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All-in February

Overview of the top regulatory developments in February.

Australia

On 7 February 2013, the Australian Crime Commission released its Organised Crimes and Drugs in Sport report. Amongst other things, the report alleges links between professional athletes and organised crime groups relating to match fixing. Prompted by these allegations, on the same day, it was announced that the Federal Parliament would set up a joint committee for an inquiry into gambling advertising during sporting events.

The Committee is due to report on its findings on 16 May 2013 and will focus on the promotion of gambling at sporting venues and during broadcasts, the role of sponsorship and in-game promotion. It also looks at the effects of gambling advertisement on children and problem gambling.

Given that many of Australia’s largest sporting organisations (including Australian Rugby Union and Cricket Australia) have sponsorship deals with betting partners, the Committee’s report could have major ramifications for these sporting organisations.

For more on this story please go to: Australia: Gambling inquiry announced on the blackest day in Australian sport.

Cyprus

In July 2012 a draft bill was hastily passed by Cypriot government officials prohibiting all online gambling activities save for sports betting. In a move to enforce its restrictive gambling regime, the National Betting Authority warned local ISP providers early this month that they would face a fine of up to €30,000 for failing to block websites offering online casino, poker and betting exchanges.

Given the purported discriminatory nature of the Cypriot regime, its arguable incompatability with EU law and the potential for infringement proceedings to be instigated by the European Commission, it is anticipated that both operators and ISPs alike will continue to challenge the Cypriot government.

Europe

Building on current anti-money laundering laws, the draft Fourth Money Laundering Directive was announced early this month, extending the scope of the 2005 Directive to include all gambling activities rather than just the casino sector. Further, the draft Directive proposed that minimum sanctions can be implemented by Member States; fines of up to €5 million for individuals, or 10% of turnover for companies. It is hoped that the proposed changes will help to harmonise how customers are identified in all sectors of the gambling industry. However, certain industry stakeholders such as the slot machine industry and bookmakers are strongly opposed to such changes. If the timescale is adhered to, it is anticipated that Member States will have to formally adopt the Fourth Money Laundering Directive via local regulations by 2014.

Spain

Enabling legislation for online slots and exchange betting was expected early this year, but the Spanish authorities announced this month that there is a need to better understand the potential consequences deriving from the approval of such games. A consultation commenced on 13 February in order to gain more empirical data. The consultation will run until 5 March 2013 and the Spanish gaming authorities are expected to come to a decision upon the regulation of online slots and betting exchanges by 22 April 2013.

More on this story can be found at the following two links:

Spain: Spanish authorities announce their intention to slow down the approval of new games
Spain: The gaming authority consults the industry on the regulation of slots and exchange betting

Furthermore, the first licence for live roulette was granted this month to 888.com. Though operators have started to exit the Spanish market, this new revenue stream, together with the hope that online slots will be implemented soon may encourage more operators to remain, for the short term at least.

Further commentary can be found at: Spain: Granting of first licence for the operation of live roulette

UK

As the debate for licensing and taxing online gambling on a point of consumption intensifies, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) Select Committee held a pre-legislative scrutiny session with both Jenny Williams of the UK Gambling Commission and the most senior civil servant from the DCMS. Although the UK government maintains that the proposed reforms stem from consumer protection concerns, it was conceded by Jenny Williams that “well below 5%” of bets made by UK citizens were the subject of regulatory regimes that the Gambling Commission would not approve.

A full commentary can be accessed via: UK: point of consumption debate intensifies.

In the backdrop of the point of consumption debate, the UK has also announced its intention to commence a consultation in Spring this year relating to the protection of player funds. The Gambling Commission has not committed itself to any preferred methods, but it has indicated that there is a possibility of introducing a rating system to determine if operators’ policies for protecting player funds are adequate.

A full report on this story can be accessed via UK: protecting player funds.

U.S.

February has been a landmark month for certain States in the U.S.. On Thursday 21 February, Nevada governor, Brian Sandoval, signed into law Assembly Bill 114, permitting Nevada to sign agreements with other states to offer internet poker. The Nevada Gaming Commission has thus far issued nine licences to operators for online poker, but the software underpinning the product is yet to be approved. It is thought that technicians are working hastily to approve the software but a definitive timescale has not been announced. Regardless of the timeframe, this is a major leap towards interstate gambling and the pooling of player funds.

Less than a week later, New Jersey also legalised internet poker, in addition to casino games. At present, the market is restricted to the 11 Atlantic City casinos and players must be physically present in the state of New Jersey. All of these restrictions were expected given Governor Chris Christie’s conditional veto on 7 February, but any form of liberalisation at this time is a step in the right direction for the industry. U.S.: New Jersey gets closer to i-gaming.

With both Nevada and New Jersey pushing forward with online gaming it is expected that other States will also follow suit in fairly short order, with California, Delaware and Pennsylvania being the most likely suspects.

And finally…

Thailand

With many European regulated markets dictating the range of events that customers are allowed to bet on (such as France, Italy and Spain), we wonder whether any of the regulators have deliberated over including flaming tortoise racing?

Hidden within a schedule of Thailand’s Gambling Act is a list of prohibited activities. Pursuant to section 4, it is prohibited to organise, participate in, or gamble on:

games involving cruelty to animals such as attaching knives or thorns to their bodies, or administering to them intoxicating substances before the fight, or setting fire on backs of racing tortoises, or other games of a similar nature“.