September Column | Above The Game

Column by Ismail Vali, Chief Product & Marketing Officer for A GAME ABOVE

A new hope

Many hopes and aims are covered by the phrase “responsible gaming”. Since the first legislation and regulation regime to cover the development of iGaming – the UK’s now much-maligned 2005 Gambling Act – we have moved, globally, towards increasingly local markets, with myriad conditions that encompass a broad spectrum of meaning for “responsible gaming”.


Reactions to responsible gaming (RG) are different according to where a stakeholder sits on the betting and gaming spectrum.


For many operators, RG measures can be hard to adjust to, require vetting, adaptation, compliance and may tend to slow growth.


For media, government and regulator, RG measures are simply part of the controls required across a business built on risk which must offer, operate and oversee consumption of its products in the most palatable and protective ways possible. Yield from taxation is the next most important goal for government and regulator, to raise money for good causes and public spending. This must be balanced, sustainably, in line with growth from an onshore gambling industry, operating responsibly under license, and able to produce predictable profits from a contained commercial marketplace which they paid to enter.


The audience and customers still largely lack awareness as to why the industry is licensed, what licensing means and what it does for them. Unsurprisingly, they are confused concerning RG and, in some cases, react to regulated market adaptation across their hobbies of betting and gaming by seeking out the “gambling they knew and loved”, featuring “easy” account opening, many funding methods, unchanged products, no KYC, no deposit limits or other checks designed to safeguard society and protect players, but which some have perceived as “spoiling” their enjoyment. For some consumers, the unaltered, unchanged, “original” type of gambling is still available from one source: the black market.


If RG is to unarguably be considered:

  • a standard practice and a routine cost of doing business, on top of the license fee, compliance, payment of tax and good causes funding

  • an effective customer-focused set of meaningful protection measures in any regulated market

Then the sustainability of that market needs to be considered, coldly and commercially, in light of the unchecked and now growing presence and pervasiveness of the illicit and irresponsible black market across every local market, the world over.


The phantom menace

To be clear, regulation is not the problem. It’s a necessary, inevitable part of the evolution of the industry following the inception of online gaming in the late 1990s. That there are many localised systems and no single standard for regulation is challenging for global brands, increasingly publicly traded and with investors demanding predictable growth. That does not mean it cannot be adjusted to, for the benefit of all stakeholders including operators, so long as any system of regulation makes sense of competing aims and balances them according to what government and regulator require most: player protection and taxation yield.

Where regulation requires particular care to avoid any negative consequence, is when top-down measures placed upon industry and suppliers are rushed through, often in response to political and media pressures, without fully considering the potential to fuel a phantom menace across the market opportunity, market responsibility and market growth. The black market will react and adapt, moving like smoke, to every new measure and censure placed upon the legal, licensed business, particularly those that directly impact the customer experience since, to gain and retain their revenue, the black market need only appeal to one factor: the customers.


Attack of the clones

Black market or regulated-market gambling is often indistinguishable to consumers since one iGaming site looks much the same as any other and features the same products, whether legal, licensed, regulated and responsible or not.


Consumers find and access online betting and gaming through habitual, casual method – the internet, search, social media, influencers and ads. On that journey, they will encounter offers from both licensed, regulated operators and illicit, black-market firms.


Telling consumers they must look for a Gambling Commission (UK), Spelinspektionen (SWE) or other regulatory “stamp” to verify if a site is legal and licensed before betting or playing, is unrealistic and unhelpful. Some black market sites will simply display regulator logos and marks as part of their business-as-usual approach to any marketplace. If they’re going to commit crimes like money laundering, taxation theft and bank fraud, they might as well commit some civil infractions like copyright theft and unauthorised logo usage, given the current likelihood for detection and conviction concerning all their offences and insults is, at best, low.


If the rise of fake news across social media platforms is any indication for the difficulties faced by consumers to determine what is and is not acceptable, reliable, and trustworthy fact-based information and content, we cannot seriously expect today’s audiences to adapt to using betting and gaming sites, apps and products like professionals using dangerous machinery. It’s clear from recent history that even the media – another of the betting & gaming stakeholders – find it impossible to divine between legal, licensed brands and illicit, unlawful brands. A recent public relations exercise by an unlicensed, offshore brand concerning Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls basketball team was carried by national news in the United States, across publications as prestigious as Forbes, Yahoo Sports and USA Today.


Responsible gaming includes player protection and social responsibility among its parts – if these are to be seriously and meaningfully applied, we need to have protective consideration for the marketplace first, and then for players, minors and those at risk of gambling-related harm, next and for the future. You cannot sincerely protect players until you protect the marketplace itself.


That means dealing with the black market problem now, and one step at a time, with an effective system and practices put in place, until every marketplace can consider itself one step ahead of black-market threats to its tax revenue and player protection.



The force awakens

Working together, across betting and gaming industry stakeholders, regardless how opposed the views and perceptions might at first seem, is the only way to affect and protect the marketplace for a business that requires responsibility, and which can then offer its consumers the same, across their experience.


To date, there has been no effective solution to bring all stakeholders together to allow for objective, rational debate and dialogue across the issues that matter most for government and regulator: player protection and tax yield.


I feel privileged to be a member of the advisory team for Yield Sec: a technical and advisory solution to aid regulators and government in the monitoring, policing and enforcing of the licensed marketplace for betting and gaming, and the removal of black-market influence and instability.


One of the features of the Yield Sec platform is to engage all stakeholders in a quarterly, local summit – the Yield Sec Regulatory Roundtable – to share learnings and ensure inputs are reviewed, objectively, alongside data and real-time market analysis. The focus here is not upon whether or not one likes the business of betting & gaming. The point is to focus upon acting as a virtual task force to make the business of betting & gaming work effectively for society, players and stakeholders, and to the fundamental benefit of player protection and taxation.


Without the clear protection of a solution like Yield Sec to contain the marketplace, in both commercial and consumer behaviour terms, we will not align the will of politics and law to control the offering and availability of betting & gaming with the duty to ensure only licensed, regulated operators may offer the same, subject as they are to oversight, compliance and financial censure for failure.


The easy availability of irresponsible and unwelcome, unlicensed black-market sites must be removed from the regulated marketplace to effect truly meaningful and sincere player protection, backed by predictable tax yield and sustainable growth. A focus upon the customer experience, in line with clear, effective player protection principles that work uniformly across operators, is essential for the future of the regulated market, where consumers understand, increasingly, how the black market abused and manipulated them. If we need to resort to educating consumers in from the shadows, due to attractive, believable misinformation from the black market, then we will have failed in the promise of our ability to work together, holistically, for the benefit of the public, the public purse and a sustainable, responsible future.


You can learn more about protecting the licensed marketplace for betting and gaming at YieldSec.com

Ismail Vali is Chief Product & Marketing Officer for A GAME ABOVE, the customer experience solutions agency, and a Special Advisor for Yield Sec, the first effective tool to help regulators and government to monitor, police and enforce the licensed, regulated marketplace for betting and gaming, by removing black-market influence and instability.


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yieldsec.com

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