The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has published new data on the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on gambling behaviour, revealing an overall decrease in active players accounts between April and May.
The latest data from the UKGC and YouGov COVID-19 Tracker reflects two months of full lockdown in April and May, and highlights an increase in sports betting, partly due to the return of top-flight football with the German Bundesliga resuming in May.
The YouGov online survey shows that the lockdown period did not attract many new customers to gambling, with only 0.4 per cent of adults surveyed stating that they had started gambling for the first time during the last four weeks.
This compares with 2.1 per cent of adults who stopped gambling altogether during this period. Neither of these figures are significantly different from the rates recorded in the early lockdown period.
Operator data on overall active player accounts indicates a 1.2 per cent decrease between April and May, with the number of active players down across each of the verticals, excluding sports betting, which increased by 13 per cent month-on-month.
According to the survey, gambling participation has remained relatively stable over the past four weeks, within a range of 28 to 32 per cent. Sports betting participation fell to 1 per cent in early May but had risen to 5 per cent by mid-June as a result of the return of more elite-level sport, including the Premier League. This offset a decline in virtual sports participation, which was down from 3 per cent at the start of the YouGov tracking to 1 per cent in the latest survey.
For the UK National Lottery, four-week participation in draw-based games fell from 26 per cent in mid-April to 22 per cent by mid-June, with lottery sales having now recovered and only slightly down on normal levels. The survey notes that this was also the result of a change in customer behaviour, with a significant move from retail to digital products.
There was a slight decrease in the proportion of active players who engaged in more than one gambling activity during May, down from 43 per cent to 40 per cent.
Only 1.6 per cent of respondents said they had gambled online on activities that they used to take part in on premises or in person. In addition, only 2 per cent of recent gamblers said they had signed up to one or more gambling websites during the period.
Online operator data shows that with the exception of sports betting, which rose 13 per cent from April to May, there has been a fall in the number of active players for each vertical. This includes a 5 per cent decline in slots, a 4 per cent drop in other gaming products (including casino), an 11 per cent decline in poker and a 48 per cent decrease in virtual sports.
Between April and May, gross gambling yield (GGY) increased across slots (9 per cent), other gaming (1 per cent) and sports betting (64 per cent), offsetting a 12 per cent decline in virtual sports and a 9 per cent drop in poker GGY.
“We have previously highlighted our concerns about slots, so will continue to monitor data about the risks they may pose to consumers during the lockdown period,” said the UKGC.
The YouGov survey also asked recent gamblers whether they had increased the time or money spent on individual gambling activities, with the majority (73 per cent) indicating that they had not done so.
Australia does not have one overarching statute or a single gambling authority that regulate gambling activities in Australia. Instead, gambling is regulated at state, territory and federal levels. Australia’s eight mainland territories and States regulate gambling activities separately within their respective jurisdictions. Moreover, there is a series of federal statutes that cover different aspects of gambling in Australia. The constitution in Australia grants the federal government the power to regulate and govern in the various states and territories. Such capabilities include enacting legislation to regulate interactive gambling, anti-money laundering, counter-terrorism financing, consumer and competition protection.
Reforms Under Consideration
Gambling reforms currently being considered at a federal government level include disruption measures, blocking of internet service providers and financial blocking. The implementation of any rules will be implemented progressively throughout states and territories in Australia. In January 2019, the federal government enacted legislation prohibiting corporate bookmakers from taking bets on the outcome of a lottery. In December 2019, state parliament in South Australia introduced legislation significantly reforming gambling regulations. Amendments planned for the regulations under the gambling acts include changes to the Advertising and Responsible Gambling Code of Practice, guidelines for a new gambling administration, and community impact assessment guidelines. Stakeholders are to be consulted regarding the proposed changes in late 2020 to commence the reforms as a finished package later in the year. In effect, state parliament already passed legislation in 2019 to significantly reform the regulation of gambling activities across South Australia.
The Gambling Administration Act 1995
The previous Gambling Administration Act of 1995 was repealed and replaced by a new administrative and regulatory framework under the new Act, the Gambling Administration Act of 2019. Regulations to support the new Gambling Act will be drafted shortly and is subject to a thorough analysis of the Advertising and Responsible Gambling Code of Practice. Prescription notices with Guidelines will be replaced. It deals with the implementation of online solutions to facilitate a multi-venue barring system with changes to the length of the barring period. The broad social responsibility requirements include all gambling licences issued by state or territory adopting stricter requirements concerning responsible gambling. Restrictions to gambling advertising include inducements to open a betting account, and some jurisdictions prohibit adverts encouraging gambling.
Proposed Amendments to Gambling Legislation at Federal Level
The Federal government has recently implemented amendments to the Interactive Gambling Act. Gambling advertising and odds promotion are to be restricted during live broadcasts and online streaming of sports events. There are more stringent restrictions in place between 5.00 am to 8.30 pm. In late 2018, all Australian state and territory gaming ministers came together to agree on a National Consumer Protection Framework for online betting. It is in the process of being progressively implemented. The primary objective is to have a nationally consistent approach to minimising potentially harmful measures. They include prohibiting inducements like first deposit bonuses offered to prospective customers to open an online betting account. There is a mandatory opt-out of pre-commitments and a self-exclusion national register.
Run Down of Gambling Regulatory Bodies in Australia
Let’s take a look at the relevant regulatory bodies in Australia with a brief description of how they operate and regulate gambling. Interactive online gambling is under the wing of ACMA. The body is responsible for regulating media and communications throughout Australia. That includes the monitoring and enforcement of gambling regulations. ACMA also monitors compliance and enforces online gambling conditions. Federal interactive gambling laws prohibit activities like online slots, instant lotteries, casinos and poker. It regulates all forms of online betting services that provide in-play betting on live sporting events.
Australian Communications and Media Authority
ACMA has the power to instigate civil proceedings, notify border protection agencies of directors and principals who operate illegal offshore betting sites. They may be placed on a movement alert list that disrupts travel to Australia. It also liaises with foreign agencies and regulators to stop the offenders.
Australian Transaction Report and Analysis Centre
The Australian Transaction Report and Analysis Centre is responsible for regulating money laundering activities and the finance of terrorism. The Anti-Money Laundering, Counter-Terrorism Financing Act of 2006 requires specific gambling activities classified as designated services to maintain a compliant program and report suspicious transactions. They include threshold transaction reports and suspicious matter reports. If an operator fails to comply with regulations and does not maintain a compliant program or file reports late, civil penalties are imposed, and criminal proceedings started.
Australian Consumer and Competition Commission
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission is responsible for enforcing Australian consumer protection laws under the Competition and Consumer Act of 2010. With regards to gambling, ACCC monitors compliance by providers or online gambling services and their obligations, including gambling advertising. It is empowered to take the appropriate enforcement action wherever it deems that necessary.
Regulatory Licences and Permits
Operators require a license to offer casino table games, slot machines, lotteries, keno and retail wagering. Permits are typically long-dated and granted by the relevant state or territory. Bookmakers providing sports betting and racing with fixed-odds as well as phone betting require a corporate bookmakers Licence. Australian corporate bookmakers are mostly licensed in the Northern Territories. Land-based casinos, gambling parlours, hotels and clubs require both a gaming venue and a permit for every gaming machine on the premises. Gambling machines in West Australia can only be offered at a casino, while bingo can be conducted for charitable fundraising purposes by a community or non-profit organisation.
Nevertheless, a state or territory license is required to operate bingo centres in relevant jurisdictions. Any kind is social gaming without cash prizes does not require a permit since it isn’t classified as gambling under federal, territory or state laws. Skill games without an element of chance are not considered gambling; therefore, no license is required. If operated online, skill games fall within the interactive gaming regimes that are regulated by each state and territory. Online gambling is growing at approximately 15% annually, registering the fastest growth in its sector and showing no signs of abating.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has agreed new gaming compacts that will see two additional casinos established in the state.
The latest compacts were signed Thursday with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) and Kialegee Tribal Town (KTT).
The signing of the new gaming compacts comes despite the ongoing legal challenge to the two compacts signed by Governor Stitt with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe earlier this year, which are said to be in breach of state law for authorizing sports betting and house-banked games.
The new compacts with UKB and KTT will see two new casinos established in Logan County and eastern Oklahoma County to offer gaming machines and non-house banked card and table games, with the contentious sports betting and house-banked games excluded from the definition of Covered Games.
However, the compacts allow the tribes offer new games under an amended compact, if and when such games are classified as Covered Games.
The new agreements also recognise the state’s right to offer iLottery games, subject to certain restrictions.
“By negotiating with each individual Oklahoma tribe, the State is seeking to level the playing field for all tribes and working to ensure that no one is held back by its size or resources from competing and pursuing economic growth for its citizens,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt.
“The Kialegee Tribal Town is pursuing a sound business plan for its first gaming location in Oklahoma with their compact commitment to partner with another Tribe on this venture. They have been good faith partners in this process, and the State looks forward to supporting their efforts to strengthen opportunities for KTT citizens, to expand economic development in the region, and to generate new revenue for Oklahoma’s public education system.”
UKB Chief Joe Bunch commented: “It is both an honor and privilege to be announcing the signing of this economic venture between the great State of Oklahoma and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.
“We thank Governor Kevin Stitt and his administration for this monumental day and for their leadership efforts in this compact. It is a grand day for Keetoowahs and Native American tribes all over the country. It is a day when one of their own partnered with Oklahoma in building a stronger economy through the avenues of retail, food and beverage, hotel, hospitality and casino operations, all by signing a Class III gaming compact with the state,” added Bunch.
“This compact also presents an opportunity for the UKB to move forward and begin increasing health, education and job opportunities for our tribal members and elders, as well as our surrounding communities. After all, we know if our communities are doing well, the state is also doing well. Thank you and God bless the UKB and the State of Oklahoma.”
Both compacts have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Interior for approval.
Belgium’s Commission des jeux de Hasard has added three more sites to its blacklist of illegal online gambling operators.
In the regulator’s first update since April of last year, three Curacao-licensed websites have been blacklisted; Asperino.com, Wildblaster.com and Madnix.com.
The blacklist now includes more than 170 domains which Belgian ISPs are required to prevent consumers from accessing.
Under Belgian law, customers of unlicensed online gaming sites may be liable to a fine of between €26 and €25,000, while unlicensed operators may be liable to a fine of between €100 and €100,000.
The gambling landscape has changed forever with social distancing becoming the norm. Land casinos across the world have implemented new regulations to limit the spread of the virus. Many states in the USA have already allowed land casinos to reopen under strict rules and other countries are likely to follow suit. On the other hand, a 20% surge in demand for online casinos was reported during the lockdown. Sports betting sites and online bookmakers diversified their betting products to include eSports, virtual sports betting and online casino games. Sports leagues have started to recommence the season. The German Bundesliga has already kicked off, and other European leagues are about to restart, albeit with empty stadiums until social distancing rules are relaxed. Nevertheless, once stadiums reopen, capacity is likely to be reduced. Post-COVID, demand for online casinos is set to remain buoyant. New customers gained during the pandemic will likely remain loyal, and at the very least, land casino converts will retain the online version as a back-up.
Caesars Implements Post-COVID Plans
Land casinos will need to adapt and change practices, and are already implementing drastic regulations that will change the previous norm. American brands like Caesars Entertainment Corp. recently revealed reopening plans for its 36 casinos and resorts operated across the USA. Other brands have implemented similar policies. The company is opening its multiple properties in phases in line with initial demand and capacity limitations. Caesars already announced it had drafted a comprehensive health and safety strategy to be implemented across all properties. That ensures the health and well-being of staff and team members, guests, and visitors. The health and safety program focuses on enhancing cleaning and sanitation practices in all public areas, guest rooms and gaming areas to help limit the spread of the pandemic. Employees will be obligated to wear a face mask and gloves. Customers will be encouraged to wear face masks, but not obliged. Moreover, Caesars will facilitate and promote social distancing practices across all its casinos by limiting seating at gaming tables and slot machines on casino floors.
Post-COVID Surge in Demand for Casinos
Land casinos have been closed for months with gambling centres like Las Vegas rendered ghost towns. Land casinos all over the world are focussing on implementing social distancing practices recommended by local state and health officials. Casino resorts in Las Vegas are offering substantially reduced room rates to encourage patrons back to Southern Nevada, while some are offering to pay for visitors’ air tickets. The Bellagio and New York-New York, both operated by MGM Resorts along with Caesars Palace, The Flamingo, and Harrah’s, operated by Caesars Entertainment have started accepting visitors. The Las Vegas Sands, The Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn and Encore also opened their doors to guests. Up and running Vegas casinos include Treasure Island, The Sahara and The Cosmopolitan.
Demand Picks Up
Despite reduced visitor volumes, land casinos are starting to reopen and already reporting better than expected bookings. Initial demand to visit the Las Vegas Strip has proven substantially stronger than initially anticipated. In Europe, betting shops and land casinos have started the arduous trek back to a semblance of normality, operations and financial viability. Some casinos began accepting guests in May while others won’t be accepting patrons until July. Enthusiasm in the casino industry as a whole has remained surprisingly robust. CEO of Eldorado injected optimism regarding a planned merger with Caesars Entertainment Corp despite the pandemic induced slump. The CEO of casino operator Eldorado’s, Tom Reeg still insists his company will close a $17.3 billion merger with Caesars Entertainment Corp. by the summer, as initially anticipated. Land casinos are gradually easing restrictions many businesses, including casinos, set to reopen—optimism in US states such as Nevada mirror the rest of the world.
The New Casino Normal
While online casinos have not been forced to modify their business models, nevertheless, competition is fierce. The pandemic has led to an expected increase in demand for online business, including online casinos. There are no social distancing rules for online casinos; however, competition has become even more fierce. The first and second-quarter earnings for the year have attracted even more competition. Online casinos need to improve their products to compete. Once the stringent coronavirus restrictions ultimately wind down, the global economy will pick up, and all types of gambling will thrive.
The Future to Come
The pandemic crisis has decimated economic growth and effected the jobs market and spending power. Online and land casinos are looking at a windfall and release of pent-up demand caused by lock-down restrictions. Social distancing protocols enforced in small crowds and the requirement of using face masks in public will likely remain in effect long after the pandemic. Land casinos, along with big and small businesses around the world, are actively implementing the post-lockdown as a new normal.
Online casinos and land-based operators are being forced to navigate in the near-term. Citizens are desperate to resume public life; however, without a vaccine on the immediate horizon, uncertainty in the industry will persist, albeit at a lesser extent. Cashless transactions, smaller office space, fewer on-site employees, cleaner hotels and less crowded casinos without buffets are post-lockdown realities. Changes to public life will be subtle, yet dramatic. There will be structural changes in the gambling industry and the economy. The pandemic has opened up new opportunities. The gambling industry as a whole has suffered less than other businesses. Bookmakers have survived the postponement of sports events, and land-based casinos and bookies rode out the storm. Economists are predicting that it will take up to two years to recoup lost growth in the first two quarters of the year. Hotels and land casinos have been haemorrhaging money and are desperate to return to normal. Whether patrons feel safe enough to return to public life in their droves is still an open question. The gambling industry is in the process of imagining a casino experience with social distancing. By and large, casino floors are vast and can accommodate many patrons nevertheless. Casinos will have to spread out slot machines, games and equipment. There will be more equipment and processes to sanitise and enforce social distancing regulations. Elegant open-air buffet dining and packed casino floors will be a thing of the past. With fewer games on casino floors to provide the spacing requirements, casinos are coming back with much more infrequent.
The organizers of October’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas are planning for the best and preparing for the worst amid the continuing uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
When asked if a physical event would take place this October, the AGA’s Senior Director of Events Meredith Pallante, on behalf of G2E, admitted: “G2E 2020 will not be the same event as year’s past.”
“If public health and local authorities permit the show to take place, the focus of G2E 2020 will be reuniting the gaming industry to demonstrate our resilience for a wide range of stakeholders, from policymakers and employees to regulators and purchasers.”
She said that her team is mapping out many scenarios, including offering virtual components for those unable to join in person. This, of course, could be everybody. So, a completely virtual G2E is still a possibility.
Pallante could not say how many exhibitors or attendees would be allowed if a physical event was to take place.
“All staff, customers, and vendors will be required to wear face coverings when unable to maintain at least six feet of distance between themselves and others,” she said. “We continue to monitor Nevada’s guidelines for reopening and will comply with additional guidance for conventions when available.”
Other measures are likely to include additional sanitizing stations, increased spacing of aisles, signage to support physical distancing requirements, designating directional traffic flows, and more.
Last week, the organizers sent a letter to exhibitors giving some information about Reed Exhibitions’ Health & Safety Task Force. The letter was meant to provide some hope to potential exhibitors growing impatient with the lack of commitment to a physical event.
G2E Las Vegas is scheduled to take place October 5-8, 2020 at the Sands Expo.
The government of Brazil has confirmed the inclusion of sports betting in its privatisations plans with a resolution published Friday in the official state gazette.
This paves the way for the government to ultimately offer sports betting concessions to private operators in a similar manner to the recently privatised operation of the Lotex instant lottery.
The Brazilian government authorised retail and online fixed-odds sports betting in 2018, with the ministry of finance given a period of four years in which to develop enabling regulations. This was followed by a public consultation in 2019 into the best model for regulating sports betting and the most appropriate use of proceeds.
The inclusion of sports betting in the National Privatisation Plan will see the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) launch a market study to identify the best privatisation model to help stimulate the economy and generate jobs, with the government noting that it will consider adopting a concession model similar to the recent successful Lotex auction, which was won by a consortium of IGT and Scientific Games.
Facebook has removed 36 pages belonging to online gaming operators who are accused of targeting Norwegian consumers without a local license.
The company removed the pages after being notified by Norwegian gambling regulator Lotteritilsynet that the pages promoted unlicensed gambling, in breach of Norwegian law and Facebook’s own regulations, which require advertisers to hold an appropriate license.
The posts were used to promote websites belonging to Coolbet, ComeOn, Guts, Norgesautomaten, Vera&John and Pokio.
“This marketing violates the Norwegian regulations and Facebook’s own guidelines. It is also true that many Norwegians are on Facebook, and the gaming companies can potentially reach many there with illegal advertising,” said Monica Alisøy Kjelsnes, senior adviser and lawyer at Lotteritilsynet.
“The Lottery Authority is very positive that Facebook is removing pages and posts with advertisements for gambling that do not have a license in Norway, and looks at the dialogue with Facebook as an effective tool to reduce access to illegal gambling.”
The gambling regulator added that it will increase its enforcement action against unlicensed advertisers next year using new powers under the country’s amended broadcasting act, which comes into force on January 1, 2021.
The Netherlands has submitted draft legislation to the European Commission setting out the technical requirements for connecting online gambling systems to the new Control Data Bank (CDB) that will be used by authorities for monitoring and verification purposes.
The legislation will allow operators to prepare their applications for the Netherlands licensing process which begins in January 2021, with the regulated online gaming market scheduled to open on 1 July 2021.
The Netherlands tax authority and gambling regulator Kansspelautoriteit each have differing access rights to the CDB under the new Gaming Act which comes into force next year, prompting two submissions for European Commission (EC) approval.
The first from Kansspelautoriteit sets out the technical requirements and data models for establishing and maintaining a connection to the CDB, while the submission from the ministry of finance sets out its requirements in terms of access to gambling participation data by product in order to verify operator tax returns.
Both sets of regulations were notified to the EC on 17 July and are subject to a standstill period ending 18 September.
Swedish gambling regulator Spelinspektionen has successfully defended itself in four cases involving online gaming operators who were penalised for offering bonuses to consumers in breach of Swedish regulations, although two operators secured lower penalties through the appeals.
The Administrative Court of Linköping published its rulings Monday following appeals by AG Communications, Genesis Global, Betway and Mandalorian Technologies.
All four cases relate to the first few months of Sweden’s regulated iGaming market, which opened in January 2019, and the provision of bonuses to customers, which are limited to one bonus per customer upon sign-up.
AG Communications, which was accused of offering various VIP and loyalty programs to consumers, saw its appeal rejected after the court ruled that simply offering a bonus is enough to violate the law. The bonus does not have to be granted and used to qualify as a bonus, the court stated, with VIP programmes considered a form of bonus.
The court ruled that the company did offer bonuses beyond the permissible initial bonus and rejected the argument that the programmes were offered in error and not provided to consumers, thereby upholding the decision and SEK500,000 fine imposed by Spelinspektionen.
Mandalorian Technologies was also unsuccessful in its appeal against a SEK9.0m penalty for offering 10 per cent cashback on gambling spend to consumers.
The company had requested that the decision and penalty be revoked on the basis that cashback does not constitute a bonus, an argument which the court rejected.
Two other operators, Betway and Genesis Global, were able to reduce their penalties, although the court upheld the gambling regulator’s decisions leading to the penalties.
Betway’s penalty for offering recurring bonuses, free games and recurring free spins was lowered from SEK5.0m to SEK4.7m on appeal on the basis that the regulator miscalculated the company’s annual sales.
Betway argued that free games and spins do not constitute a bonus, and that the penalty for any breach should be based on net gaming revenue and not turnover, both of which the court rejected. The company also argued that its sales were lower than the figure used by the regulator to calculate the fine, which the court accepted, leading to the reduced penalty.
Genesis Global saw its penalty reduced on appeal from SEK1.7m to SEK1.2m, with the court upholding the regulator’s view that the company offered unauthorised VIP programmes and deposit bonuses. These included gifts such birthday presents for members of the VIP programme, which the court said constitutes a bonus.
All four decisions are open to appeal.