“2023 was the year that caused the gaming industry to wake up to the fact that hackers had it in their crosshairs”

In 2023, the International Gaming Standards Association (IGSA) celebrated 25 years of supporting the gambling industry. As the year now comes to an end, IGSA Vice President Mark Pace spoke to Yogonet in a special interview, reflecting on the major developments that took place in 2023 for the association, including the formation of various new committees and how they function.

Moreover, Pace, who has worked for IGSA for nearly two decades, looks back at the highlights of the association’s first quarter-century of life, providing insights into how it has evolved throughout the years.

Based on the feedback you’ve received from the companies that form IGSA, and its work with regulators and local authorities, what is your assessment of the closing year and which do you anticipate will be the main issues driving the 2024 agenda?

The challenges our industry faced in 2023 differed based on jurisdiction. In the United States, the expansion of online sports betting has been a significant opportunity for growth, but the patchwork quilt of regulations and requirements has hampered rollouts and continues to plague both the regulatory authorities and the operators and their suppliers. 

Several regulatory authorities are exploring the potential for using IGSA’s Regulatory Reporting Interface (RRI), which is a data reporting standard for land-based and online casinos and sports and even covers lottery. RRI was the foundation of what became the Online Gaming Reporting (OGR) standard in Europe created by the European Committee for Standardization. 

In other jurisdictions, Responsible Gaming was a big focus area, with both regulatory authorities and operators looking to improve how vulnerable persons are protected. Different approaches are being taken by different jurisdictions to further this level of protection. IGSA presented a Centralized Limits System at the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR) annual meeting in Botswana. 

This standard looks to mimic centralized exclusion systems, reducing the number of times a player has to set limits and creating a single gaming budget of time, deposits, loss, etc., as opposed to multiple operator-level ones. However, this is very much aspirational for many jurisdictions that are still lacking basic RG measures.

2023 was also the year of the AI buzzword. Seemingly everything is now AI-enabled. However, the definition of AI and what exactly these solutions use AI for is often very unclear as is whether they are using AI. Regardless, AI has been the focus of many debates both for and against. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the buzz around Blockchain a few short years ago, and in many ways, it’s shrouded in the same layer of confusion.  

Finally, 2023 was the year that perhaps caused the gaming industry to wake up to the fact that hackers had our industry in their crosshairs as well. With several high-profile data hacks both in the US and abroad, the industry has to take cyber risk and cyber security seriously.

The amount of data that gaming operators have on players and the amount of data regulators have on licensed individuals is certainly tempting to hackers, as is the potential to collect significant ransom amounts.

Looking ahead to 2024, we believe that these topics, Reporting Standardization, Responsible Gaming, AI and its Ethical Use, and Cyber Risk will be ones that will continue to garner a great deal of attention.  

IGSA celebrated 25 years in 2023. How has the association evolved over the years, and what are its plans for 2024? Any particular areas on which IGSA will focus for the next year?

I have been a part of IGSA for about 20 of its 25 years. Without going through its entire history, IGSA started as the Gaming Machine Manufacturers Association (GAMMA) focusing on an interoperability issue due to multiple communication protocols.

GAMMA changed its name to the Gaming Standards Association (GSA) to reflect the diversity of its membership which, in addition to manufacturers, now included operators and other suppliers. Many of those manufacturers, operators, and suppliers, whom we collectively refer to as the Industry Domain, were international companies operating across multiple gaming jurisdictions. 

As GSA’s membership grew and included those non-North American companies, we started to look at standardization with a global view. Working with regulators and legislatures, whom we refer to as the Policy Domain, from Europe, Australasia, and Africa, it became clear that GSA had to create regional offices to help bring focus to local challenges, whilst still working on global ones.

This resulted first in the opening of GSA Macau, then GSA Europe followed by GSA Japan. In turn, this led to GSA’s most recent name change to the International Gaming Standards Association reflecting its international reach. GSA Africa further expands on that international focus. 

In addition to focusing on localized challenges, regional offices offer our members the ability to join the broader IGSA but become members under their local laws, instead of United States law. So, for example, members of GSA Europe are governed by EU law, those joining GSA Japan fall under Japanese law, and those joining GSA Africa will be governed by Nigerian law which may be more palatable.

Over the 25 years, IGSA has also morphed from focusing solely on communication protocols to now looking at where the industry can benefit from Standardization and the application of technology across all areas, including legislation, regulations, and operations. In 2024 we will continue to focus on listening to the challenges facing our members, the Industry Domain in general, and the Policy Domain. 

As IGSA has changed, so has our industry, and while technology was slow to be adopted on the land-based side, the online gaming side is the opposite. Technology companies that in the past would overlook the gaming industry are now valued partners focused on identifying the products and services needed to fuel online gaming growth.  

As previously mentioned, AI is one of those areas and IGSA must work with those technology companies to determine how together we can improve our industry. Ultimately, through our Board of Directors, we will identify the areas that will generate the most benefits and work with stakeholders to determine how IGSA can add value.

We have seen IGSA form a series of new committees this year, including the Cyber Resilience Committee, the Responsible Gaming Committee, and the Payment Standards Committee. What led to these developments and what role do you expect them to play in 2024?

Committees are approved to be created within IGSA by our Board of Directors. A member company can identify an area it believes would benefit from standardization. This idea is presented to our membership and if at least three different member companies agree to participate, then a technical or non-technical committee is created. The Ethical AI, Responsible Gaming, Cyber Resiliency, and Payment Standards committees all went through that process. Therefore, each of those committees started when a member identified opportunities where technology and standards could help improve the industry. 

The Ethical AI committee is working on best practices to help ensure that AI is implemented fairly, without bias, and used ethically and securely within our industry. The Responsible Gaming Committee is also working on creating best practices to help existing and emerging jurisdictions implement standardized programs to protect the vulnerable. 

The Payment Standards Committee is investigating areas where standardization may speed up adoption, simplify customer use, and which may lead to better anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism funding activities through greater data transparency. Last, but certainly not least, the Cyber Resiliency Committee is preparing to identify the best practices that should be implemented by both the ‘industry’ and ‘policy’ domains to help protect against cybercrime. 

These committees will continue their work in 2024, each led by an individual from one of our member companies. These committees, like our other ones, are at the core of what IGSA as a mutual-benefit, non-profit trade association is. We facilitate the collaboration of industry stakeholders who, while normally competing with one another, now work together to resolve challenges.  

Also in 2023, IGSA announced the creation of GSA Africa, a new division. What role is GSA Africa set to play for the land-based and online industry in the continent and the development of standards there?

We are very excited about the creation of GSA Africa. We started actively engaging in understanding and quantifying the value that a GSA Africa could provide the gaming industry there late in 2022. We had numerous discussions with regulators from across the continent, with IGSA members who were actively working in various African jurisdictions, and with individuals and companies with whom we could potentially partner to establish an office on the continent. 

Under Mr. F.K. Fayad’s leadership, we look forward to having a significant and positive impact on the African gaming industry. Mr. Fayad has a very interesting and varied background and he and his companies have been involved in the industry within Africa for quite some time. One of the companies within the group he oversees is a Member Company of IGSA and upon hearing we wanted to open an Africa office, he immediately volunteered his and his company’s services to make it a reality.
The gaming industry in Africa has continued to grow and in conversations with regulatory authority representatives from across the continent, we realized that this was an area that could benefit from the use of Standards that IGSA had already developed. We find that in many cases, regulators are more comfortable discussing issues with an entity that is local.

Our overarching objective is to help improve the gaming industry in Africa. We expect that the first step will be to continue dialogue and information sharing regarding how IGSA Standards can provide regulators with efficient tools for them to provide the oversight they are responsible for. Initially, we want to establish closer working relationships with regulatory authorities and to have open communication channels so that we can better understand what their challenges are. 

This will allow us to work within our technical and non-technical committees, composed of volunteers from our member companies and regulatory authorities, to determine how to address them. We will also look to help educate local operators on how IGSA standards can benefit them, eliminating duplicative processes, using technology to streamline reporting, and implementing tools to help reduce operational risk.