High delegate numbers reminiscent of GIGSE at its peak
Much of the European online gambling industry gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark Tuesday as the 8th Annual European iGaming Congress and Expo (EiG) kicked of at the ultra modern Bella Centre about 22 ride by Metro from the city centre.
It is the first time this important industry conference has been held in Copenhagen, which meant that delegates had a fresh selection of sights, shows and restaurants in which to network between formal conference sessions.
Organisers Clarion Gaming said preliminary numbers suggested that the attendance matched that of the Canadian GIGSE conferences at their peak, a positive affirmation of the resilience of the industry despite difficult global economic conditions. Certainly there were crowds of delegates and some frenetic early networking going on when the registration desks opened Tuesday morning.
Danish minister talks on market liberation
Top of the speakers' bill was an address by Danish Minister of Taxation Kristian Jansen, an important political driver in Denmark's move away from a state gambling monopoly through Danske Spil. The affable and articulate minister is the architect of much of the new legislation now taking shape in Denmark which could see the Nordic country becoming an important i-gaming centre.
Jansen revealed that the monopoly's positive contribution to Danish charities and civil society currently topped Euro 250 million a year, but outlined the motivation for the Danish move toward a more liberal online gambling market. This would see the current monopoly Danske Spil holding on to certain gaming genres, but a significant opening of the Danish market to responsible companies prepared to license, be regulated and pay taxes in the country was planned.
Online gambling companies and developments in the European Union had seriously challenged Danske Spil, he said, undermining the monopoly and making it unsustainable. Bans on advertising had proved difficult to enforce, and the government had therefore opted for a partial liberation of the market under strict regulation which would meet the European Commission's approval.
Danske Spil would retain its grip on certain aspects, such as lotteries, and would be able to compete in the open market in others, paying taxes in these liberated sectors and subject to the same regulations as licensee companies. The old monopoly would also be free to compete vigorously in external markets.
Jansen touched on what he referred to as the dark side of gambling, explaining that it was a unique product in that it touched sensitive spots in business, religious and moral areas. There were real concerns regarding money laundering, problem and underaged gambling, unfair games and the perils of organised crime, and these fears were being assuaged by the government's insistence on a strict regulatory framework, which new and simplfied legislation was designed to provide, protecting both players and legitimate licensees under the new tax and licensing regime.
This legislation had been sent to the European Commission for input, and Minister Jensen said he hoped to be in a position to submit the proposed law to the Danish Parliament next spring, with a view to commencing operational licensing in 2011.
Shielding Danish licensees
The minister outlined a three pronged approach to protecting Danish licensees from illegal operators, saying that the government was moving toward a combination of:
a) Ensuring that Danish financial institutions banned transactions with illegal (non-Danish licensed) operators;
b) ISP blocks could be mounted against illegal operators
c) Illegal operators would not be permitted to advertise in Denmark.
Whilst not individually ideal, the combination of the three could be largely effective, he opined.
Quizzed on tax levels, the minister played his cards close to his chest, giving away nothing other than that the government was studying the tax levels of other countries involved in Internet gambling licensing and regulation. The tax rate had yet to be decided, he said.
The minister did not seem to think that harmonised online gambling regulation was likely to eventuate in Europe, instead being replaced with individual semi or completely liberated markets.
Billion dollar lessons
Immediately following the minister's address was an interesting presentation by top US business writer and co-author of a best seller, Paul B. Carroll. This consultant to world figures like Bill Gates has achieved global recognition for a book entitled "Billion Dollar Lessons - What You Can Learn From The Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Past Twenty Five Years."
The title of the book covered the theme of Carroll's address, backed by intensive business research into 700 business failures, mainly among giant US companies. Carroll's relaxed, straightforward and highly entertaining talk was a great addition to the program, and will undoubtedly encourage more businessmen to consider why companies fail before launching new initiatives.
Carroll's signals to beware include the words and phrases 'synergy' and 'the model says...' and he encouraged managers to play devil's advocate, debate new ventures extensively and challenge all assumptions.
Online gambling past, present and future
Rounding off the morning's activities was a high-powered panel of movers and shakers in the industry marshalled by online gambling doyenne Sue Schneider and discussing the past, present and future of onbline gambling. Instantly recognisable names on the panel included Sportingbet founder Mark Blandford; Tim Lambe of Pan Index; Adrian Brink of iCoins; Dietmar Knoechelmann of Wirecard Payments; Gigamedia's Bob Cahill and John Anderson of 888.com, eCOGRA and the IGC.
Areas of future significance included mobile and social gaming, new affiliate marketing models, doubts regarding any European regulatory harmonisation, customer relationships and the need for genuine innovation. All appeared agreed on the remarkable resilience of the industry and its considerable potential going forward.
Early view of new competition
Delegates returning to the Bella Centre this evening will have one of the first public snapshots of the newly rolled-out Bodog [Poker] Network in a special presentation by Bodog Network vice president Jonas Odman.