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First Panel: The Game is On – Regulatory and Compliance Challenges Ahead?

The conference was opened by Mr. Zoran Gašić, Director of the Serbian Gaming Authority, who gave an introductory remark on the new Law on Games of Chance in Serbia and its implications on the Serbian gaming market as well as the activities of the Serbian Gaming Authority. He stressed that both operators and authorities have a common goal and should work together on the social responsibility, protection of citizens, especially those that are underage, from addictions, fraud and other adverse consequences. As in any other country, the Serbian Gaming Authority is a supervisory body, but it is always better to position themselves as partners, Mr. Gašić claimed.

Since its establishment, March 1st 2019, the Serbian Gaming Authority has continually been strengthening itself through manpower, infrastructure and primarily software solutions aimed at a healthy market development, promoting communication with other ministries and competent courts and has, in the meantime, become a member of the European regulators’ organization.

Mr. Gašić also explained that within its short time of operation, a new law on games of chance was adopted and that is necessary to constantly improve the legislation, bearing particularly in mind the development of the gaming industry and constant changes that follow. He also mentioned the recent challenges that the Authority has been facing such as disloyal competition coming through internet by international companies and the efforts taken by the Authority to solve this issue, emphasizing the need to protect Serbia’s fiscal interests and prevent potential money laundering.

How the regulatory framework changes are shaping the gaming industry: developed markets takeaways and SEE market regulatory trends

The first panel hosted some of the most prominent names and companies of the industry such as: Yanica Sant, Head of International Affairs and Policy (Malta Gaming Authority), Martin Lycka, SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling (GVC Group), Jessica Maier, CRO (Push Gaming), Minja Bolesnikov, External Strategy Consultant (Maxbet Group), Greta Agius, Head of Regulatory Affairs (Betsson Group).

The panel was moderated by Milica Delević (Delewhite), an experienced lawyer specialised in the gaming industry, who opened the discussion by giving an overview of the regulatory framework in SEE countries. As Ms. Delević noted, the regulatory framework in these countries defers significantly, starting from complete ban of gambling activities to full liberalisation. Still, some of the fully regulated markets have still not materialised their full market potential. This is mostly due to the regulatory framework which cannot be adapted quickly to the frequent changes in technology, lack of efficient supervision and control mechanisms, and because of low sanctioning rates for illegal operations in some of the countries.

One of the most developed market for this particular industry is Malta which was the first in Europe to legalise online gambling in 2001. Yanica Sant, MGA, explained how the Maltese market has become one of the most modern and developed markets in this industry in Europe. Ms. Sant said that the key for establishment of a viable legal framework is to try to constantly keep up to date and be receptive of industry changes. The Maltese regulation focus heavily on players safety and AML regulations. They have also adopted a technologically neutral legislation which means that any new technology that licenced operators would like to introduce, would automatically fit into the legislative framework as long as such technology fits the three main regulatory goals: players safety, fairness and free from crime.

Ms. Sant also mentioned one of the currently main initiatives on which MGA is working on, the self-exclusion platform for online customers already successfully introduced for land-based players.

Jessica Maier (Push Gaming) shared her opinion on the new law in Germany where 16 German regions, with very different views, have finally agreed on how to regulate online gambling, in effect from July 1st, 2021. The complex process resulted in piece of legislation which, in Jessica’s opinion, is on one hand a great positive movement towards the licencing and away from the ban. On the other, it imposes a lot of “under researched” restrictions which challenge the achievements of the main legislation goals: channeling the market to licence operations and players safety. Also, the new law has not been drafted in an adaptable way according to Jessica, so the implementation will be challenging although she remains optimistic that eventually the discussion between the German states and the industry representatives will bring positive results.

GVC is operating in more than 20 markets and Martin Lycka tried to summarise what a well-balanced regulatory framework means for him and his company. Martin noted that an efficient and effective legislation should keep pace with how the industry is developing and evolving and how regulates the black market. In his words, GVC has no issues with strict regulations as long as they are sensible. Also, Martin emphasises that it is of outmost importance that pre-regulation research exists and consultations with various industry stake holders: operators, software solution providers, payment solution providers, banks, when it comes to drafting legislation which would have a high success rate.

Milica Delević threw a spotlight on the role of the banks, saying that they are an important part of the gaming industry ecosystem. Acquiring a licence often requires a bank guaranty or a cash deposit. However, commercial banks mostly perceive the gambling industry from “a red flag” point of view, so the question is: “Is this industry really regulated?” Milica also made some comments on what does it take for banks to change their view and internal policies.

Ms. Agius who is heading the legal department at Betsson Group, agreed with the rest of the speakers that it is of outmost importance that any piece of legislation should be highly adaptable to changes in the industry. The discussion showed that regulators need to adopt more flexible and adaptable legislations that will protect the players but still take into account the market reality and its customers that should be directed to use the right licenced channels.

As an external advisor and former CEO of MaxBet, Mr. Minja Bolesnikov gave an overview on the current situation in the SEE market. Here, players are still mostly directed to the land-based operators and land-based still takes precedence over the online type of gambling. The legislations vary throughout the countries and one can clearly see underregulated markets as well as over regulated. On the question what makes SEE market attractive for foreign investors, Minja said that the most of the SEE market is well regulated and is growing economically which is a true potential for investors, and finally there is a huge entertainment culture among people who live there and enjoy games of chance in general.

Even though GVC do not operate in the Serbian market, GVC has supported the Serbian tennis player tournament through a charitable sponsorship, and according to Martin that was the right move. Martin commented that there are strong indicators: such as new regulations, love of football and spirts in general, for global operators such as GVS, Betsson and others, to look in the direction of Balkans as a new potential market. Martin sees the mix between online and land-based gaming as the right strategy when approaching these countries.