Fast Offshore brought you a compilation of the main news in iGaming, payments, cryptocurrency and blockchain in 2020. Here is our round-up of the biggest stories of the year and what they meant for their respective industries.
Mobile usage drives gambling and forex growth
2020 was a great year for the online gambling market and forex operators. As people remained in lockdown, the use of online gambling sites and forex trading platforms grew as much as 300%.
The increase in these industries was also driven by the increased use of mobile phones. There are almost 5 billion smartphones in the world right now. People of all ages are using them to do banking, shopping, to communicate, to invest, and to gamble. Access to smartphones and fast, reliable internet has resulted in steady growth which was accelerated by the lockdown.
Fast Offshore noted an increase in the number of requests for opening online forex brokers in offshore jurisdictions. We assisted forex operators in going live in Seychelles, Vanuatu, and Belize. Their business models include mobile apps and a heavy focus on on-the-go traffic. The same happened with online gambling. Most clients we helped this year were focussed on offering mobile apps or mobile casinos to leverage the demand of consumers. In 2021, we expect this to continue. Online gambling is projected to be worth a staggering $160 billion by 2026.
In terms of Forex, 2020 saw daily trading volumes surpass $6.6 trillion a day. This figure is set to continue rising steadily. Therefore, there has never been a better time to consider starting a business in either of these sectors. With continued steady growth and a wealth of opportunities, mobile focussed solutions are a sustainable and surefire bet for 2021.
eSports and fantasy sports have their moment
2020 was a year of change for the online gambling industry, in particular, the sports betting scene. After the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, most sports games and tournaments were cancelled or postponed. This led to a dramatic decrease in sports betting opportunities and operators began to wonder what would fill the void. Thankfully, eSports and Fantasy Sports Betting were there to plug the gap.
eSports had long been popular in the underground scene. So too was betting on the outcome of tournaments and games. During the pandemic, eSports quickly became a popular alternative to regular sports betting. Platforms began to embrace it and offered wagers on some of the biggest and most popular eSports tournaments. Its popularity surged as thousands of new fans were created. The number of eSports betting platforms increased as online gaming operators sought to capitalize on the new trend. As sports tournaments began to be played again, the popularity of eSports didn’t wane too much. Many of the new fans were enjoying this new betting opportunity and so eSports found its niche in the mainstream betting world.
It was a similar story with fantasy sports betting. In the absence of real team sports, fans rushed to create their own fantasy lineups. They then placed bets on the outcome of virtual or theoretical tournaments. Again, when regular sports leagues started up again, fantasy sports betting remained popular. There is no reason to believe that this will change.
Now, many sports betting sites have included these options in their portfolios and new startups are focussing on both of these new kinds of betting. eSports betting and fantasy sports betting are here to stay!
Brexit’s impact on online gambling
The Brexit saga has been going on for several years but 2020 was the year it became final. At the end of December 2020, the UK will formally depart from the Union and several changes will come into effect. It seems so far that there is no deal in place which could be chaos for some businesses and industries.
In terms of iGaming, preparations have been underway for some time with many operators planning ahead. Fast Offshore saw an increase in the number of queries regarding licensing in Curacao, Kahnawake and Malta. This comes as existing businesses seek licenses that will give them more freedom once the UK leaves. Startups and entrepreneurs that may have once considered the UK license, were looking elsewhere for regulatory certainty.
Gibraltar which was once a hub for online gambling saw big names relocating or opening up offices in the EU or countries where a license would allow EU betting. This was due to uncertainty around the freedom of movement and taxation, not to mention strained relations with Spain.
The real impact of Brexit on the gaming industry is still to be ascertained and will become more apparent in early 2021 pending any further deals between the UK and the bloc.
The collapse of Wirecard
In June, German payments firm Wirecard collapsed following the refusal of its auditor EY to sign off on accounts after it was found that EUR 1.9 billion had disappeared from its books.
In April, KPMG found there wasn’t enough supporting evidence to counter claims of fraud and irregularities made by a Financial Times investigation. Publication of the results of the audit was postponed several times and then EY refused to sign off on accounts. They said they couldn’t confirm whether the EUR 1.9 billion existed. In June, CEO Markus Braun quit the firm as the cash was still not accounted for. Wirecard then said it was likely the money never existed. At the end of June, they filed for insolvency while owing creditors around $4 billion.
The scandal caused chaos in the payments industry as many companies that partnered with Wirecard found themselves unable to provide services and unsure if client funds were ok. Then in July, German prosecutors made some arrests of former executives and accused them of masterminding a criminal racket to fake accounts and make off with billions from creditors.
Tightened restrictions on gambling due to COVID
During the COVID-19 pandemic, several states and jurisdictions tightened the rules around online gambling. The UK enforced a ban on the use of credit cards to make deposits. This decision was made before the pandemic but then additional rules were put in place, restricting advertising online during the pandemic. New rules are currently being debated regarding the use of celebrities in betting adverts and are expected to be announced next year.
Spanish authorities also implemented restrictions during COVID-19, as did Ireland, Sweden and other EU states. Sweden also put a limit on deposit amounts. Furthermore, the EGBA unveiled new guidelines and a pan-European code of conduct for responsible gaming advertising. This placed a focus on protecting minors from accessing betting sites.
But these restrictions and limits had little impact on the growth of online gambling during the last 12 months. Even under tough conditions, the industry swelled with record numbers of new players and revenue.
Countries that legalized online gambling
A number of countries made changes to their online gambling legislation in 2020. In August, Ukraine signed a new bill into law, legalizing online gambling as well as various forms of land-based gambling. Then in September, the city of Buenos Aires in Argentina allowed gaming halls to have online gambling licenses, as well as stand-alone online betting licenses.
By October, the Greek gambling regulator had opened applications for online gambling licenses. Two kinds of license are now available, one to conduct online betting and another to conduct games of chance. The new licenses carry hefty fees however, EUR 3 million and EUR 2 million respectively.
Chile also announced it would launch online gambling in the country to offset losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. Media reported that the government would allow land casinos to operate online with a 12-month permit which may or may not be extended, depending on the situation.
But the biggest regulatory saga of the year came from Germany. The country sought to regulate the online gambling market and to provide licenses but progress has been hampered by a range of issues. A new regulation is expected to come into force as of July 2021 that will lift the prohibition on online gambling and allow a limited number of licences to be issued. Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen as conflicts and a lack of consensus between lawmakers and industry stakeholders threatens to usurp the process.
MGA Licenses bitcoin casinos
In May, the Malta Gaming Authority announced that it would license bitcoin casinos. They announced a framework for licensing and said they would be accepting applications from online providers that want to use blockchain in their platforms. The Authority will also accept applications from those that want to accept virtual currencies as a form of deposit or withdrawal. A part of the Sandbox Framework Initiative, the MGA hopes to explore how cryptocurrency can be used on licensed platforms. It will run until 31 December 2021 following the high volume of interested parties.
In 2020, the number of bitcoin or blockchain casinos increased. So to did the number of those accepting cryptocurrency as a payment method. Fast Offshore received a record number of enquiries regarding crypto payments for online gambling sites and operators looking to implement these payment methods. This came as a result of the lockdown and increased interest in digital payments.
The shift from cash to crypto
The pandemic accelerated a shift towards a cashless, digital currency driven economy. Demand for contactless payments was noted. Additionally, a movement away from fiat currency and towards different kinds of cryptocurrency occurred. Regular people became interested in both investing in cryptocurrency and using it to do online shopping, pay for services, and complete deposits in online gambling sites.
There was however a decrease in the profits of payment providers, due to an overall contraction of the world’s economy. Revenues for 2020 are predicted to reach $1.86 trillion, as opposed to the $2.17 trillion that was predicted before the pandemic. But things are still looking good. More customers have made the transition to digital payments and are more confident in exploring different payment apps and methods.
In addition to this, cryptocurrency also surged in popularity. Bitcoin reached a three-year high in value and adoption of other coins was more mainstream and widespread. As we move into 2021, stablecoins are expected to perform well as are coins created by institutions or governments.
Overall, we expect to see growing confidence in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, further interest in other coins, and an increase in the use of payment apps, eWallets, and other forms of electronic payments. Online merchants, eCommerce sites, and online gambling operators should prepare themselves to embrace these technologies to keep their competitive edge next year.
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