It’s good to talk!

It’s good to talk!

On the disconnect between regulators and the industry.

As organisers of ICE, WrB, EiG, GiGse and other gaming events around the world, we attempt to provide a platform for industry’s various stakeholders, including regulators, to exchange expertise and progress dialogue. The topic of regulatory change frequently dominates these meetings.

I was therefore surprised to find out, during the March meeting of the iGaming Industry Council, a group of 50-plus industry experts, recently assembled by Clarion, that there is still a perception of a huge disconnect and lack of dialogue between the gaming regulators and the industry.

The organic Open Space format, used to run the meeting, allowed the group to go through 25 topics, ranging from innovation and technology to marketing and data. Seven discussions were dedicated to regulatory topics and centred on reputation, social responsibility, emerging markets and new products.

The striking conclusion in almost all of them was that the industry and the regulators, the two key stakeholders who were both part of the meeting, don’t understand one another and don’t talk to each other. Or, rather, while sometimes they do talk, they don’t seem to speak the same language (and I’m not referring to their native tongue). One of the iGIC participants said after the meeting: ‘My most important input was the regulator perspective for each theme relevant for me. It was the first time I heard the other side.’

The good news is that they both want to talk and see the value in improving communication. The will is there, so the challenge now is to find the right medium or format. And what’s clear for me is that the conferences and industry events don’t do that, at least not in their current format.

It was interesting to hear the perspectives of the two sides, both in a group discussion setting and during one-on-one conversations right after. Well known and often heard complaints were voiced about those in charge of legislation and regulation not listening, not understanding, not being open enough to the industry. And even if they appear to be open, like in the example of the Dutch industry consultation, they ignore industry’s recommendations. Indeed, following the invitation of the Dutch authorities to provide input on the upcoming iGaming regulation, the 28% tax has been proposed, which pretty much removes commercial viability to operate in the market for most brands. ‘It was just a PR exercise for the government’, one participant concluded.

While some jurisdictions were praised for their openness (UK, Italy, Denmark), the Dutch example demonstrates openness is not enough to progress the mutual understanding between the stakeholders.

It’s a double-edge sword though, because do we, as an industry, do enough to understand the regulators? Regulators are often trapped by politics and their hands are tied by the law already established, so the industry needs to show a greater understanding of these challenges. What’s more, due to the negative public perception of gambling, when they do talk to the industry, they risk being accused of favouritism and disregard for public interest.

This brings me back to my initial point. A better, more frequent dialogue is needed, as acknowledged by both sides. ‘We lose nothing through coordinated communication – it’s a win-win’, someone said during the iGIC meeting. The question is what is the best way to facilitate it? And, as some regulators in attendance acknowledged, ‘coordinated’ is a key word.

Regulators, as expressed by those in attendance during the meeting, don’t have the capacity to talk to every single company (operator?) in the market, which is why they have called for a unified voice to represent the key concerns and needs of the market. They exist already, you will say. The many associations like the ECA, RGA, EGBA, IGC and others serve the purpose of educating the politicians and defending the rights of the industry. But their interests are often not aligned or driven by the competing goals of their members.

It is impossible to transcend the competitive nature of the gambling sector, but surely there are common grounds to be found, if the result is an improved dialogue with the regulators and ultimately a more business-friendly regulatory environment we are all hoping for.

And to conclude with a reference to conferences (which is what we at Clarion are here for), we will continue to search for a meeting format that will enable us to diminish that disconnect between regulators and the industry. Perhaps the Open Space format adopted for the iGIC March meeting could serve that purpose better than a regular conference. 

Read Christina Thakor-Rankin's response "Blurred Lines: Regulators and Operators – the balance between interaction and independence" and Al Badoz’ post ‘Ensuring integrity - the debate on the disconnect between regulators and operators continues’

The theme of Regulators & Industry Disconnect will be discussed at EiG in Berlin (18-20 October 2016) with Francesco Rodano, former Italian regulators, Chief Policy Officer, Playtech, Jenny Williams, former UKGC CEO, Andre Wilsenach, Executive Director, UNLV International Center for Gaming Regulation, Claire Pinson, European and International Affairs Officer, ARJEL and Wendy Zitzman, Head of Compliance Consultancy and Training, iGaming Academy, as part of the session ‘It’s good to talk’, moderated by Ewa Bakun, Head of Content, Gaming, Clarion Events. Click here for more details.

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