Martin Lycka – Torn souls of the great regulatory game

Martin Lycka
Martin Lycka – GVC Holdings

GVC Holdings’ Director of Regulatory Affairs Martin Lycka offers an insight into the lives of the gambling industry’s regulatory experts. 

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Hic sunt leones’ –  here are lions, is a phrase used in times gone by to denote unknown territories on maps. At the time of its first visionaries, there would have been no easier task than drawing a regulatory map of the online gambling world – pick a ‘lion’ and draw it real big. Fast forward twenty years and behold: the lion inhabited territory is shrinking further and further at a rather dramatic pace. 

The erosion process started in parts of Europe and Australia many moons ago and is now being exported to the other parts of the world; even the American lion that appeared supreme a mere couple of years ago is being dislodged from its stomping grounds and replaced by regulation. 

Ukraine and Panama have recently joined the fray; plans to do the same are afoot in Bolivia and Brazil. Kenya and RSA have been leading the regulatory charge in Africa. The map has changed from a sketch of the king of the jungle to a Gibraltar/Malta centric place and recently, and probably for good, to a colourful tapestry of domestic regulations. 

No, do not expect harmonisation on the EU level in Europe, likely with the notable exception of standardisation of at least some gambling-related technical standards. Do not expect federal legislation in the United States, with the Wire Act largely being a blast from the past; let alone Mercosur stepping in and mandating what online gambling regulation is meant to look like in South America. The national regulatory bastions are here to stay and with them the seemingly limitless variety of the rather devilishly detailed sets of requirements for market entries and subsequent long term compliance. 

The phrases ‘same, but different’ and ‘wheel reinvention’ readily spring to mind – the regulation redrawing exercises in the individual jurisdictions have been by and large designed to address the same issue, namely to create a regulatory framework for the previously unregulated phenomenon of online gambling.

Although the triggers for the regulatory process might be multifarious – for example, change in government policy, need to protect consumers from the social ills of gambling, litigation, budgetary considerations – the individual topic areas to tackle sound by now only too familiar: product scope, server location, channelisation, blocking tools, tax rates… 

Nevertheless, be it owing to cultural or ideological idiosyncrasies, third party pressure or external circumstances, such as COVID or credit crunches, the “different” (or at least slightly different) usually prevails over the “same” and the wheel continues being reinvented. Well, it keeps us entertained. Or as a long term industry friend of mine usually puts it: “Be glad; the more complex and convoluted it gets the higher your job security.”

The other teams within the business might not be as entertained though; their mantra (actually everybody’s mantra) is clarity and certainty. Labelling, at least to the extent possible, is called for. Is Sweden like Denmark? Or is it stricter? How similar is Colombia to Spain? Could we recycle what we’ve already done elsewhere or would a blind shoehorning prove to be too inaccurate? And how would you categorise Germany? Do we even have the courage to try to categorise Germany? And how about Holland? 

The great regulatory game has evolved from lion doodling into grandmaster-level chess play where every turn and every permutation counts. Putting a foot wrong maybe the checkmate. Bill Belichick-like anticipation, if not the proverbial crystal ball, is needed to dodge the next curveball and skip over the next pitfall.

At times we can be like torn souls, walking the tightrope of borderline lunacy in utter disbelief at some regulatory decisions lurching from to plan B, then plan C, then plan D and beyond. 

And yet… who would not want to play? Who is prepared to quit and move on to another sector when there is still so much to play for? 

So, my dear regulatory friends, stay entertained but vigilant, control the regulation and save the industry (as well as your own sanity).

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Martin Lycka –  GVC Holdings Director of Regulatory Affairs 

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