With the coronavirus pandemic halting all land based activity since the beginning of 2020, the increase in online activity has caused concern for consumer protection. Gambling authorities all over the world have since initiated in several high intensity projects to examine the role of increasing amounts of illegal gambling operators now available to consumers worldwide.
In February 2021, The Betting and Gaming council published a PWC report which reviewed unlicensed online gambling in the UK. The review highlighted a jump from £1.4bn to £2.8bn in spend with unlicensed operators in November – December 2019 vs the same period last year. The new data also shows the number of customers using an unlicensed betting website has grown from 210,000 two years ago to 460,000, with children being able to access illegal gambling websites which have no strict ID and age verification measures.
The BGC has called on the government to ensure that he Online Harms Bill be passed through parliament to crack down on unregulated operators.
In 2020 the Danish Gambling Authority had 16 websites blocked and increased its focus on searching for illegal websites in cooperation with the Danish Tax Agency's anti-fraud unit. The focus was not only on illegal online websites, but also video gaming, lotteries at pubs and illegal gambling in the land based sector.
Last year, Spillemyndigheden shut down a total of 28 unregulated websites in Denmark. Back in February, Denmark’s leading operator Danske Spil shared a 10-point action plan, proposing that affiliate partners should be banned from operating in Denmark. VIP schemes would also be removed, while there would be restrictions to TV advertising too – amongst other things.
Gambling laws in the Lithuania, permit the Control authority to take action against unlicensed operators, including blocking access to their websites. Any operator that is blocked, is also added to the Control Authority’s blacklist of unlicensed and illegal operators. The only way an operator can be removed from the list is if it secures the relevant licence to offer online gambling in Lithuania.
Last month, the Gambling Supervisory Authority imposed two fines, one against an operator for unreasonably setting betting limits on an online customer and the second to an employee of a digital media business for placing illegal gambling advertisements on a sports news and information website, featuring promotional bonuses which are prohibited under Lithuanian regulations.
On the 26th April 2021, the Belgium Gambling Commission (CJH) launched a new campaign against unlicensed gambling called ‘Always Play Legally’. The new campaign was launched after the regulator revealed that an estimated 20% of gaming customers in Belgium actually play with unlicensed operator.
The ‘always Play Legally” campaign will aim to educate consumers on the risks of gambling with unlicensed operators and how to identify and unlicensed operator vs a licensed operator.
The Belgium Gambling Commission will work alongside its Dutch counterpart, the Kansspelautoriteit to combat illegal gambling and ensure player protection.
The KSA has begun a new round of action against websites promoting unlicensed operators. Tougher monitoring of affiliate websites will be led by the KSA as they prepare to open up the regulated market on 01stOctober 2021.
In 2019, the KSA took direct action against 26 websites, enforcing 48 hours to remove all marketing content targeted towards Dutch players. To date, the KSA has enforced a number of triple digit penalties to foreign operators promoting to Dutch players through illegal Dutch language websites.
In its latest marketing communication, KSA stated that it would hold a zero-tolerance policy on unlicensed operators or affiliates promoting any type of corona related marketing – imposing immediate fines of €50,000 per discrepancy.
With many countries following suit, the battle against unlicensed operators seems like it’s only just begun. The campaign for action against illegal operators will continue as governments take action to prevent children, young people and the vulnerable from being able to access illegal gambling sites.
Reviewing of operator sites, affiliate sites and all forms of marketing are likely to become increasingly important with more and more countries now working towards a regulated online gambling market.