Martin Lycka: Waiting for regulations can try anyone’s patience

Martin Lycka – SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain – discusses the long and often frustrating process of waiting for regulations to cross the finish line.

Yeti, Sasquatch, Bigfoot, or even Sabretooth are all names of a mythical creature that is said to live up in the mountains or deep in the woods. The sightings of which are extremely uncommon and usually, to be fair, a hallucination. Its rarity is second-to-none, perhaps with a notable exception for unicorns. However, some people would swear on their lives to have encountered them or at least to have caught a glimpse of them on this or that day. Dear reader, you might now be thinking that Lycka has gone completely cuckoo, totally off on a tangent and talking utter drivel. What does a Yeti have to do with gambling regulation? Well actually, quite a lot. 

An inherent part of life of a regulatory affairs professional is waiting for regulation to hit while, of course, doing his best to influence its content prior to publication. Believe you me – and those of you who are my fellow sufferers in this respect are only too acutely aware of it – every now and then it would be preferable (and certainly less brain damaging) to be waiting for the proverbial Godot or a Yeti, as opposed to a coveted piece of the latest gambling regulation. For good reason, one gets bombarded by constant questions from commercial and product team colleagues regarding the whereabouts of the ever-elusive set of rules required to forge plans ahead of entering the jurisdiction in question. It goes without saying that timelines are imperative for any such planning. 

Yet, in some cases, despite all the effort that goes in and despite being told by the government and other people in the know that allegedly they already have caught a glimpse of the regulatory Yeti, the answer remains “in the next few weeks or perhaps even months” for a while. Yes, it is annoying for those who have to do the planning, but I would beseech you to have sympathy for your “reg affairs” colleagues who are genuinely trying to move heaven and earth to ensnare the mythical creature and finally bring the Bigfoot regulatory beacon home. 

Examples in our industry abound. I’m writing this piece while sitting in my wife’s old bedroom in Sao Paulo, so let’s recall the Brazilian one first. Brazil committed to regulating sports betting in late 2018, having given itself four years to get the regulation over the line. We now seem to be inching ever closer to a full sighting of that particular Yeti. At time of writing though, it is still out there lurking in the woods, eluding all the regulatory hunters. I would be only too happy to have to eat my words and remove Brazil from the stragglers list if the regulation sees the light of day prior to publication of this column. To be fair to Brazil though, four years is by no means a record time us regulatory poachers have had to lie in wait to finally catch the prize. 

It is still disputed within the industry whether this particular Guinness World Record should go to Germany or the Netherlands. As you will recall, both countries started looking into regulating online gambling, in one way or another, in early to mid-noughties and took until this decade to get it done. It would also appear to be a part of the folklore of some countries to announce that “this is the year of regulation” and then oops, the timeline slips. Let’s not name the Chiles or Perus of this world by name in this context … 

However, digressing, we must realize that regulating our industry is not a piece of cake; contrary to popular belief, it is a complex industry. So, let’s give credit where credit is due and applaud every single country that has plucked up the courage and given online gambling regulation a go.

To end this Yeti-hunting piece on a high, let’s cast our eye towards the Great White North: the province of Ontario has also admittedly taken a while to put its regulation in place since it was first envisaged. Yet, it is done now and with an outcome that indeed deserves plaudits. It is certainly not for the faint of heart to navigate the vagaries of “conduct and manage” and administer a market where the US Bigfoot hunters meet their global counterparts in a commercial battle for the very first time. While watching from the sidelines how the battle for the hearts of Ontario punters pans out, us regulatory affairs professionals will keep laying traps for mythical creatures elsewhere. 

Martin Lycka is the SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain. The statements made in relation to this article, do not necessarily reflect the opinions held by Entain Plc. Subscribe to Martin Lycka’s Safe Bet Show on all leading podcast providers. Click here for more information.