October 29, 2019
This week has already seen further regulatory pressure on the European industry.
In Belgium the First Division Club KAA Gent offered the operator Napoleon Games a promo/sponsorship opportunity whereby Napoleon offered the public the chance to play a round of the ‘FIFA’ video game with one of the Gent players. The condition of entry was a €1 bet on the Napeleon website. The subsequent public dialogue in Belgium around this promo seems to have followed the same path as it usually does in the UK. The Belgian regulator took action on various grounds (such as the absence of responsible gambling messaging and the fact that gambling advertising must be confined to the operator’s website or else personalised) and work has commenced in Belgium on what seems like a helpful clarification of the relevant regulations. However the episode also triggered political calls for a complete advertising ban, Italy-style, as well as reiteration of the unjust view that the conjunction of gambling and football is inherently appealing to children. The episode underlines how gambling advertising now has the massive potential to backfire spectacularly, not just on the individual operator doing the advertising but on the industry as a whole. It is in the area of advertising and promotion that the industry shows itself off to the public and where omissions, slip-ups and errors of judgment risk triggering yet further vociferous hostility from the now-numerous political voices right across Europe who would like to see advertising, if not gambling itself, entirely forbidden. The current situation is dangerous to the industry because we have reached the point where anti-gambling arguments don’t need to be based on any evidence or even make much argumentative sense in order to be taken seriously by politicians and the public. In Belgium, one of the objections to the Napoleon promo was that persons who might sign up with Napoleon as a result of the promo might subsequently contemplate further gambling on the Napoleon website…but isn’t that what the ‘advertising’ of any product is supposed to achieve? It is absolutely paramount that major, high-visibility campaigns are nowadays not only legalled, cleared and signed-off at a high level within the business but that marketing teams realise that they can’t have the usual wrestling match with the killjoy compliance function. Campaigns have to be conservative and responsible in design right from the outset.
Perhaps more encouraging are developments in Greece and Finland. Greece has finally rolled out its not-terribly-attractive-looking licensing regime as the long-awaited replacement for the interim ‘transitional’ system that has been in place since 2011. We have no word whether the proposed 35% rate of duty will be implemented: it is difficult to see a Government in the fiscal position of the Greek Government doing any favours to online gambling. The incumbent 24 operators might consider themselves better off with the interim system. Finland is looking again at its Veikkaus monopoly and the good news seems to be that the relevant report gave a favourable mention to the regimes of Denmark and Sweden. It would be good to see one of the last monopolies finally fall. That said, the Swedish regulator is once again flexing its muscles, this time in connection with the overlap between video games and gambling. The so-called ‘loot boxes’ have been in the regulatory gunsights in Sweden for some time and the potential exists for Sweden to go the same way as the Netherlands on these features, particularly as the supposedly intangible ‘closed loop’ benefits of so many video games have a real value to so many players. The Swedes have been considering ‘loot boxes’ since launching an official investigation back in the Spring. As our good friend Ola Wiklund states in the press, the political need to be seen to be ‘clamping down’ may well end up overriding the legal subtleties (the more faithful and longer-serving readers of the Wiggin gambling blog will remember the puzzlement caused when the relevant British minister announced the 2014 British ‘point-of-consumption’ legislation (where everyone got a nice new licence) as a ‘clampdown’).
As 2019 comes towards a close, the priority for the industry remains to find a strong, cohesive public voice pointing to the jobs, technology, media spend that the industry contributes to the EU economy as well as to the enormous strides in social responsibility that have been made in the last few years.