Last month Melbourne headquartered multidisciplinary advisory firm Senet, which specialises in gambling law, regulation, advisory services and compliance training, appointed Paul Newson as head of advisory practice.

In the new role Newson will be responsible for strategic planning, regulatory strategy and policy, independent reviews and investigations, product approvals, responsible gambling, risk management and compliance frameworks.

Following the appointment, CasinoBeats spoke to Newson regarding lessons to be learned from the current health crisis and a more diversified online future.

CasinoBeats: Why did you take up the offer from Senet? And what will your role entail?

Paul Newson: Senet has quickly established itself as Australia’s leading gambling law, regulatory and compliance advisory and has built an enviable stable of Australian and international clients.

It’s the perfect opportunity to transition from stewarding public policy and regulation across liquor, gambling and racing in NSW and leading the International Association of Gaming Regulators, into an advisory role focused on advancing efficient and effective regulatory policy and practice for the betterment of industry, stakeholders and public interest.

I see the role as principally helping clients advance their strategy and achieve optimal outcomes within their competitive and regulatory framework. I think a key aspect is assisting clients navigate sometimes complex government and regulatory interactions, frame and articulate cogent policy and strategy and advocate for government and industry leadership that facilitates innovation and sustainable development. There will also be an element of helping clients understand government mechanisms, perspective and policy appetite.

“Some industry stakeholders and commentators argued an existential cliff was approaching”

Another key aspect to the role is partnering with government and regulators to support public policy and regulatory initiatives, help inform thinking and approaches to industry supervision as well as lead or support inquiries and reviews.

It’s an exciting opportunity to translate my scope and depth of regulatory experience and knowledge into a sector I’m passionate about and with the leading firm in this space.

CB: What are the primary challenges that the current pandemic has brought about for the gaming industry?

PN: The gambling, hospitality and entertainment industry has incurred extraordinary disruption arising from the COVID pandemic and associated public health restrictions. Venue closures have been challenging for many operators and devastating for employees stood down or made redundant.

Venue closures and restrictions on individual movement in many jurisdictions appear to have accelerated participation in online gambling activity. Disruption was occurring across the sector pre COVID, however, the scale of the COVID intervention has been extraordinary.

Some industry stakeholders and commentators argued an existential cliff was approaching and unless industry accelerated its efforts to diversify revenue and innovate and introduce new products to enliven its customer base and engage younger players the longer-term outlook was deteriorating.

While there are more immediate concerns about operator viability in some markets, this issue around player engagement remains material to the sustainability of industry into the future.

A risk perhaps aggravated by venue lockdowns emerged around commentators wanting to leverage the pause in land-based activity to advocate for radical policy shifts and jolt governments towards a more restrictive and prohibitionist agenda.

“Introducing new products and enriching experiences is essential”

Gambling related harm is a serious issue and I’m a fierce advocate for innovation in policy and practice to materially improve performance and outcomes that effectively prevent and minimise harm.

More can be done, and industry has a tremendous opportunity to harness rapid advances in technology to better support safer gambling behaviours and safeguard vulnerable individuals.

I also advocate for evidence informed policy and decision making and resist more extreme commentators and often sensationalised arguments for abolition of an industry that makes an enormous economic and social contribution and the majority of people participate for entertainment, enjoyment and relaxation.

So, the chronic diversification challenge remains. I think perhaps COVID may have assisted dampen the tensions that have stifled adoption of technology and innovation in the sector and momentum should build to advance these opportunities.

CB: What advice would you give to operators primarily entrenched in retail when it comes to future proofing their businesses? What would you say the major lessons to be taken from the coronavirus pandemic are for the gaming industry?

PN: I think industry needs to seize the momentum around the increased appetite for technology, innovation and changed ways of working that have spilled out of government and industry responses to contain the virus spread, while supporting business continuity.

There has been some inertia in government about introducing new products and adopting rapidly advancing technology to enhance participant experience and wrestle for relevance with tech encumbered generations and a vastly different world to when slots dominated.
Introducing new products and enriching experiences is essential to differentiate from other entertainment that is increasingly accessible.

“This is the key tension that if misaligned can horribly stifle industry development”

Entertainment is abundant and whether it’s movies or restaurant food, the convenience of the gig economy, ubiquitous fast broadband and streaming services, means you don’t have to leave your loungeroom for your preferred experience.

So, industry needs to distinguish and enrich its offer and ensure it has a compelling story. This will be assisted by sparking innovation, introducing new products which is that much easier when you can satisfy governments and regulators that you are advancing investment and integration of enhanced consumer protection features.

CB: With the future seeming to be pointing towards a more diversified online path, how can lawmakers best navigate the line between keeping players safe and overregulation that potentially pushes them towards unregulated markets?

PN: This is the key tension that if misaligned can horribly stifle industry development and viability as well as curb entertainment options for consumers. Alternatively, where arrangements are blunt, poorly designed and ineffective, it risks exacerbating gambling harm as well as adversely impacting industry sustainability.

It’s difficult to balance these competing tensions and ultimately, it’s a matter for government to make these important policy decisions weighing the merits of potential approaches.

This is where working with advisors can help inform and shape policy thinking and development, support and rigour test strategy and advocacy while also providing insights into government mechanisms and decision-making, policy windows and constraints.

I think embracing technology and better harnessing data to improve player protections and prevent and minimise gambling harm is fundamental to securing government and regulator confidence and increasing appetite for innovation.

I maintain that industry sustainability and capacity to innovate is secured by a robust framework and regulator that fiercely denounces misconduct and ensures significant consequences for wrongdoing.

Similarly, industry is best served by a sophisticated approach to engaging regulators and government and showing leadership by advancing products that achieve safer gambling outcomes while exciting existing and engaging new customers.