Antigua-licensed online gambling operators have formed a new industry association with the goal of establishing a more productive relationship with local gaming regulators.
The new industry body will be known as the Antigua Leisure and Gaming Association (ALGA) and will keep its members informed via future updates at ALGA.ag. The group, which held its inaugural meeting on January 13, has chosen Nigel Pigott as its first president.
Pigott (pictured) is an entrepreneur with over two decades’ worth of experience in the retail, banking and online gambling industries, including a stint as manager of Playtech Antigua. Pigott is also the vice-president of the Antigua and Barbuda Paralympic Committee and was Antigua’s Chef de Mission at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
TO DO LIST
Among the top items on the ALGA’s first meeting agenda was the Antiguan government’s plans to draft a new Gambling Act, into which the 2007 Interactive Gaming and Wagering Regulations will be absorbed.
Part of Antigua’s overhaul is the creation of a new Gambling Authority to assume oversight of the industry. That job is currently handled by the Financial Services Regulatory Commission (FSRC), but this body’s reputation for inefficiency and intractability has been cited as a major factor behind some operators deciding to surrender their Antiguan gaming licenses.
Some of the FSRC’s recommended changes to Antigua’s gambling laws – including significant tax hikes and unnecessarily cumbersome ‘know your customer’ (KYC) requirements for transactions involving Bitcoin and other digital currencies – have gaming operators concerned that the FSRC has gone rogue by ignoring input from both the industry and the elected government whose interests the FSRC is supposed to be serving.
In fact, the FSRC’s behavior suggests that it is more interested in doing the bidding of the United States government than taking direction from Antigua’s elected representatives. Quite apart from the impact on Antigua-based gaming operators, this has potentially serious ramifications for Antigua’s sovereignty.
The FSRC has also raised eyebrows by scheduling a rising number of audits that involve operator-funded trips abroad, ostensibly so that regulators can investigate licensees’ third-party suppliers. Operators maintain that audits should be an annual exercise with a focus on meaningful player issues, not unnecessary all-expenses paid holidays for regulators.
BITCOIN AND COMMON SENSE
The FSRC never seemed to grasp that part of its mandate was to ensure a healthy gaming industry, which not so long ago was a far greater contributor to the local economy in terms of job creation. But the FSRC appears to have viewed its primary role as saying ‘no’ to industry requests, regardless of how simple, lawful and mutually beneficial those requests may have been.
One of the ALGA’s primary goals is educating regulators on the need for a common sense approach regarding Bitcoin. To date, the FSRC has prevented operators from fully embracing Bitcoin use, despite the FSRC itself having demonstrated little comprehension of the realities behind this new technology.
At present, the major disadvantage of an Antiguan gaming license is the relationship between local banks and their correspondent banks in the United States. Allowing a common sense approach to Bitcoin use – one that treats Bitcoin as no different under the law than other international currencies – would ensure gaming sites have the tools they need to make their local operations financially viable.
LESS THAN ZERO
Between the FSRC’s shortcomings and the US refusal to honor its World Trade Organization obligations, Antigua’s roster of online gambling licensees has fallen from nearly 200 at its peak to its current total of just eight – actually seven, if Pinnacle follows through on its vow to surrender its license – and these survivors are struggling under increasingly tight profit margins.
If those numbers weren’t enough to illustrate the local industry’s decline, consider that three of the remaining seven licenses are held by online gambling technology provider Playtech, while most of the other licenses cover only operators’ business process outsourcing (BPO) divisions.
In short, there is barely any Antiguan online gambling industry left to tax, and raising taxes will undoubtedly convince the few remaining licensees to seek out alternative licensing jurisdictions like Malta or Gibraltar.
Bottom line: enacting the FSRC’s recommendations will mean fewer licensees, which will result in the government collecting even less revenue from gaming than it does now. Attracting new licensees and thus boosting both government tax revenue and local employment will require recognizing realities that the FSRC has proven unable or unwilling to grasp.
The ALGA shares the Antiguan government’s goal of boosting the local economy through a vibrant gaming industry but this goal can only be achieved by enacting sensible policies. The ALGA looks forward to working with the new Gambling Authority, and hopes that it will recognize what the FSRC couldn’t: that its primary aim is maintaining a healthy industry for the benefit of all Antiguans.