We are days away from closing out one of Global Gambling most eventful years. As we look back at the action in the gambling Universe world in 2018 in this two-part series.
A sexual harassment scandal involving a top casino executive broke out early into 2018 and made the headlines throughout the past 12 months.
In May, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark decision that swiftly began reshaping the US gambling landscape and is poised to have lasting effects not only for the local, but also for the global gambling industry.
In Europe, the gambling regulator of the United Kingdom has embarked on a crusade against erring operators, slapping hefty fines and toughening the conditions each of its licensees is obligated to comply with in order to be allowed to operate in that lucrative market.
The legalization of casino gambling in Japan was another topic to receive quite some attention in news reports over the past 12 months. The country’s government finally passed a bill containing the rules and principles under which its nascent casino industry will be run. However, there is still a lot of work to be done before Japan’s first casinos open doors.
Last but not least, the merger and acquisition front was all but quiet this year. Some of UK’s largest gambling companies found themselves at the center of M&A activity, Canada’s The Stars Group went out on a mad shopping spree in the first half of the year, and several major US-based casino companies completed previously announced merger and acquisition deals, seeking to cement their businesses in an ever-changing and highly competitive environment.
These were the top gambling stories of 2018 in a nutshell. Here is a little bit more about how they broke and developed throughout the year in our two-part series.
#MeToo Reaches the Casino Industry as Wynn Resorts Staff Level Accusations against Boss
Steve Wynn is one of the greatest visionaries of the global land-based casino industry. His iconic properties in Las Vegas and Macau are the epitome of luxury and style. However, news broke in January that the businessman might have been hiding nasty skeletons in his closet for decades.
Back in January, the Wall Street Journal published a comprehensive report detailing a “decades-long pattern” of sexual misconduct by Mr. Wynn. The article contained allegations leveled by former and current employees of gaming and hospitality company Wynn Resorts, who claimed that they had been subjected to unwanted sexual advances and were forced to perform sex acts by their boss.
One such incident culminated in Mr. Wynn paying a $7.5-million settlement to a former Wynn Las Vegas manicurist who claimed she was pressured into having intercourse with the casino mogul.
The embattled businessman denied all allegations against him shortly after the publication of the WSJ report, saying that “the idea that [he] ever assaulted any woman is preposterous.” Mr. Wynn went on that the instigation of the accusations was orchestrated by his ex-wife, Elaine Wynn, “with whom [he was] involved in a terrible and nasty lawsuit in which she is seeking a revised divorce settlement.”
The publication of the WSJ story unleashed waves of trouble for the casino mogul. He has been facing piles of lawsuits ever since. He also stepped down as CEO and Chairman of Wynn Resorts and moved out from his Wynn Las Vegas villa duplex which he had occupied for over a decade.
Wynn Resorts itself could not elude trouble. A number of gambling regulators in jurisdictions where the company operates properties started investigations whether it had any previous knowledge of the multiple allegations against its founder and top executive and how it addressed the issue.
In Massachusetts, the state Gaming Commission was expected to publish a report with the results of its probe into Wynn Resorts earlier this month. The regulator collected evidence to determine whether the company was suitable to operate an integrated resort in the Greater Boston area, which is slated to open doors in June 2019. A Nevada circuit court judge temporarily blocked the publication of the report after Mr. Wynn filed a complaint against MassGaming and Wynn Resorts for communicating privileged information over the course of the regulator’s probe.
SCOTUS Strikes Down Federal Sports Betting Ban
The US Supreme Court issued on May 14 a landmark ruling that annulled a long-standing federal ban on the provision of sports betting in states outside Nevada. The strikedown of the ban was the first (and probably most important) step toward the opening of a market the American Gaming Association believes could be worth $150 billion.
Delaware was the first state to start offering full-scale sports betting. The state’s three sportsbooks at its three casinos opened on June 5. Previously, Delaware offered only multi-game parlay betting.
New Jersey followed suit in mid-June with the launch of sportsbooks at The Borgata and Monmouth Park Racetrack. At present, seven of the state’s nine operational casino and the Meadowlands Racetrack are offering legal sports betting products. Both in-person and digital sports gambling are available in New Jersey.
So far, it has been the state to see the biggest positive impact of the legalization of sports betting. According to information from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, the state’s sportsbooks handled more than $928.1 million in wagers in the period between mid-June and November 30, 2018.
West Virginia, Mississippi, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania have launched legal sports betting on their territories in the past few months. More states and jurisdictions are expected to join the bandwagon in the coming year.
Most recently, the District of Columbia Council passed a sports betting bill that calls for the authorization of the gambling activity at the city’s stadiums and arenas, restaurants and liquor stores, and other private businesses. The piece of legislation now needs to be approved by Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has previously said that she would support the legalization of the practice as it could be “a viable revenue source.” The bill will also have to be reviewed by the Congress.
UK Gambling Commission Tightens Grip on the Local Gambling Industry
In Europe, the UK Gambling Commission dominated the breaking news headlines over the past 12 months. The regulator warned in 2017 about its plans to tighten its regulatory grip and showed to the industry this year that it was not joking at all.
In February, the regulator’s outgoing Chief Sarah Harrison slammed gambling conference organizers for hiring “scantily clad” women to attract a greater number of delegates to their events. The gaming regulator addressed what she considered a “significant stain on the industry reputation” during the International Casino Conference just days before stepping down from her role at the Commission. Following Ms. Harrison’s comments and broad media coverage on the topic, Clarion Gaming, organizers of the ICE London gaming exhibition and conference, among other gaming events, announced a revisal of its code of conduct and of what was considered appropriate attire at B2B events.
The UK Gambling Commission kept itself busy slapping hefty fines to operators found to have violated the terms of their licenses from the regulator. Most recently, the Commission took what it called “widespread regulatory action”against three online gambling companies, imposing seven-figure fines to each of those.
Daub Alderney was issued a £7.1-million financial penalty, Casumo was ordered to pay £5.85 million, and Videoslots was slapped a £1-million fine for various violations, including failures to implement proper anti-money laundering controls as well as failures to prevent problem gamblers from further fueling their addiction.
Major British bookmakers William Hill and SkyBet were, too, among the companies to be slapped massive fines this year. The former was ordered to pay a £6.2-million penalty package for breaching anti-money laundering and social responsibility regulations, while the latter was fined £1 million for failing to prevent self-excluded gamblers from opening duplicate gambling accounts.
On October 31, 2018, the Gambling Commission implemented new rules and changes to the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice, which operators are required to comply with if they want to be allowed to keep operating in the United Kingdom. The rules aim to address issues discovered by the regulator while investigating operators and improve operators’ policies and activities in relation to the safe and responsible provision of gambling services
The new rules are five-fold and under those, operators are required to abide by advertising principles written by the Committee of Advertising Practice and enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority; operators are fully accountable for the actions and behavior of their affiliates; operators are obligated to comply with consumer law, particularly when it comes to online promotions and withdrawal of customer funds; operators are required to introduce better complaint handling processes; operators are required to make sure that they do not spam consumer with promotional materials.