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GiS Conference report: Spain’s iGaming market still very attractive, but political threats loom

On Thursday and Friday, the 2019 edition of the Gaming in Spain Conference took place in Madrid. With a solid line-up of expert speakers, including the Director General of the DGOJ, attendees were given the latest news, as well as in-depth analyses, of the current state of the Spanish online gambling market.

DGOJ: “Ball now in operators’ court”

Juan García Espinosa, Director General of the Dirección General de Ordenación del Juego (DGOJ), delivered the opening keynote address at the 2019 Gaming in Spain Conference.

Espinosa highlighted the successful regulation of the Spanish online market since 2013, when the first online licenses were issued. Moreover, the DGOJ’s expectation is that Spain’s online market will continue to see healthy growth.

Espinosa added, however, that “continued growth generates social concern.” And while the harm caused by the regulated gambling sector in reality appears almost negligible compared to, for instance, the alcohol and tobacco industries, the public perception has been quite different.

Yet, while the reality is that most players play only moderately, it is equally undeniable that some players do gamble excessively. For those players there gambling carries a real risk. Thus, it is up to the industry to prevent excesses.

Espinosa: “Coming to terms with the way consumers spend their money is a priority. Problem players display typical behavior; and we need to use this to identify them at an early stage. Of course, responsible gaming carries costs. But technology is constantly improving."

In short, in order to keep the Spanish online market viable (in a political and social sense), operators should urgently take steps to improve the early detection of pathological gambling behavior and invest in measures to prevent or minimize harm.

Espinosa: “Spain has been the only jurisdiction in which online gambling tax rates have recently been lowered – even apart from the tax advantages offered to operators based in Ceuta and Melilla. Now, there has to be something in return from the industry.”

“No allies in Parliament”

María Rosa Rotondo, Managing Partner Spain & Portugal at Political Intelligence, offered an in-depth analysis of the political situation in Spain, following the national elections earlier this month.

“The election results have made the political situation more complex,” Rotondo said. “There is no clear path to a stable majority government.” At present the PSOE and Podemos are trying to form a minority government. This coalition can be expected to exhibit a greater hostility toward the industry than a purely PSOE administration.

But while the Partido Popular and other right-wing parties may be a bit friendlier toward the industry, the fact is that gambling is currently a priority across the political spectrum. “The sector has no allies in Parliament,” Rotondo observed.

Rotondo: “The reputation of the online sector is contaminated by the bad reputation of land-based gambling halls and betting shops. At present, neither society nor politicians differentiate between online and land-based gambling.”

Full advertising ban unlikely

Of the major parties, only Podemos has embraced a full, Italy-style gambling advertising ban. While the introduction of such a ban thus appears unlikely, the possibility cannot yet be fully excluded.

A complete or nearly complete advertising ban would have a strongly negative impact on the sector, all speakers agreed, if only because it would make it virtually impossible for customer between licensed and unlicensed operators.

“Gambling markets cannot function properly without advertising – because advertising highlights the licensed gambling companies to consumers, which, in turn, supports their participation in the regulated market,” Maarten Haijer, Secretary General of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) said.

Leading Spanish gambling lawyer, Santiago Asensi added that a gambling advertising ban would not be “up to the politicians alone.” “Such a ban can and will be challenged in court,” Asensi continued. “Restrictions on a legal industry must be proportionate to the goals these restrictions seek to achieve. A full advertising ban, in my opinion, would not qualify as a proportionate measure to prevent gambling-related harm in what is only a tiny minority of players.”

Courage needed for joint action

To head off some of the looming restrictions, Spanish-licensed operators would do well to take joint action in order to preserve the current state of the market. “While there are some potential threats on the horizon, at present Spain remains a very good market with very sensible regulation,” Dominik Beier, CEO of Interwetten, said.

Thus, in order to preserve the status quo, Guillermo Olagüe Sánchez, Subdirector General de Regulación del Juego at the DGOJ specifically advised operators to:

  1. gather better quality player data;

  2. actively cooperate with each other to minimize harm;

  3. identify and promote responsible gambling innovation; and

  4. make use of player behavior data throughout their supply chain.

While most speakers agreed that it would require “courage” to establish sincere cooperation between competitors, it was equally clear that all licensed operators have a common interest in creating and maintaining a sustainable online gambling market.

The recent agreement by the members of Spanish online trade association Jdigital to self-regulate their advertising and marketing expressions was therefore universally hailed as a very welcome first step in fostering closer cooperation.

Gaming in Spain Brand & Market Monitor

With up to thirty new operators about to enter or just having entered the Spanish iGaming market, keeping track of the performance of their brand(s) is becoming increasingly important to Spain-facing operators.

In order to fulfill the growing demand of reliable market intelligence, the 2019 Gaming in Spain Conference also marked the occasion of the presentation of the very first results of the Gaming in Spain Brand & Market Monitor, a survey held among 2,000 Spanish consumers on gambling behavior and attitudes.

A free summary of the Gaming in Spain Brand & Market Monitor is available for download here. Follow-up measurements will be held at a quarterly basis.

Watch the full GiS Conference online

All sessions of the 2019 Gaming in Spain Conference were streamed live. (Re)watch the full conference here.

Or check out the GiS photostream on Flickr, either to reminisce or to see what you missed.

In any case, we hope to see you next year!


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