Online Betting Era Dawns in Michigan

A new era of online betting is set to dawn in the US state of Michigan after the Michigan Gaming Control Board confirmed that the state will permit online gaming and sports betting from noon local time on Friday 22 January.

Nine betting operators have been authorised to launch this week. All will be paying a tax rate of 8.4% for online sports betting while igaming tax will range from 20% to 28%. Casinos located in the city of Detroit may also have to pay a municipal services fee and a development agreement fee to the city.

The money collected in taxes from the three Detroit casinos: Greektown, MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity, will be allocated to the city of Detroit, the state Internet Sports Betting Fund, the state Internet Gaming Fund, and the Michigan Agriculture Equine Industry Development Fund.

The city of Detroit also has the safeguard of a hold-harmless provision to enable it to recoup any lost gaming tax revenue if it collects below $183 million during a single fiscal year.

In the case of the state’s tribal casinos, online sports betting payment tax revenue will go to the Internet Sports Betting Fund and the Michigan Strategic Fund, while tax revenue derived from internet gaming will be split between the Strategic Fund, the Internet Gaming Fund and a local government body that oversees local services. It is also reported that revenue from the new online sector will help to fund the Compulsive Gaming Prevention Fund, The First Responder Presumed Coverage Fund, and The State School Aid Fund.

Speaking about the new launch, the MGCB Executive Director Richard Kalm, said that the state and its residents were looking forward to the new era:

“Michigan residents love sports and, judging by inquiries we’ve received, eagerly anticipate using mobile devices to place bets through the commercial and tribal casinos.”

He added that they hoped that online gaming and sports betting would give casinos new opportunities to engage with their customers and that the state and local communities would benefit from taxes and payments made from betting revenue.

A number of local casino venues have been given permission to offer sports betting and/or internet gaming, including the Bay Mills Indian Community, through a partnership with DraftKings, and Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, who have signed up with UK operator William Hill to provide their sports betting platform. Greektown Casino Hotel, Hannahville Indian Community, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and MGM Grand Detroit Casino are among the other venues to launch their online betting this week.

According to Kalm, the period between the authorisation and launch date would enable operators and platform providers to have extra time to test and make adjustments before going life. In addition, the MGCB say that they hope to licence further providers over the next few days and weeks.

New Push on Kentucky Sports Betting

Another attempt to introduce sports betting to the US state of Kentucky is underway, but it faces significant hurdles before becoming law.

Kentucky Republican Representative Adam Koenig has once again filed legislation to legalise online sports betting in the state, with House Bill 241. The new bill is similar to House Bill 137, which was filed by Koenig in the 2020 legislative session, with the core aim of legalising online sports wagering, but the new bill also includes proposals to regulate online poker and fantasy sports.

The bill is currently with Kentucky’s House of Representatives’ Committee on Committees, and is sponsored by 17 Representatives.

If it became law, the sports betting aspect of the bill would allow for betting online, mobile and at approved sports venues in the state, and consumers would be able to bet on both professional and collegiate contests. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would be given the overall responsibility for the regulation of horse racing, pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing and sports betting.

The bill calls for sports betting licences to be set at a cost of $500,000, with an annual renewal fee of $50,000. Licensed operators would also face a 9.75% tax on their adjusted gross revenue on bets placed at the track or via professional sporting venues, along with an extra 0.5% tax to help to raise money for two new horse racing funds in the state. All licensees operating online, through mobile or via other off-site technology would pay a 14.25% levy on adjusted gross revenue. According to the bill, the regulated Kentucky sports betting market would be set to launch on January 1, 2023.

Koenig’s bill would also legislate for fantasy league contests. Companies offering fantasy league platforms would have to pay a $5,000 registration fee as well as a renewal fee of 6% of their adjusted gross revenue. It is not clear what level of taxation such operations would have to pay, but the bill does provide for a start date for fantasy sports contests of January 15, 2022.

Poker operators are also included in the bill, although it does not set a date by which online poker betting should be up and running in the state. Poker operators would pay an initial licensing fee of $250,000. These licences would run for a year and would be renewable for a further fee of $10,000. They would also have to pay 6.75% of net poker revenue every month.

Koenig’s House Bill 137 made it as far as the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee in March last year but made no further progress, and although some pro sports betting lawmakers are hoping for better this year, the bill faces significant hurdles.

Due to the Kentucky constitution, the 2021 legislative session is shorter than the 2020 session, which means time is strictly limited, and in the area of betting, there is a more pressing matter for lawmakers to resolve. That centres on Historical Horse Racing (HHR) a form of betting that is a vital source of funds for the Kentucky horse racing sector. Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that HHR breached the state constitution, and addressing that issue is likely to take priority in 2021.

Sports Betting Green Light for Puerto Rico

Sports betting fans in Puerto Rico will soon be able to bet on their favourite sports thanks to the passing into law of a sports betting bill.

The former Governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vazquez Garced signed Senate Bill 1534, which paves the way for the launch of sports betting and esports in the country. The measure was among the final to be signed by the Governor before stepping down after 16 months in charge.

The bill effectively reforms the previous Gambling Law, with the stated goal of enabling new industries and businesses to create jobs in Puerto Rico. It is also hoped that sports betting will create new sources of revenue that will sustain government programs and essential services.

Speaking about the bill signing, Vazquez Garced said that he was pleased to be able to finally put his name to the legislation:

 “It’s a measure that paves the way for the esports and sports betting industries in Puerto Rico, and encourages businesses and jobs in this sector. With this amendment, we can complete and launch a new industry with the potential to create thousands of jobs.”

There will now follow a period of regulatory action, which will be overseen by the new government of Pedro Pierluisi ,who will be in charge of implementing the law and activating these industries.

Speaking to the local media, the Executive Director of the Gaming Commission, José Maymó Azize, said that the bill amended the law in some important areas that were in need of change.

Of these the most significant is the removal of the original proposal for players to be able to register online and in person. Under the new bill, each customer will initially have to register in person.

Speaking about the bill, the outgoing Executive Director said that the regulation process has been completed, but as that happened during the transition period, they had not yet been able to unveil it. He admitted that it had been a complicated process that had involved many obstacles, but that the regulations would serve to define sports betting and fantasy sport in Puerto Rico.

The Puerto Rico Gaming Commission has selected Gaming Laboratories International (GLI) to advise them on the regulation of esports operations on the island, drawing on the experiences of previous processes from other American jurisdictions. According to government estimates, esports could bring around $87 million in profits to the Puerto Rican government in the first five years of operations.

Crackdown on Gambling Advertising in Norway

The Norwegian gambling sector is set to face a significant crackdown in the New Year due to new guidelines that will severely restrict the sector’s ability to advertise.

From January 1, the Norwegian Media Authority will be able to stop TV advertising from overseas gambling companies, and from the same date, the Norwegian Ministry of Culture will also tighten the guidelines on advertising for the country’s legal operators Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto, which will limit their advertising to that considered necessary to channel consumers away from unlicensed overseas operators and towards the two state-owned bookmakers.

The new guidelines will include a reduction in the Norsk Tipping’s ability to promote the money they give to good causes in their marketing, and will add new requirements for responsible marketing, with all gambling advertising required to include contact information for gambling help services.

The launch of the Norwegian Media Authority’s new rules that will prevent gambling advertising on television and the tightening of the guidelines for Norsk Tipping is part of the government’s preventive work to tackle problem gambling. The rules follow in the wake of the University of Bergen’s recent study that showed an increase in gambling problems in the country between 2015 and 2019 and found that gambling advertising was a significant factor.

Speaking about the issue, Abid Raja, the Minister of Culture, said that gambling problems were increasing in the Norwegian population and that the government was working on solutions:

“The possibility of stopping TV advertising from foreign gambling companies is an important measure in the work of preventing gambling problems. With less gambling advertising on TV, we can also tighten the guidelines for Norsk Tipping’s marketing.”

At the start of the month, Norsk Tipping brought in a series of temporary measures that will run throughout December and January and that are designed to reduce customer spending and playing time. The operator cut the maximum monthly loss limit for all high-risk games and increased the break that all customers have to take after playing for an hour.

At the time of that announcement, the Chief Executive of Norsk Tipping, Asne Havnelid, said that they were aware that these were their busiest betting months and that the additional factor of the Covid-19 measures meant that vulnerable players were more at risk.

In addition to the new rules on advertising, the Norwegian government has announced that it will be adding significant extra investment to problem gambling research and treatment. The announcement of new funding followed a call from the Norwegian Industry Association for Online Gaming (NBO) in October suggesting that there should be a rethink on the rules relating to the gambling sector as a response to new proposals for gambling legislation.

The NBO say that the bill, which would unify the various existing gambling Acts, while underlining the monopoly status of Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto, offered poor standards of customer protection and value. NBO has advocated for a licensing model that would allow private operators to provide betting services, paying a tax rate of 15%.

Gambling Ban Hits Slovakian Capital

Betting operators and customers in the Slovakian capital city of Bratislava face an uncertain future after local politicians moved to ban gambling in the city.

City councillors reportedly voted to ban gambling last week, following the receipt of an anti-gambling petition. The ban on gambling is due to come into effect on 1 January, next year. According to the local newspaper, the Slovak Spectator, all but one of the council’s 40 members in favour of the gambling ban whilst the remaining councillor chose to abstain.

Bratislava may not be the last authority in Slovakia to go down this road. Other cities are said to be considering similar legislative changes, and there have been sporadic recent attempts to bring in a gambling ban. The city of Nitra has been pushing for such a ban since 2019, although those efforts have so far been unable to produce any concrete legislation.

Three years ago, there was an effective national ban on gambling in the country. This ran from May 2017 to December 2018, but it ultimately collapsed due to a legal challenge. The Regional Prosecution Services declared that the law was not in compliance with Slovakian law, and this opinion was backed up by the Bratislava Regional Court.

The new law will not mean that Bratislava’s casinos and gambling venues will face immediate closure. Instead, the new rules allow existing gaming licenses to expire. Most of these are due to run out in 2023 and 2024. Matus Vallo, the Mayor of Bratislava, has said that he is hopeful that the new law will bring significant positive changes to the capital, but gambling venue and casino operators have said that they do not believe the legislation will have any effect. One casino operator, Robert Vystavil, was quoted in a local newspaper arguing that the current rules are adequate, and that by bringing in complete bans, nothing will be solved. He also alleged that the government was doing little to tackle the problem of illegal gambling in Slovakia.

Gambling has a long history in Slovakia. Horse racing was a popular vehicle for gambling during the 19th century, while a local land-based casino industry began to emerge in the early 1990s. The gambling industry also generates significant revenue for a number of authorities in the country, including in Bratislava. According to official figures, by the end of last year, the city had 89 gambling venues, with six casinos and two bingo halls. Data on revenue showed that they earned €2.76 million.

The gambling sector in the country is officially overseen by the Interior Ministry, but individual cities have the powers to introduce regulations in this area.

Leading Conservative Calls for UKGC Scrapping

The UK gambling regulator, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has come under fire this week from a senior politician as the UK government gets its long awaited review of the 2005 Gambling Act underway. Leading Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith has repeated his call for the government to scrap the UKGC altogether as part of a major shakeup of the sector.

Writing the widely read news source Politics Home, Duncan Smith said that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Gambling Related Harm, on which he serves, had been the only committee to keep up the pressure on the government to go through with its review of the gambling sector in the country, which he was happy to see:

“We have been calling for reform of our gambling laws for many years, and so I very much welcome the launch of the long-awaited gambling review published this week.”

Duncan Smith, who is a former leader of the Conservative Party said that APPG’s volume of first-hand accounts of how gambling addiction can ruin young peoples’ lives should form part of the DCMS inquiry. And, focusing on gambling’s current regulatory structures, he criticised the UKGC, accusing them of inaction, claiming that while the industry and its profits had grown exponentially, they had gained most of their money from those customers who were most addicted. According to Duncan Smith, around 60% of profits came from just 5 percent of UK gamblers.

The criticism is in the same vein as his comments at the start of the year, when he criticised the UKGC for its decision to consult with GVC Holdings on how the industry could develop new rules that applied to the treatment of high value customers.

Duncan Smith reiterated his belief that not only should the government review the UKGC, but should get rid of it altogether and set up a regulatory body that monitors the industry independently. Although all UK operators have agreed to restructure and audit their VIPs programmes, Duncan Smith says that all VIP customer schemes should be banned completely as he believes it represents a pernicious aspect of gambling that pushes players into high debt levels.

Concluding his comments, Duncan Smith told ministers that they had a duty not to hold back from undertaking radical reform that was needed to prevent gambling addiction from becoming our number one public health crisis. He urged the government to be clear, saying that industry needed a reset and should be made to understand its responsibilities.

Gambling Firms Warned in Sweden

Gambling operators in Sweden’s regulated market have been warned about their responsibilities to provide fair conditions for their customers.

The Swedish consumer affairs regulator, Konsumentverket, has put out a public warning to all licensed online gambling operators after a recent review. The agency claimed that it had found what it described as ‘numerous shortcomings’ having undertaken a full review of terms and conditions across the sector, through analysing 13 operators who were picked at random.  

The operators that were reviewed by Konsumentverket included AG Communications, Blue Star Planet, Ellmount Gaming, Genesis Global, MOA Gaming Sweden, Smarkets, Svenska Spel, Interwetten and Zecure Gaming.

In discussing their findings, Konsumentverket said that it had discovered significant failings in operators’ websites that were related to a range of issues, including withdrawal restrictions, ID and verification rules, unclear promotions, liability disclaimers and inconsistent terms of play. The agency discovered that in total, eleven firms had applied what they described as ‘contract terms’ on customer registration but had not disclosed in full what documentation those same customers are required to provide in order to be fully verified.

The agency also found that four operators referred to terms used by foreign regulators that related to the website’s conditions of play and customer care duties. Three companies also said that a foreign court would take the lead on adjudicating any player disputes. Finally, the agency said that they were concerned over six firms who had applied contract terms that effectively limited the consumers right to take out money from their accounts.

In response to the findings, Konsumentverket has demanded that all operators immediately examine and take steps to update their terms and conditions. The agency has also sent the findings of its results to the Swedish Gambling Inspectorate, Spelinspektionen and to the national gambling trade association, Branschforeningen for Onlinespel (BOS). The agency has also indicated that it would be revisiting the issue in future to monitor progress:

“The Swedish Consumer Agency intends to follow up the current review to see how the gaming companies have taken into account the assessments made in the current memorandum. Such a follow-up may take place in the form of individual supervisory matters.”

GamCare Announces New Problem Gambling Research

UK based gambling charity GamCare has announced a major new initiative to dig deeper into the issue of problem gambling among UK gamblers.

The charity is set to look into potential indicators of vulnerability in an attempt to provide more insight into the issue. GamCare will be working with City University and business consultants Ignition House in a bid to understand online gambling behaviour more clearly.

The project will set out to identify potential indicators of vulnerability by setting up an initial small qualitative study made up of 20 participants, all of whom have gambled online at some point during the last six months. This study is then set to be followed by a larger quantitative survey that will attempt to develop a broader picture of the  problem gambling situation in the UK.

In announcing the research in a statement, GamCare emphasised that it will be extremely valuable and has the potential to have a positive impact on the wider gambling community:

“This research aims to make online gambling significantly safer, with the vision of developing knowledge and interventions that protect gamblers by moving them away from harm and towards protection in digital gambling environments.”

For the first part of the research, GamCare are currently looking for participants. This will involve a one-hour, one-to-one interview, conducted by a researcher through a phone or video call in early 2021. Participants will be asked details about their experiences, their habits, behaviours and their feelings about gambling online. Participation will be open to people who have gambled during the last six months.

The new research is the latest initiative in a series of developments this autumn. Back in September,  GamCare launched what it described as a ‘toolkit’ for UK financial institutions, gambling businesses and debt advice agencies that was aimed at giving those working in the finance and debt advice sectors the tools they needed to identify and then support customers who are experiencing gambling-related harms.

UK gambling has been under particular scrutiny in recent months, following a number of relatively high profile episodes that have brought negative publicity to the industry. As a result, the UK regulator, the UK Gambling Commission, has been stepping up its enforcement actions, and many leading gambling operators have been publicly committing themselves to responsible gambling initiatives and policies.

Golden Nugget Gets West Virginia Foothold

The gambling market in West Virginia is set to have a new player with the news that Golden Nugget Online Gaming will soon be active in the state.

The online betting operator is building on agreements that were signed last week to enter the Illinois betting market by setting out its plans for operational expansion within West Virginia. The move into the West Virginia market has been made possible through an agreement with the Greenbrier Hotel Corporation that will give the company market access to the Mountain state.

Speaking about the partnership, the President of Golden Nugget, Thomas Winter, said that they were excited to enter this partnership with Greenbrier, which will enable them to bring their award-winning online gaming products to customers in West Virginia.

The development will mean that the company has a presence in the online casino market across four states, including New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The agreement with Greenbrier gives the Golden Nugget the right to provide mobile sports and online casino betting through The Greenbrier’s licenses, although final confirmation of the arrangement will be subject to the company obtaining regulatory approvals. As part of the deal, the Golden Nugget will pay The Greenbrier a percentage share of its online net gaming revenue, which will be subject to minimum royalty payments over the term of the arrangement.

Addressing the new opportunities in the state, the CEO of Golden Nugget, Tilman J Fertitta, said that it was an important milestone for the company in its ongoing expansion. The deal has also been welcomed by the President of the Greenbrier, Dr Jill Justice:

“The Greenbrier is excited about this new partnership and adding to the incredible casino offerings already in place for our guests, members and friends throughout West Virginia. Golden Nugget has proven itself as a market leader in the industry, and we’re confident it will deliver a product that matches the lofty standard that defines America’s Resort.”

The latest deal comes just a few days after the company announced a pair of new agreements with Danville Development and Wilmot Gaming Illinois. The deal with Danville Development will give Golden Nugget access to the Illinois market when online casino gaming is permitted. Illinois is one of the fastest growing betting markets in the US, ranking fourth in terms of gaming revenue, thanks to the legalisation of sports betting in the state earlier this year.

Huge Interest in Virginia Sports Betting Licences

Sports betting continues to expand in the United States and the latest news from the state of Virginia underlines how competitive the growing market has become.

According to local news reports, the Virginia Lottery Board has revealed that it has received 25 applications for new mobile betting licences in the state.

The Lottery Board has not revealed the names of the 25 applicants, although they have confirmed that these applications were all received between October 15 and October 31. According to the bill passed by the Virginia legislature earlier this year, the state Lottery is required to issue a minimum of four licences and a maximum of twelve, although the cap on the number of licences does not apply to selected major league sports franchises based at any facility in the state.

The cap will include other applications, including those from casino gaming partners operating in the cities of Danville, Norfolk, Bristol and Portsmouth.

The Lottery have stated that they will consider a range of factor when reviewing the applications, including the applicants’ past experience and success with sports betting in the US, along with their previous efforts to solicit minority investors and the estimated number of new jobs and tax revenue they expect to generate through operating in Virginia.

Speaking about the application process, the Executive Director at the Virginia Lottery, Kevin Hall, said that it showed that the regulations developed in Virginia are attractive:

“The high level of interest by national and international sports betting operators validates Virginia’s efforts to strike an appropriate and responsible balance in its regulatory program for legalized sports betting. We are confident that the deliberative review process we are undergoing now will result in a successful program that protects consumers, athletes, and taxpayers.”

The application process got underway last month after the Lottery agreed to the rules that will govern the new market in September. Along with the minimum and maximum license requirements, other measures that will apply include a $50,000 for securing a license, while any approved operators will be required to pay a 15% tax levied against adjusted sports betting gross revenue.

In addition, all licensed operators will be required to use proven geo-location and identity verification technology to confirm that their online customers are aged 21 or over and that they are physically located in the state of Virginia: two essential requirements of the new betting market.