Bright Lights, Small Screen

With the Olympics on its way to Beijing, everyone has been clamouring to reassess the impact that a rapidly growing Asia could have - socially, culturally, and of course economically. The unspoken worry is that it will eclipse the West, and in one area - mobile gambling - this has proved correct.
 Bright Lights, Small Screen
With the Olympics on its way to Beijing, everyone has been clamouring to reassess the impact that a rapidly growing Asia could have - socially, culturally, and of course economically. The unspoken worry is that it will eclipse the West, and in one area - mobile gambling - this has proved correct. It is estimated that the Asia-Pacific makes up 39 percent of the market, compared to Europe's 37 percent. But so what? After all, mobile gambling - which can take place on any portable device such as a mobile phone or PDA - has often been seen as the poorer cousin to the controversial world of online gambling. Going all-in Yet there are some that are banking that this won't be the case for long, and enough of them at that to ensure that some heavyweight figures are being thrown about regarding its potential. Jupiter Research has been just one of the analysts to put the value of the global market at around $12 billion by 2010. So how have they arrived at this figure? It seems that a rise in the availability of high-speed data phones, an increase in the number of payment method technologies and a general relaxation of laws has opened up the market to an extent that few had expected. Alongside this, there are opportunities unique to Asia, such as the popularity of state-run lotteries in China. Admittedly, all other gambling is illegal on the county's mainland- prompting the province of Macau to become a gambling Mecca that has outstripped Las Vegas - but some companies are refusing to see this as a hindrance, instead looking to capitalise by selling national lottery products via mobile phone. This looks to be mobile gambling's boom area. Dr. Windsor Holden, Juniper Research's Principal Analyst, said recently that "mobile lotteries are expected to be the most popular service by 2010, with more than 380 million users worldwide." But, while the promise is massive, it doesn't look like plain sailing for the companies looking to stake a claim. As James Kilsby of industry analysts Gambling Compliance says, "The potential for this is enormous, as I'm sure you can imagine. But so much will depend on the whim of the authorities." Constriction He has a point. Late last year, the Chinese authorities banned all internet lottery sales in a move to more accurately regulate the industry, and as Kilsby explains, with this amount of control wielded from the top, the various parts that make up the industry are prone to caution in case of upsetting the cart. "Mobile gambling operators have a relationship to consider with mobile network operators," he points out, "and they in turn rely much upon their relationships with national governments. They wouldn't jeopardize these to push for the liberalization of certain restrictive gambling markets." These complications aren't just confined to Asia, of course. The mobile gambling industry shares many legal concerns with the internet gambling world, and even ignoring America, where internet gambling is ostensibly banned (this is a thornier issue altogether, and one we'll be looking at in more depth over the coming months), there are issues regarding the blurring of boundaries that have arisen. In Europe, for example, there are questions surrounding the free movement of services within the European Union. Broadly, should a gambling company licensed in one EU state be entitled to offer their services throughout the EU? It's a significant question, and one which Kilsby points out has so far been driven almost exclusively by internet gambling operators themselves. Crossing boundaries But the erratic nature of legislation isn't the only problem potential suitors have to face. There are issues around the technology - the difference between the relative homogeny of PCs and Macs that the internet provides for is miles away from the disparate and fractious world of mobile phones. As Matti Zinder says, "Instead of working to make a product for one platform, you have to develop the skills to be able to provide for over a thousand different handsets." He's a good a person as any to ask about the subject. As CEO of Spin3, an Israel-based company that provides turnkey solutions for the mobile gaming arena throughout both Asia and Europe, he has an extensive amount of experience in the field. His opinion is also echoed by Marcel Puyk, CEO of Cellectivity, the company behind mobile gambling firm Bet2Go. "There are a lot of vested interests," explains Puyk. "Google is trying now to make a belated attempt for an open source software platform, but because of Nokia's interest in Symbian and Microsoft and all the others, I think it's going to be long time before it takes off. Unfortunately, at the moment the reality for anybody developing in mobile phones is that these challenges are here to stay." Android, the attempt that he refers to, has indeed stalled six months after its much-heralded announcement as handset makers, carriers, and chipmakers struggle to reach an agreement about its appearance and functionality. Even without bringing in the additional problems of legislation, it's a good analogy for the problems that affect the mobile gambling industry as a whole. "In my opinion," says Zinder, "the only way a company can successfully enter this market is by either outsourcing to a company that specialises in this kind of porting activity, or go down the long and hard path on their own. Fortunately for us, that's what we've done and we've learnt many lessons on the way." The complete hand? In any new industry, a steep learning curve has to be expected. But even taking this into account, is the market really likely to hit the $12 billion mark by 2010, or is it merely an optimistic estimate? "It's hard to say," says Kilsby. "Clearly, the potential is enormous. That said, there are all these technological and regulatory challenges that must be overcome first, so it very much remains to be seen whether that growth can be achieved in the near future." So with all eyes to the long-tem, it does remain to be seen whether the industry can live up to its considerable promise. But whatever happens, like any game with high stakes, winners and losers, it's sure to be well worth watching. Click here to view the full article on Mobile Gambling
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