Online betting, whether sports or casinos, was a very welcome distraction in the dystopian year of 2020, and interest in both types of betting increased significantly. It's an exciting time and it's no surprise that regulatory bodies around the world are making some adjustments to ensure people have a good time and gambling establishments don't take advantage. From around the world, here are some of the biggest possible 2021 changes to gambling regulations.
The United Kingdom is one of the world's top betting nations, with lotteries, sports betting, bookies, exchanges, online casinos, and one of the leading international regulatory authorities in the form of the UK Gambling Commission. Generally, the country is very liberal and open to betting. Recent moves, however, have been in the other direction and it remains to be seen just how far this will go, or if this is more of a corrective trend aimed at curbing excesses rather than being anti-gambling.
A few years ago the UK Government slashed the maximum stake available at Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to just £2, following widespread condemnation of the machines (dubbed the crack cocaine of the gambling industry). More recently, credit cards have been banned in the UK as a means of funding betting (although debit cards remain on the table). And right now (at the time of writing), there's a review underway of the Gambling Act 2005 which could see yet more changes made to betting regulation in the country.
So, what's the scope of this review? At the Gambling Act's date suggests, the UK's legislation in the area of online betting is pretty old (a decade and a half) and during that time a lot of things have changed. This includes obvious advancements in betting and related technology such as widespread smartphone uptake and the easy access of mobile gambling, but also matters such as loot boxes in videogames, whether these are gambling, and what limitations should be set in place to safeguard children.
It's difficult to say for certain what changes will be recommended by the review, which is gathering evidence at the time of writing, but we do know the areas it's examining for potentially changing gambling regulations in 2021. The Gambling Commission itself is consulting on tightening up affordability checks and interventions on players (which could either be a welcome step to help problem gamblers or turn into nannying and nagging regular players depending on how far things are taken).
This promises to have widespread implications, as almost half (47%) of Britons surveyed had taken part in some form of gambling during the preceding four-week period. It is believed that 0.5% of British adults can be classed as problem gamblers.
Technological advances, and whether these necessitate alterations to existing legislation, are on the agenda, with a separate call for evidence due in September regarding loot boxes. It is planned for a white paper to be set out by the Government, in response to the evidence gathered, in 2021.
The second question on the review pertains to greater control on products, in terms of stake, speed, and prize limits, which could see extra restrictions applied to these areas (as happened with the aforementioned example of FOBT stakes). Cryptocurrency is on the rise globally as a payment method for betting, but it's also within the framework of this call for evidence, and while it seems unlikely a full ban might be imposed, as per credit cards, that's not impossible.
Cashless payments for land-based gambling is another item up for consideration. But perhaps the single biggest area that might affect the largest number of players is the matter of whether statutory limitations might be imposed to restrict the amount that can be wagered in a single session. The problem with this type of approach is that players vary from millionaire footballers to people on modest incomes spinning reels for 10p a time, so a blanket restriction applying to everyone will be either so high it won't alter any behavior at all, or so low that a large number of players, who have no problem gambling, are caught up in it. Such bettors may then simply play at non-UK sites (employing a VPN if need be to do so).
The Government, like all national authorities in 2021, have a lot on their plate so it might be that they take a less is more approach, or we could see sweeping changes to gambling regulations in 2021 in the UK. Time will tell.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in Canada, things are almost exactly the opposite. Canada has long been more relaxed about betting than the United States, but recent years have seen the formerly puritanical country across the border liberalizing its legislation in various ways, from online casinos to permitting single event sports betting. This has left Canada, with its oddly ambivalent approach to Canadian online casinos and current ban on single game sports betting, looking rather old hat. Not only that, the proximity of the US (and the many leagues which are joint US-Canadian affairs) has naturally led to Canadian players simply spending their money at US establishments.
Put this all together and Canada may finally be ready to axe the strange anachronism of allowing sports betting but only in parlay form. For those unaware, parlay betting is much the same as an accumulator or multiple in that it's a sports bet that has multiple contingencies. It might involve predicting the winner of half a dozen football games, for example. Rather obviously, this has two main implications for those making a wager. The first is that any wins are very large relative to the stake, and the second is that the bets are very unlikely to come off because even if you call five out of six matches right, one failure means the whole bet falls through.
Parlay betting is usually a bad deal for players because they rarely pay out. And Canadians who prefer single event sports betting can simply hop across the virtual border to the US (or even to the UK) to make bets that are simpler and have a far higher chance of coming good. This costs the Canadian treasury an estimated $4bn a year, according to the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), and that's not even half the real cost. Not only do some Canadians just wager in other countries' sportsbooks, some just play in the underworld, with as much as $10bn in illegal sports betting in 2019 (also a CGA estimate).
Shifting to legalize single event sports betting in 2021 gambling regulations would be an obvious and massive win for the Canadian Government, undercutting criminal enterprise that was worth $10bn in 2019, as well as onshoring Canadian betting (and the profits that come with it). Perhaps this explains why a private member's bill to that effect in February 2021 achieved the unusual feat of cross-party support and passed its second reading 303-15. All those who bet on sports professionally are eagerly waiting.
There's still a long way for the bill to go, but Kevin Waugh, the MP who sponsored it, is hopeful it may be able to pass the Senate in May, roughly around the time the CFL kicks off.
The evolution of Germany is completely different of that to the UK (and, before it, England), which even today has implications for gambling regulations. The UK/England has been heavily centralized towards London for a thousand years, whereas Germany as a single political body is just a couple of hundred years old and before that was a patchwork of states, each with their own capital. What this means today is that the UK tends to have laws that apply over the whole country (or England, if it's devolved to regional governments) whereas Germany's regulations can be more fragmented. And that's what the German Interstate Treaty on Gambling (ISTG) is meant to simplify.
Whether this happens remains to be seen but at the moment the ISTG is due to come into effect in July 2021, altering gambling regulations by legalizing online slot machines and poker. (Currently, these are only accessible in Schleswig-Holstein).
The treaty is also intended to bring other areas of German online gambling into the modern world, such as ensuring that player accounts are properly verified. This is, of course, common practice across much of the rest of the world already. Maximum stakes per spin of a slots game will be capped at €1 a time.
European online casinos won't be the only area of betting affected by this 2021 change to gambling regulations, although it is the biggest area. Details remain to be clarified but it seems that live sports betting will also be allowed. Whether that includes cashing out remains to be seen.
Part of the drive for this unified approach is to have a German licensing arrangement, contrary to the current set up that sees a lot of German casinos currently regulated by Malta or Gibraltar. The potential shift is huge as more than nine out of 10 UK players spend their time and money at British-licensed sites, whereas fewer than one in 50 Germans do the same.
As mentioned above, the United States was (Las Vegas aside) pretty puritanical about betting for a long time, regarding both sports and casino betting. Perhaps surprisingly, they have recently surpassed Canada as the more progressive of the two nations in terms of gambling regulations, and 2021 is a year when further steps to open up the online world of betting are anticipated in the United States.
Online gambling of one variety or another is currently legal in just under half the states (24), which has encouraged American players to onshore their playing, and thus increased revenues in the states that have embraced the reality of online casinos and sports betting. Dozens more states may get in on the act in 2021 for reasons very similar to those outlined for Canada. Between offshore betting and criminal gambling syndicates, the chance for states to increase revenue while also increasing player safety (illegal gambling dens are not renowned for having their customers' best interests at heart) is too good to miss.
California and Connecticut are two states tipped to move towards online gaming and online sports betting respectively in 2021, and sports betting may also arrive in Florida this year. Referendum results in Maryland and Louisiana went well and may pave the way for mobile sports betting, and South Dakota may open real world sportsbooks. Online casinos could also come to Iowa and Indiana. In short, the vast majority of states that don't already have online betting (sports or casino) are moving in that direction in an almost competitive manner. This isn't universal (Texas is not renowned for its pro-gambling attitude and there are precious few betting establishments in the state) but it is a common theme.
The United Kingdom, a highly developed betting nation, may point the general direction of some future changes for the US, Canada, and Germany. Increased opportunities to cash out during live sporting events is one obvious step. Another is a broad definition of what a sports market is. Political betting is big business in the UK (including on the US presidential election), with new party leader and next Prime Minister markets, through to individual constituency betting, popular vote markets and the like at elections. Not to mention whether it'll be snowy on Christmas Day, and who the BBC Sports Personality of the Year will be. So don't be surprised if betting markets in the US and elsewhere move in the same direction, broadening to politics and film/TV show specials.
That just about concludes our look at some of the most significant expected changes to gambling regulations in 2021, with most being positive for players, and the UK situation currently unclear. There will be a lot of developments so who knows where we'll be when 2022 rolls around.