The two themes that stood out most at last week’s SBC Summit Barcelona were player protection and regulatory compliance.
While the Player Protection Symposium took up the least physical space, the themes contained within it were to be found across every stage. From Emerging Tech, Blockchain and Metaverse to iGaming and Casino, compliance and player protection were the threads that ran through every panel session.
However, there was one notably absent update on regulation. A few months ago, we would have assumed that the UK’s Gambling Review White Paper would be ready for in-depth debate in Barcelona. Instead, it seems to have been shelved by the UK’s new government under Prime Minister Liz Truss.
The Guardian hinted recently that the gambling reform bill has been axed completely, along with a raft of other legislation from the UK’s previous administration. This is despite the fact that the gambling review started way back in late 2020 and had been due to publish its reportedly completed White Paper in July.
There is a distinct sense that the UK’s regulatory regime has fallen from its once-revered position as a beacon of best practice to a more muddied and confusing framework.
From the debacle over fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in 2018 to the Gambling Commission’s (GC) handling of the collapse of Football Index last year, and now the drifting Gambling Review, the wheels do seem to have somewhat fallen off the UK’s regulatory system.
The regulatory regimes most appreciated by operators, unsurprisingly, are those that communicate clearly, if falling short of cooperating, with the industry. They take into account learnings from the past and the best efforts of licensed entities to date; they also listen, with some caution, to the warnings over channelisation.
The approach of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario was held up as an example of one such cooperative regulator in a Thursday afternoon panel discussion at the Barcelona Summit.
The rather well-lubricated panel may have been less enthusiastic had they not been scheduled to speak after a boozy lunch, but it was still clear to see that the approach of the Canadian regulator had enabled those represented to enter the newly licensed market with a full sense of the viability of their businesses there and the regulatory expectations levied upon them.
“The Ontario regulator, the whole setup, they’ve been incredibly open to discussing and consulting with the industry. Sadly, it is not always the case. And it’s a testament to their hard work, in fact, that in the first quarter, they brought in some 30 sites, and 17 operators, and maybe more are coming”, said Entain SVP American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling Martin Lycka.
By contrast, “The UK Re-Wired – UK Gambling Act 2005 under the Spotlight” session was distinctly more downbeat, with UK-licensed operators all but pleading for clarity over what is now expected of them after a two-year review amounted to no solid new recommendations.
Several thematic benchmarks have leaked from reporting of the review over the last couple of years, affordability measures and work to develop the single-customer view being a couple of them.
It’s clear that licensees have taken steps to pre-empt these being part of the picture going forward. Entain Head of Safer Gambling and External Affairs Sophie Platts described a project in which the operator is piloting technology aimed at creating a single-customer view, while others grapple with how to measure affordability and its true relationship to harm.
However, there is no clarification from the either the government or the GC as to the measures by which they will judge this or even how it’s defined. It was unequivocal on the “UK Re-Wired” panel that clarity was needed.
It was also clear that access to robust customer data would make installing protections much easier and more reliable. At present, data-protection rules inhibit the level of data that can be collected, while asking customers to supply data themselves has been proven not to work. As such, being sure what individual punters can or can’t afford is very difficult.
“Giving us more access to that data to be able to allow us to blend some of the really good behavioural risk profiling that we’re able to do already with some rich data in terms of finance, that’s the key”, said Kindred UK Head of Corporate Affairs Tom Banks. “When we’ve only got a little bit of the financial picture in terms of some of that data, it’s difficult for us not to create those friction points in the journey.”
And it’s those friction points that risk driving players away, to unlicensed platforms where there is no requirement to provide such data.
As the industry evolves, those alternatives are becoming more diverse. Consumers no longer have a choice between, simply, a licensed or unlicensed sportsbook. There are now crypto and metaverse casinos and the alternatives are growing rapidly outside of the long-established regulatory regimes of Europe.
It is these evolving technologies that any review of regulation should have been taking into account, but to date, recognition of the myriad changes to the industry since 2005 remain elusive.