Ah, 2021. What a year. Will we miss it, and the accompanying pandemic restrictions stretching over from 2020? Probably not, although that’s not to say we at Gambling Insider haven’t had a blast reporting news from the industry to you, from the seriously sublime to the ridiculously interesting.
State-side of the Atlantic, sports betting enjoyed a bumper year, not least with the legalisation of online gambling across numerous states, with more than a dozen already handing out licensing agreements to operators. Elsewhere, we’ve had awards ceremonies delayed, rumblings of incoming UK regulations, companies expanding like never before, and that’s before we even start to talk about the goings on in Macau.
But what excited us most here at GI HQ? Here are out Top 10 moments of 2021, as chosen by our writers:
1. Arsenal taught a non-footballing lesson
"What combines cryptocurrency, football and a stern telling-off from the Advertising Standards Authority? Arsenal Football Club is the answer you're looking for. My favourite moment of 2021 came when reporting on the North London team, which stepped a little too far outside its comfort zone in August.
"Problems arose when it started to dabble in fan promotional activity consisting of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, while failing to inform fans of the potential investment risks. The ASA came down hard on the club, as one would expect. Despite Arsenal’s claims that it was all down to a third-party agency (don’t they all say that?), and that the general public widely understand the cryptocurrency market (obviously...), the ASA ordered the adverts to be taken down and never used in that context again.
"While the club’s marketing department licks its wounds, rival fans are surely hoping Arsenal’s luck on the pitch shares similarities with its misfortunes off it!"
2. Bolton FC cuts all ties with betting companies
"It may not have been the biggest story of 2021, but football club Bolton Wanderers certainly made a mark when cutting all ties with betting companies in September.
"The former Premier League club may not be hitting the headlines these days as much as it used to, but this headline was an important one given the current climate.
"Now playing in England’s League One, Bolton decided it will no longer provide on-site betting provision at the University of Bolton Stadium, or indeed enter into any new commercial partnerships and sponsorships with gambling firms.
"It was not only a significant moment for the football club, but also for the industry as a whole, given that the UK Government will more than likely come down hard on sports betting sponsorships in its review of the Gambling Act 2005. The banning of betting companies from sponsoring football shirts could be one of the most notable changes, with Bolton aiming to stay ahead of the curve by ruling out gambling partnerships altogether.
“'Problem gambling ruins lives and we’ve taken this stance to show our support for those who are suffering from a betting addiction,' Bolton Wanderers Chairman Sharon Brittan said at the time. Brittan believes the industry must do more to support those experiencing gambling problems, and with over 60,000 young people addicted to gambling (as quoted by some statistics), football is undoubtedly a key area where change can take place, such is its appeal among the youth.
"As a huge football fan, it’s great to see clubs stepping up and doing what they can to help those impacted by problem gambling. As the world’s most popular sport, football has the power to effect change on a global scale."
3. Making a delicious wish at Christmas
"There have been many stories to hit the headlines, and particularly over Christmas, that have focused on community and support.
"Noting this, my top moment of 2021 has to be the partnership between Playtika and the charity, Make a Wish. By engaging in a game called Bingo Blitz and participating in the 'virtual dishes for wishes,' players were able to collect ingredients and cook dishes from the game’s virtual kitchen and then display them alongside everyone else’s creations. With every dish created, Playtika donated money to Make a Wish.
"This is my top moment because I think it’s important to use what you have in a positive way. Playtika chose to raise money for a fantastic charity by creating a fun and interactive game for people to play alongside its bingo game. As a result, many wishes were granted to disadvantaged children which can only ever be a wonderful thing to read about at Christmas."
4. Using AI to shield children
"As a woman who adores children, and has aided in the mental wellbeing of young adolescents in previous job roles, one of the best industry moments for me was ASA making integral movements into minimising children’s exposure to age-restricted advertisements.
"With responsible gambling at the forefront of every company in the industry, a regulator like the ASA prioritising the protection of innocent minds of children was a poignant moment for me, personally.
"Artificial intelligence (AI) has also been a subject of great interest, so I was fascinated to read up on the ASA’s project focused on minimising harmful exposure to children through advertisements. The ASA used AI by way of avvatar technology. Such avatars were used to identify trends and understand how advertisements are being delivered to adult, child and/or age-unknown audience groups.
"In my eyes, you are what you eat, you are the being of your surroundings, and in the words of businessman Dan Pena: 'Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.' The same applies to what you are subjected to, reading, seeing, or subconsciously viewing in advertising. It was a great success that harmful, conscious, or subconscious exposure to gambling advertisements was being acknowledged with the view of children in mind."
5. De-Crowned in Australia
"2021 was not a good year for Crown Resorts. If I had a penny for every time Crown Resorts was reprimanded and/or fined in 2021, I’d have roughly four pennies. That isn’t many pennies, but it’s notable that it happened to one operator, four times, in a single year.
"I must admit, I have a certain fondness for Crown Resorts. One of the first stories I wrote for Gambling Insider was about Crown, and I’ve written many more since. But whether it’s unpaid back taxes, associating with a shady junket operator — for which it was fined twice! — or failing to implement adequate anti-money laundering measures, Crown never fails to disappoint. As things were winding down towards Christmas, along came Crown Resorts, having received a AU$1m (US$715,110) fine for failing to comply with state junket rules.
"But Crown always manages to bounce back. When Victoria’s Royal Commission found the company “unsuitable” to operate Crown Melbourne, it somehow managed to retain its licence. Crown’s infraction was apparently severe enough to prompt Victoria’s Government to establish a new regulator to oversee gambling, but it still retained its licence. Following Crown Resorts is a rollercoaster ride; but like being on a rollercoaster, it can be incredibly fun. I think what Crown’s story in 2021 best embodies is how exciting the gambling industry can be.
"I look forward to seeing what Crown gets up to in 2022."
6. ATG’s experience with the YesWeHack community
"This year, Sweden-based horse betting provider, ATG, asked YesWeHack, the European bug bounty platform, to identify its potential vulnerabilities on its exposed assets. All industries that retain customer data are vulnerable to cyber threats and the sports and gambling industry makes no exception.
"ATG’s databases contain private and financial information as well as payment systems and apps that can be targeted by hackers. In addition to that, the sports betting industry is also constantly fighting against match-fixing. YesWeHack bug bounty programs offer a modern solution to this type of problem mainly because testing is not limited to a small set of testers. The bug bounty platform offers companies a different approach to cybersecurity thanks to its over 30,000 cybersecurity experts (ethical hackers) across 170 countries. All the members focus on securing the exposed scopes and reporting the found vulnerabilities to the companies.
"ATG shared the experience it had with the YesWeHack community in a webinar that took place on 7 December 2021. The 60-minute webinar covered topics such as the use of bug bounty in addressing vulnerabilities before criminals get to exploit them, as well as the impact the bug bounty had on ATG’s brand positioning and how it helped the provider build sustainable trust with its partners and customers.
"Any company that is ready to accept and admit to the wide public that it is vulnerable has definitely gained my confidence! In addition to accepting that, asking for help from a hacking community really takes things one step further into the technological future. I’m excited to see what other interesting things the industry has prepared for us for 2022."
7. Atlantic City workers full of puff
"My favorite news moment from 2021 was the story about Atlantic City casino workers protesting in Trenton, because New Jersey legislation had addressed giving tax breaks to gambling halls but had done nothing about the proposed smoking ban that had been on the agenda for more than a year.
"My heart went out to those workers, and I wanted nothing more than to see them get what they deserved — the right to work in a smoke-free environment. Some of these employees had been working in Atlantic City for three decades. Their voices deserve to be heard and heeded. I’ve always been a fan of underdogs and the idea that ordinary citizens can use their right to protest to make a positive difference in their communities. I hope the State Government pays attention to this outcry.
"I feel like real and lasting change only takes place when the people make a stand for what’s right and fair."
8. Time for a conference
"My favourite moment of 2021 was a tie between attending the NIGA conference in July and G2E in October. The NIGA show was my first gaming industry conference, and it was the first for the Caesars Forum conference centre, which had the misfortune of opening during a pandemic. At NIGA I met a number of the people behind the efforts to launch sports betting in Arizona, Washington and California.
"Everyone said if you like NIGA, you will love G2E, and they were right! The energy at G2E was amazing. The industry was so happy to be back together again. Hopefully Omicron fizzles out soon and we can resume large-scale, in-person conferences."
9. Promises of riches for the Empire State
"My favorite moment of 2021 was interviewing people like Mr. Soo Kim of Bally's Corporation, or Jason Ader. As the quest for New York casino licences heats up, both were able to give me some inside scoops on major designs for my beloved hometown of New York (that is, assuming either get the licence...). It is a story I look forward to watching as 2022 takes shape."
10. It’s time to clean up
"My moment of 2021 is a relatively low-profile one, inspired by my interest in video games and esports. That being the content agreement signed between the long-running competitive gaming clan, FaZe, and the sports betting juggernaut DraftKings. Per the agreement, signed in November, the sports betting giant became Faze’s official sports betting, iGaming, daily fantasy, and free-to-play partner.
"This moment stood out to me as it reflects esports and video games gaining recognition in our industry. FaZe has been operating in the esports space for over a decade and to see it partner with DraftKings reflects that the medium of esports is on its way to become a serious contender in gaming."