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Martin Lycka – The age of super mergers

As the key factions in the gambling landscape build alliance after alliance, GVC Holdings Director of Regulatory Affairs Martin Lycka muses on the way it is changing the world we work in. 


The landscape of the fabled land of Gamealot has changed a lot over the last decade or so. Sir William hailed a Caesar from across the pond and ceded him all his lands. The biggest of the poker juggernauts anchored in the safe harbour of Lord Paddy of Flutter. Big and small duchies up and down the land, including the world-renowned Houses of Ladbroke and B-win, joined the Gambling Valour Compact. The age of super mergers has dawned. 

At the beginning, the vast pristine territories of the online gambling universe were up for grabs. First business-minded settlers, often with technological background, arrived and staked out their lands. There was nobody else on the horizon; just the rising sun of opportunity on a computer-generated sky made of algorithms for all the trailblazers who had left the comfort of their brick and mortar homes. 

Supplies, in the form of venture capital, countless domain names as well as unlimited brand designs, were bountiful. Any name with the enigmatic word ‘bet’ in it would literally do. One could highlight that betting was ‘fair’, might have led to a “win” or could be carried out ‘365’ days a year. 

With new lands claimed and general internet gambling stores flourishing, digital trains from far away steamrolled in with their loads of punters eager to discover the novelty type of game. The original settlements introduced governance structures – the regulatory and licensing sheriffs have arrived – outgrew their original boundaries and slowly but surely began competing with each other for custom. The original, largely uniform, general store-like offering was no longer good enough to attract sustainable interest; way too many others were seeking to do the same thing. Product innovation and differentiation were born. 

Pre-match betting is fun but in-play brings that extra level of thrill. If the squeaky bum time towards the end of the games in your accumulator turns out to be a little too much for you, cash out. Roulette wheels needn’t have a zero, slots can spin on their own, and one can get the live casino experience without having to stand up from the sofa. All this is possible in the brave new world of internet gambling. Mobile gambling gives it yet another dimension; no need to drag your laptop around with you, the magic little box with half-bitten apples or other symbols on it can do the trick as well. 

And yet, product and design inventions are easily replicable. The projected future, which once brimmed with energy, is getting increasingly sedentary. There is no more pristine land to be had; trespasses on foreign land of the other original settlements are inevitable. On top of all this, dark clouds of external pressure associated with the vices of the, by now, rather old world are gathering on the once so clear horizon. Two new commandments: merge & acquire and behave responsibly. 

The Irish bought the Hammersmith-based Brits. Another group of Brits formed the LGC alliance. Hills acquired Greens. Firebrand start-ups took over more established companies on the British Isles as well as further afield. In the meantime, the age of careless gaming came to an abrupt end; the industry has gone through a period of very intense soul searching that has resulted in the introduction of the likes of markers of harm and other tools designed to help customers avoid pathological issues. Brave new world? Perhaps, but way too saturated. 

And then, just as it looked as though that there was nowhere else to claim pastures new, the promised land across the pond has opened up its gates and the game has become truly global. New players, originally hailing from the pre-digital age, have entered the fray and now look to get their fair share of the ever so popular internet market. New alliances are being formed. 

But will the attraction go beyond the traditional gambling space?  Big global corporations that in the past would arguably not have touched the ‘gambling swamp’ with a barge pole may be minded to have a tilt and branch out.

The big question is what will happen next? Will the industry be taken over by a Google-like behemoth coming from the outside? Will it form a leviathan of its own, possibly called “Paddy from Green Hills in the Sky Betting to Win 365 Free Flutters”? Or will we witness star wars of big operator alliances on the global scale? The opening of the US lands has brought so many potential powers into play, who can know which one will end up sitting in the Throne of Games. 

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