An industry uniting? ABB and RGA in merger talks following “the FOBT thing”

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Reports of a merger between the Association of British Bookmakers and the Remote Gambling Association have raised eyebrows in the industry, but will any other sectors choose to join this proposed broader body?

Following a year on the defensive, the Association of British Bookmakers and the Remote Gambling Association are rallying in talks of a merger.

This week RGA CEO Clive Hawkswood confirmed he will step down as leader in early 2019, and George Malcolm, CEO of the ABB, is expected to do the same after having a torrid time throughout the FOBT debate.

According to analysts Gambling Compliance, early discussions are underway between the two associations that may transform the trade body landscape in the face of continued pressure from politicians and regulators. It has also been suggested that the National Casino Forum and the Bingo Association will be invited into the theoretical new trade body, but it is hard to see why either would choose to join betting or iGaming under their current spotlight.

The idea, however, would be to present a broad and united front against what is seen as an increasingly oppressive Gambling Commission, with the new organisation lobbying on cross-sector issues on behalf of the wider gambling industry. It is not known whether the combined entity has a proposed name, but it is expected to be headed by an entirely new executive team.

While the inclusion of casino and bingo associations in the new body would be surprising, there is thought to be almost “no chance” of Bacta joining the fray after its opposition to the ABB on FOBT maximum stakes.

Indeed,at a recent regulatory briefing on the future of the UK high-street bookmakers, it appeared the betting sector has still not seen fault in how it handled the FOBT issue.

“The industry has to come together,” Gillian Wearing, chair at the Senet Group, told the audience in London. “The FOBT thing is a case study in how industry infighting created an issue that could then only be solved by legislation. That is a lesson going forward with regards industry collaboration.”

She explained that the betting sector needed to be able to get messages across in the press and to the politicians “without other sectors within the industry having a pop”- referring most likely to Bacta.

“The industry has to behave as one, as the alcohol industry does,” she continued, referring to the Portman Group. “You need to have a concerted effort in areas of common interest.”

While there has been a growing agreement across sectors that the gambling industry must unite against sustained external pressure, such comparisons to the alcohol industry may not be the best way to woo support for the reported new trade body, which at this point remains a work-in-progress.

One thing is certain, whilst much clearly unites the broad based gaming and gambling industry, there remains sufficient areas of dispute to keep the dividing lines in play.

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