Electronic Arts (EA) Ceases Sale of FIFA Points in Belgium

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Belgium declared loot boxes in video games as illegal and unregulated forms of gambling in 2018 and since then a number of game developers made changes so as to comply with the new law. Not Electronic Arts (EA) though – the company was not amused by the directive and chose to defend the use of loot boxes in video games instead of honoring the law, at least until now. Owing to increased pressure, the game developer has backed down from its previously defiant stance and has now ceased the sale of FIFA Points, an in-game currency that is offered in the company’s FIFA series.

The changes were meant to come into effect by January 1 which means that as from the first day of February, FIFA gamers in Belgium will not be able to purchase points in order to obtain FIFA Ultimate Packs. Fortunately, the players will still be able to access the Ultimate Team and play with their existing players. Also, as it has always been, players will still be able to earn all content in the game through gameplay and use coins as well as the in-game transfer market. For Belgian players who already have FIFA points in their accounts, they will still be able to use them but they will not be allowed to purchase more of them.

Belgium’s and Netherland’s gambling commissions came to the conclusion that loot boxes in video games that were fueled by real-money purchases are equivalent to casino games like roulette or spinning the reels of a slot machine. In essence, most countries, including the United States, classify the spending of real money on wagers for potential reward as gambling. Many game developers are mulling over these facts trying to find suitable workarounds.

What It Means for the Industry

In many ways, Electronic Arts started this whole thing thanks to its decision to include tons of heavy-handed transactions as well as loot crates in Star Wars Battlefront II. Despite the backlash from both players and gaming authorities, EA maintains its adamancy that loot boxes are not a form of gambling. In fact, the company said that it would still be seeking “more clarity” on the matter. Luckily enough, the FIFA Points were not critical to the company’s finances which means that this would have played out quite differently if that was not the case.

All things considered, while Belgium may seem like a relatively small market for video games especially when compared to other countries in Europe, its decision to ban loot boxes is certainly bound to get some attention. As is stands, legislators in the United States, the United Kingdome, and Japan have all been looking into loot boxes in the recent past with the main aim being to protect consumers especially those are underage or at risk of becoming gambling addicts.

NHS Asks Premier League Teams to Tackle Problem Gambling

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According to Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS (National Health Service), Premier League football clubs and the foreign bookmakers that sponsor them are failing at their duty to help protect problem gamblers. Speaking at a conference in Manchester, Mr. Stevens called out the overseas betting companies for their failure to make the required donations to an industry charity that was formed to help in tackling gambling addiction.

“There is an increasing link between problem gambling and stress, depression and other mental health problems. Doctors report that two-thirds of problem gamblers get worse without help, and the NHS does offer specialist treatment,” Simon Stevens said. “But reports that foreign gambling companies are failing to play their part in co-funding help for addicts are deeply concerning. Taxpayers and the NHS should not be left to pick up the pieces. The health of the nation is everyone’s responsibility.”

He further described compulsive gambling as one of the “new threat” that the NHS has to deal with waring that the implications could be very serious especially since the already overstretched NHS has had to “pick up the pieces” from gambling-related mental health issues.

“One of the things, if we’re serious about prevention, that we need to do – we need to be getting on to the Premier League and asking them to ensure that those foreign gambling firms are playing their part,” he added.

Worrying Numbers

According to the UK Gambling Commission, the UK has about 430,000 problem gamblers, a number that is likely to grow even further if nothing is done. In fact, the NHS has already moved to open its first mental clinic aimed specifically at problem gamblers but this is a just a drop in the ocean when compared to what really needs to be done.

“This is at the same time as the voluntary contribution from the gambling industry has not been responded to by eight overseas firms who sponsor Premier League clubs, so we need to get onto the Premier League to make sure they contribute.”

The dire need for interventions has been recognized and echoed by a number of organizations including GambleAware which has openly welcomed the NHS chief’s component.

“With nearly half the clubs in the Premier League and over two-thirds of the Championship league sponsored by gambling companies, we are seriously concerned the relationship between sport and gambling has reached a tipping point. There is a real risk gambling advertising and sponsorships are normalizing gambling for children. We welcome the call from NHS England for gambling companies, wherever they are based, to contribute more to treating problem gambling,” a spokesperson from GambleAware said. “We would like to see all clubs, leagues, and broadcasters who profit from gambling work with us to help fund treatment for this hidden addiction.”

Bitcoin Crosses $8,000 Mark, Up 20 Percent in One Week

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Bitcoin’s price yesterday crossed the $8,000 mark for the very first time in over a month. This has already begun to spark speculations that this could be the return of the bull run that last year propelled bitcoin to its all-time high of almost $20,000. But, is it?

This recent rise in bitcoin’s price comes just after a week that saw it increase in value by about 20 percent following news that established financial institutions were eyeing the possibilities of venturing into bitcoin and cryptocurrency as a well as a ton of positive regulatory new from all around the world.

On the same note, bitcoins surge in value has been affecting many other aspects of the crypto industry including the so-called bitcoin dominance which rose to 47 percent this week, which is the highest it has ever been since December 2017 – bitcoin dominance is a measure of how much the total digital currency market is controlled by bitcoin.

What Is the Cause?

Many experts and crypto enthusiasts believe that bullishness around bitcoin can be attributed to the expected approval of a bitcoin exchange trade fund (ETF) that is currently being mulled over by the United States Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). The ETF was filed by New York-based VanEck and a blockchain platform known as SolidX through the Chicago Board of Exchange (CBOE).

If this bitcoin ETF is approved, people will be able to buy bitcoin without having to deal with existing clunky exchanges that usually struggle with cumbersome regulation and lack of trust from the public. According to a report filed but the ICO Journal a week ago, given the rise in bitcoin’s price, it appears that the bitcoin ETF is likely to get approved.

“I would call [the likelihood of approval] 90% at this point. The crypto markets have moderated and regulators have watched the lack of drama surrounding bitcoin futures across several global exchanges,” one of the ICO Journal’s unnamed sources reportedly commented. “The price moderation and adoption of a peer product is what the conversations have centered around. In January we were justifiably concerned about a bubble and the harm a quickly approved product could attract speculators and create losses that led to significant lawsuits. Now, those factors seem to be mitigated significantly.”

Global Regulatory Developments

Investors have also been quite keen on global regulatory news and this might also have something to do with the surge in bitcoin’s value. For instance, South Korea last week set up a government department that is tasked with creating policy initiatives around cryptocurrencies and financial technology.

“Regulation is moving in apace with positive murmurings from governments as they understand the opportunities and risks, and how to tailor their approaches — South Korea being the latest to give another tacit nod,” Charles Hayter, chief executive of digital coin comparison site CryptoCompare, said in an email on addressed to CNBC.

Highlights of the IOC and GAISF’s Lausanne Esports Forum

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The Olympic Esports Forum that was held on Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland kicked off with opening remarks from Patrick Baumann, the president of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). In his welcome speech, he said the main objective of the forum was to “build a joint understanding between the Esports community and the Olympic movement,” that involves structure and values that would set “the platform for joint engagement.”

He also pointed out that many of the stakeholders were considering the most “mutually beneficial” steps that could be taken to forward the agenda of taking Esports to the next level.

The Esports Forum majorly focused on the areas of commonality and those that offered opportunities for collaboration. This included discussions about whether Esports could be eventually recognized as a sport as well as the form that would best suit its representation within the Olympic Movement.

As it stands, there are no official organizations representing the global Esports industry and this makes it rather difficult for Esports to align itself with the Olympic values, rules, and regulations. Therefore, the forum recognized that ensuring this would be a lengthy process and so the consideration of whether Esports could be added into the Olympic program was not an immediate goal.

More than 150 representatives from various Esports and gaming companies participated alongside a large number of players, teams, publishers, sponsors, media and sponsors as well as officials from the International Sports Federation, National Olympic Committees, the International Olympic Committee and Global Association of International Sports Federations. Also in attendance were a decent number of athletes and broadcasters. Former professional basketball player, Rick Fox acted as the forum’s host moderator.

Calls for Inclusion of More Women in Esports

Among the stakeholder that attended the forum was a panel that was specifically focused on gender equality in various sectors of the Esports industry. Panelist discussed the challenges that both traditional sports and Esports have in common with regards to gender inequality.

“Women make up about 25% of the Esports player base, so why aren’t they in the top?” asked PMS Clan founder and director at Twitch, Amber Dalton. “The fact is boys start much, much earlier. I believe if we can get girls early, playing as long as boys do, we’ll get women playing […] Women and girls simply aren’t getting that exposure. We need amateur leagues to build them up for pro events later.”

These efforts are clearly a nod to the numerous female Esports teams that exist at the moment. They include an all-female Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team known as Team Dignitas which was the first female team to win a championship for the Dignitas Organization.

“I think what’s great about esports is that we have an eco-system here where anybody can put together a tournament. There are tools and platforms available for female players to set up their own tournaments,” BITKRAFT Esports founding partner Jens Hilgers said.

Sweden Welcomes International Online Poker Operators

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Sweden’s love affair with poker has existed for a very long time. However, its growth has to some extent always been impeded by the fact that the market has since the beginning of time been monopolized by the state. Things, fortunately, took a turn for the better in June 2018, when the newly introduced gambling laws did away with the state’s monopoly over online poker. This is exciting news, especially for the Swedish poker players who will soon be able to play online poker on international platforms other than the state-run Svenska Spel, and also play against players from other parts of the globe.

Keeping Up with Reality

Sweden was, in 2013, found to have been in violation of several of the European Union’s law especially with regards to a law that required all the member states to allow international operators to obtain internet gaming licenses. Despite this, as witnessed, it took five years for the country’s authorities to finally open up the market to international poker sites. Still, the state-owned Svenska Spel will continue to operate as it has always done until the ban on international poker and gambling platforms is lifted on January 1, 2019.

One factor that seems to have contributed to this huge decision is the Swedish authorities’ realization that it is almost impossible to enforce such a strict monopoly on the Swedish residents or any other person for that matter. This is simply due to the fact that the internet has always offered and will likely continue offering workarounds that render such laws as Sweden’s internet gambling monopoly useless. In fact, a number of online gambling operators such as PartyPoker, PokerStars, and 888Poker have been active in Sweden all this while without holding licenses from the Swedish authorities.

Sweden also hopes to tackle the issue of criminal activity with this move – it is common knowledge that unregulated gambling activities will more often than not facilitate or foster criminal activities. They hope that creating a more liberal online gambling industry, they will finally be able to curb or at least significantly minimize this particular problem.

More Details

Interested international online poker operators will be able to start applying for the necessary licenses on August 1 and the ones that will be lucky enough to be approved will be subject to an 18 percent tax. Svenska Pel will, however, not be subject to this tax. It will keep operating and supporting the country as usual with the stakeholders hoping that it will remain popular among Swedish online gamblers.

The new laws have now given the Swedish Gambling Authority (SGA) more power and it now has the authority to close down any of the online gaming operators that are offering their services without a license.

John McAfee Fires Shots at the RBI over Cryptocurrency Ban

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Renowned cybersecurity pioneer John McAfee has recently called for a boycott of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the financial institutions dealing with it over a recent decision by the central bank that forces banks to cease and desist from dealing with cryptocurrency traders.

The move by the RBI has created a lot of chaos and panic especially because of India’s technology ecosystem that has been riding the cryptocurrency wave for quite some time now. Most of the reactions have cited concerns pertaining to how the country’s rapid movement towards development will be hindered from here on out.

It is important to note that the ban is not an all-inclusive decree that Indian cryptocurrency investors will be in violation of the law for dealing in crypto. In fact, there are many other options that digital currency traders can users and they include crypto-to-crypto, peer-to-peer, offshore exchanges as well as international bank accounts. As such, while the decree that financial institutions should stop offering services to crypto investors is indeed a setback, it does not mean that it will be the end of all cryptocurrency trading in India.

The Indian media is culpable for the panic, fear, uncertainty, and doubt that is now rife in the country – as expected, they erroneously reported that the RBI had imposed a country-wide ban on cryptocurrency trading among investors.

McAfee Is Not Amused

On July 6, John McAfee posted an intriguing tweet that fired off at the Reserve Bank of India and urged all financial institutions to dissociate themselves with the central bank. He further warned that he would call for a boycott against the financial institutions that steal deal with the RBI.

“The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) initiated this atrocity out of fear and won through the existing centralized power structure. I’m calling for a boycott of any financial institution that does business with RBI. We must stand together and act,” read McAfee’s tweet.

In his tweet which comes in the wake of the recent verdict by the Indian Supreme Court to uphold the RBI crypto ban, McAfee spoke out against these developments. Knowing McAfee, he will remain at the forefront of these protests, at least until the ban is either lifted or a reasonable consensus is reached.

From the looks of things, there are many ways this could play out but it will all depend on how both sides of the divide will play their cards. Recent reports revealed that prior to the ban, the RBI did not carefully and explicitly review the pro and cons of cryptocurrencies in the country. Already, the central bank’s officials have begun reviewing a draft that focuses on cryptocurrencies and associated regulations that would be required to ensure its survival. The said draft was prepared by the Secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs, Subhash Chandra Garg. Maybe there is still hope for crypto in India after all.

International Olympics Committee to Host an Esports Forum

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Esports is getting closer and closer to going mainstream thanks to recent efforts and developments that are being driven by a number of interested and curious parties. One of the most notable developments so far are efforts by the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) both of who have joined forces and recently announced that they will be hosting an Esports forum on July 21.

The forum whose key purposes is to act as a gauge of whether or not Esports can be part of Olympics will involve professional Esports players, Esports teams, games publishers, sponsors and event organizers as well as members of the International Sports Federations and  National Olympic Committees. The forum’s primary objective will be to “explore synergies, build joint understanding, and set a platform for future engagement between Esports and gaming industries and the Olympic Movement.”

“Along with the IOC, the GAISF looks forward to welcoming the Esports and gaming community to Lausanne. We understand that sport never stands still and the phenomenal growth of Esports and gaming is part of its continuing evolution. The Esports Forum provides an important and extremely valuable opportunity for us to gain a deeper understanding of Esports, their impact and likely future development, so that we can jointly consider the ways in which we may collaborate to the mutual benefit of all of sport in the years ahead,” said Patrick Baumann, the president of GAISF.

From what we could gather the terms used in the details of the forum’s objectives, the IOC and GIASF are not only trying to promote inclusivity but also trying to find ways of making sure that Esports will make some money for the stakeholders. On offer during the July 21 forum will be a series of talks and panels with regards to how the Olympics and Esports can work together.

In addition to this, the forum will include discussions on Twitch’s success and mode, the push for gender equality and inclusivity, governance structures as far as Esports is concerned and the lives of the professional Esports players.

Esports has continued to grow at an insanely fast pace and is now even considered to be the next biggest frontier in influencer marketing. While it is undeniable that the Esports environment is brimming with potential, advertisers will certainly have to reshape their sponsorship strategies so as to match the unique nature and dynamism of the Esports space.

Even if the Esports forum is successful, Esports is not going to be part of the 2020 Olympics but in 2024 we might finally get to see the first Esports Olympics. This is somewhat a blessing in disguise as it creates room for the committee to lay out suitable guidelines for Esports at the Olympics while at the same time getting acquainted with the nature of the Esports space through existing competitions such as the Overwatch League.

Akon Launches Cryptocurrency to Power Youth Entrepreneurship

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Senegal-born platinum-selling singer and philanthropist Akon has recently announced plans to build his own city in Senegal with his recently launched digital currency, Akoin, being the main form of exchange. Cryptocurrencies have had their fair share of celebrity backers but most of the support has been at face value, that is, most of them are just ambassadors for digital currency outfits. As such, the move by Akon to venture into the crypto space is not only bold but also game-changing.

Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on June 18 on a panel titled “Branding Africa: Blockchain, Entrepreneurship and Empowering the Future,” the Grammy-nominated performer said blockchain technology and cryptocurrency could be “the savior for Africa in many ways” especially because of its high-security factor.

“I think that blockchain and crypto could be the savior for Africa in many ways because it brings the power back to the people and brings the security back into the currency system and also allows the people to utilize it in ways where they can advance themselves and not allow government to do those things that are keeping them down,” Akon said during the panel event, according to Page Six.

A Crypto City?

According to an initial blurb posted by ICO Impact Group, Akon and his team have a more ambitious plan in the works and it involves a 100 percent crypto-based city. As mentioned earlier at the beginning of this post, Akoin will be the center of the transactional life of the city that has been dubbed “Akon Crypto City.”

As it turns out, the development of the Akon Crypto City is already underway and it began with the 2,000 acres of land that the singer was gifted by the President of Senegal. The city is located within 5 minutes on Senegal’s new international airport, and a short drive from Dakar, Senegal’s capital city. It is also close to the coast, which in addition to all the factors make it a strategic location for such a venture.

At the moment, there are so many reasons to be skeptical about the plan especially because of the blithe overuse of “blockchain” as a buzzword and panacea to existing financial problems. To make it worse, Akon’s responses to the technical questions during the panel were not exactly heartening either – PageSix reports him saying, “I come with the concepts and let the geeks figure it out.” This is not exactly reassuring especially considering how shaky the crypto space is.

However, if we consider Akon’s Akon Lighting Africa charity project and how it effectively helped 17 countries in Africa to arrange for financing for solar panels and small-scale lighting projects, then this ambitious endeavor might just pay off, eventually.

2018 FIFA World Cup Betting Guide

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In the United States, Las Vegas is and will probably always be the Mecca of sports betting. However, in the wake of the landmark United States Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for nationwide sports betting, many more states will be giving Nevada a run for its money. As it stands, Delaware was the first state – after Nevada where some forms of sports betting have been legal for years – to legalize sports betting. This move has since been followed by New Jersey and many more including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Mississippi are expected to do the same very soon.

As you might have already guessed, this is perfect timing since the World Cup just kicked off recently (last Thursday) and this presents a huge opportunity for some side action. If you are only finding out this now then you are a little late to the party. You will be forgiven for not knowing though – it is growing more understandably clear the FIFA World Cup can either bring out either absolute indifference or rabid interest when it comes to the United States.

This year will probably lean more towards the side of absolute indifference especially because, for the first time since 1986, the United States failed to make the World Cup. Ouch!

“Las Vegas is such an international city and the World Cup is such an international event that people are still going to be around to bet on it,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito commented. “It’s going to be a tremendous event for our sports books, but the U.S. not being there is definitely going to have some effect.”

However, the country remains to be the third most populated country in the world, which means that even a tad bit of interests represents a considerably large number of people. With legalized sports betting now a reality, there is still a lot that Americans can play for. Patriotism aside, it is time to make some cash. If betting is not for you, then too bad. I am sure there are a couple of other things that you can do; the opportunities are endless.

Odds to Win

Country               Odds       % chance to win

Brazil                     18-5           22%

Argentina             19-5           21%

Germany               9-2             18%

Spain                     5-1             16%

France                   11-2           15%

These top five choices represent 92 percent of the win equivalent even before you consider other contenders that include formidable teams like Belgium and Portugal as well as several other spoilers in the 32-team midfield. It would probably be smarter to wait for the knockout round before you jump in with these teams especially if you want to get a little more insight into what you are getting into. Still, the futures prices will not have changed much since the assumptions to qualify are already baked into the numbers.

Alternatively, as the knockouts begin you could bet on your preferred team to advance on game-by-game lines – this will roll out your investment at every round and is likely to yield a better return than betting futures prices.

MSI Final Becomes the Most Watched Esports Match in History

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Esports is almost at its prime after having gone through a decade of steady of growth to become the massive global phenomenon it currently is. This cuts across a variety of different aspects of gaming with the most notable being the impact that Esports is having on viewing entertainment both on television and streaming services. In fact, a number of records are being broken to that effect.

China and South Korea are the most recent record breakers after the MSI Final for League of Legends that pitted China’s Royal Never Give Up and South Korea’s Kingzone DragonX against each other drew in a staggering 127,551,726 viewers. This a significantly huge increase from the previous record’s 106 million figure that was set in 2017’s finals of the same tournament and also happened to feature China’s Royal Never Give Up Esports team. According to eSports Charts, a company that specializes in the analysis of data stemming from Esports broadcasts, these figures represent a great leap forward for Esports – for instance, it is now almost at par with the Super Bowl’s viewership that clocked 111 million in 2015.

The vast majority of the viewers were found to be from China, which should not come as much of a surprise since League of Legends is very popular in the country – the game boasts of over two billion watch hours in China. However, both China and South Korea have always been hardcore Esports action dens and thus the audiences in these regions have had time to mature and grow immensely which makes the disparities minimal

The viewership is certainly proof that Riot Games made the right choice when it decided to hold the tournament during times that favored the Eastern audience. This move was largely criticized and opposed by the North American and European communities but since it paid off quite decently, the company has very little to worry about.

Game Highlights

The MSI finals for League of Legends has been touted as a battle for regional pride owing to the fact that it was majorly about South Korea’s dominance in the game since 2016 and China’s unwavering quest for redemption after having failed to make it to the finals in previous tournaments – the last time China nabbed an MSI finals victory was in 2015.

China’s Royal Never Give Up managed to achieve a 3-1 victory in the MSI finals series against now former champions Kingzone DragonX. The team also broke the record for being the first non-South Korean team to beat a South Korean team in a League of Legends tournament of this magnitude in the past three years: 1,106 days to be more precise.

Also, we cannot speak of Royal Never Give Up’s victory without giving Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao, who is now undoubtedly the world’s greatest League of Legends player. Uzi beat all odds and went on to win his second trophy after six long years which makes this tournament another career-defining moment for the Chinese League of Legends Superstar.

“I’ve been trying to win this title for six years now,” Uzi said on stage following the victory. “I can’t imagine I’m standing here with this trophy. I’m super excited for this moment.”