For the first time since February 2020, ICE London opened its doors at the ExCeL on April 12-14, and it was an amazing experience for all. Having the opportunity to see so many familiar faces from the gambling industry delighted every single delegate and as an extra special treat, the weather was warm and sunny, unlike the February weather ICE regulars are used to.
I’ve been attending ICE London each year (apart from 2021, of course) since 2006, but this edition of ICE was the first time I was there on behalf of CoinGeek, strictly with my blockchain hat on. Seeing as ICE attracts thousands of gambling industry professionals, I wanted to take a walk around and see how far we’ve come with blockchain technology.
John Wright, Co-Founder of StatsDrone and long-time iGaming affiliate, is in the process of educating himself on how blockchain can alleviate pain points in affiliate marketing. He explained that late payments—or not getting paid at all—is one of the problems within the affiliate space that blockchain-related tech can solve.
“When you think about crypto, it’s all about fast and permissionless, trustless and things just happen kind of naturally,” he said.
However, he added that despite being around for 20 years, the affiliate marketing space is not technologically advanced—in fact they are far behind—meaning there is a long way to go before blockchain tech is adopted in the space. Same goes for the gambling regulators.
“The real job now with respect to crypto and it coming into casinos in the United States is to help educate the regulator about what it is,” Susan Hensel, Co-Founder & Partner at Hensel Grad P.C., shared with me.
Hensel serves as a consultant to BitBoss and their BSV-powered stablecoin solution for land-based casinos, namely with making introductions to regulators and land based operators within the U.S. market.
“My job is to help demystify what is crypto and what is this thing called stablecoin for the regulatory community so that they can say and understand ‘well, this is just another form of payment processing. This is another way to allow our players to get their money on a game, whether it’s online or land based.’ And with that, it’s a win-win for everyone,” Hensel revealed.
While payments in gambling are a clear fit for blockchain powered digital currencies, there are many other areas within the gambling space that blockchain tech can benefit.
“Me as an affiliate, I’m signed up to like a thousand affiliate programmes and about 100 of them ask for my KYC documents all the time,” explained Wright.
“I actually don’t trust how they handle my personal documents, we’re talking passport, proof of banking, address, articles of incorporation. And this is going where, on Dropbox and other random places on someone’s computer that maybe they could actually be hacked?” Wright questioned.
“Maybe there’s an opportunity to have a Web3 wallet where they know that I’m verified, so if I can do a verification method and not actually have to give up that data,” he said.
“A main headache for players certainly is the registration process,” said Mark Robson, CEO of Eminence Holdings, underscoring Wright’s comments.
“Blockchain can be used to passport players details from one site to another to another. There’s also the security surrounding the wallet and wherever players are holding their money,” he said.
“Historically there’s always been issues in gambling with stolen credit cards, charge backs and the like. Obviously, with blockchain and the tokens and coins that reside on there, you’ve got guaranteed no charge backs. You know exactly the source of funds. You know where it’s come from. All the checks have already been done,” Robson added.
nChain had a big presence at ICE this year, including several panel appearances and a sponsorship of the Consumer Protection Zone. Their BSV-powered Kensei solution has captured the attention of responsible operators and suppliers as it improves data management surrounding the protection of players.
“It’s all about sustainability and gaming, player protection, safer gaming, responsible gaming, AML, all these sort of buzzwords that we’ve been using with regards to protecting the player,” said Nick Hill, nChain’s Sales director.
“In many, many industries nowadays, pretty much everything is digitised—digitised means data collection. Data collection means provenance of data, integrity of data. And obviously, with blockchain technology nChain has definitely an answer for these massive industries, where sometimes you tend to see maybe just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
It’s not only Hill and Yuksel who can see how blockchain tech aids in providing a safer environment for gamblers, Robson too shares a similar point of view.
“The gambling industry needs to take the lead in ensuring player protection and ensuring that everything is done fully in compliance with all the regulation, as well as making sure the players don’t exceed their own spending habits,” he said.
“So blockchain gives a lot more secure environment for players to be able to facilitate the activity they’ve chosen to participate in,” Robson added.
While there are some amazing use cases for blockchain tech in gambling, everyone I spoke with at ICE agrees further education for operators, regulators, suppliers and delegates is needed before blockchain technology reaches mainstream.
“We’re educating the audience into the two aspects of blockchain. You’ve got your crypto side, which is your processing, digital gold. And then the other side, which is what we’re interested in, is the utility application side,” said Hill.
“So it’s getting over that barrier initially and then being able to vocalise or visualise how you can use blockchain to notarise interactions with a player and an operator,” he added.
“We’re really just at the very beginning of our mission,” Hensel said.
“I have talked with a couple of people about the concept of crypto and stablecoin, and I think that everyone has heard of crypto. I think there’s a little less awareness on the stablecoin side,” she revealed.
“I think that there is some work that needs to be done to educate not just the regulators, but the rest of the gaming community with what the benefits are of having that stablecoin connection,” Hensel said.
“There’s a huge amount of excitement because I mean, lots of people have heard the catch phrases like crypto and blockchain and metaverse, but there’s a huge education piece that needs to come along with it,” added Robson.
“Historically, there’s been a lot of get rich quick schemes and all those kinds of things. So people sometimes associate blockchain just with crypto and not necessarily the good side of crypto,” he said.
Despite the continued education that is needed, the number of professionals in the gambling space who “get it” is certainly growing and it feels like it’s taking off at an exponential rate. Let’s see if it continues.
“I’m now getting really excited because the response we’re getting from everybody, from operator, content provider, payment processor, regulator, legislator, is extremely positive. It’s really happening,” confirmed Hill.
“We’ve been educating this industry now coming up 18 months and it’s finally paying off. You can actually say that people are starting to come to us and ask questions, not that we have to keep going to them,” he added.
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