Martin Lycka – Regulatory high temperatures cancel industry’s ‘silly season’

Martin Lycka
Martin Lycka – GVC Holdings

Facing key regulatory showdowns across the European markets of Spain, Sweden, Germany and the UK, Martin Lycka GVC Holdings Director of Regulatory Affairs tells industry leadership to buckle down for the stresses of a working summer… 

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COVID-19 has upended everything. Even the regulatory silly season is now at risk of being cancelled; that eagerly awaited period of slow news during the dog days of summer. Time of respite, perhaps even reflection, for many regulatory (and of course other) professionals who would normally wake up to football transfer news, as opposed to the latest on reverse withdrawals and advertising bans. Not this year …

First came the big shutdown: betting shops, brick and mortar casinos, most sports themselves, have all ground to a halt. King Poker and Queen Roulette, with their cousin the Duke of E-Sports by their side, have taken up the reins of the gambling world. Customer gambling patterns have shifted; product offerings have been adjusted; additional addiction prevention measures introduced.

The regulatory world has not stood still. Temporary licence suspensions, COVID motivated advertising restrictions, as well as more stringent limits, have all found their way into the mosaic of legislative changes that have befallen the gambling industry. The UK had a go; France had a go; the US, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Lithuania; examples abound. The industry has taken the new rules on board and in many instances has even gone above and beyond. Customer safety first, as it absolutely should be.

The big question is what will happen next as the regulatory train rolls into the first summer of “new normality”. No stopping, no lull; that much is clear. How about the rest of it? Perhaps not as clear as one would have hoped. Regulatory rules kept being forged, reshaped and tweaked. Political calendars are in constant flux; parliamentary machines churn out one policy idea after another; budgets need mending. The fact that there now seems to be more light at the end of the COVID tunnel does not automatically mean that all the virus necessitated rules would be forgotten; actually quite the contrary. It would appear a whole lot of them are here to stay …

Spain is the country that readily springs to mind in this respect. At the peak of the COVID crisis, the government ordered licensed operators to pull their promotions and adverts and limit communications with their customers to service messages. The restrictions were subsequently lifted upon return of La Liga, only to have been proposed to at least partially come back in the latest iteration of the future Spanish gambling advertising decree. No welcome bonuses, no shirt sponsorships and TV watersheds feature amongst the proposals … is this COVID motivated necessity? Populism? The new normal? Black market operators’ wet dream?

Sweden is another epitome of the post-COVID regulatory trend – new rules, allegedly designed to stem a tide of anxiety triggered gambling harm, have been put in place. They include draconian restrictions on the value of bonuses as well as additional limits for online casino play. The rules are set to expire at the end of 2020. Yet, the gut feeling is that there is a chance they may stick around for longer, which could result in a fatal blow to the already problem-stricken Swedish market.

Looking across the pond, a flurry of regulatory activity has engulfed the nascent US sports betting market. Illinois cancels the in-person registration requirement for sports betting only to reintroduce it a couple of weeks later. Massachusetts’ House of Representatives is all in on sports betting but the Senate puts a dampener on that enthusiasm. New York keeps pondering whether a constitutional amendment is required in relation to mobile wagering. California dithers; Nevada cuts down RG budgets; the debate about cashless payments rambles on. However, with over 20 regulated states on the books and many more poised to take the plunge, the US sports betting trend is irreversible and provides for an ever-growing opportunity.

Last but most definitely not least, the two previously somewhat slumbering giants have awoken with a roar: The United Kingdom of Great Britain (for gambling regulatory purposes less Northern Ireland) and the Federal Republic of Germany (regulating gambling has actually turned out to be one of the biggest and most draining tests of that federalism). The UK is in the run-up to reviewing the 2005 Gambling Act; Germany is edging ever closer to introducing new regulation of all online gambling product verticals.

Gambling Related Harm APPG, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee and the House of Lords Selected Committee, together with the Gambling Commission, are the movers and shakers at the UK end. The governments of the 16 German states together with the civil servants assembled in the German Gambling Council, or Gluecksspielkollegium, if you will, are the runners and riders in Germany.

On the UK’s menu: high rollers, affordability, online slots games design, reverse withdrawals. On the German “Speisekarte”: State Treaty, sports betting licensing, potentially a casino tolerance policy … no, there will be no silly season this summer and no quiet autumn either. Strap yourselves in, gambling regulation fans, and get ready for a hell of a ride.

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Martin Lycka –  GVC Holdings Director of Regulatory Affairs 

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