British Gambling Industry Year in Review, Part Two: Online Betting Expansion in 2017

Conor McGregor Uk Gambling.

Conor McGregor helped UK bookmaker Betfair reach new highs ahead of his fight with Floyd Mayweather. (Image: Vimeo/Oral Ofori)

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) had its hands full in 2017, while two of the country’s top online operators made a splash via betting odds.

As part of its mission to make Britain’s online gaming market the best in the world, the UKGC cast its regulatory net far and wide this year.

In addition to handing out fines to operators for failing to offer adequate consumer protections, the agency was pushed to consider the issue of loot boxes in computer games.

UKGC Expands Its Remit

With traditional computer gaming and betting sharing an increasing number of bonds, the UKGC found itself front and center in 2017. Back in October, an online petition surrounding the regulation of loot boxes became a top headline issue for the regulatory agency.

Posted by Conor Rhys Deeley, the petition essentially called for tighter controls over in-game features that offer players mystery prizes in exchange for a cash buy-in. According to Deeley, the average value of the in-game bonus featured is typically lower than the cost of the mystery (loot) box.

Although the UKGC’s guidelines on computer games were highlighted as a response to the issue, the petition is open until April 2018. If it reaches 100,000 signatures by that time, Parliament may bring it up for debate.

Mixed Fortunes for Paddy Power Betfair

While the UKGC was broadening its focus to computer games in 2017, Betfair and its sister site Paddy Power were experiencing mixed fortunes in the betting arena. With Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather becoming one of the biggest sporting attractions of the summer, Betfair moved to capitalise on the action with a selection of odds and offers.

Ahead of the landmark fight between the MMA fighter and boxer in Las Vegas, the operator projected it would receive bets totalling more than £100 million. With almost £20 million bet on the exchange just days before the bout, Betfair’s Barry Orr was confident the company’s overall activity would top the £100 million mark and industry records would fall, thanks to wagers worth more than £300 million.

The smiles at Betfair were wiped away in September when a football betting market caused a stir. Following the sacking of Harry Redknapp by Birmingham City FC, Paddy Power decided to offer odds on his replacement.

However, when the market went live, the addition of Ugo Ehiogu didn’t sit well with football fans. The former defender died of cardiac arrest in April 2017, but somehow made it into the mix as a 66/1 outsider.

Even though the entry was quickly removed and a spokesperson blamed it on an internal oversight, the incident was yet another promotional gaffe for Paddy Power.

GVC Continues Takeover Trend

It wouldn’t be right to close 2017 without a major operator arranging their chips ahead of a takeover deal, and GVC didn’t disappoint. Continuing the decade’s trend of mergers and acquisitions, GVC announced the sale of Headlong Limited and its Turkish-facing operations in November.

The deal not only netted GVC £134 million, it further reduced its presence in “grey” markets: those with murky regulatory guidance and oversight. Following the sale, speculation was rife that GVC was trimming its assets and moving away from unregulated markets ahead of another bid to merge with Ladbrokes Coral.

Although no offer has been announced, this could still be one of the stories we see in the early part of 2018.

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