Behind banking and drugs, the gambling industry is probably the most highly regulated and restricted in the world. Banking is number one for obvious reasons. States need total control over the money supply as the source of their power, so the banking system is monopolized by a central bank with the power of monopoly note issue. Drugs come in second, and only since 1906 under Teddy Roosevelt. What began as a move to protect consumers against impure drugs and food has now morphed into a gigantic unfeeling bureaucracy led by the FDA that prevents terminally ill patients from trying whatever drugs they want, approved or not.
Every regulatory regime starts out with the “protect consumers” excuse. Even if initially heartfelt and genuine, it sets a precedent that always keeps growing into unending rule books. At this point, it is debatable if the FDA actually kills more people than it saves with its regulatory burdens.
The point is, there is always healthy suspicion when bankers get together for a conference (think Bilderberg), and so, too, with Big Pharma conventions. But there is also what to watch out for at gaming conferences, because there is a lot of regulatory navigation going on that will be coming from interested parties. While regulation is framed as a way to protect the consumer, is more often than not a way to protect a given company’s market share against competition, thereby ultimately hurting the consumer. So while there will be a lot of fruitful apolitical discussion on industry trends at the iGaming North America Conference that begins today in Las Vegas, attendees should be aware of hidden agendas at some of the panels.
Perusing the schedule, what follows are the sections where a healthy suspicion is in order, versus the apolitical parts of the conference that look to benefit the industry as a whole as opposed to certain players within it. The emphasis will be on agendas to watch out for.
The New Deal – Amaya vs. Caesars
The very first panel looks to be quite loaded, with elephants in the room galore. An Amaya representative will share the floor with Caesars, discussing PokerStars. Is PokerStars’ return to the US good for the industry as a whole, even for competitors? The discussion itself looks to be a poker game of sorts, with Amaya dealing with an insider trading scandal and Caesars on the verge of imploding completely at the stroke of a judge’s pen. These issues will probably be brought out into the open to clear the air, but expect friendly talk with each panelist trying to read the other’s bluff on this poker-laden discussion of poker.
Eyes To the Floor
This part looks to be more of a fruitful and friendly discussion. Casino floor staff will be commenting on what players think of management decisions in their eyes. The floor rarely gets a chance to speak to the penthouse, so this could be a good opportunity to link the two sides of any company by revealing how the chain of command is being received as it filters all the way down.
A big red flag here. Watch out for sweet talking by politicians who see themselves as friends of the gambling industry. Perhaps they actually are, or at least think they are, but danger lurks here. J. Gary Pretlow, and Assemblyman from New York, and Michael J. Zalewski will be sharing the stage. Pretlow is the sponsor of a bill that would allow certain forms of online poker in New York State. Zelewski is a cosponsor of the Video Gaming Act of Illinois, which allows video gaming at licensed venues. While regulation is always better than a ban, both bills will benefit those companies that spend the most on lobbying over smaller companies that cannot afford big lobbying budgets, and it will do this through restrictive licensing. We all know how it is.
This part of the conference looks to be a mix. Public companies involved in this panel are Deutsche Bank, one of the biggest crony banks in Europe, with Vantiv and Paysafe. Of the three, Paysafe looks to have its interests most in line with the gambling industry as a whole. 54% of its revenues come from gaming and the more companies it can service, the better for it, so Paysafe has little interest in restricting the payment processing market for gaming and favoring one company over another. Paysafe’s view of the landscape should be relatively honest, and their recommendations the most in line with what is good for the whole industry.
Following this, there looks to be an oasis of straightforward information sharing and true networking. There will be discussions on the mix between virtual reality and gaming, which looks to be simply an academic discussion of a brand new niche and sounds like a lot of fun and educational, too. This will be followed by a discussion of eSports and the new arena of eSports betting. Then a discussion on raising capital for startup gaming companies, a close look at skill games, and an analysis of the generational gap between gamblers and how it affects the industry, with MGM on the panel, followed by an audience-led discussion of interactive games.
Nothing too edgy there.
Security, Game Integrity, and Industry Image
This part of the conference is the next one that really stands out. Here industry insiders will discuss gaming integrity, the accompanying regulation for it, and the regulatory message that the industry needs to broadcast in order to improve its public image. Gaming integrity, in terms of games not stealing from customers through fraud or trickery, can be dealt with by common laws against fraud that apply to every business universally, while the free market selects which games are the best as gamblers gravitate to the ones that with the optimum combination of challenge, fairness, and reward.
Though we can’t be sure until we hear it, this part sounds like an insider discussion on how to promote strict regulation to the public, which then benefits the companies big enough to deal with the regulatory regime at the expense of others. That market leader PokerStars will be featured on the panel with no other competitors participating is a bit revealing.
I had to smile at this one. The description is as follows (emphasis mine):
Talk about mixed messages. On the one hand, regulation is for consumer protection and gaming integrity, and on the other hand if only we could only convince players to place bets that never have a chance of winning. There is nothing wrong with increasing conversion through data driven algorithms, but if it goes too far, it risks killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
This is the last panel to take with a grain of salt. The description:
A representative from 888 will be on this panel, together with a lawyer. Any gaming company will always want to open up new jurisdictions while restricting up those openings to cut down competition. That’s just how it goes. So watch out for recommendations like “we need to expand carefully, with restrictions to protect new gamblers” and so on. The description pretty much gives that away. This particular panel looks to be a bit more balanced though because on the one hand you have 888, a more established player, and there’s also Betcade on the smaller end, so the audience looks like it will at least get both sides here.