The nascent U.S. online gambling industry has opportunities for being a leader in responsible gambling, according to an online gambling firm partnered with Detroit’s MGM Resorts International.
During a panel Wednesday at the SBC Digital Summit North America, GVC Holdings, MGM’s online gambling partner, urged effective regulation in the U.S. to create a robust market while also protecting consumers from addiction. It’s still the early days of regulated online casino gambling in the country, with only a handful of states having legalized real-money online casino play. Other states have legalized online/mobile sports wagering without an iCasino component.
“The U.S. market has a very good shot of becoming the largest sports betting and internet gaming market in the world,” said Martin Lycka, director of regulatory affairs for GVC. “We wouldn’t want to see that market populated by addicted gamblers. That isn’t even good from a commercial or business perspective.”
Michigan is expected to launch online casino gambling in late 2020 or early 2021.
Paul Buck, CEO of Epic Risk Management, echoed that sentiment on the panel. “There is absolutely no reason why the U.S. can’t have the most sustainable and thriving industry, anywhere in the world,” he said.
Lessons from Europe
The U.S. represents a lucrative opportunity for online gambling firms in Europe. In the UK, gambling addiction has become a national conversation.
According to Lycka, the industry became much more responsible over time as concerns arose.
“A lot of people might perceive the gambling industry as a blood-thirsty industry, trying to milk the cash cow, hell bent on trying to get as much money from its customers as it can,” Lycka said of the public perception. “To be fair, 10 years ago that might have been right. Five years ago, at this end of the pond and at least in the U.S., problem gambling wasn’t a serious topic for the industry. The industry has definitely upped its game. Things have evolved and changed.”
Debi LaPlante, director of the Division on Addiction at the Cambridge Health Alliance, said states and the public both have room for improvement in acknowledging gambling addiction as a serious public health issue. That is slowly changing as well, leading to more effective regulation.
“I think that the U.S. has a little bit of catching up to do with respect to understanding gambling as a public health issue,” she said. “Probably 10-15 years ago we started having conversations about gambling in that way. I think we are gaining some ground with additional gambling expansion in some states.”
GVC warned that the unregulated gambling platforms pose a much greater threat to problem gamblers.
In the U.S., state regulation of online gambling will mainstream the activity, but policymakers and regulators should ensure that licensed operators are able to push out the unregulated platforms, businesses that don’t pay taxes and don’t offer much if any consumer protections.
Lycka said that there’s a “snowball’s chance in hell” that unregulated operations “care about a customer’s well-being.”
“The industry shouldn’t have any issues with strict regulation as long as it’s sensible, is not out of kilter with the market reality, and crucially allows the industry to put forward a sufficiently attractive regulated offering to their customers, including by means of sensible advertising, focused on responsible gambling messages,” he added.
The panel suggested that one thing the U.S. could use is a centralized database of self-excluded online gamblers. That could be helpful with the patchwork of state laws and regs.
While state-level regulation is what the online gambling industry wants, Lycka indicated that federal funding and some regulation pertaining to gambling addiction could be useful.