Igaming Focus: Is the U.S. at risk of repeating the mistakes of the UK? By Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports April 12, 2022 at 10:00 am It’s the first day of ICE London and it’s clear the ICE Vox conference panelists have been raring to get back on a stage. The thrill of a live audience had many of them extremely animated. Lobbyist with Princeton Public Affairs Group Bill Pascrell III (son of New Jersey senator Bill Pascrell II) was one such panelist. Taking the mic during the last session before lunch, Chasing Channelisation: The Role Of Regulation, Pascrell waxed lyrical about both the opportunities and the challenges faced by operators in the U.S., lest they fall foul of the kind of hardline regulation expected to come out of the UK’s ongoing Gambling Review. “We are still in the stone ages”, he said of America’s current igaming situation. “When you talk about crypto, NFT, blockchain we’re way behind the times. We’re catching up. And we’re learning from the good, the bad and the ugly of what other regulated markets have done.” His central point was that responsible gambling must be at the heart of operators’ business models to prevent the kind of runaway VIP and bonusing programmes, or out of control marketing, that got operators into hot water in the UK. “Because it was like the Wild West. Marketing on steroids. Thousands of igaming companies”, he said, urgently. “I believe whether you’re in the U.S. or any market, in Europe, Australia, South America, the Netherlands, you’re one newspaper article away from the regulators coming down hard because they have to react to public opinion”, he said. It’s true, of course. Regulation is not built on a well-evidenced knowledge base of what constitutes gambling-related harm and what to do about it; it’s based on public opinion, or at least what we’re led to believe public opinion is. However, it’s unclear whether there is any really good way to counteract that fact. Does greater collaboration between operators and regulators negate the loud dissenting voices of the anti-gambling campaign, or is better messaging and better research into the true risks of gambling actually the answer? The U.S.’s biggest problem is actually very similar to that of the UK. The backbone of the regulation being applied to a burgeoning online market was designed in an analogue age. As industry veteran and former commissioner for the California Gambling Control Commission Richard Schuetz said in a session later in the afternoon, “This system has been rushed tremendously to get into the internet delivery of systems. When you see [legislation] announced you will see the politicians come out and say we’re going to be opened by Super Bowl, or we’re going to be opened by March Madness, or something like that. They don’t say we’re gonna open when the regulations are ready.” Schuetz argues that the rush to market, the lack of knowledge among legislators or regulators about gambling in general, let alone the very specific issues related to igaming, means there are inevitable issues embedded in the regulatory standards being rolled out in the U.S. Quite simply, “These regulators are in way over their head” he said. For Pascrell, the more pressing issue appeared to be channelisation and whether U.S. legislation was limiting licensed operators’ ability to compete with the black market. “The cost of entering the U.S. market is massive. A lot of my European clients that are there and have been there for a while constantly complain about it. They weren’t used to that high entry fees”, he says. The priority now, he adds, is to protect that investment by collaborating with regulators, prioritising responsible gambling and avoiding a public backlash down the line. Interestingly, both sessions touched on the death of Sheldon Abelson as a catalyst for igaming in the U.S. The Las Vegas Sands boss was perhaps the loudest anti-igaming voice out there, alongside Trump. Now, with neither man ‘in the way’ so to speak, the U.S. igaming gold rush has kicked off in earnest and good luck to anyone trying to repack that can of worms.