Martin Lycka: Living the US alien life

Martin Lycka July 22

In this month’s column for SBC Americas, Entain SVP of Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling Martin Lycka discusses what can often be lost in translation when trying to take things from Europe to the US, be it a driver’s license or a regulated sports betting model:

Strictly legally speaking, I remain a “legal alien” but am no longer all that alien to living in the US of A.  We moved over nine months ago and, believe you me, it has flown by at a pace that beats even the mad dash of US sports betting regulation.

For starters, following that same regulatory routine, we’re now on our second state, having left the ultimate hustle and bustle of New York City for the swanky waterfront of Jersey City. No need to worry, we don’t plan on doing all 50 states. And I guess neither does sports betting, unless someone can find a way to break Utah’s religiously motivated resistance to our trade. Nonetheless, changes in this land come thick and fast. One needs to be flexible and open-minded and keep learning. 

I would like to think that we have absorbed the initial challenges that I wrote about in my first piece on our American adventures, no matter how annoying the tax-excluding price tags still are. At the same time, and this will come as no surprise, there have turned out to be more practical issues that have contributed towards making our stay at the other side of the proverbial pond even more “fun”.

I guess most of us who don’t originally hail from the land of the free and the home of the brave might have formed a slightly distorted picture of what the country is like on the basis of the American culture we have consumed throughout the years. In that vision, J.R. Ewing is the archetype CEO, Brandon Walsh the ultimate nice guy, and Buffy deals with all the long-toothed and other evil. Hollywood 80s and 90s bliss or, I suppose, crap for some. 

The reality on the ground is, of course, much more nuanced. On the one hand, just like anywhere else, there’s a whole variety of flavors when it comes to human characters, ranging from super nice Brandons to rather mean J.R.s. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that this nation has done its utmost to forge a very strong narrative of pride underpinned by entrepreneurial spirit, represented by the likes of the American flag, the Super Bowl, and Wall Street. These, to my mind, are the two key tenets that govern both daily life in the States as well as everything thrown at us on the sports betting side of things. 

Securing the pass to a full unobstructed American daily life presupposes having jumped through numerous administrative hoops, including applying for credit cards, Social Security numbers, or driver’s licenses. Newcomers going through these processes are treated with respect while being expected not to deviate from the process and protocols by a single inch. 

From experience, this may give rise to rather comical and mind-boggling issues like when I was told when getting my NJ driving license that, although it is normally waived for foreigners like me who have driven for donkey’s, I would have to do a road test as my documents were not a “perfect match”. That was because my Czech driver’s license, unlike my UK and US documents, contains a designation of my university degree right next to my first name. My negotiation instincts kicked in and I manage to convince the officer’s boss that everything was fine because my parents would have never called me Martin “JUDr” and my face was the same across all the paperwork.  The commandment is clear though: thou shalt walk the line of our rules. 

In a similar vein, applying the same logic to the regulatory process, it would be very foolish to believe that we could just grab the European knowledge and experience we have accumulated over the years and foist it on the US markets. America is open for business now but under its own rules. We’ve got to go state by state; and some states may either not go at all or take time to wrestle with the collective conscience of its citizens who may not (yet) be prepared to accept sports betting as a legitimate form of entertainment.

At the same time, once the regulatory light turns green, it is all systems go with so-called risk-free bets and other forms of rather crazy bonusing and advertising filling the airwaves as well as First Amendment rights being brandished in defense of largely unrestricted gambling. And just you wait to see what happens if and when igaming catches fire. It is simply fascinating to be part of the American online gambling movement, especially as an “alien”.