Martin Lycka – the arrival of a British-Czech man in New York

Entain's SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling Martin Lycka looks at how gambling regulators globally are shaping up against each other.
Image source: SBC

Martin Lycka – SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain – talks about US relocation, the power of the dollar and what it’s like to arrive in a country of 50 states.

I’m an alien; finally, I’m a legal alien, I’m a “British-Czech man” in New York. It has admittedly taken me a while but me and the family have eventually managed to relocate to the USA so that I can do my job in the same time zone-ish as my peers and partners. 

Many people have of course done it before us, and I am certain as the roll out of sports betting continues that many more will do it in the future. 

Anyway, I can breathe a little more easily now as we have made it and are in the process of settling down in a new place. I know bits and pieces about football; even about baseball. Let’s just say, well done, Braves. 

On the other hand, I do have an accent and tend to use British vocabulary. I still need to switch from the language of Shakespeare to that of Hamilton and Hemingway. We’re used to shopping in M&S and Sainsbury’s, not yet in Whole Foods Market or Walmart. We’re still getting used to sales tax being added after purchase and grappling with community borders and their effect on real estate. 

You may be thinking why on Earth I am telling you this rather personal story on a gambling news site? Well I noticed that every individual’s own story of landing on US shores bear quite a strong resemblance to the global gambling industry’s story in the United States as a whole. 

Every now and then we may believe that we have seen it all. Ultimately, we ‘re talking about sports betting and increasingly so about online casino and poker. We have been doing that for years, in some cases even decades, haven’t we? 

The same products, the same promotions, the same backend services; perhaps with a little extra glitz and gloss and bigger as everything is bigger in America, Hollywood productions tell us constantly. TV channels bellow out one sports betting advert after another; sky high promotions compete for customers, seemingly spoilt for choice.

Essence of sports betting is unchanged 

And on top of everything, on the regulatory side of things, they’ve been going at it state by state, so it does feel like a rerun of what we have experienced in good old Europe. So, is this déjà vu; in essence the same thing, only with a little twist and time difference? Well, yes and no, as us lawyers love to tend to say. 

The essence of sports betting, casino games or poker has not changed. This is what we continue offering and a lot of people continue playing (responsibly, pretty, please). Our trading wizards graft tirelessly to offer the best possible odds. 

Phenomenal tech stacks of the size of a football field, supported by phenomenally talented developers, make sure the offering is not only replete with the most glamorous games but also that our systems can cater to customers’ needs in next to no time. And yet, there are myths to bust about the American sports betting and online casino experience, if you allow me my “fellow” Americans. 

Let’s start with the most obvious one – America is not a single country but, at least in my view,  rather a country of 50 states that have chosen to be bound together by a set of principles that they hold for self-evident. This is not only reflected in the state by state regulatory approach – a hard won judicial victory, needless to say – but also in the fact that every single state goes about its betting market just a tiny bit differently.

Land based partners ranging from land casinos to sports franchises and tribes, or in a few cases no tethering at all; (no) official data mandates, a whole variety of restrictions on college sports; loads of skins or on the contrary just a couple of them. The list goes on and on and it is fair to say that “the same but different” approach might be driving some compliance professionals mad. 

The second one on the deck is baseball as America’s National Pastime. This is not meant to be another dig at baseball fans; the game undoubtedly has its thrills and its beauty. It would, however, appear that its cohort of fans is growing gradually older and the game may be in a need of revamping. 

The competition from football (as in football, we have had this discussion above), basketball and maybe even hockey is very stiff, including critically for the purposes of this piece betting wise. And let’s not forget that esports are in a seemingly unstoppable ascendancy. In any case, a lot of betting markets to choose from and it is refreshing to see that largely everyone is welcome to make a case for inclusion of his or her sport or game in the catalogue of permitted markets, where applicable (well, unless we’re talking, as we have, about college sports …).

The dollar being the absolute king? 

The final one I’d like to tackle – and remember these are just initial observations of a newbie to America, so please feel free to disagree, dear readers – is the time-tested maxim of the dollar being the absolute king. 

Looking at the current rate of marketing spend one could easily get the impression that that the aforesaid maxim still reigns supreme. Nonetheless, with the older ranks of Generation Z having reached the legal age for gambling, ethics and responsibility ever increasingly permeate the industry’s operations. 

Arguably it will go on to become an even more prominent feature of our offering; and of course for a good reason as it goes without saying that it is the only way of achieving long term sustainability of the industry we cherish in America as well as elsewhere. 

I will stop here; there are more relocation joys to negotiate and as pointed out above, these are just initial observations on my brief American experience. I shall hope I have not been disrespectful to my new homeland, and in particular baseball fans, as ultimately manners maketh the man.