Tottenham Report: Has the UK lost pace with modern gaming?

February 12, 2024 11:00 PM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports
February 12, 2024 11:00 PM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports

Once again, the entire industry converged on London last week for ICE, described by this year’s conference compere, Financial Times journalist Nadine Dereza, as “The Davos of Gaming”. It’s a worthy comparison, but I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s flattering. 

Full disclosure: I didn’t manage to attend the whole show. For the first time in seven years, the February viral load took me down and I was bedridden by 5 p.m. on the first day. However, I did limp through a few of the most interesting conference sessions and came away with the distinct sense that the light has dimmed considerably on UK gaming. 

Perhaps the biggest clue to this is that ICE itself will move to Barcelona next year. But even the Gambling Commission’s (GC) executive director Tim Miller remarked on the inevitably diminishing relevance of its role as a regulator, as larger regulated markets flourish in the Americas and beyond. 

“Britain has been the largest online-gaming market in the world and as a regulator, that has meant that we are often seen as the primary regulator for many of those companies”, he told Dereza. “Candidly, that will change as more and more states in North America come online, particularly if you start getting some of the really big states bringing online gambling in.  

“We will be seen as a relatively small regulator in the grand scheme of things. So ensuring that we have strong partnerships with regulators in those really big jurisdictions will ensure that we continue to be seen as an authoritative voice.” 

He was talking more broadly about cooperation with regulators in other jurisdictions, a theme that also came up in several sessions that day. Shared best practice in regulation does seem to be an ongoing trend, although the degree to which regulation should be universally applied is still up for debate. 

Miller was firmly of the opinion that regulation should be tailored to the jurisdiction it’s being applied to, with the exception of more generic issues, such as controlling the black market. 

However, that afternoon, Chairman and CEO of Olympic Entertainment Group and OlyBet Group Corey Plummer took to the ICC stage in a thought-provoking fireside chat. Plummer said he expected to see greater commonality between regulatory regimes going forward. 

“Every single country (doesn’t need to have) a completely different licencing framework. You can have a different tax structure, but there’s no reason not to have a common licencing framework. And what’s legitimate as an operator should be the same regionally, whether it’s western Europe or Baltimore.” 

It’s an interesting argument, although the practicalities of such an arrangement are very hard to imagine. It would make life considerably easier for licensed operators if they had a single set of rules to which to adhere across the globe but in reality, due to the differing political, cultural, and socio-economic environments, such a plan would probably be doomed to failure. His message was perhaps less that operators should all be regulated the same way across the globe and more that not all global regulators should be deemed equal. A separate problem. 

That said, where is the UK left amid the growing relevance of new and rapidly evolving jurisdictions and their respective regulators? Is it on a path to obscurity, as the white paper continues to slowly trundle out incremental changes to a woefully out-of-date regulatory regime? 

Miller was right to say that the UK had a lot to learn from the U.S. As the latter gradually introduces igaming, its approaches to regulating online activity are happening in real time, unlike in the UK, which had to catch up.  

The UK’s plan to pilot financial-risk checks could be a determining factor in its future relevance. If a workable system can be devised, this could be a game changer in player protection, but if it fails, it will look like a foolhardy attempt to achieve what critics have long said can’t be done.  

Back at the fireside chat, Plummer was describing the difference between building an omnichannel offer in Europe and trying to do the same in the UK. “In my business, we have much higher crossover between land-based and digital than what you would see here in the UK by a factor of five or six”, he said. 

Why? In his opinion, there is a lack of entertainment-focused land-based venues, aside from London’s Hippodrome. Britain is still a land of bingo halls and small casinos, which have an appeal to a certain demographic, but not one that will take gaming into the future. 

“If you want to survive, you need to speak to different segments that have been less represented in our industry. You need to speak to females in a different way. A lot of casinos are male oriented, not just in terms of the people in there, but the design and the product offer”, he said. 

“People under the age of 30 are looking for more experiences than just watching a ball drop in the wheel or pressing the button. So if that’s all you offer, you’ll consistently get the customers that are used to that, which means they’re older and they won’t be here as regular customers much longer”. 

Room, then, for the UK to revive its industry on all fronts? Perhaps when the dust from the white paper settles, this could be a moment for that evolution to begin…  after a trip to Barcelona. Viva Great Britain!