TIMES have changed and the growing eGaming industry is fast becoming one of the island’s most important economic sectors, a top-level summit heard.
Roger Withers, a high profile speaker, admitted to more than 200 delegates that ‘those of us in the gaming industry have got thick skins because we know we are not the Red Cross’.
But he said that companies who have settled here in the eGaming sector have been made more than welcome by the island.
And later Archie Watt, head of eGaming at accountancy giants KPMG, which organised the day-long summit, praised the eGaming companies for the way they have embraced community life in the island.
The conference heard that there are 45 ‘live’ licence holders here, compared to 39 at this time last year.
Another 10 enterprises have had their licences approved and are waiting to go live while four more applications are being considered.
Nearly 700 people are employed in the sector in the island.
Mr Withers, chairman of Playtech, a world-leading publicly-traded online gaming software supplier headquartered in Douglas, spoke on the subject of capital markets and online gaming.
Mr Withers told the gathering at the Mount Murray Hotel, Santon: ‘Why do they (the capital markets) like us because sometimes we are not very easy to like?
‘The simple reason that capital markets like us is they can make money. Gaming has gone from black, nasty, horrible, to grey, well sort of alright, to white. Regulated markets.’
He praised the regulated markets and the quality and consistency of the earnings that come from it. ‘There won’t be any real shocks.’ He said regulation meant this was becoming a more stable industry.
But he added: ‘We will never become the Red Cross.
‘When I first joined the gaming industry 40 years ago . . . at dinner parties, when people said to me: ‘‘what do you do,’’ I wasn’t going to say.
‘Because people immediately think he’s some sort of a gangster. You’re in the gambling industry.
‘But times have changed.
‘And here in the Isle of Man you almost think of us all as normal. We’re very grateful for that. It’s not the reaction we get everywhere.
‘Those of us in the gaming industry have got thick skins because we know we are not the Red Cross.
‘But regulation is giving us stability. That’s the first reason that people want to invest in us, people want to buy companies, people want to do M and A (mergers and acquisitions).’
Mr Withers said high tech was another reason why the capital markets backed eGaming companies.
He said: ‘I firmly believe that the future of our industry is no longer the PCs. Its maxi smart phones and mini tablets. Our children and their children will have a totally different view of technology. The online gaming industry, the eGaming industry is there, that’s what we base our industry on, at future technology on.’
Archie Watt, head of eGaming with KPMG, told Business News during a coffee break that he regarded online gaming as a ‘harmless leisure pursuit’. Asked about Mr Withers’ assertion that people working in the industry had thick skins he said: ‘If you read the Daily Mail the provision of gambling services brings us very close to the actions of the devil and we are to be castigated for encouraging people to waste their money on gambling and taking the food out of the mouths of their wives and children. It’s not quite like that.
‘It’s much more of an enjoyment, an activity where people can spend some leisure time and leisure pounds. People go out there to enjoy themselves and to have a good experience.
‘It’s not the Red Cross because there are people who are looking to win at the expense of others, and gambling is perceived (by some) as a vice. There are people who say that none of the gambling companies have any altruistic motives at all. I don’t agree with that.
‘There are a number of companies in the island who have got the best interests of the population at heart.’
He pointed to the work done by companies such as Poker Stars and Celton Manx to help the community. ‘There are very few events in the island without the manpower and
support given by one or other of the gaming companies here.’
Mr Watt said KPMG was ‘ecstatic with the turnout for the summit which drew delegates and speakers from Europe including Brussels. They included Pierre Tournier, EU advisor, Remote Gambling Association (RGA). He gave a regulatory update on the key actions laid down in the communication on online gambling published by the European Commission in October.
Mr Watt, who heads up a four person team at KPMG concerned with eGaming, insisted eGaming is a ‘harmless pleasure’ but there is a ‘responsibility on operators to identify people who may have gambling addiction problems.’
He said all operators licensed here in the island ‘must have procedures in place to help people stop gambling when it becomes a problem.’
Mr Watt added that at a dinner party, for example, he was quite happy to espouse the virtues of eGaming companies. He stressed companies settling here faced strict controls and restrictions.
And he claimed it was a stricter regulatory regime than the National Lottery. Earlier Chief Minister Allan Bell welcomed delegates to the summit. He said: ‘It gives me great pleasure to be here. The conference today highlights an outstanding Manx and international success story.’
Thanking people for coming despite blustery conditions he quipped : ‘This weather should finish by a week next Thursday.’
He added that eGaming provided ‘nearly eight per cent of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and of course the industry is still growing.
‘In 2012 the industry will have supported nearly 700 jobs, it will create £164 million of Isle of Man expenditure and generate over £16m of taxation, a remarkable achievement for an industry a little over 10 years old.’
Mr Bell said the island is now home to the headquarters of companies in all the key sectors of eGaming which includes the world’s two largest software suppliers to the sector, a leading global hosting centre, provider of online payments and online poker.
It had kept the Isle of Man in ‘positive territory. We need dynamic sectors like eGaming to take us forward into the future.’
Mr Bell said the eGaming sector was a ‘showcase of how a modern dynamic and global industry can flourish in the business friendly environment of the Isle of Man. It is a model of success and demonstrates so well what I consider to be the key features of a successful sector.
‘It is highly professional with an emphasis on excellence and quality of service which makes it a genuine world leader.
‘It provides proper customer protection underpinning the reputation of the sector itself and of the Isle of Man.
‘It is technically advanced reflecting and sustaining the island’s technical infrastructure.
‘Finally the sector works in partnership with the Isle of Man Government.’
‘As long as I remain the Chief Minister you will have my full support.’
The summit included a panel session with Roger Raatgever, chief executive officer with Microgaming, Bill Mummery, chief executive officer for Celton Manx, Hilary Stewart-Jones, a partner in London law firm DLA Piper and Warwick Bartlett, who runs GBGC (Global Betting and Gaming Consultants) based in the island.
Ms Jones described Mr Raatgever and Mr Mummery as ‘fantastic ambassadors’ for the island.
She said it could not be underestimated how in the island there was ‘flexibility, pragmatism and this feeling that business is welcome here.’
She said another advantage was that the island was a place where people could come and live unlike other jurisdictions. Warwick Bartlett concurred with this confirming how he loved the island so much he chose to live here.
He said the island had done very well already in attracting high quality eGaming companies and it was important it built on its strengths.
Other speakers included Nick Nally, chief development officer for Continent 8 Technologies who compared the different jurisdictions and spoke highly of the Isle of Man. He said the island offered the ‘best offering’ for data suppliers and the power supply was ‘superb’ compared with other places in the world.