VIP Programs Under Scrutiny in UK

UK gambling operators are likely to face increasing scrutiny over their use of VIP programs, according to reports in the UK media.

On Friday, the Guardian newspaper reported that the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) is looking into the possibility of outlawing VIP schemes following the findings of a new report.

The news comes at the same time as the new UK government is planning a review of the existing UK gambling legislation. And it provides serious concerns for those firms who rely on reward and VIP programmes, which provide free bets, perks and other promotions for regular customers.

Reports suggest that the UKGC has found that VIP status was a major factor in 70% of the regulatory fines handed out for breaches of problem gambling rules. The Guardian also suggests that those customers who earn VIP status are more likely than not to be problem gamblers.

The UKGC has not provided any firm statement on the issue, but it admitted that it was looking into addressing bad practice in this area of gambling operations:

“Operators must improve their interaction with VIPs and we have challenged the industry to make faster progress to improve how they manage their customers. We have also taken robust action against operators who fail to protect consumers and we will be even tougher if behaviour does not change.”

According to reports, nine betting companies were involved in providing information for the UKGC report, including some of the most high-profile operators in the UK.

In response, the chairperson of the Betting and Gaming Council, Brigid Simmons, said that the industry was aware of the need to improve their practices around VIP programmes. She added that they would soon be releasing a new code of conduct and would be working to ensure that they prioritised the wellbeing of their customers.

Swiss Regulator Names Illegal Sites

The fight against illegal gambling in Switzerland escalated this week as the country’s regulator went public with a list of illegal operators.

The Swiss Lottery and Betting Board (Comlot) has released details of its first ever ‘blacklist’ of overseas gambling sites. The release followed significant changes to the regulations governing online gambling. So far, more than 60 overseas sites have been made off limits to Swiss gamblers thanks to action by Comlot and authorities in the country.

In June 2019, voters opted for a significant overhaul of the country’s gambling regime, despite criticism from some groups that the changes amounted to government censorship. The new rules came into effect from the start of the new year, but Comlot had already started taking blocking action against illegal sites as early as August last year.

According to the new rules, customers in Switzerland are only permitted to use sites that pay tax in the country and that have demonstrated that they take sufficient measures to protect their players and target problem gambling while offering sufficient customer protection.

Companies that end up on the block list will be blocked automatically by service providers. Only sites that can be accessed from Switzerland will have their sites blocked. But the rules also allow for firms that pull out of the Switzerland market voluntarily to do so without being blocked.  

Following the introduction of the new regulations, any Switzerland based gamblers who are owed money by overseas sites will have to seek their money back directly from the sites in questions. Swiss regulators say they will have no authority over foreign operators.

Some analysts estimate that as much as $252 million in annual wagers goes to overseas companies targeting the Swiss market, many of them based in Gibraltar or Malta.

Microgaming Expands in Portugal

Leading game development group Microgaming has confirmed its latest expansion into the Portuguese market, thanks to a deal with a local operator.

Microgaming’s arrangement is with ESC Online, part of the Estoril Sol Digital group. The deal adds to the firm’s recent round of expansions, which has seen it enter both the Czech and Swedish markets in 2019. Speaking about the deal, the chief operating officer for Microgaming, Andrew Clucas, said that they were pleased to be able to serve a new base of customers:

“We are delighted to extend our offering into the regulated market of Portugal. ESC Online is one of the country’s leading gaming brands, and we are thrilled to provide them with some of the most engaging and successful titles in the industry.”

ESC Online, which is the first online casino operator to earn a license to provide a betting platform to Portuguese players, offers a variety of online gaming content, including blackjack, roulette and slots, basing its brand on providing the same range of games you can find in a land-based casino.

The result of its integration with Microgaming’s online platform means that ESC Online can offer its players a new range of casino titles from the Microgaming roster. And more games are due to be added to the available list in future.

The deal with ESC Online isn’t the first to involve Microgaming in recent weeks. Earlier during December, they announced that they had struck a content agreement with online casino site MrQ, which is owned by the UK operator Lindar media. MrQ had also signed a deal with Pariplay to use their Fusion gaming platform, which has also bolstered its original bingo gaming product.

Greek Government Casino Threat

The Greek casino industry is facing a serious threat following new demands from the national government, it emerged last week.

The government has demanded overdue social security money from the land-based casino sector, which it says amounts to nearly €100 million.

Last week, the Greek media revealed that the Single Social Security Entity (EFKA) had issued letters to local casino companies, stating that they were responsible for overdue payments that were worth  millions of euros for social security. It was also reported that EFKA has given the operators in question until the end of the month to meet their obligations.

If they don’t comply with the EFKA instruction, the government could impose a two-month suspension of operating licenses. Beyond that, they can also permanently revoke a casino’s licence. Licences for gambling operators in Greece are overseen by the Hellenic Gambling Commission.

Outstanding Debt

The largest share of outstanding debt is believed to be owned by the Club Hotel Casino Loutraki, at roughly €18 million. Two years ago, the venue suffered a shutdown after it was alleged that the operator had not paid tax on its revenue. The casino subsequently argued that the government in fact owed it money, an issue that is still being appealed by the government.

It has also been reported that casinos located in Corfu, Thrace and Rio, which are owned by Konstantinos Piladakis, are also on the list, although three other casinos, based in Thessaloniki, Florina and Parnitha, are not believed to be under threat.

The latest round of acrimony between the government and the gambling industry is another illustration of the animosity that exists between the two groups. Efforts to launch an integrated gambling resort near Athens have also stalled and the government has failed to push through with an overdue reform of the country’s online gambling laws.

British Columbia Concludes Video Game Gambling Study

The Canadian state of British Columbia has just finished a twelve month assessment carried out with more than 150 video gamers in order to explore the link between gaming and gambling addiction.

The study reflects increasing concern among betting regulators over the way that video-game developers and their gambling-product counterparts are swapping features, leading to what has been described as the ‘gamification’ of the gambling industry and the ‘gamblification’ of video games.

The study ran between October, 2018, and November, 2019. It is set to be used by regulators as a resource for analysing risk factors as well as for making recommendations in the area of counselling support for all video gamers. Results are expected to be released in 2020.

Speaking about the study, the head of Gambling Policy for British Columbia, David Horricks, said that the 165 people involved were seen by counsellors, and that overall the study shows the need for more scrutiny of what is a new and growing problem:

“This whole industry is new, and people are just starting to understand the implications of the merging of these industries. We’re at the very front of this.”

Politicians and concerned groups around the world have raised concerns about some video games, asking for some games or practices to be officially labelled as gambling. The practice of offering so-called ‘loot boxes’ to players during video game play has been widely criticised and, in some jurisdictions,, action has been taken to classify this as gambling.

According to Mr Horricks, his department is likely to come up with recommendations on the value of offering counselling for those found to exhibiting signs of problem. But he ruled out making recommendations on the possibility of regulating games, expressing the view that this was a bigger subject and required more in-depth study.

IBIA to Share Data with MGA

The fight against sports corruption has seen a number of bodies and stakeholders forming new links and the latest example has been unveiled this week.

The International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) will now be sharing important data with the Sports Integrity Unit, which is part of the Malta Gaming Authority’s push to promote sports integrity. The Unit, which was set up this summer, aims to target match and spot fixing in sport.

The two bodies have signed an official Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which is the first time that the Unit and a major betting monitoring organisation have struck a deal.

Speaking about the partnership, the CEO at the IBIA, Khalid Ali, said that they would be offering the services of their sports betting monitoring set up that includes some of the global betting industry’s biggest operators, to help spot suspicious betting patterns. He also praised the MGA for their commitment to the cause of tackling sports corruption:

“The creation of the Sports Integrity Unit and its focus on tackling match-fixing is a very welcome move, which is why I am delighted to have reached this agreement with the MGA that will allow us to work collaboratively on integrity.”

The MGA Sports Integrity Officer, Antonio Zerafa, also commented on the deal. He said that the MGA had the fight against sports match fixing at the heart of its operations, and that success depended on working with other bodies, including betting operators.

The deal comes at the same time that the IBIA has officially praised the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for the steps it has taken to tackle tennis corruption. The IBIA played a role in drawing up recommendations produced by the tennis Independent Review Panel this year.

Spain Classify Gambling Addiction as a Mental Health Issue

The Spanish betting regulator Dirección General de Ordenación del Juego (DGOJ) has issued a new update for its Responsible Gaming Program. And according to their findings problem gambling will now be considered to be a mental disorder.

The change was approved by the Responsible Gaming Advisory Council (CAJR), and the associated measures are set to be rolled out during the next few months while the DGOJ pushes ahead with its campaign to promote safe gambling in the Spanish betting sector.

The first of the measures covers gambling addiction reclassification. The DGOJ and CAJR are planning to bring together a number of variables that will help the identification of problem gambling on the part of an individual. The DGOJ hope that this information will support wider4 decision-making as well as guiding policy in this sector and help to tackle other issues including the impact on Spanish society of problem gambling.

At the same time, the DGOJ is planning an in-depth examination of the existing General Registry of Access to Game Interdictions (RGIAJ), which is the main self-exclusion scheme in Spain. They will be looking for ways to improve the effectiveness of the scheme through operational or other changes.

In a statement commenting on the changes, the DGOJ said that it was important to examine the RGIAJ for any potential improvements, even though it was functioning well:

“Although the evaluation of the operation and results of the RGIAJ is highly satisfactory it is necessary to reflect on those aspects that require adaptations and improvements.”

They are also planning to set up what they described as an alert system that would be able to identify possible ID fraud at the point at which a player signs up to a Spanish operator.

New CEO for SK365

Italy-focused betting operator SKS365 has strengthened its leadership with a new appointment. The firm have made Alexander Martin, formerly of the German Gauselman Group their new CEO. At the same time, Andrew McIver, who was previously the CEO at Sportingbet has been named as the non-executive chairman at SK365.

Martin worked at Gauselman for four years, where he held roles as the company’s chief media officer as well as a place on the executive board. Prior to that, he had been working as a management consultant consultancy firm A.T Kearney.

Speaking about the appointment, the board at SKS365 said that they were delighted to have Martin on board and that he would have the task of taking the company forward to its next stage:

“His expertise in retail, online, global strategy and leadership combined with his strong industry knowledge and energy, make him ideally suited to further accelerate SKS365’s growth.”

Martin said that he was proud and honoured at becoming the first permanent CEO for SK365 since the last CEO, Ian McLoughlin had stepped aside back in January. He added that he was delighted to have the chance to use his experience to help the company expand and that the firm would be working to improve the customer experience and product to bolster their market position.

McIver, meanwhile, comes to SK365 after a stint at Jackpotjoy, which is now known as Gamesys Group. Before that, he had spent seven years in charge at Sportingbet.

The company commented that McIver was a well-regarded figure in the business world, and that his experience of leadership within the betting industry, he would be able to offer support to the management team as they tried to continue the company’s growth.

SKS365 is well placed to grow in the Italian market through its PlanetWin365 brand. According to October figures, it took 5.7% of all online casino revenue in the country, as well as 11.9% for combined online and retail sportsbook revenue.

EGBA Reveals Euro Market Growth

The online betting market in the European sector appears to be growing quickly, according to figures released by a leading gaming industry body.

The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) has published new figures, which show that the online sector in Europe has grown by 11%. The figures also show that the UK leads the way when it comes to online betting, with a healthy 32.4% slice of the total market.

The data was released through a partnership between the EGBA and H2 Gambling Capital and it shows that revenue for the sector grew from €20 million in 2017 to €22.2 million.

Speaking about the figures, the secretary general at the EGBA, Maarten Haijer, said that it showed that there was a huge demand for online gaming, but also warned of the need for improvement when it came to the uniformity of regulatory standards across Europe:

“But its increased popularity reinforces the need for more consistent and strong consumer protections and industry standards across all EU countries. The current situation of diverging and sometimes conflicting regulations in EU countries is detrimental to consumers, authorities and operators alike.

EGBA speaks on behalf of a number of Europe’s leading betting operators, including Betsson Group, Bet365, GVC Holdings PLC, MRG and the ZEAL Network. In total, the EGBA members hold 121 licences to offer betting services in 20 different EU countries.

The figures also showed that online gambling is a growing factor as a percentage of the total European gambling market. It accounts for 23.2% of the EU betting market. And there has been huge growth in the popularity of mobile betting, with 43% of online wagers made using phones, a rise of 39% on the same figure for 2017.

Legal Success for Videoslots

Online gaming firm Videoslots has secured a notable legal success in Sweden, becoming the latest company to successfully fight for a full-period licence to operate in the Swedish market.

Videoslots applied for a full five-year licence. But the Swedish regulator Spelinspektionen initially granted them only a two year licence.

That decision, which has now been overturned by a court in Sweden, was made due to previous disciplinary action taken against Videoslots by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC).

That related to a November 2018 case, in which the UKGC uncovered failings in the firm’s anti money laundering policies and in its procedures related to social responsibility. A settlement of £1 million was reached in that case, with the money going towards a project to help tackled problem gambling.

The Swedish regulator had ruled that this was enough to deny the company the full five-year licence, but on Monday the Administrative Court disagreed.

In its appeal, the company had pointed to the fact that the UKGC had reported that they had cooperated fully with the UKGC investigation, had shown insight into the failings identified and had taken quick action to tackle the problems that came to light. They argued in the court, that the UKGC decision should not have been a factor in deciding on their Swedish licence application. They also pointed out that Spelinspektionen gave five year licences to a number of other firms who had been similarly fined in other jurisdictions. These include Casino Cosmopol, which was awarded a five-year licence despite its parent company Svenska Spel being punished for procedural failings.

In this instance, the court sided with Videoslots. They ruled that the Videoslots licence should be extended until the end of 2023.