[MAGAZINE] State of play

Sue Schneider, a leading expert on the iGaming industry, gives an overview of what’s been going on in the US and where this complex market is heading.

2019 proved a turbulent year for iGaming in the US and the 2020 shutdown has complicated things further. Complicated regulatory minefields have required careful navigation from iGaming operators, with states slow to find their niche after prohibition.   

What are the key issues currently for regulation in the US, across sports betting and online casinos?

With online casinos and poker, legalisation has been very slow going. On the other hand we’re almost two years from when the prohibition on sports betting was overturned and we’ve got 20+ states that have passed legislation so far. We were at a good pace in January when the legislative sessions started, but Covid-19 brought most state legislatures to a screeching halt. I think we’ll still add a few more in 2020 but not as many as originally anticipated.

What is interesting, I think, is that after they get a level of comfort with sports betting and with the technology, especially on the mobile side - which they’ve been quite phobic about, we may see some additional states add these other products to their portfolio. This will probably be even more likely to happen now that terrestrial casinos have been shut down due to the pandemic.  Those which offer mobile casinos games have at least some revenues coming in. Lessons learned for the gaming industry.

Geo-compliance is increasingly important for iGaming operators in US states due to differences in state and federal level compliance - what are the pitfalls?

Every state has a different set of regulations. It takes a lot of regulatory and compliance work to keep up with what the different regulations are in each state. 

In the case of tribal gaming, tribes are considered sovereign nations which have their own regulatory commissions and their own set of rules. So, when you add that into the mix the cost and time of compliance start rising pretty quickly. 

For the most part, it’s going to be a lot of work for companies coming to the US to be able to navigate through all the minefields. The industry is trying to work with regulatory bodies in particular, to harmonize things, which will help. 

Sue Schneider-(3)What’s next in the PASPA / UIGEA saga?  Is the US slowly opening up for business?   

The irony is not lost on those of us in the business that, just as sports betting was gaining acceptance as a legal activity, we get the rug pulled out from under us as Covid-19 stops all sporting events. So we have no product.  As you’ve seen, it’s taken years and years to get other iGaming products and we only have a handful of states that have legalised them. We’ll see whether the casino shut down will offer enough impetus to state policy-makers to get them to consider broadening the scope of products offered.

What are the problems facing European companies entering the US market - it’s a different ball game as they say!

I think the biggest debate is how applicable the platforms, and how they’re set up, are to the American market. The European market is very mature, very sophisticated. Players are pretty evolved. If you’re going to go for a mass market product in the US when they havent been exposed to this at all (unless they’ve been betting offshore), it probably has to be adapted. In some ways you want to make it as simple and intuitive as possible. Some platform providers are willing to Americanize it, some are a little less flexible in that regard. So I think the more flexible a platform provider is - to be able to tailor it to the American player who has not been exposed to this at all - the more successful they’ll be.

You travel around the world as a respected iGaming expert and speaker  - how is the global iGaming sector changing?  Specifically, what are the opportunities in Asia, where SiGMA has moved some of its efforts.

I think there are two regions to watch - Latin America and Africa. I think both of those could be really good markets, although it seems like they’ve been emerging markets for a while now. In South East Asia in particular, as a land-based industry that’s growing, we’re seeing a lot that’s going to be happening there in the near future. I think China and the Philippines still remain problematic, just because it’s the central government that’s going to decide what they’re going to let people do. All of those would be huge markets if they could sort it out, but I think it’s going to take a while. 

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