ICE World Regulatory Briefing: Tim Miller speech
06 February 2023
Note: this is the speech as drafted and may slightly differ from the delivered version
Thank you and hello everyone. It’s great to be here today and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to not only give you some of mine and the Commission’s thoughts on where we are as a gambling regulator today but also to then join the panel straight after to discuss some of the challenges we and other regulators around Europe face as well as the expectations we have for the gambling industry today.
The panel today, with so many European regulators on is in itself a good metaphor for how we are taking forward our work internationally. The Gambling Commission works regularly with our European partners in the interests of consumers across our combined jurisdictions. And I’ll be saying more on that shortly. I also want to touch on some areas where I think it’s important to flag our intentions going forwards and what we think the next steps are for gambling regulation in Great Britain, Europe and beyond. But first, I want to reflect on how we see the gambling industry today and what we think that means for the work of gambling regulators.
I and others at the Gambling Commission have talked about this before but in a discussion about the future for gambling regulation and how that looks across jurisdictions, it’s a point that bears repeating: Gambling today is in many ways a Global Tech Industry.
The way large gambling companies now operate:
- where they are investing their R&D,
- how they are innovating their product offer and
- how they have embraced digital and multi-national operations.
This looks and feels more like international ‘Big Tech’ than where gambling companies were only 20 years ago.
And that clearly has implications not just for how they operate but how they impact on consumers and how we as regulators need to do our jobs as well.
When combined with the highly competitive market that gambling companies find themselves in across many jurisdictions, this has led to a number of trends that the Commission wants to flag.
First, Mergers and Acquisitions continue at pace. Here in Great Britain, the now top 3 operators have increased their market share from around 1/3 to 1/2 in just the last five years. The top 10 operators now represent 77% of total B2C GGY in Great Britain and the top three represent over 50%. Of course these deals continue to get more complex. More multi-layered. And so more expensive to investigate from our perspective as the regulator.
Secondly, novel products for both gambling companies in some places and those looking to make money around the edges of regulated gambling, are increasingly being offered and monetised. Products such as non-fungible tokens (or NFTs), ‘synthetic shares’, crypto currency are becoming increasingly widespread and the boundaries between products which can be defined and regulated as gambling are becoming increasingly blurred.
In some ways this isn’t a new issue for us. In fact many gambling regulators across Europe and North America came together to warn of a similar issue in video games back in 2018. We collectively warned the video games industry, voicing concerns about skins gambling and loot boxes in video games.
Many of these products are not gambling as defined by law – certainly in Great Britain at present - and I am not automatically suggesting we should be regulating them either. But this is an area where we are vigilant and you can be certain that where we discover any operator the Commission licenses is getting involved in products that make use of these type of products, we will likely have questions for them.
Another issue that we hear a lot about at the moment is illegal online gambling. This is of course a concern for all regulators and the Gambling Commission is no different. We are particularly focused upon those so called ‘not on gamstop’ sites and we have directed more resource to it over the last year. This is especially insidious as these sites and their affiliates target people who have sought to self-exclude from gambling. Even well known publications like Readers Digest have been promoting such sites in their paid content and have ignored requests from us to remove it.
As a result our efforts will increasingly be further upstream to seek to disrupt these illegal sites as much as possible and to work with regulators around the world, including placing pressure upon those jurisdictions that host and even license many of these illegal sites. But we will never accept the argument that because an illegal online option exists, this should mean that the regulated gambling sector should have lower, less fair or less safe standards. Britain is, and must continue to be, a world leader in providing consumers with a fair and safe gambling market.
All three issues I’ve just highlighted are easier to deal with if we take an international approach. With collaboration across jurisdictions all three become more manageable, with less confusion and better results for consumers and compliant operators.
The Commission regularly talks about the importance of international collaboration between regulators and we work hard to strengthen our relationships with our colleagues abroad. But sometimes people wonder what it actually means, what it can achieve.
So let’s take illegal online gambling then. What might be illegal in one jurisdiction might not be in another. Similarly, some jurisdictions don’t yet regulate online gambling at all and most regulators are largely focussed on what operators are doing in their own jurisdictions. Let’s also remember that legitimate, licensed operators from one jurisdiction can actually be the illegal or black market in another.
No one gambling regulator can be the world police, taking gambling companies to task for everything they do in any part of the world. We aren’t resourced to work like that, we don’t have the powers to do that and it’s not what we’re set up to do. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore what an operator who is licensed or based in our jurisdiction is doing elsewhere, especially if that calls into question their suitability to hold a licence. Where strong relationships already exist between regulators we are increasingly seeing the bad practice and bad behaviour of some operators being shared and discussed. And that helps us look at those operators practices and operations in our own jurisdictions.
To be clear: No operator should want to be in this position. No operator should want to be the subject of discussion between regulators in different parts of the world.
And as more and more countries look to regulate online gambling, we at the Commission are only too ready to work with them and to support them establish their regimes. Over the last few years, we have seen the Netherlands, Germany and numerous US states start to regulate online.
We’ve worked closely with the Irish Government on the establishment of their Gambling Regulator and this week, amongst other meetings I’m pleased we will be meeting with a delegation from Curacao about how they are looking to reform and update their regulatory regime. Progress across jurisdictions that benefits us all.
Going forwards I also see regulators being able to identify areas where we can achieve even more through collaboration. I’m fortunate as a trustee of GREF that I get to see close up some of the exciting work that collaboration across Europe is beginning to deliver. I can also see the immense appetite there is for better and increased sharing of intel and for more feedback on operators between regulators where it’s appropriate to do so.
But what do next steps look like for the Commission and international collaboration more widely?
Clearly a large part of what comes next in Great Britain will be dictated by the Gambling Act Review. Announced by the British Government in December 2020, we have supported our sponsoring Department – DCMS – with it since and it’s great that Sarah Fox from DCMS is with us today. We of course look forward to the publication of the White Paper that will indicate next steps for the review and whatever its contents, the Commission will be helping implement it for some time to come.
But as we’ve said since the Review was launched, we have not stopped making gambling safer, fairer and more crime free whilst the Review is ongoing.
But clearly there is more we want to do with our partners and fellow regulators as well. So we will continue to share best practice, engage with our fellow regulators to share our experience and to learn from theirs. We will look for areas where we can work together to call out concerning practice or products – speaking with one voice, across regulators. And we will build on what we are already doing to appropriately share intelligence and proven bad practice by operators with regulators who are willing to do the same.
Whatever a given jurisdiction’s model of regulation - from prohibition to liberalised - gambling is global. So if gambling regulators are to keep on making gambling safer, fairer and crime free, we need to go global too. We need to keep looking for ways to work together, to drive standards up and to give consumers a high quality and safe gambling experience.
Thank you for listening and I’m looking forward to the discussion.
Last updated: 6 February 2023
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