ASIA FOCUS

ASIA FOCUS

All change in Asia?

While Asia’s land-based industry has suffered as a result of the global lockdown, its online market has enjoyed a strong uptick in numbers. Susan O’Leary asks whether this development could herald a new era of formally regulated online gaming in more of the region’s countries


COMPANY PROFILE
NAME: Alderney eGambling
FOUNDED: 2000
SECTOR: Regulation
WEBSITE: Alderneygambling.com
TWITTER: @Alderneyegamble


There’s no doubt the world in 2020 is unlike any time we’ve ever experienced. Levels of uncertainty are at an all-time high and the economic landscape is changing rapidly, forcing every single business worldwide to navigate their way through an unprecedented, unexpected global crisis.

With the Asian land-based industry grinding to a halt, casino doors closed and operations suspended, it’s the online market that’s experiencing a surge, as consumer appetite and preferences change dramatically in the world of lockdowns and stay-at-home directives.

Online operators in Asia are reporting a huge increase in online activity with a scramble to get new products and sites online to meet the growing interest from the market. However, the lack (and consistency) of regulation in Asian markets also means a growing concern for the protection of players. Unregulated sites pose identity and fund protection risks, added to the concern that mounting financial uncertainty for many will lead to increased problem gambling.

LICENSING MINEFIELD

Gaming regulation in Asia has long been a complex puzzle for operators to decipher. The region offers a patchwork of markets each with different rules, approaches to legality, requirements, enforcement and expectations.

PAGCOR, a Philippines regulator issuing online gaming licences to overseas operators in the form of POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) licences, provides some oversight within the market. However, the regulator suspended the licences of all its POGOs as part of the enhanced community quarantine rules at the start of the Covid-19 crisis on the grounds that POGO employees were unable to work from home.

They have since been permitted to operate once more but with stringent restrictions in place to protect staff. In addition, in a bid to stamp out illegal gaming activity, the regulator is supporting calls for a stronger vetting process for POGOs going forward. But will that be enough to deter operators trading in the black market, and will the restrictions placed on POGOs prove unmanageable?

“There is an appetite for proper regulation and a desire to demonstrate a commitment to global best practice”

Considering the rapid shift and growth of activity in the online space, and the mounting costs to governments tackling the current crisis, could the potential for much-needed tax revenues from online operators lead to an increased appetite for formally regulated online gaming in more Asian countries? Perhaps, but this takes time. In the meantime, operators who want to weather this storm are seeking regulation from a regulator with a truly global reach.

The AGCC (Alderney Gambling Control Commission) has seen a significant increase in interest from businesses since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, internationally as well as those targeting and operating out of the Asian gaming space. With a licence that is recognised, accepted and respected the world over, there are endless opportunities for Alderney licensees. The framework provides a flexible, risk-based approach to regulation and, uniquely, can be awarded to businesses based anywhere in the world.

There is an appetite for proper regulation and a desire to demonstrate a commitment to global best practice. In the unregulated space, there are many advantages to seeking regulation: banking and payments ease, partnership potential, business growth and M&A to name but a few. The benefits span the entire egaming ecosystem, such is the web of connections provided by an established regulator such as the AGCC.

Not only that, but the crisis has certainly demonstrated some markets’ weaknesses more than others. It makes sense for global businesses to spread the risk, assessing which regulatory jurisdictions serve them best to not only enter but thrive in their target markets and provide a base for key employees if desired.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

As for the future of gaming in Asia, the Covid crisis has been described as a wake-up call for casinos operating in the land-based space so perhaps we will see a convergence of land-based businesses moving to online play. Not all businesses will be able to weather the storm alone so it’s likely we’ll see more consolidation. And with a huge interest in esports, maybe we’ll see more Asian operators offering betting products in this market.

The only certainty is that the world as we know it is unlikely to return to a pre-2020 landscape anytime soon. Even if businesses are back up and running in the coming months they will never be the same – some will bear the bruises and scars of this crisis more than others, but all will adopt new ways of operating with a new sense of normality. The AGCC licensing regime offers consistency, stability and continuity in this unprecedented time and its approach and support for licensees remains unchanged, providing them with a solid and experienced safe pair of hands to guide them through.

If the online industry in Asia continues to experience such a growth in demand, and as we edge towards a global ‘new normal’ moving into recovery, there’s no doubting the fundamental role that regulation of online gambling and customer protection will play. For those operators who want to come out of the crisis with integrity and resilience, the opportunity already exists to embrace best practice through Alderney’s world-renowned global regulatory framework.


SUSAN O’LEARY is the CEO of Alderney eGambling, the Alderney regulator’s strategic and development body. As a lawyer, she represented some of the world’s leading egambling operators and gambling service providers including many of Alderney’s licensees for many years; and as such has perspective on both the commercial and regulatory elements. Susan has a clear understanding of the online landscape and is a regular speaker at key industry conferences and events globally.