It’s a very interesting time within the gambling sector. With both the Paddy Power Betfair merger and GVC’s acquisition of BWIN completing this week and the enlarged entities shares floating on Tuesday in both cases. So it was with great anticipation that I attended the ICE 2016 gaming conference.

It was widely touted that there would be consolidation within the industry after the introduction of the point of consumption tax regime in the UK. However, it has come as a surprise to me that this consolidation has come by way of so-called “mega mergers”. It seemed more likely that smaller operators would struggle with the burden of the new taxation regime and those with sought after proprietary software systems would be snapped up by larger operators or suppliers.

As always at ICE, content is king. The range of new content on display was, as ever, impressive. Of note was the emergence of virtual reality content, including the use of VR headsets. This is an area which is relatively new, but one which, in my opinion, has massive potential in not only traditional gaming (console games and alike), but also in relation to the emerging esports content.

There was a very interesting panel discussion on esports at the International Masters of Gaming Law seminar. Here the panel consisted of American, British and European lawyers and centred on the regulatory approach to esports moving forwards. This is a topic of hot debate in the US at present and it was interesting to hear the US lawyer’s opinions on how this would pan out. Ultimately they did not see much development of actual law over the next couple of years, mainly because of the overlap between federal (US wide) law and individual state law.

Luckily for UK focussed operators or suppliers, the Gambling Act’s (Act) are very clear that undertaking “a game of chance for a prize” is gambling and therefore caught by the Act. A game of chance is any game (whether computer generated or not) that involves an element of skill and chance or chance that can be eliminated by skill. Therefore where participation in esports involves the possibility of winning a prize, it is caught by the Act. Where there is no prize available and a participator plays for free or buys in and plays for in game prizes or alike, this is not caught by the Act, but is caught by UK consumer law, which is equally restrictive in parts.

This debate is similar in many respects to the debate on social gaming which took place a couple of years ago. Then there was call for gambling regulators to get involved, because some social games were casino games. Ultimately this debate led to the conclusion that social gaming is governed by consumer law. In my opinion esports, not involving a prize, will therefore also fall within the scope of consumer law.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of gambling and gaming law, contact us for a free initial chat on 020 7234 0200.