem gamblers. She also recognises amongst responses to the new initiative "some scepticism", and this is wholly understandable given the previous failings seen in the industry as whole. What we need to see on the back of these fine words is substantial, funded action.
Luke says: The statement of gaming firm 2k to its userbase in Belgium has some interesting wording which clearly indicates their view of Belgium's recent ban of loot boxes. "These changes are necessary in order for us to accommodate the BGC's interpretation of the Belgian Gaming Act," they state, falling short of direct criticism. They also encourage Belgian fans of loot boxes to contact their local government reps. The comments section for the article is very interesting, as a discussion ensues about the purposes of loot boxes, and how they make the games anti-competitive for those who do not wish to pay for microtransactions, with many posters complaining about the abundance of transactions required in games for "full play" to be available. As one poster succinctly asks, "What do 2k recommend you do if you agree with the Belgian government?"
Andrew says: Finland's state-owned gambling monopoly, Viekkhaus, had little revenue growth in the first six months of 2018 and, surprisingly given the excitement around the World Cup, sports betting revenue declined by 1.6%. Viekkhaus is the aggregation of three state-run monopolies for lotteries, sports betting, and slot machines, put together last year. Finland has some of the most advanced measures to allow customers to control their gambling, including online. The challenge facing Viekkhaus is that the offshore gambling companies that target Finnish customers often are much less socially responsible; they are happy to accept business from people who have had their play restricted by Viekkhaus.
Luke says: This would-be scandal relates to the timing of the government's planned reduction of the stakes of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), setting a £2 maximum bet, which is now slated for implementation in 2020. GVC Holdings made a canny buyout offer to Ladbrokes when they made the total amount of their bid contingent upon the government's decision over FOBTs. GVC saved £800 million from the initial decision. The subsequently announced delay, to 2020, means that they may be able to make an unexpected additional £1 billion from the machines before the new cutoff kicks in. The National Pensioners Convention have called this the "great pension robbery", while GVC has responded that no shareholders have complained, and that shares are up around 200p since the deal was struck, and have called the complaints about their windfall on the FOBT timing "highly emotive".  
Luke says: The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK has concluded a two-year investigation into unfair practices and terms & conditions in the gambling industry, finding that unfair withdrawal terms are a problem, and calling out two firms to change their ways. These firms seem almost like token representations, given that this is an issue seen commonly across numerous online operators, all of whom will be expected to change their terms in the face of this decision. The UK Gambling Commission emphasise the widespread applicability in their press statement given here, clearly stating that they expect all license holders to follow suit. This is all part of the hands-on approach we've seen lately from the Commission, in their efforts to clean up the sector. For those interested in the small print, the relevant pieces of legislation which were brought to bear are the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) and Part 2 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA).
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