Thursday, February 7, 2019

It’s very cold in London (though not as cold as in the midwest of the USA), so it must be time for ICE. From my perspective the show keeps getting bigger and better. Thirty-two years ago, when I had just started my career as a consultant, I went to what was then called the Amusement Trades Exhibition (ATE), held in the old Earls Court venue. In those days ATE was a show that encompassed everything from companies selling AWP-style slot machines to fairground rides, and everything in between. I had no idea, back then, that ATE would begat ICE, and that ICE would end up where it is now.

At ATE, I was on the stand of John Huxley Casino Equipment, then owned by Jeff Lindsay. He had noticed that a few of his clients were regularly in London in late January/early February, and had discovered that they were in town to attend ATE. So he had decided to exhibit at the next exhibition. Jeff asked if I would like to be on his stand and I took him up on his invitation.

The worlds of technology and of media never stand still. The gambling industry is particularly aware of this, as both the technology underlying the online games on offer, and that protecting the infrastructure for tracking play, monitoring players, and ensuring security and anti-fraud measures, are evolving at an extremely rapid pace. Buzzwords like Big Data are flying, and acronyms for emergent technology are on everyone’s lips, be that AI, VR, AR, or something else. But just what are the top technology trends for the gambling industry in 2019 and into the early ‘20s, and what new forms are having most impact in the gambling world today?
AI and machine learning are two aspects which are going to impact all of our lives a great deal in the years ahead. Many believe AI will soon pose a serious challenge to bookies, as the best bots now look set to overtake some of the best humans at predicting outcomes in sports events. It is likely that bookies and AI bettors will enter an arms race of sorts as we move into the ‘20s. AI will also play an ever-greater role in customer relations, including customer diligence, with operators likely farming out much of this to third-party software providers with the relevant expertise in handling Big Data.

The Euro News Revue
Luke says: The figures being discussed here appear to be clearly drawn from the Eurispes Report, which was produced by an independent research group and published quite recently. The report indicates general strong growth of both regulated and illegal gambling across a number of EU countries. A good summary of some key findings is provided in the news article, with plenty of detail.

Demand for gambling services seems to be growing even in states such as the Netherlands where online gambling is illegal at the current time. Italy is singled out as showing astonishing growth over the years, from €15.5 billion turnover in 2003 to €101.8 billion in 2017. The Netherlands is shown to have exhibited 20% growth in active gamblers from 2016 to 2017 despite its illegality, with two-thirds surveyed stating they’d prefer to play on licensed legal sites.
Andrew says: Ouch! The Andorran Gaming Control Board (CRAJ) has decided to withdraw the casino concession issued to JOCS SA, due to finding irregularities in its bid and subsequent submissions. JOCS won even though it submitted a comparatively small project. Five casino operators objected to the award; one company had proposed an investment of more than five times JOCS’ bid. The high-profile complaints forced the Andorran Government to investigate the JOCS bid; the result was that it proved to be lacking. What happens now is anybody’s guess. Will the award go the next highest-scoring bidder, or will the tender be run again?
Andrew says: The Slovakian parliament has taken back control. Last year they passed a law, the main components of which were to reduce the amount of and access to slot machines and at the same time legalise and tax online gambling. The President vetoed the law and now parliament has overridden the veto. I do find it peculiar that the limitations are for fifteen slots per gambling hall, the removal of machines from restaurants and bars, and no machines within 200 metres of a school or medical facility, and yet every mobile phone can become a slot machine. Can someone please explain the logic behind that one?
Luke says: Savvas Perdios is speaking out about the benefits of the major resort casino coming to Limassol, in terms of bringing tourism to Cyprus. This is hard to dispute. Doubtless both jobs and tourism euros aplenty will be generated by the resort’s presence, but this hasn’t stopped a body of resistors to the plan from protesting about social costs. Environmental groups complained that the neighbouring wetlands were not sufficiently protected in development plans, and economists have voiced fears that job creation will simply be sapping staff from elsewhere, and that addiction will plague the locals.

How shall the social costs be offset along the way? That is the far more pertinent question, but we cannot hope for a Minister of Tourism to ask it. The powerfully-monikered Chairman Ho made reassuring comments about Melco being a point of reference for responsible gambling. Let’s hope that is borne out in real terms.
Andrew says: One lesson from the tragedy of Casino di Campione is that you cannot always keep kicking the can down the road. At some point you’ll be forced to stop, and the longer you go on kicking the can, the bigger the ramifications are going to be when you do eventually stop.
Casino di Campione closed in July last year because a court found that the company was bankrupt. It had probably been bankrupt for many months but it was only in July that things came to a head. Not only has the region lost its major taxpayer (a taxpayer in theory; anyway - the casino owed taxes but didn’t manage to pay them), but also local businesses have been left in the lurch, with some unable to survive.

As Mr Micawber said in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."
Luke says: The Danish National Lottery has proposed a new consensus be reached within the Danish gambling industry, to agree to a voluntary ban on gambling ads being broadcast during live TV sports features, citing the UK as an influence. A further influence behind such as suggestion is undoubtedly the commitment by several Danish political parties to put forward a ban of such a kind if the industry does not voluntarily undertake one.

There is bound to be division within the industry around such a major change, and there will be prominent voices on both sides of the debate. Some will surely feel that the long-term public image of gambling firms will be aided by such a move, as well as that it may bring significant social benefits, whereas others may feel there is nothing truly wrong with a connection between sports and betting, and wish to keep these two as closely linked as possible.

Overall, it is interesting to see the spread of anti-advertising sentiment across Europe: Italy, the UK, Belgium, to a degree Spain, and now Denmark.
Luke says: This one hasn’t much hit the English-speaking media yet, but online web page translation services to the rescue! Any day that the Portuguese government agrees to review the currently crippling 40% tax on turnover for gambling companies is a welcome day in this industry, so I’m happy to pass on the good news. A scant nine companies have ventured into the legislatively icy waters since licensing began in May 2016. Who can blame them, given that that the tax structure makes it hard to see the numbers working out for survival, let alone prosperity?
This may all be about to change for the better. The government has set up a “work group” to tackle the question of how to structure the tax, and also to consider certain aspects around horse-racing and betting. The parties in the work group will include Ministers for the Economy and Tourism, and also religious representatives.
Luke says: What’s particularly dreadful about this particular data leak is the reported scale of the damn thing, with the details of 108 million bets allegedly being exposed publicly - no password or other measure to prevent public access. A single server at ElasticSearch carried the data for a slew of internet companies, many of which were apparently owned by one firm, Mountberg Limited, or were part of a group of affiliates operating a number of betting and casino sites, such as and even my own namesake (!)

While players full credit card details were redacted in the data, fortunately, still their winnings, home addresses and other personal data were revealed, making this a serious risk for extortion and other crimes, a fear which this coverage voices. It certainly is an appalling error or oversight, though there is also speculation that somebody left this data deliberately unsecured. Details are unclear at this stage.
This report is edited by Andrew Tottenham and Justin Martin
Tottenham & Co
232 Cranmer Court
London SW3 3HD, UK