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UK LEGAL COMMENT


Ralf/Adobe Stock


only, there are clearly expectations that land based casinos will also monitor customer spend and take action where it does not match their income or wealth.


BGO


The suspension (and subsequent surrender) of online casino BGO’s licence was surprising as, in most cases, the Commission allows a licensee to continue operating while it carries out a licence review. However, this action came just a year after the Commission agreed a regulatory settlement with BGO following responsible gambling and AML failings. The Commission’s notice states that the licence was suspended due to “failing to protect consumers”. This implies that it is the responsible gambling failings which continued or re-emerged following the October 2020 settlement. Although the licensee’s responsible gambling policy was clearly reviewed and revised during the previous review process, it may be that the new procedures were not always followed. In 2020, BGO agreed to maintain a record of the effectiveness of its responsible gambling checks on its top 250 customers, carrying out a review of these customers within three months and every twelve months thereafter. It is possible that the Commission asked to see a copy of this review and found it to be inadequate, leading to an investigation and ultimately the recent licence suspension. BGO’s decision to surrender its licence must have been a difficult one but is understandable, given that in October 2020 it paid £2m in lieu of a financial penalty. The cost of dealing with a further licence review which would likely lead to a higher fine, if not licence revocation, may have made pulling out of the British market the only rational choice. BGO joins over 100 operators who have surrendered their UK licence in the past 12 months.


Sorare


Sorare provides a novel product, allowing customers to purchase NFTs based on football players, which can be used to form a team for fantasy football style competitions. The Commission has been careful not to accuse the operator of providing facilities for unlawful gambling, but has issued a public statement confirming that Sorare is not a licensed operator. It is likely that Sorare’s recent $680m fundraise


brought it to the Commission’s attention, although it may have already been monitoring the site. The Commission’s busy enforcement department must prioritise its resources, but the valuation of the company indicated that Sorare has already attracted a large customer base. This would have led the Commission to conclude that the operator was likely to have an impact on a significant number of British consumers. Sorare’s product has some similarities to the former Football Index offering, in that it involves trading


football players, although it is presented as offering collectibles rather than shares. Given the Commission’s conclusion that at least part of Football Index should have been regulated by the FCA instead, it seems likely that the fantasy football style competition is the part that is of more concern to the Commission. This type of product is normally regulated as pool betting where there is an entry fee and prizes, however Sorare has a different structure and doesn’t necessarily fit squarely into any of the defined types of gambling in the Gambling Act 2005. The growing interest in digital collectibles will no doubt present an increasing challenge for the Commission and other regulators, but the Commission has stated that it intends to spend part of its revenue from increased licence fees on upskilling employees to understand new product types. We may well see further action against operators in this space.


Melanie is a gambling regulatory lawyer with 13 years’ experience in the sector. Melanie advises on all aspects of gambling law including licence applications, compliance, advertising, licence reviews and changes of control. She has acted for a wide range of gambling operators including major online and land-based bookmakers and casinos, B2B game and software suppliers and start-ups. She also frequently advises operators of raffles, prize competitions, free draws and social gaming products. Melanie has a particular interest in the use of


new technology for gambling products and novel product ideas.


NOVEMBER 2021 33


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