Persistent failings across the UK online gambling ecosystem formed a cornerstone of a ‘shifting the narrative’ SBC Leaders panel on the opening day of the CasinoBeats Summit in Malta.

In a conversation that shifted from the industry’s position some 40 years ago to tackle consistent headaches with regulators and the black market conundrum, Peter Wilson, CEO of PWL Legal, set the scene by touching upon these aforementioned issues, and the increasing frequency of which they are seemingly hitting the headlines.

In an opening monologue, he began by touching upon the less than perfect relationship that the industry has with various stakeholders, be it regulators, politicians, the general public and/or the press.

This, he continued, is evidenced by a continued spate of financial fall-out that recently saw a record £19.2m penalty issued to William Hill for a lengthy list of social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures.

“They’re not a bad guy,” Wilson commented. “They are one of a whole number of leading gambling operators, we’re not talking about fly by night operators, we’re talking about people with very comprehensive management, very comprehensive departments dealing with every aspect of their centre. 

“And yet still, they’re falling foul of the regulator. Why is this? Something’s going wrong.”

“…the biggest issue that we find is the companies who keep to the regulations are the ones who get controlled”

Colin Stewart, CEO of Palasino Malta

This is far from simply being an isolated case, with the 888 owned entity representing one of a number of punishments handed out by the UK Gambling Commission this year alone.

Earlier this week SkillOnNet made a £305,150 payment in lieu of a financial penalty, with other action taken against 10bet (£620,000), Intouch Games (£6.1m, a third action taken in four years) TonyBet (£442,75) and Vivaro (£337,631) and Kindred Group’s Unibet and 32Red brands (a combined £7.1m).

This isn’t solely a UK-based issue though, with the Dutch gaming authority, Kansspelautoriteit being on something of a regulatory rampage itself after issuing a slew of sanctions.

And so the scene was set, and Wilson, alongside a panel of industry experts, were tasked with looking at what’s going wrong, as well as what needs to be tried to help put it right and improve in the future.

Reflecting on a four decades long relationship with the industry, Colin Stewart, CEO of Palasino Malta, referenced a theoretical pedestal adorned by the UK in the eyes of Eastern Europe, which had viewed the region as a benchmark regarding regulation and business development.

However, following admiring glances being cast backwards to an industry that was once viewed as high class, as well as the role of technology as a primary driver in progression, all roads inevitably led towards the black market.

“the black market has not really been tackled, and that’s a perceived unfairness with the way regulators operate”

Peter Wilson, CEO of PWL Legal

After being quizzed on if regulation interferes with businesses in such a way that it could be viewed as a potential hurdle. Stewart continued.

“Not quite sure,” he began. “But obviously, regulation is required. Again, the biggest issue that we find is the companies who keep to the regulations are the ones who get controlled. 

“When you’ve got the black market and the other operators, they’re not interested in that, they don’t want to go and check out that everything they’re doing is okay etcetera, they forget about.”

Maintaining this trend, Wilson noted complications and significant costs required to enforce against the black market, with it “much easier” to penalise those licensed entities regarding which regulators already possess all required data.

“We’ve identified one of the first issues here, which is, yes, we have more increased regulation and that makes it more expensive to run a business now,” he elaborated.

“However, the black market has not really been tackled, and that’s a perceived unfairness with the way regulators operate. And I think that goes across the board in every jurisdiction.”

To this point, Alexander Martin, CEO of SKS365, pointed to potential customer confusion regarding the legality, or vice versa, of specific operators upon being faced with consistent regulatory changes.

“You’ve got limitations when you are operating under the licence you’re going for … but there are limitations that you need to adhere to”

Sarah Stellini, CEO of Hero Gaming

This, in turn, led to thoughts of how best to encourage a player base to solely utilise licensed entities, with a teaser posed regarding a quality mark and other ways to give credit for being well regulated.

For Sarah Stellini, CEO of Hero Gaming, this is a resounding yes, with it also raised that online could learn a thing or two from its land-based counterparts in showing customers the key differences between white and black operations. 

“Because, of course, it’s not easy,” she said. “You’ve got limitations when you are operating under the licence you’re going for, of course, but there are limitations that you need to adhere to.” 

Should it be deemed that regulators do not possess the necessary resources to attempt to lesson, or stamp out, those bad actors, Stellini noted that tools and solutions are required to ensure legalised entities can thrive.

“And it could be as simple as having a Trustpilot winner or you know, any other thing that can give us the safety to play into the casino,” she added.

“Otherwise, it’s not a level playing field and we’re not enticing. So I think yes, to answer your question. Definitely.”

“The issue we’ve got at the moment is [that] it’s their way or highway”

Colin Stewart, CEO of Palasino Malta

After a light was temporarily shone on the role of industry bodies, regarding which Carlo di Maio highlighted that there’s too many and conflicts of interest occur concerning the sponsors they posses and agenda subsequently pushed, attention turned to the difficulty of communicating on a regulatory level.

“I think, from my experience, and the experience that we’re going through at the moment … it’s actually getting a regulator to sit down at the table and listen to you. The issue we’ve got at the moment is [that] it’s their way or highway,” Stewart continued.

To complement this, a potential lack of industry experience and knowledge was touched upon, with Stewart suggesting that some with regulatory responsibilities “have no idea what a casinos about, they’ve never been in one that never worked in one, so how can they sit down and make rules.” 

He ended: “If the regulator is not willing to sit down and discuss and work with you, you know, it’s like Canute sitting there in front of the waves and asking them to stop coming through.”