In November 2014, popular United Kingdom TV presenter and two-time European Poker Tour champion Victoria Coren Mitchell announced that she was ending her relationship with the world’s largest poker site. The decision came just one day after parent company Amaya Gaming launched casino products on the PokerStars platform — which had previously been a poker-only brand.
“Their news was very sudden, so I didn’t have much time to consider my position, but I knew I had to act quickly before I could think better of it,” Coren posted on her official blog site.
“I cannot professionally and publicly endorse [PokerStars’ launch of casino games], even passively by silence with my name still over the shop. Poker is the game I love, poker is what I signed up to promote.”
Coren’s stance was supported by many veteran online poker players who gained a sincere appreciation for the popular TV host’s principles and defense of real money online poker competition, while shunning the corporation’s decision to stray away from player outreach that led the game’s surge on the internet from 2001 to 2011.
High profile online poker players Isaac Haxton and Alex Millar would eventually walk away from their respective PokerStars sponsorship deals in January 2016, when the publicly-traded company decided to suddenly halt cashback payouts that had been marketed to high volume customers for roughly a decade.
Yet Coren-Mitchell is widely credited by the poker playing community to this day for being the first “Team Pro” to recognize the writing on the wall for The Stars Group‘s shift away from traditional, competitive peer-to-peer poker games and pro-friendly promotions.
Victoria Coren Mitchell and the War Against UK FOBT Machines
Less than four years after ending her PokerStars Team Pro sponsorship, Victoria Coren Mitchell — along with other like-minded gambling industry watchdogs — have claimed a massive regulatory victory in the war against UK Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
Calls for government-backed regulation that would reduce FOBT per-wager amounts from £100 to £2 were answered this past Thursday.
In a decision that William Hill CEO Roger Devlin argues will result in the loss of more than 20,000 land-based jobs, the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has ruled that FOBT machines must be restricted to a maximum wager stake of only £2 every 20 seconds.
The changes are just one element of a far-reaching effort by regulators within the UK to address “social responsibility” and “problem gambling” issues that some believe have resulted in a social blight created by an industry that can be all too eager to cash-in on customers’ vulnerabilities.
“Punters lose and lose and lose. And when they disappear, or kill themselves, or their child is taken into care and they start self-medicating with drugs instead, someone else steps blindly up to feed the monster,” Coren wrote in an August 2017 editorial for The Guardian, adding that FOBT machines are “evil.”
Immediate reaction from Victoria Coren Mitchell’s colleagues at the online newspaper following the UK’s ruling has been supportive of the restrictions while calling on regulators to continue their crackdown on certain gambling industry practices.
The Real Battleground in Gambling isn’t Betting Shops, it’s Online (Adam Bradford – May 18, 2018)
Curbing FOBTs is a Big Win, Now Bookies’ Racing Bet Practices Must Go (Greg Wood – May 20, 2018)
FOBT Limits Must Be Just the Start of Gambling Regulation (The Conversation – May 18, 2018)
The effect of Thursday’s ruling is expected to have an enormous marketplace impact on UK betting shops, and could reshape the gambling industry for years to come.
Social Responsibility and Problem Gambling
The topics of Social Responsibility and Problem Gambling have been hotly debated within the real money wagering world for at least decades, causing a discomforting level of uncertainty among customers and operators alike on where the line must be drawn between personal responsibility and social liability.
The industry has struggled to effectively self-regulate in these areas, but a new wave of gambling regulations (specifically the updated version of UK’s License Conditions and Codes of Practice) will now obligate gambling operators to comply with strict consumer protection laws, or risk steep consequences in the form of fines that can easily reach into the millions of dollars.
The United Kingdom LCCP guidelines are extremely broad, and will likely result in a historic industry shift away from its most profitable practices of enticing recreational gamblers to wager billions per year on FOBTs in exchange for a so-called “entertainment value” that operators claim these machines offer.
To Coren Mitchell’s credit, neither she nor those who share her sentiment regarding UK FOBT machines claim that wagering limits will completely eradicate the negative spending practices of problem gamblers or vulnerable individuals — many of whom may seek out ways to continue feeding their habit (through unregulated FOBT offerings or other gambling mechanisms). The aim of the anti-FOBT machine movement is communicated as a method for curbing, or limiting such behavior, which has become rampant at street corner betting shops in the UK.
The Influence of Victoria Coren Mitchell on Gambling Regulations
The new UK rules are pretty much praised across the board by Victoria Coren Mitchell and her colleagues at The Guardian, who have quickly become one of the most powerful groups of gambling-focused journalists in the world — dwarfing the influence of informed yet niche regulated U.S. iGaming analysts and rivaling the widespread engagement enjoyed by even the most popular American-based poker personalities such as Andrew Neeme, Matt Berkey, Doug Polk and Joey Ingram.
And although the new guidelines cover the United Kingdom gambling market exclusively, a movement to pass similar laws in the U.S. could have a comparable effect on defining the gambling marketplace for years to come. The possibility of statewide government crackdowns for Time on Machine Entertainment devices (and their corresponding software) that are huge money-makers for both live and online North American commercial casinos looms large.
It is also quite possible that William Hill CEO Devlin’s prediction that the company could soon be the object of a corporate takeover becomes reality, and that one potential buyer could be commercial online gambling powerhouse The Stars Group.
The prospect of this eventuality leads to a number of industry and player-interest questions for the $2.4 million USD live poker tournament cash prize winner.
Questions for Victoria Coren Mitchell
- What are VCM’s thoughts on PokerStars’ decision to remove high volume “Supernova” and “Supernova Elite” cash payouts for the 2016 calendar year, when those benefits had been clearly marketed and advertised to loyal players from January-thru-October of 2015?
- Do VCM and like-minded activists seek to have a similar influence on global gambling industry rules that they have had in the United Kingdom?
- Does Victoria Coren Mitchell view poker as a “luck-based game of chance,” or a “skill based” activity that falls outside the traditional definition of gambling?
- Does VCM have a financial arrangement with PokerStars or any other gambling company that might require disclosure considering the significant marketplace impact that new UK guidelines will have?
- What further measures are necessary in VCM’s opinion to limit problem gambling?
Poker players and industry personnel would be wise, in this author’s opinion, to become more informed on specific stances that Victoria Coren Mitchell takes on gambling regulation, as she could very well become one of the most influential poker personalities in the United Kingdom (if not the world) in very short order.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The views expressed in this article belong solely to me, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website, poker players, poker media, or any sector of the gambling industry.
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