December 19, 2018

The UK Gambling Commission has initiated a consultation on a new national strategy to reduce gambling harms, with the current strategy officially ending in March 2019. What’s particularly interesting is that the Gambling Commission has sought this input in its own right.

Currently, there are three bodies that are involved in the development and implementation of the national strategy: the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB), which develops strategy and advises the Gambling Commission; the UK Gambling Commission, which adopts and implements the RGSB’s strategy; and GambleAware, formerly The Responsible Gambling Fund (RGF), which raises funds, and commissions research, treatment and education services, in line with the RGSB’s strategy, independently from the industry.

A fascinating study entitled “Controlling the Illusion of Control”, on the subject of patterns in gambling advertising, was published in late 2017 in the journal International Gambling Studies. The study recommends that a subject of concern to regulators, based on this UK research, may be the appearance of “a magnified idea of control in sports”. This is in reference to sporting outcomes, and the crafting in a player of an inflated sense of his/her ability to predict those outcomes. The study indicates several reasons for believing this is a significant trend in advertising over recent years, and argues that close scrutiny is therefore appropriate on the part of regulators.
This study comes into focus this month, with much in the news this past week on a proposed TV gambling ban. Sky UK CEO Stephen Van Rooyen quite rightly pointed out last week in a Times interview that a whistle-to-whistle TV live broadcast ban for gambling ads will only resolve concerns with the impact of gambling advertising on problem gamblers and potential problem gamblers to a very limited degree, given that online content is of greater concern and occupies a larger percentage of the overall market.

The Euro News Revue
Andrew says: It is not only UK casinos that are found to be failing AML regulations. Swedish state-owned Casino Cosmopol’s AML processes have been found to be lacking and the company fined the equivalent of €780,000 by the State regulator. The casino is appealing on the grounds that this is an arbitrary amount with no real underlaying process to calculate the amount. I’ve heard that voiced privately many times in the UK, but no company wants to take on its regulator. So sometimes it helps that the regulator and the operator are arms of the same government.
Andrew says: Yes, there is a casino in Beirut - Casino du Liban - and it has remained open almost every day despite all of the problems the country has experienced. The casino is about to launch an online betting site using what to some would appear to be a quirk of Lebanese law. The casino operates under a contract with the state allowing it to operate gambling services. Lebanese law says that something that is not specifically prohibited or legislated for is allowed, a common approach in many countries. Since online sports betting is clearly gambling but is not prohibited, it therefore falls within the scope of the casino’s contract.
Luke says: An astonishing account here from the ever-perspicacious Guardian, in which it appears that Ladbrokes agreed to pay out almost £1 million to the victims of a problem gambler who stole from wealthy clients in order to fund his addiction. That payoff was in exchange for agreements on the part of those victims not to raise the issue with the UK Gambling Commission. Quite how such a plan of action could ever have been thought optimal by management boggles the mind, especially given the modus operandi of the Commission: any impropriety tends to be stamped down on pretty heavily, whereas voluntary acts of self-disclosure tend to be treated with a softer touch. The Commission say they are still looking into matters, but I would predict penalties at the conclusion of this match.
Luke says: In a tight roundup from GiH, we find two interesting stories coupled together - firstly a penalty levied at Will Hill by a foreign gaming authority - the Netherlands’ own Kansspelautoriteit (bless you!). It appears the UK firm have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar - operating services for players in Holland without a license, indeed without the possibility of one, since online gambling is not currently regulated nor permitted in the country. Secondly this GiH summary indicates that the Minister for Legal Protection has answered a round of questions from the Dutch Senate on the incoming Remote Gaming Bill, covered in more depth elsewhere on the site. The most interesting titbit from this round of questions and answers seems to be the Minister’s view that a blanket ban on bad actors who had previously offered unlicensed games might well run afoul of existing EU law.
Andrew says: Privatisation of WestSpeil, the state-run casinos in Nordrheinwestphalia, a region of Germany, could lead to the quadrupling of the number of casinos in the region, from four to sixteen. Before you run to get your chequebooks out, do understand that gaming taxes for German casinos are very high and WestSpiel operates with an EBITDA margin of around 5%. That said, at least it does operate at a profit, something the other state-run German casinos must envy.
Luke says: The Melco brand is getting well and truly stamped on the face of Cyprus now, since they were granted licenses back in June to open several “satellite” casinos to the main operation, the much-anticipated City of Dreams resort casino, set to open in 2021. A temporary main casino has of course been in installation for some time now and operational, although it got off to a slowish start. Now the first of four agreed satellite venues, the C2 Nicosia, has opened its doors to the public, with the second planned satellite casino set to launch by year-end. It has been reported elsewhere that C2 Nicosia will employ 100 people and feature fifty slots and five live gaming tables. As Melco establish their presence across the island, we’d expect to see the practice of the authorities to crack down on unlicensed gaming facilities to continue apace.
Luke says: Initially there was some confusing back-and-forth in which the BBC reported on a consensus before it had been acknowledged by the Remote Gambling Association. Now various sources are citing a confirmation by the Industry Group for Responsible Gaming that the whistle-to-whistle live sports broadcast TV ad ban will be adhered to by the major gambling firms. Regardless, as Sky TV CEO Stephen Van Rooyen indicates in this commentary, this may not get to the root of the issue, as much of the protections needed with regard to gambling ads centre around online content. If we cannot effectively control online ads, which after all frequently target those who gamble commonly, then a TV ad ban will have limited effect in improving problem gambling. Where it will still make a positive difference is in partially shielding children from frequent exposure to gambling ads, and in limiting the normalisation of gambling as part of the regular sports fan experience.
Luke says: Slovakia has announced its intention to overhaul its existing gaming legislation, principally, it seems, to open up the market with a more liberal approach. The National Council’s stamp of approval on these new laws, proposed back in May, sets the nation on a course toward licensed and regulated gambling becoming a much bigger enterprise. Entry does seem to come at a high cost, however, with the €3 million price tag likely to limit the initial market to some pretty big international players. The confirmation that state-operated services will henceforward be limited to a few gambling forms, namely bingo, scratchcard, and lottery, was only to be expected given the intention behind the new laws to open up the market to competition.
This report is edited by Andrew Tottenham and Justin Martin
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