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Tobique: The Current State of Play In This New Gaming Jurisdiction

Article authored by Andrew Tait

We at Advennt gave an overview of the Tobique licensing jurisdiction as part of our article in April 2024 on Unregulated Markets and .com licensing hubs. At that time, Softswiss announced the grant of their Tobique licence.

Given the volatility of global gaming regulations and the need to make critical medium to long term business decisions, we think it’s now time to give an update on Tobique in the context of other comparable .com licensing jurisdictions such as Curacao, Kahnawake and Anjouan.

In April 2024, the Tobique Gaming Commission (TGC) published its Gaming Act 2023, which lays the foundation for the establishment and regulatory powers of TGC, part of which are delegated to Differentia Licensing Advisory Group Limited (“DLAG”).

DLAG is a conglomerate of companies providing corporate and legal services, regulatory compliance, banking and payment processing facilities with some 600 staff and 29 worldwide offices headed by management with extensive experience of the gaming industry in their respective fields of excellence.

The 2023 Act sets out the types of licences that can be granted, which cover a wide range of both B2C and B2B activities not only in the gambling sector but also in the rapidly emerging skill and social gaming markets. B2B licensing is a voluntary scheme, similar to the Isle of Man, (suppliers will however need TGC approval) which as a regulated activity gives credibility to those suppliers who may otherwise find it difficult to secure banking and payment facilities.

In addition to the Gaming Act, Regulations and Codes of Practice covering both AML and general operating standards (see here) have now been published. These provide both clarity at a legal and operational level to enable interested licence applicants to properly evaluate the jurisdiction. These also enhance Tobique’s reputation given the high standard set by these Regulations and Codes in line with top tier gambling jurisdictions.

This transparent and comprehensive regulatory regime sets it above the others mentioned above, specifically:

  • Anjouan – The primary legislation dates from 1999, as amended in 2005 and is rudimentary at best, (see here). There are no actual Regulations or Codes to provide clarity and satisfy the supplier community that sufficient standards will be adhered to.
  • Curacao – The regulatory regime is in flux leading to uncertainty and worries that the new Gambling Act once finally passed into law will make the jurisdiction hard to comply with. For instance recently announced AML regulations circulated to direct licence applicants last month (which will need to be implemented by September 2024) will trouble many existing operators. Further details can be found in our Advennt Curacao report. This ramp up is driven by Curacao’s need to get their house in order ahead of the planned regional FATF inspection in June 2024, with the results and plenary discussion due in May 2025. The first two drafts of the new Gambling Act caused many concerns, hence the delays in progressing the legislation. These are mentioned in more detail in our Advennt news article from January 2024.
  • Kahnawake – This long established .com licensing hub has a set of Gambling Regulations dating back to 1999 (as amended in April 2024), (see link) and more recently AML regulations enacted in June 2021 (see link). These both adhere to acceptable international standards, however the absence of Codes of Practice makes the required implementation less certain and supplier requirements unclear.

There are also differences across these regimes in terms of restricted target jurisdictions. They all either expressly or impliedly require blocking of FATF blacklisted countries but after this, differences appear. For instance Kahnawake has no express list of prohibited jurisdictions. Equally Curacao is not forthcoming, other than restricting residents of Curaçao or any other territory as determined by the Regulator from time to time. In practice (under the former master-licence regime) this usually included The Netherlands, USA and France at a minimum. There is little source information on the Gaming Control Anjouan site with regards restricted territories, though its widely reported that Australia, Austria, Comoros, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom and the USA are out of bounds. Tobique is much more transparent, citing a total of 22 banned jurisdictions based on a combination of risk factors as set out in Appendix A to the AML Regulations, see link.

The cost of applying for and maintaining a licence varies across these 4 licensing hubs, as follows:

  • Curacao now requires a Curacao company to act as the licence holder with further proposals for licensees: to have a physical office in Curacao for their own exclusive occupation and actual use; a server in Curacao available for storing critical data and reports as specified by the Regulator; and at least one key person in a permanent, full-time employment, increasing to 3 persons in 5th year of licence term. The cost of applying and maintaining a licence will increase significantly from the previous master licence arrangement to direct licence application fees equivalent to €18,500 and monthly licence fees of €3,600. This will likely increase even further once the new Gambling Act and associated regulations are passed. The new direct licences are supposed to be processed within 8 weeks by the Regulator, however this timeframe has already been exceeded in all known cases.
  • Kahnawake – There is no need for a local company, however licensees must conduct gaming transactions from servers in Kahnawake co-location facilities specifically licensed by its Regulator. Application fees vary according to type of service provision but as a benchmark can be taken as US$40,000 with additional key person permit of US$5,000 and annual fees (due after the 1st year) of US$20,000, (see link). The time to process applications is usually 2-3 months with a provisional 6 month licence granted at the end. During this 6 month period, an audit is carried out by an approved agent to ensure compliance of its control systems. If successful, a 5 year licence is then granted.
  • Anjouan – There are no infrastructure and local company requirements, except the need for local data replication and a local representative. Application fees total around €2,000 and annual licence fees of €15,000. The requirement share capital is €250,000 for the licensee company. Applications usually take around 4 weeks to process.
  • Tobique – There are no company, personnel or infrastructure requirements in the jurisdiction itself. Licensees are free to use a company based in a jurisdiction of their choosing to hold the licence. The onus is instead focused on the suitability and capability of the licence applicants to meet the TGC’s exacting but pragmatic standards. Application fees are €18,000, with annual licensing fees also €18,000, on top of which annual regulatory compliance and supervisory services of €7,000 are charged. The typical timeframe for the completion of an application is between two and three weeks after pre-approval. However, the application can take as long as eight weeks in certain circumstances.

In summary there is a need to strike the right balance of regulatory framework versus business viability, where a pure-light touch approach will not instil confidence in the reputation of the jurisdiction, thereby dooming it to a short-term restricted scope of operation; whereas an unduly onerous one will hamstring licensee’s ability to make it commercially viable. Tobique with the benefit of hindsight from the experiences of other jurisdictions, by working in tandem with the supplier community to ensure its regulatory regime meets muster and utilising the regulatory and compliance expertise of DLAG, has in our opinion got the balance right.

At the end of the day the supplier ecosystem will largely dictate the medium to long term success of each licensing jurisdiction, especially as B2C operators are so dependent on payment providers and premier gambling software companies. These suppliers, especially in the heavily regulated financial services sector, need to be able to rely on a high standard of due diligence and ongoing supervision by Regulatory Authorities in accordance with equivalent controls against money laundering, terrorism financing and sanctioned persons/entities.

Already since its launch only 3 months ago, Tobique is or has processed a growing volume of applications already numbering in the 20’s, compared with Anjouan’s total since 2005 of just 19. Following Softswiss’s Tobique licence announcement in April 2024 and the publication of its Gaming Act and Regulatory Regime, there has been increased interest and applications made by the supplier community, including major software and payment providers. No doubt the investment in a rigorous regulatory regime is paying off.

The Tobique licence regime also benefits from key ancillary services which can facilitate a lower cost and more effective operation by availing of the relationships with the payment provider community. New operators will be able to plug into these established payment systems at volume based discount rates to speed their time and cost to market. DLAG has also built relationships with other businesses providing specialised support service to the gaming industry. Support services can provide corporate services and legal regulatory and compliance advice to enable licensing structures, infrastructure and appropriate processes and procedures to be put in place. Further information on this can be found here.

In addition, DLAG can also facilitate access to a global leading provider of chargeback dispute resolution services, offering a no win no fee product that significantly enhances the dispute resolution process, coupled with highly competitive rates for alerts to avoid the chargeback resolution process.

In a further effort to improve the gamer’s experience, DLAG has also partnered with a counselling service that licence holders can offer to their customers. At a time when addiction awareness requirements have never been higher for the industry. It is a further example of ensuring that the Tobique licence offering is a market leader.

If you would like to know more about upcoming developments global gaming regulations, get in touch with our team of experts at [email protected], or schedule a demo or sign up for a 7 day free trial.