Political climate change, the ICE exhibition and the ‘Gag’ economy

Posted On: 
14th February 2018

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling reflects on the recent ICE trade show and says that the Campaign has been and will continue to be 'a force in changing the political climate on gambling'.

Credit: 
PA

When the Daily Mail and the Guardian are on the same page then you know something is in the air. The Gambling Commission’s warning to stamp out the sexism earlier in the week at the gambling show known as ICE was ignored, as stories emerged of scantily clad girls and men in tailored suits.

The Guardian’s story included a photo of a video game called “Twerk”, with symbols in the game made up of demeaning photos of women. But there is nothing new in the game Twerk, other than new symbols and the game name, as the maths driving the game is similar to that in all of these types of games. The creation of these ‘new’ games creates the illusion of customer choice and allows game designers to experiment with new ways of drawing people in, and keeping them engaged, such as with lights, graphics, and sounds.

Electronic gambling machines, particularly in multi-line and multi-denomination format, offer very addictive content, especially if allowed at any stakes over a generally accepted maximum, which is £2 in Britain, with games offered on FOBTs being the glaring anomaly.

The current show name ICE is short for International Casino Exhibition, but the sectors represented are betting, bingo, casino, lottery, online, mobile, social, sports and, street. Around 600 exhibitors in the different supply sectors cater to around 30,000 attendees, the vast majority of whom work in one of the operator sectors. Generally, operators themselves do not exhibit, and only a limited number of attendees have purchasing power.

Over 20 years ago, this show was essentially a small annual booze-up and get together primarily for Brits working internationally. There were two main exhibitions in the US which morphed into one known as G2E. The introduction of remote gambling created a dramatic change.

Many remote operators were obtaining revenue from the US but knew that this was in breach of federal interpretation of US law and some US state law, so they were reluctant to attend G2E. So ICE became the venue of choice for remote gambling exhibitors. Even the offshore regulators became exhibitors to tout their locations. This is how the regulatory bar got lowered, particularly in respect of remote gambling.

Each of the two gambling shows is effectively a monopoly, so the organizers do what monopolists do: put up prices. Established public companies must exhibit, if not – what will the analysts think? So, the direction at ICE has been to ‘out-Vegas’ G2E.

But remember, the objective is for suppliers to attract operators to their booths. Many of these operators are from the international and remote sectors. The mindset of whom is often to do whatever we can until we are forced to stop doing it. Not just politically incorrect, but morally, ethically and socially incorrect.

At ICE, Mor Weizer, the CEO of Playtech advised against ignoring unregulated markets. Playtech is licensed by the Gambling Commission but has a CEO willing to make that public statement. It is lax regulation and enforcement here that breeds this philosophy that it is acceptable to avoid gambling tax by being offshore, but at the same time maintain the “responsible” gambling pretense.

Our own Matt Zarb-Cousin was at ICE and put together this video for Indy Voices with Yannis Mendez. His previous video on gambling for Novara Media will soon achieve over 100,000 views. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has been and will be a force in changing the political climate on gambling.

The ICE show now attempts to appease with a Consumer Protection Zone, but some stakeholders may refuse to attend next year altogether. ICE makes the mistake of supporting exclusive non-transparent events. For example, international regulators may be taken to a betting shop to help bookies trying to sell their business model overseas. But do regulators learn the truth on organized visits?

The showgirls were paid in the £8 to £15 per hour range but must sign an NDA - a non-disclosure agreement. Why should anyone on a temp gig on a minimal wage in London be asked to sign a gag order? The ‘Gag’ economy is symptomatic of the decline of worker rights and the increase in legal fees protecting secrecy in corporate behavior - a very negative direction for Britain.