iGB Diary: Malta igaming, May: dead cert no longer, UK betting vs. gaming, India, Hoff is back!

2 June 2017

Ola igamers! Happy Friday! Another bumper Diary this week: Malta in the spotlight, we're pleased to see some national newspapers take inspiration from the Diary's rants (no joke, kinda), UK election tightens, bookies' core focus, India, and The.Hoff.is.back (to the delight of So Cal locals).  

It’s not you, it’s me. Actually no it is you
The love affair between Malta and the large number of Swedish igaming employees who have made the Mediterranean island their home can be found all over social media. However, the feeling apparently isn’t mutual for one of the Scandinavian country’s leading banks. According to a leaked email obtained by The Malta Independent on Sunday, Malta and companies incorporated there fall into their “high risk” category. While Swedbank declined to comment, the newspaper speculated at length over the reasons why, as did those commenting on the story. Public issues abound: from the prime minister’s chief of staff and wife allegedly being involved in the Panama Papers, to the controversial 6/7 tax rebate used attract foreign companies to set up on the island and the ruling Labour Party accusing the opposition of making the whole thing up with no consideration for the potential damage to Malta’s lucrative financial services sector. Phew… talk about adding oil onto the fire. A point noted by the finance minister Edward Scicluna in response to the report: “Even in a local paper, every article is filed and is noted internationally. If there are no answers to certain reports, then this causes damage. Everybody carries their own responsibility. I am not blaming anybody; however, what is going on is not doing our country any good.” To be fair to the igaming sector, being able to open up business accounts is very difficult for start-ups and established businesses alike for a variety of reputational, risk or legal issues (from the bank's perspective). For Malta the news certainly comes at a bad time as it positions itself as the natural choice for Gibraltar-licensed companies seeking a post-Brexit home within the EU.

Dead cert no longer
Déjà vu or what this week as a ‘shock’ YouGov poll suggested the Conservatives could fall short of the majority needed to form a government and that in fact they were far from the dead cert they appeared to be at the beginning of the unexpected election announcement? Are we in for a repeat of last year’s shocks, with Trump’s win in the US and Brexit in the UK defying all pollsters’ predictions and, frankly, all logic whatsoever, in the case of the former? Or both actually. We doubt Paddy Power will be paying out in advance of a Theresa May win after it got it so wrong last year and handed out £800,000 to Hillary Clinton backers before the US elections. Bookies have lengthened the odds on a Tory win, shortened those on Labour and played around with the odds for a hung parliament. Given the political events of the past year or so, no one knows or can predict with any certainty what might happen on June 8. But one thing’s for sure – as the date nears and the closer to the wire it gets, bookies won't complain about getting newspaper coverage. It will certainly make a change from the near-ceaseless bad press they've been getting over FOBTs. So will it be a win-win for the bookie whatever the nation decides? It will depend on how wrong/right they get it.  

Bookies should get back to the day job
Speaking of bookies (what a link eh...), it’s always nice to be proved right and the Diary is over the moon that a national newspaper is taking inspiration from its own FOBT-related errm… rants/reflections/deep insights (delete as appropriate). We’re giving ourselves too much credit you say? Never! Alright just a bit, consider the facts though. We have repeatedly pointed out that bookies are running away from what should be their core competency, bookmaking - in case we’d all forgotten, by relying on the guaranteed margins generated by the machines. This has led to complacency in their betting offers, even ‘innovations’ like cash out and in play have been around for years now (with little new on the horizon), and they are more than happy to close down winning punters’ accounts or refuse big bets, because they don’t want to manage the risk and the FOBT margins are guaranteed, so why chance it? The Gambling Commission’s latest figures bear this out: of the £4.5bn GGY generated by the UK igaming sector, online betting contributes ‘just’ £1.9bn, the rest is generated by online casino games (including bingo), while FOBTs generate £1.8bn GGY. Since FOBTs bring in the same GGY as the core business of betting we shouldn’t be surprised bookies are so adamant about resisting any change to their numbers or stake levels. And if that means providing unoriginal gaming (as opposed to betting) ‘content’ that gets massively bad press, so be it, because the margins make it worthwhile. 

To legalise, or not to legalise…
The Law Commission in India has just announced it is launching an investigation into whether or not gambling in the country should be legalised. The three-person panel is researching the concerns of the public and the impact of potentially legalising gambling. After 30 days it will collate and present its findings. The research could result in slight legal reforms or even go as far as resulting in a total overhaul of India’s gambling laws. The commission is also looking to the public to share their stories of gambling, in order to gauge general opinion. Gambling in India has generally been illegal since 1867, however individual states can control themselves to an extent, which is why places such as Goa and Sikkim have casinos. Interestingly while horse racing and rummy are classified as games of skill and are legal, betting on cricket or playing poker is outlawed, except in some states. While unlicensed/illegal betting is rife in India, particularly during festival time, maybe it is time for the government to reap some of the taxable benefits.

The Hoff-meister is back
Let's finish on a lighter note. The man who claims to have single-handedly brought down the Berlin Wall has enjoyed a decidedly lower profile in recent years, indeed the Diary hadn’t heard much from the ex-Knight Rider and Baywatch star since that infamous late-night eating video around 10 years ago (just Google it). However, the Hoff’s luck appears to be changing, with the Baywatch comedy reload in the cinemas and his recent appointment as mayor of the Californian town of Funner. Eat your hearts out Arnie and Clint. Here he is extolling the merits of the town. Except Funner of course doesn’t actually exist, it’s Harrah’s So Cal resort rebranded as part of a PR stunt dreamt up by San Diego-based marketing agency, i.d.e.a.. Not that the Hoff cares. The campaign includes “video/television, print, audio/radio, digital/mobile, social channels…billboards, reservation billboards, and destination roadside signs (mile markers)”, so Californians seemingly can’t get away from him at the moment, which we imagine is just as he likes it (not sure about the locals though). Now, didn’t we recently hear something about a wall going up close by…

Have a great weekend!