SBC News Digital challenges: the dual threat of the black market and illegal gaming platforms

Digital challenges: the dual threat of the black market and illegal gaming platforms

SBC News Digital challenges: the dual threat of the black market and illegal gaming platforms
Emmanuel Mewissen, Gaming1 CEO

The digital world has profoundly transformed consumption patterns across various economic sectors. 

This phenomenon is evident to all through our relationship with digital technology and certain well-known platforms that are ubiquitous in our daily lives (GAFAM, Shein, Zalando, Uber, Booking, e-banking, etc.). 

However, as highlighted by Gaming1 CEO Emmanuel Mewissen below, this evolution has also led to new consumer behaviours that must be collectively addressed to avoid unfairly stigmatising the gaming industry.

With the gambling industry front of mind, Mewissen notes that a lack of healthy visibility and competitiveness is detrimental to channelling consumers into the legal environment, and the protective measures that are subsequently in place. 

In conversation with SBC News, a far reaching conversation looks at how grave an issue compulsive buying is, adopts a home market focus to assess black market threats and how to wipe out its rising influence, details what more regulators could be doing and touches on if players are mindful of the serious risks posed by visiting such entities.

SBC News: How serious would you say compulsive buying disorder is within the context of the gambling industry? And how would you suggest that this is best combatted? 

Emmanuel Mewissen: Even though this behavioural trouble represents a minority of players, compulsive buying disorder poses a significant challenge within all economic sectors, especially in the era of digital consumption. 

With the ease of multi sector online shopping platforms and powerful marketing techniques, individuals with oniomania pathology may be particularly vulnerable to impulsive gambling behaviours. 

From a general point of view, the digital transition has totally transformed our way of consumption. Our relationship towards digital platforms has influenced our behaviours to consumption. This is a macroeconomic fact. Digital is a global challenge. 

If we deep dive into the gambling sector, digital is also a challenge. To face this, raising awareness about responsible gambling and providing resources for support and counselling can be effective measures. 

Let’s recall that digital knows no borders. Our main threat is currently the progression of illegal operators because the internet is global and where legal operators comply to drastic rules in the country they operate, illegal do not (i.e.: ad ban, deposit limit, minimum age control, lost limit, responsible gaming communication policy …). Therefore, the legal sector must be strong and well prepared to be efficient and to face illegal market progression. 

SBCN: Within Gaming1’s home market, how much of a threat is the black market? 

EM: The black market presents a considerable threat to Gaming1’s home market in Belgium. The Belgian Gaming Commission does its best to face this but lacks resources to be efficient and face this threat. The BGC has recently announced that it has blacklisted 500 illegal websites. 

The issue is that most of these remain accessible easily for players. Sometimes players do not even need to use a VPN to access the illegal platform. There are companies specialised in the illegal gambling market monitoring. One of them is Yield Sec. They are able to list the real number of illegal operators. 

For our territory, it appears that there are over 2,200 illegal operators identified. The issue for legal operators is that these illegal platforms operate outside Belgian regulations, offering unregulated and potentially unsafe gambling experiences to consumers. 

These illegal platforms provide great player experience. Therefore, the legal market is urged to have a regulatory framework that does not weaken them too much compared to the illegal market. 

SBCN: Would you say that its influence is rising or being stamped out? And why?

EM: The influence of the black market appears to be rising, as evidenced by a six per cent increase in the number of players on unauthorised platforms within just six months after the implementation of the advertising Royal Decree (source: BAGO). 

This trend suggests that current regulatory measures may not be effectively deterring illegal operators. Even though we are favourable to a sane advertising limit, a total ban disenables the legal sector to be visible enough for safe players. These players now are only exposed to illegal operator advertising and very hard marketing. 

SBCN: What more can regulators do to ensure that the potential appeal of the black market is eliminated? Could you identify any regulatory developments that have perhaps been detrimental to the white market and its allure for players? 

EM: As long as the stakeholders determining the legal framework (in Belgium or elsewhere) do not focus on the elements that play a key role overall in the healthy development of the sector (digital gaming, prevention tools, awareness-raising, etc.) for all operators, we will always arrive at the same result. 

Counter-productive or liberticidal measures (for the vast majority of healthy recreational or confirmed gamblers) that damage and weaken the legal players. 

Regulators can adopt a more nuanced approach that focuses on raising consumer awareness and responsibility rather than solely imposing restrictive measures. The sector suffers from stigmatisation and needs a scientific approach to be efficient. 

We ask for collaborative efforts with industry stakeholders to promote responsible gambling and provide transparent information about legal options that can help combat the allure of the black market. Additionally, regulations that are overly restrictive or stigmatising can deter players from legal platforms, undermining the authorised market’s appeal. 

The over-stigmatisation of the sector tends to overshadow the positive aspects of our sector like the taxes, the jobs, the tourism with the casinos etc. A moral dogmatic approach is not helpful to ensure a progressivist and effective gambling regulatory framework. 

SBCN: Do you believe that players are aware of the risks posed by the illegal market? 

EM: Many players may not be fully aware of the risks associated with the illegal market, especially given the ingenuity of illegal operators in circumventing vigilance and the accessibility of these platforms. Actually, the player’s experience on illegal websites is as great as on legal ones in terms of games. 

The threat is specifically about protective measures to limit risk of addiction. In Belgium, the regulatory framework imposes good protection laws, like 21+, EPIS list, deposit limit. 

We at Gaming1, as a responsible actor, we also apply time-off and lost limits to give the maximum safety tools to the player. To us, more education and awareness campaigns are needed to inform players about the potential dangers of unregulated gambling. 

SBCN: You state that “the battle against illegal gambling is far from won”. What would you say needs to happen in order to change this? 

EM: As we stated, digital transition has changed the economic game. Our online behaviours have changed and so our relationship towards online platforms. For the gambling sector, we are going towards a sport momentum (EURO, Olympic games, Tour de France) that will generate some betting. And this is fine. It is just that we need to raise attention to the fact that online betting might happen onto illegal operators’ platforms. This is one up to date example. 

These kinds of phenomena will increase in the future. We can’t stop digital. The sector stakeholders therefore need to collaborate to turn the tide against illegal gambling. A multi-faceted approach is necessary. 

This includes strengthening regulatory frameworks, enhancing enforcement against illegal operators, raising public awareness about the risks of unregulated gambling, and fostering collaboration between regulators, industry, and other stakeholders. 

Additionally, addressing the root causes that drive players towards illegal platforms, such as excessive regulatory burdens or lack of appealing legal options, can help shift the balance in favour of the white market.

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