Given Betfred’s history with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, seeing a representative from each entity largely agreeing during the course of a Wednesday panel discussion concerning “the obstacles preventing us from implementing and maximizing the value of new technologies for sports betting and beyond” might have struck some attendees as surprising. After all, Betfred’s sportsbook at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Las Vegas’ Virgin Hotel sat vacant for nearly two years before its state license was approved this January.
“I can feel your desire to comply,” board member Phil Katsaros told Betfred executives at a Jan. 25 meeting where he and his cohorts unanimously cleared the way for the sportsbook to accept its first wagers in the Silver State.
Katsaros’ four-year board term expired the following month and he’s now working as a gambling industry consultant. Joining him for Wednesday’s panel discussion, which was sponsored by the International Gaming Standards Association and moderated by IGSA Vice President Mark Pace, was Betfred’s vice president of compliance, Cynthia Hays.
Together, the trio lamented the state-by-state patchwork of regulations and requirements that a sports betting operator or vendor must navigate to open up shop in a given jurisdiction — the same sentiment that was expressed in an earlier discussion featuring US Bookmaking Chairman Vic Salerno and WEBE Gaming CEO John English.
“It would be nice if we just had one registry, to get all that in one catalog and then be able to offer that to each and every state for approval,” said English. “It’d be nice to see one federal system across the board, but we’re not going to be seeing that anytime soon.”
Salerno then added, “The process is very expensive and time-consuming. Each jurisdiction has to sign off on it. That’s the biggest obstacle. The big regulators don’t want to make a mistake. If you’ve got the world’s greatest product and somebody finds a way to cheat it, the state gets a black eye.”
Indeed, as Pace put it, “Nobody gives you an ‘attaboy’ if you take a risk as a bureaucrat, but God forbid if you make a mistake.”
’50 different sub-countries’
English was quick to credit New Jersey for “being very forward-thinking in terms of allowing things to move forward” while it performs its regulatory diligence, making a point to say that while he had great respect for Nevada’s gaming control board, that wasn’t quite the way things worked in that state.
Now freed from whatever guardedness might have been required of him when he was on Nevada’s board, Katsaros quipped, “Why do we keep screwing it up? Tradition. It’s probably exasperated by the sheer speed of how everything’s going — from three markets to 40 in a very short period of time. Why can’t we seem to adapt and harmonize? No jurisdiction really sees the benefits of market harmonization. The U.S. is one, big, beautiful country with 50 different sub-countries, certainly from a gambling perspective.”
“There’s not a benefit seen by regulators to say, ‘Why don’t we just do what someone else is doing that’s working, and then tweak things as we see fit,’” he said. “There’s that expectation that it’s got to be 100 percent bulletproof, and nothing’s ever going to be. The state is better if we’re allowing that technology to be more rapidly deployed in the marketplace and harmonized with other products. I can better detect if there’s an issue with a product because it’s operating in 500 other markets around the world.”
Like Katsaros, Hays has worked in all corners of the gambling industry, consulting for Betfred before she became its in-house compliance officer in January 2020.
“For a long time, I was the only member of the compliance team, which was OK when we had two jurisdictions,” she recalled. “It suddenly became not OK when we launched three more or four more. We’re now up to 10, with completely different regulations and requirements.”
Speaking to the challenge of getting states to sign off on a uniform national regulatory process, she added, “Unfortunately, a lot of the requirements come from the regulations, and the interpretation of the regulations sometimes differs between the regulator and the operator. In the end, they win.
“We can make arguments and talk about mitigating factors. We can do all that and offer other solutions. But, ultimately, they’re responsible for reporting to their higher-ups, which might not only include the director, but also the attorney general’s office. It would be really hard for all of them to come to an agreement on one set [of regulations].”