iGB Diary: Problem gambling UK, GVC-Lads Coral and Turkey, Black Friday pays out!

25 August 2017

Ola igamers! It's Friday and your Diary is here to prep you for the Bank Holiday (in the UK at least). This week we look at FOBTs and problem gambling (episode #437), GVC's Turkey shoot and its takeover bid of Lads-Coral, Ralph Topping's musings on the matter and, six years later, Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet will pay out! 

Problem gambling, FOBTs and industry response   
The old saying goes that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. What does that have to do with problem gambling? Good question, so here goes. The UK Gambling Commission’s call for the industry to do more to tackle the issue and the revelation that the rates of problem gambling had gone up to 0.8% of over-16s, up 100,000 to 430,000 since 2012, is not good news for the sector. But really, it all comes back to FOBTs and (let’s be honest) their deleterious impact on the debate and the image of the industry. Readers might think the Diary has it in for the Association of British Bookmakers (we don’t), but seriously, who thinks it’s ok to put out comments like: “problem gambling levels in the UK are stable”; when it knows full well the mainstream press and anti-gambling campaigners are going to go for them? As for the relationship between addiction and FOBTs: “Seeking to ban a single gambling product will simply lead to the shifting of problem gamblers to other areas rather than addressing the root cause of the issue,” it told the Guardian. So is the ABB saying problem gamblers do play on FOBTs? Even though there’s no relationship between problem gambling and FOBTs? And what are the root causes of problem gambling? We don’t know - and the ABB, much like it always has when it comes to FOBTs, doesn’t have much constructive to say on the subject. Interestingly, the RGA's Clive Hawkswood was much more conciliatory in his comments to the press this week, 'cos, you know, he realises the industry is not winning the PR war and is adapting accordingly (yes we know he represent online operators, but that makes little difference to the general public). Apparently DCMS is up for reducing stake levels on FOBTs but the Treasury isn’t so keen as it looks at its tax take. Oh well, back to those life certainties: any reduction in stake levels will surely lead to tax rises on other gambling products to make up the shortfall. We told you we’d get there!

A turkey of a deal
The issue of taking bets in Turkey’s igaming market once again reared up this week as GVC’s bid for Ladbrokes Coral was called off due to investor concerns at its activities in the market. The territory makes up 12% of GVC’s €823m revenues and the hardline approach on unregulated gambling by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spooked investors.
The usual measures apply to Erdogan's crackdown: restrictions on payment services, advertising bans, internet monitoring with the potential for arrests and imprisonment for any of the marketing agents that might be identified as working for groups such as GVC. Clearly no laughing matter. However, gaming and betting firms, listed and privately-owned, have been operating in Turkey for many years (GVC’s business there came in as part of its acquisition of Sportingbet’s unregulated activities in 2013) and the country’s  authorities have actually always been “hardline” when it comes to igaming. Of course this does not mean operators should shrug their shoulders at the prospect of a further Turkish crackdown but a risk assessment is made by those involved. The other key point is that many of the sector’s biggest players, listed or not and working in regulated markets such as the UK, Italy or Spain, generate substantial amounts of their revenues from unregulated markets. How far should regulators and the press go in flagging up those issues? 

Kenny always gets what he wants
Speaking of GVC's M&A endeavours, ex-Hills boss Ralph Topping, aka the Diary’s favourite Linkedin blogger, contributed this classic comment on all the GVC takeover talk. But let's focus on the important question: how does it compare with his previous efforts? Was the Sound of Music-inspired entry one of your favourite things? (Sorry, had to be done.) The Diary’s personal favourite was the lighthouse-in-stormy-weathers-themed entry he put out back in March, complete with gestation periods for hippos and the City being on a par with the African savanna… well, both are full of big beasts, predators and all sorts of creatures in between. ‘Til the next one Ralph! 

Black Friday fallout nears an end
Slow payouts are a regular gripe of the igaming community but we think we might have a winner for the longest wait ever – it was reported this week that customers of Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet who lost their funds due to the Black Friday indictments of 2011 will soon be getting their money back, after more than SIX YEARS! According to Absolutepokerclaims.com, the official website for the remission process, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Department of Justice (MLARS) has approved a first round payment of $33.5m to some 7,400 players. Clearly there are going to be wild variations between the value on players’ accounts, but if you divide one by the other to get an average, you’d be looking at about $4.5K per player, a not inconsiderable sum. Indeed on the Two plus Two forum some players talked about having lost balances of $7K, although the general feeling this week was less one of anger but rather of jubilation and surprise they were getting anything back at all after such a long time, with one commenting, “It had been years since I had even thought about this money”. We particularly like the sentiment of a poster called ‘newBreed’, who commented: “My older self is going to spend this money much more responsibly than I would have all those years ago. I'm simultaneously happy and disappointed about this fact.” Don't spend it all at once guys!

Have a great weekend!