News In Brief: March 6-March 10, 2023

March 9, 2023
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Veikkaus has just over 50 percent of the Finnish online market, a California cardroom bill makes progress, PAGCOR cancels its controversial audit contract and Argentina's Córdoba province moves forward with licensing finally.

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Veikkaus Online Market Share 'Just Over 50 Percent'

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Finnish gambling monopoly Veikkaus saw gross gaming revenue decrease by 2.7 percent in 2022 to €1.07bn, as it estimates that its online market share has continued to decline to “just over 50 percent” by the end of 2022.

The prediction on the company’s market share comes after the Finnish government announced it is officially considering the possibility of scrapping the country’s gambling monopoly and launching a licence-based online gambling system.

The financial profit of the parent company Veikkaus Oy in 2022 was similar to the previous year, reaching €680m, Veikkaus said in an announcement on March 8.

Regina Sippel, Veikkaus' chief financial officer, said: “In addition, the mandatory loss limits introduced in 2021 for slot machines have reduced the volume of slot machine gambling. The war in Ukraine and the resulting increase in consumer uncertainty and reduced purchasing power have also affected demand for Veikkaus games.”

The games development subsidiary of Veikkaus, Fennica Gaming, was founded in January 2022, so it was the first year that Veikkaus operated as a corporate group, but it is expected “to grow into a significant part of Veikkaus’ business”.

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California Cardroom Moratorium Passes Assembly Committee

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A bill to reinstate a moratorium on cardroom expansion in California was passed Wednesday (March 8) by the state Assembly’s Governmental Organization Committee.

Assembly Bill 341, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman James Ramos, would reinstate the cardroom moratorium that expired on January 1, 2023, after 25 years, and allow licensed cardrooms that operate 20 or fewer tables to add up to ten new tables over the length of a new 20-year moratorium.

It would allow cardroom operators the option to add up to two gaming tables in the first year after the law takes effect, and up to two more tables every four years thereafter, ensuring continued growth without expansion.

“We believe the rationale of for the original cardroom moratorium still exists today and it’s why tribes and cardroom worked together on this measure which we believe is a compromise that provides a balance by allowing measured growth of the cardroom industry,” Morongo tribal chairman Charles Martin told the committee.

If approved, AB 341 would extend the moratorium for another 20 years until January 1, 2043.

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PAGCOR Cancels Contract With Online Auditor

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Philippine gaming regulator PAGCOR has terminated its contract with third-party online gambling auditor Global ComRCI and will seek to recover tens of millions of dollars from the company.

“PAGCOR has determined the third-party auditor to be in default of its obligations and that there exists prima facie evidence that it has committed unlawful acts,” PAGCOR said in a statement on Thursday (March 9).

The termination comes amid a six-month PAGCOR review into the contract after months of belated controversy over the bidding process and the opacity of Global ComRCI and its backers.

PAGCOR’s 6bn peso ($110m) contract with the consortium, signed in 2017, has come under attack in the Senate, where evidence has been presented on bidding irregularities.

However, PAGCOR said its financial exposure to the contract is limited.

“No payment has been made by PAGCOR in the past four years due to the shortfall from the minimum revenue stipulated in the contract,” it said.

Senators have also accused Global ComRCI of certifying its market capitalisation with an unregistered bank and undercounting operator revenue, therefore reducing tax exposure. The bank in February denied certifying Global ComRCI.

PAGCOR, whose officials are also under Senate investigation over the deal, admitted to senators in November that the auditor was incapable of determining the country of origin of foreign online accounts.

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Córdoba Finally Moves Towards Signing Licensing Contracts

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Argentina’s province of Córdoba took another tiny step in its marathon regulation journey last Friday (March 3) by publishing in the province’s official gazette the contract model to which the eight brand new online gaming operators will be subject.

It is the first news from the government since October about the status of the regulation. Online gambling, which was meant to be finalised in October of last year, was delayed until November, which also came and went with no update.

The next news of licensing came in February, by way of a press release by one of the eight pre-awarded licensees, Betsson. The regulator let the news come and go without comment.

The city of Córdoba, within the province, will not have its own regulations, according to the gazette, despite protests from the city councillors that online gaming would not be allowed there no matter what the province said.

The eight pre-awarded licences are required to pay 200m pesos a piece ($1m at the official exchange rate and $536,000 at the blue rate) before the contracts can be signed.

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Ecuador’s Tax Bureau Has Its Cake And Eats It Too

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Francisco Briones, the head of Ecuador’s Internal Revenue Service (SRI), has been on local radio to inform the public that Ecuador is still cracking down on brick and mortar gambling, even though his organisation collects tax on online gaming.

The nation banned casinos and gaming establishments in 2012 after a 2011 public referendum that found the activity amoral and against the public interest.

Briones said in an interview on Radio Centro de Guayaquil this week that the SRI is still, a decade later, making sure that no in-person betting is allowed in the country, and has shut down nine of ten identified gambling establishments registered in the Unique Taxpayer Registry. He said the tenth will also be served notice shortly.

Although the operation of gambling halls and casinos is punished as a crime, online gambling operates in the country through a grey market and operators even pay value added tax (VAT).

Legally, as they are based in another country, they are not committing an Ecuadorian crime and the SRI insists on collecting tax.

The only legal licence available is the lottery retailer licence from the state lottery monopoly, Lotería Nacional.

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Nevada Considers Updates To Gaming Technology Approvals

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The Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) has begun the process of considering potential changes to process of how it approves new gaming technology, including gaming devices, associated equipment and cashless wagering systems.

“Gaming innovation is evolving exponentially and it’s important that technology regulations and licensing keep pace without sacrificing integrity,” said Jonathan Michaels, senior vice president strategic development and government affairs with Sightline Payments.

In a notice to licensees, the NGCB said it will hold a March 21 workshop to gather industry and public input on how the approval process might be improved and modernized.

Among the list of current requirements, potential licensees must submit a white paper outlining the technology or concept, then consult with the NGCB’s Technology Division, followed by product development, then verification that a product complies with state gaming regulations, and finally NGCB approval.

Michaels noted that Nevada’s Republican Governor Joe Lombardo has made gaming technology a priority for his administration. He added that inviting all stakeholders to discuss gaming regulation and innovation was a great step by the control board.

“We are excited to participate,” he added.

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Golden Entertainment Divests Its Slot Route Business

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Golden Entertainment, owner of nine Nevada-based casinos including the Strat in Las Vegas, is selling its distributed gaming operations in Nevada and Montana for a combined $322.5m to a privately held Illinois-based gaming company.

The company announced the deal with J&J Ventures Gaming on Monday (March 6), which is expected to close by the end of the year, pending regulatory approvals. Golden operates 11,600 slot machines at more than 1,000 taverns, truck stops, and other non-casino locations in Nevada and Montana.

J&J Ventures will also pay $39m in estimated closing costs. In addition, Golden will enter into a five-year agreement, under which J&J will support 1,1018 slot machines at Golden’s chain of 64 taverns in Nevada.

The company’s distributed gaming operations in Nevada also includes 7,011 machines at 675 locations, giving them a total market share of 42 percent, while in Montana they have 27 percent of the market with 3,632 machines at 322 locations.

Golden’s distributed gaming business generated $365.47m of the total $1.12bn in revenue last year. J&J operates video lottery terminals (VLTs) in Illinois and Pennsylvania.

In a statement, Blake Sartini, chairman and CEO of Golden Entertainment, said these transactions will allow Golden to “focus our management team and capital on our portfolio of wholly owned casinos and taverns in Nevada.”

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NFL Reinstates Jacksonville’s Calvin Ridley

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The National Football League (NFL) has reinstated Jacksonville Jaguars' wide receiver Calvin Ridley, after a one-year suspension for gambling on league games.

In a statement, the NFL announced Monday (March 6) that Ridley is eligible to participate in all team activities, effective immediately. Ridley had applied for reinstatement from his indefinite suspension for gambling on February 15.

“[Monday’s] reinstatement by the NFL brings an end to a challenging chapter of my professional career, on that was self-inflicted and began with an isolated lapse in judgement,” Ridley said in a statement.

The Jaguars also released a statement saying they were aware of the NFL’s decision and looked “forward to building a relationship with Calvin as both an individual and as a player”.

Ridley was suspended for at least the 2022 season on March 7, 2022, after an NFL investigation found he bet on league games during a five-day stretch in November 2021 while he was away from the Atlanta Falcons.

After his suspension, Ridley admitted on Twitter that his bets totalled $1,500.

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Swedish Health Agency Says Addiction Prevention Should Cover 'Grey' Games

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Sweden’s Public Health Agency has requested that the government’s problem gambling prevention efforts should cover loot boxes, skin gambling, and casino streaming.

The Public Health Agency says products that “lie in the grey area between computer games and gambling for money, have a clear connection with gambling problems”.

An announcement was made by the authority which is currently tasked with improving public health, after it published two reports on Thursday (March 2) outlining its current government assignments.

In part, the assignments are intended to provide knowledge support, analysis, and the coordination of results from the population studies Swelogs and the survey on gambling among young people and parents, as well as other studies.

One concern raised is that the percentage of problem gamblers is higher the more active accounts a player has.

“Today, it is not possible for a gambling company to see if a player has gambling accounts in other gambling companies. To do that, a central platform would be needed for a common bet and loss ceiling for all licensed companies,” Ulla Romild, investigator at the Public Health Agency said.

Additionally, the reports found a link between problem gambling and gambling direct messages.

“Among problem gamblers who gambled online in the past year, 71 percent have received direct mail, compared to 34 percent among those without problem gambling,” according to the Public Health Agency.

In May 2022, Sweden’s State Treasury asked the Swedish Public Health Agency for help to track the trends of gambling problems, after it found that government revenue and gambling addiction have remained largely unchanged since the country reformed its online market, as it backs new measures to protect players.

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Czech Tax Hike Expected In 2024

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The Czech Republic has confirmed that it is preparing an amendment to its gambling tax law in order to raise more funds for the government.

Martin Sabo, the department director for gambling regulation at the Ministry of Finance, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance that the changes are expected to come into effect on January 1, 2024.

However, “a final decision has still not been taken and all variants are still being discussed at work, the resulting solution cannot be predicted or commented on at the moment”, Sabo said.

Finance minister Zbyněk Stanjura is planning the tax hike on gambling alongside a raft of other changes in the country, as critical discussions are ongoing among lawmakers to reduce the country’s levels of debt, cancel ten tax discounts and change support for pensions.

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Veikkaus has just over 50 percent of the Finnish online market, a California cardroom bill makes progress, PAGCOR cancels its controversial audit contract and Argentina's Córdoba province moves forward with licensing finally.

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