More Time for Pokies Consultation

The government of New South Wales has extended the consultation period on proposed regulations in the gaming machine sector.

The consultation period, which was originally due to end on October 30, will instead run to December 11. The time will also be used by the government and regulatory authorities to work with pubs and clubs who will be effective, in order to ensure proposed that the proposed measures, particularly those concerning enhanced self-exclusion and player monitoring are effective.

The Minister for Customer Service in NSW, Victor Dominello, set out the reasons for the extension, explaining that since the first draft of the Gaming Machines Amendment (Gambling Harm Minimisation) Bill 2020 was made available in September, there had been widespread interest in the potential reforms.

Dominello added that although there was wide agreement about the main objectives of the Bill, the extended consultation would enable more discussions with affected venues on how they can ensure that the measures set out in the legislation are effective.

The Bill proposes that venues will be legally obliged to actively identify and to assist any players who are showing signs of problem gambling, an obligation that will include the presence of a trained member of staff on hand to monitor all a venue’s gambling devices and activity. 

The other proposals include an enhanced, state-wide self-exclusion system, which will enable players to block their access to all gambling venues using an online portal. This scheme would also enable involuntary self-exclusion, through which family members could apply to ban an individual from all venues that hosted gaming machines. Those venues will also be required to provide statements with detailed activity logs on request, and to remove all cash dispensers. Any venue that failed to comply with the rules would face high penalties.

Speaking about the extension of the consultation, Dominello said that it would give the government more time to ensure that the rules are effective when introduced:

“The extension of public consultation provides a further opportunity for us to work with pubs and clubs and other stakeholders to find solutions, potentially using technology to meet this objective. I am hopeful that we can find an industry-led solution that takes into account the different size, scale and risk profile of the 3,000 pubs and clubs across our state.”

Blow to Gambling Sector in Wales

In another blow to the UK gambling industry, gambling venues in Wales will now be closed for two weeks after the Welsh government announced a new lockdown.

On Monday, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, confirmed that the country would enter a two week ‘time limited firebreak’ which begins on Friday October 23. In all, the measures will last for 17 days, and will replicated the lockdown restrictions introduced in March, with the result that all 366 betting shops in the country will close.

According to the terms of the lockdown, all non-essential retail, leisure and hospitality businesses, including pubs, casinos, betting shops and restaurants, will be closed while all workers will be encouraged to work from home where this is possible. In addition, household mixing will also be banned, and secondary schools will only be open to pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 after half-term.

In its response to the new measures in Wales, industry body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) repeated its position that the government should provide necessary support for the sector. In a Tweet, the BGC outlined the extent of those businesses hit by the new lockdown:

“Following @MarkDrakeford’s announcement of a 17-day #COVID19 lockdown in Wales, the BGC is urging the Government to come up with the necessary package of financial support for businesses affected, including 366 betting shops and three casinos employing 2,000 people between them.”

In announcing the new measures, Drakeford said that there would be a £300 million economic resilience fund to help businesses during the lockdown period. As a result, every business covered by the small business rate relief will be eligible to receive a £1,000 payment. Beyond this, all small and medium-sized retail, leisure and hospitality businesses could receive £5,000 payments.

But the news is a further blow for an already beleaguered sector. Last week, betting shops and casinos in the Lancashire and Merseyside regions were forced to close their doors when those areas were categorised as Tier 3 of England’s new lockdown system.

While the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has categorised non-essential retail as a low impact factor in the spread of coronavirus, the closure of betting shops and other gambling venues as a result of the new regulations will cause a big impact on the Wales and UK gambling sector, and could have knock-on effects on the racing industry.

In the last week, 100 betting shops in Lancashire and 350 in Merseyside, along with six casinos, have all closed to business. Meanwhile, discussions between the national government and Greater Manchester have hit stalemate after city leaders called for more financial support for those businesses that are forced to close and for workers who will be furloughed.

The BGC had backed calls by the wider leisure and hospitality industry for the UK government to produce a package of measures to help businesses through the remainder of the autumn and the winter. But the government has so far not moved on its decision to provide 67% furlough pay, which leaders in the north have said would not be enough and would decimate the leisure and hospitality sectors. If similar measures are brought in to cover Manchester, as many as 400 betting shops could be closed, potentially putting at risk as much as £54 million in tax revenue and £12.5 million to the racing industry in levy and broadcast rights.

Australian Gambling Sector Criticises Report

Australian gambling sector body Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA) has publicly criticised new research produced by the government-funded Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC).

Earlier this autumn, the AGRC released a study on gambling in the country during the coronavirus pandemic. The study was based on a survey of 2,019 gamblers and it concluded that almost one in three of those surveyed had signed up for a new online betting account during the pandemic. The survey also found that people gambled more in general during the pandemic, with the proportion who gambled four times per week rising from 23% to 32%.

The report further claimed that 79% of respondents could be classified as being at risk of, or already experiencing, gambling-related harm, suggesting a problem gambling risk rate ten times greater than the prevalence across the national population, and five times the usual rate among Australian gamblers based on another AGRC report from 2015.

The participants for the survey were drawn from those who answered social media advertisements or e-news alerts and all of those who took part were entered into a draw for a AUS$200 voucher.

In response, the Chief Executive of Responsible Wagering Australia, Brent Jackson, said the results of the report should be questionable enough to raise doubts over how it was conducted. Jackson said that the use of a pool of research subjects in which almost 80% were at-risk individuals could not provide an accurate picture of gambling behaviour in Australia and that the results would be inevitably skewed. He added that there was an inherent bias in the study, which had led to alarmist headlines.

Jackson also criticised the use of evidence drawn from ten interviews with anonymous individuals who worked in the gambling sector, which indicated that most thought the closure of betting retail venues was a beneficial move, with one saying that they wished the venues would remain shut:

“It’s deeply concerning that government-funded research draws on the opinions of ten anonymous individuals whose list of reforms literally involve ‘wishing’ for things to happen. A wish list is not a solid foundation for public policy, and it’s disappointing that such a skewed research design, supported by the opinions and wishes of ten anonymous individuals is being put forward as serious policy evidence.”

Jackson added that while it was important to recognise and combat any increases in gambling-related harm, the extent of the harm should be measured through responsibly collected studies and should be tackled using policies and measures based on strong evidence.

This is the second time in recent months that the RWA has spoken out against studies that it feels are sensationalist in their picture of Australian gambling habits. Back in June, RWA said that historical consumer credit data was being employed to suggest there had been a spike in gambling during the pandemic. Multiple Australia media outlets relied on this evidence to report increases in problem gambling during the lockdown. The RWA in response said that there had simply been a shift from retail venues to online gambling, a trend that had been replicated in other economic sectors.  

Norwegian Gambling Sector Hits Out at New Rules

Norsk Bransjeforening for Onlinespill (NBO), which represents Norway’s online gambling firms, has called for the government to rethink proposed rules for the country’s gambling sector.

The NBO have issued their official response to the proposals for the unification of the existing Lottery Act, Gambling Act and Totalisator Act, which would also maintain Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto’s monopolies in the market, claiming that the plans would result in poor standards of protection and value for customers who bet online.

In its submission as part of the consultation for the new proposals, the NBO said that only around 50% of Norwegian gamblers are using licensed operators, which has played a part in the number of problem gambling cases doubling in the three years after 2013.

NBO has advocated a form of licensing for private online gambling companies, and a tax rate of 15% which they saw would encourage most Norwegian gamblers to use regulated sites and would also generate substantial extra tax revenues. Their position is that licences should be available to companies which can show they meet a variety of criteria particularly related to responsible gaming, while they also support the introduction of a self-exclusion tool for all operators. In addition, NBO say that all firms should be able to identify the source of customer funds.

Speaking about their proposals, the Secretary General of the NBO, Carl Fredrik Stenstrom, said that such measures would produce a stronger and safer gambling sector:

“Through such a re-regulated licensing model, the Norwegian authorities will ensure a much higher degree of channelling for gambling in Norway. This in turn will provide far better protection for vulnerable players and generate increased government revenue.”

The NBO pointed to the apparent successes in neighbouring Denmark and Sweden after both countries opened their gambling markets to private operators.

The organisation has also criticised the ban on television adverts featuring overseas gambling operators, which they say simply leads to adverts being placed on digital channels which offer less oversight. They claim that the marketing spend in Sweden actually decreased since the country introduced its open market for gambling firms.

The consultation process for the new Gambling Act launched in June, and the draft of the proposals was sent to the European Commission in August. The new law would subject the monopoly gambling operators to strict public control and a range of responsible gambling measures. At the same time, the current ban on payment transfer for deposits or winnings associated with gambling offered by unlicensed operators will remain in place.

New VIP Rules for UK Gambling Operators

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) is continuing to push for new standards in the UK regulated gambling sector, and its latest move sees the Commission focusing on VIP policies.

The rules will require licensees to carry out enhanced affordability and responsible gambling checks, with the warning that the use of loyalty schemes may be banned if operators don’t comply.

Under the newly announced rules, operators will have to establish that spending on the part of any customer is both affordable and sustainable and will also have to carry out a check on a customer’s source of funds. Past gambling behaviour will also need to be checked for evidence of gambling related harm before any customers can be considered a VIP.

This will mean operators having up-to-date evidence of the player’s identity, their current occupation, and an indication of where the money used in their gambling comes from. These checks, together with gambling harm assessments are to be carried out regularly on VIPs.

Speaking about the new rules, the Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, Neil McArthur, said that the future of VIP schemes was in the balance and that if there was no sign of significant improvement in this area, they would have to take the step of banning such schemes.

The new rules are set to take effect from October 31 and follow a consultation carried out on the issue of high-value customers. According to the UKGC, respondents in its consultation generally agreed that the additional checks were necessary.

Some respondents pointed out that additional funds check for all VIPs would exceed the Betting and Gaming Council’s (BGC) voluntary code, as it would require checks on a significant number customers who were below the anti-money laundering threshold. But the UKGC argued that these checks were still necessary as customers are likely to be incentivised to spend more when they become VIPs.

The UKGC have also made it clear that each source of funds check has to be supported by evidence provided by the individual, and cannot be based on data such as property values or other open-source information. The rules will also require operators to take what the UKGC describes as ‘significant steps’ to confirm that a player has not previously self-excluded. The Commission noted that some had concerns this rule would dissuade some potential problem gamblers from taking the step of self-exclusion, it emphasised that there was no outright ban on self-excluders.

In addition, operators will have to ensure greater oversight of VIP schemes. This includes the maintenance of a full trail of information, covering all stages of the relationship with the customer, while one specific individual should be in charge of the scheme’s compliance. The rules also call for supervising managers to be rotated so that objectivity is retained.

To support staff in managing VIP programs, the UKGC rules call for VIP managers to be given greater training, both on safer gambling and anti-money laundering issues, along with job descriptions that reflect the nature of their compliance duties. In addition, such staff should not be given

Bonuses or remuneration that is based on a customer’s losses or overall spend. They also emphasise that incentives in any VIP scheme should not encourage customers to undertake significant risk behaviours, such as spending excessive time on gambling or chasing losses.

The UKGC rules will be in addition to the existing BGC voluntary code, which already restrict VIP schemes to those who are aged 25 or over. In its rules, the Commission said that they recognised that those customers aged 18 to 24 are more likely than other age groups to be problem gamblers and so urged operators to take extra care with younger VIP customers.

Addressing the reasons for the new rules, McArthur said that they came about in response to an awareness of VIP abuses and failures on the part of industry incumbents:

“Our enforcement work has identified too many cases of misconduct in the management of VIP schemes and this is the last chance for operators to show they can operate such schemes appropriately.”

He went on to note that there had been some improvements, undertaken by companies themselves, and that the number of customers who had signed up to VIP schemes over the last year had dropped by 70%. But although he said that this was a positive, the new rules would help to ensure that there is continuing progress to help vulnerable customers.

A significant number of the new rules came out of a working group that was set up at the start of the year, led by major gambling firm GVC, and have already been incorporated into their industry code by the BGC.

That working group was itself a response to pressure on the industry from politicians and media outlets. VIP schemes have become controversial after a series of investigations, both by the UKGC and the media, found that operators were failing in their responsibilities to some VIP customers.

For instance, the House of Lords’ gambling select committee, which looked into regulatory changes, found that data from nine betting companies showed that while only 2% of customers were considered VIPs, they accounted for 83% of all deposits. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling-Related Harm has also called for these schemes to be banned completely.

As well as pursuing changes to the way that VIP schemes are administered, UKGC have also called for comments on plans to revamp game design, which has become another area of concern in recent months. Last week, the BGC said that its members would limit the spin speed on slot machines to 2.5 seconds per spin, and would ban both turbo play, which allows customers to play games faster, and multi-slot play, which involve playing on more than one slot game at a time.

Despite these announcements however, the UKGC have said that there was more to be done in this area and have proposed the banning of the Auto Spin feature among other changes.

Downing Street to Take Lead on Gambling Reform

Reports in the UK media suggest that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his close advisors will take the lead on the upcoming review into the gambling industry.

The news is apparently in response to a growing mood for reform of the gambling sector among the upper echelons of the government. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is expected to launch the long-awaited review later this autumn but according to sources in the government, Boris Johnson and his closest advisers were taking the lead.

According to reporting by the UK newspaper, the Guardian, Johnson’s closest adviser Dominic Cummings and Munira Mirza have taken a personal interest in a push to overhaul the 2005 Gambling Act. This law, introduced under Tony Blair, liberalised regulation of the gambling sector, leaving the UK with some of the world’s most relaxed gambling laws.

It is understood that leading figures in the government are pushing for a wide-ranging review that could include the rolling back of large sections of the 2005 act, including potential new curbs on advertising. Some advocates of reform are reportedly also concerned that the DCMS is conflicted over advertising due to the financial contributions to sports teams and broadcasters made by the gambling sector. While the Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston is believed to be in favour of a wide review, Lady Barran, who serves as a minister at the DCMS, last week said that the link between problem gambling and advertising was not clear.

One significant development in recent months has been the emergence of cross-party support for gambling reform, which has coalesced around the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Harm which is led by Labour MP Carolyn Harris, but also includes former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Ronnie Cowan of the SNP. This cross-party agreement also extends to the Lords where a new group called Peers for Gambling Reform was launched this week.

The group is chaired by Lord Foster of Bath and is pushing for new measures including affordability checks on gamblers as well as a duty of care on the part of gambling companies to prevent harm, which could lead to legal consequences if they don’t protect the vulnerable. The Lords are also pushing for limits on stakes, a reduction in online casino game speed and a new testing regime that will more effectively measure the risks of new gambling products.

Speaking about the need for reform, Lord Foster said that a third of a million UK citizens were classed as problem gamblers and that online gambling companies had increased profits and put more lives at risk during the pandemic. He also described the existing legislative framework as ‘wholly outdated’.

In response, the gambling industry has also been attempting to influence the process. The Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council is former Labour MP Michael Dugher, whose close political friend, former Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson, has recently joined the online gambling giant Flutter Entertainment as an adviser. Watson had previously been known as a stringent opponent of many gambling industry practices and played a leading role in the campaign to reduce the maximum stakes of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2.

New Jersey Betting Industry Sets Record

The betting sector in the US state of New Jersey is continuing to flourish despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and August saw the state set a new national record for single sports betting.

According to figures from the Division of Gaming Enforcement the state produced a legal sports betting handle of $668 million during the month. This figure is over twice the $315 million that was placed in bets in the state during July 2020, and surpasses the previous single-state record that stood at $614 million, set by Nevada during November 2019. Gross revenue from sports wagering in August reached $39.5 million, representing the third best total ever.

The record figure appears to be the result of a busy month of sports, that including a full Major League Baseball schedule, and a packed calendar of events in the NBA and NHL. All three professional leagues had previously seen their fixture lists disrupted by the pandemic.

As well as being at the forefront of the sports betting revolution in the US, New Jersey was also a leading force in the push for legal mobile sports betting, and this platform has come into its own at a time when many customers are reluctant to visit physical betting locations.

The figures show that over 90% of the state’s sports wagering handle came from mobile betting during August. Another factor in New Jersey’s favour is the relatively slow progress of neighbouring New York state, where sports betting is currently limited to land based casinos in the north of the state, making it more convenient for sports betting fans in the New York City area to bet with New Jersey betting firms.

And the signs are that September could rival August when it comes to sports betting take, thanks to the start of the new NFL season, as the NFL remains a key betting medium for punters. September will also see a number of days in which all four of the major US leagues have games on the same day, which has historically been a rare event. While the pandemic and associated lockdown has proven to be a challenge for the US betting sector, New Jersey, which was one of the first states to legalise and introduce regulated sports wagering, back in the summer of 2018, has been in a stronger position than most other regions.

In fact, the good results from August are the latest stage in an ongoing battle between Nevada and New Jersey, in which the eastern state, which benefits from its proximity to New York and high population density, is increasingly dominant. The leading betting companies in New Jersey, including well known firms DraftKings and FanDuel, have been advertising heavily throughout the state, and the return of sports action has led to an increasingly intense competition for business, which is good news for punters

La Liga Signs with M88

Following the news that European gambling giant Betway has extended its football sponsorship reach with a deal to sponsor Hertha Berlin, there has been another big football and gambling tie-up.

Top Spanish competition La Liga has struck a deal with the well known online gambling platform M88, recruiting the betting company to be its newest sponsor in the Asian region. The four-season deal will involve the betting brand sponsoring La Liga throughout Asia until the end of the 2023-24 season. M88 have been recruited in place of ManBetX, whose relationship with La Liga has ended.

According to the terms of the deal, M88 will promote exclusive digital content and competitions from La Liga across the Asian continent. One example of this promotional work is a planned weekly video series that features analysis from La Liga ambassadors, with the aim of increasing interest in the league in Asia. And through the competitions, fans in Asia will have the chance to win LaLiga merchandise, as well as match tickets and other La Liga experiences.

The previous ManBetX deal had kicked off at the beginning of the 2019-20 season and had been due to continue until the end of the 2020-21 campaign, but it has now been terminated early. That deal was believed to be worth up to $7 million per season.

La Liga has made the signing of regional sponsorship contracts a big part of its international growth strategy for four years. The deal with M88 follows on from their signing of a content and sponsorship agreement with sports streaming organisation Fanatiz in North America. They have also struck their first regional agreement in Argentina; a tie-up with oil lubricant company Total.

La Liga has also recently appointed the former senior global partnership director at Liverpool FC, Simon Li, to be its commercial director for Southeast Asia, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Li is one of five regional commercial heads working for La Liga, with others working to cover the US, Africa, India and Mexico.

Speaking to the media back in June, Fergus Geekie, who works as international commercial and marketing director for La Liga, explained the league’s aims:

 “It’s about communicating a central strategy from HQ and then sharing it out among the regional markets – them understanding what we’re driving. The markets can then work to develop and localise our strategy and drive commercial opportunities from there.”

But the deal also represents a significant vote of confidence in the online betting sector at a time when Spanish authorities are introducing new layers of regulation.

Google Hit by Italian Gambling Probe

Internet giant Google is set to come under investigation from the Italian Federal Communications and Advertising Authority (AGCOM) according to reports from Italy this week. The investigation will seek to determine whether Google has been in breach of the country’s online gambling ad ban.

The company’s subsidiary operators Google Ireland Limited, Google Inc and Google Italy are all set to come under the microscope, following evidence that adverts for foreign operators were appearing in Italian search results.

The Lega-5Star government in Italy has brought in a complete ban on all forms of marketing related to betting and gambling, including affliliate marketing, sponsorships and promotions. In response to the hardening stance of the Italian government, Google announced back in 2018 that it was intent on removing all gambling-related services and content from Italian search results.

At the time of the Decree’s introduction, Deputy Minister Luigi Di Maio was quoted as saying that the rules were to protect Italians from the potential harms associated with gambling, and that they were supported by all political groups and businesses.

The investigation by AGCOM will specifically be looking at whether the adverts are a breach of Article 9 in the country’s Dignity Decree. The ban on gambling marketing applies in cases where foreign gambling operators are placed at the top of a search through promotions.

The investigation marks an interesting departure for AGCOM. Much of their effort in enforcing the gambling ban so far has related to bonus offers, which the law regards as a type of advertising.

Many expected that AGCOM might not seek to take action against Google. But in pushing ahead with the investigation, it has shown a willingness to take on one of the world’s biggest online operators.

The development may also reflect some changes to the AGCOM leadership. Earlier this year, Giacomo Lasorella took over as the new President. He wasted no time in clarifying that he intended to take a tougher approach in ensuring that the gambling advertising laws are enforced. His appointment was also a clear message to senior executives, football clubs and others, who have spoken out against the gambling ban in recent months. Although many of these stakeholders have pushed hard for a review of the law, it seems that the government and AGCOM are instead doubling down.  

New Finland Gaming Venue Announced

Casino gaming fans in Finland will be able to enjoy a new gaming location from the end of 2021, after news that gaming operator Veikkaus hopes to complete its Uros Live Arena by December 2021.

The venue, which will be home to Veikkaus’s Casino Tampere operation is designed to be a pioneering entrant into the European gaming space, focusing on providing a new type of casino arena. It is expected to employ 80 staff members with recruitment due to start at the end of the year.

All of the staff at the venue are to be trained with extra focus on responsibility and personalisation, and all of the slots and table games at Casino Tampere will feature full authentication. An identical system, including self-control tools, will be trialled at Casino Helsinki next spring.

According to Sami Aiho, who is General Manager at Casino Tampere, the new casinos will lead the way on responsible gaming, by offering customers use of tools that they can use to manage their gaming by, including a ban on certain games or gaming limits.

At present, all customers who enter the Casino Helsinki venue are required to register themselves, but the new measures will mean that individuals must also always show their personal casino cards when they are playing slots or table games. The authentication system is different to Veikkaus’ other arcades and retail sales points, which are restricted to members of its customer loyalty programme.

In addition, customers can only belong to the loyalty programme if they are living permanently in Finland, so authentication, linked to a customer’s Veikkaus Card is compulsory.

Veikkaus has been proactive in pushing for greater responsibility in the gaming sector. Last week the operator called on Finland’s government to bring forward the launch date for a series of new measures supporting compulsory authentication in all gaming arcades. As it stands, mandatory ID checks at these venues are due to commence at the start of 2023, but Veikkaus say they  will bring in the new rules at their Pelaamo and Feel Vegas arcades before the end of next June.

According to Aiho, the new Casino Tampere operation will combine traditional Finnish elements and modern technology for a new type of gaming experience:

“The interior design of the casino will be a combination of Finnishness – wood and forest – with digital personalised experience surfaces. The special areas for lounge and social gaming will live to the pace of the events at the Uros Live Arena, offering new kinds of products and ways of responsible gaming. 

“Throughout the experience arena, you can also take part in real-time mobile games if you are a registered loyal customer of Veikkaus.”