November 21, 2014

Online poker’s US hopes may rest with sports betting

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The Las Vegas Review-Journal published a strong editorial in favor of federal online poker legislation yesterday. Titled “Congress must reverse foolish online poker policy,” it avoided mentioning Sheldon Adelson’s prohibitionism entirely and focused instead on the recent shutdown of Nevada’s Ultimate Poker. Ultimate’s chairman, Tom Breitling, said the week before that federal restrictions had created “an extremely cost-prohibitive and challenging operating environment,” and the RJ editorial made a strong case for an end to Congressional meddling. But when it comes to potential for making legalization happen on its own, poker’s time has come and gone. And oddly enough, its best chance to get back onto American laptops and mobile devices now may be to tag along with sports betting legislation.

Dealers Choice: Online Poker's U.S. Hopes May Rest With Sports BettingThere may eventually be a renaissance of sorts for the poker online, but pushing for legislation to legalize poker on the federal level is essentially impossible today. The peak of the poker boom is receding further back into history with every passing year, the games that do exist are small and dominated by sharks, and poker’s popularity in American culture has been on the wane since long before Black Friday. If legislation specifically to legalize online poker couldn’t make it through Congress when the game was still highly popular and the Senate Majority Leader was from Nevada, the chances of it passing today, particularly with the new Republican-controlled Congress coming into power in January, are next to none.

Sports betting, on the other hand, is more popular today than ever before. If you want to take the narrow view, it’s still only legal to bet on individual games in Nevada. But the state of New Jersey is currently battling in federal court to legalize sports betting, defending a law which its legislature passed and its governor signed. Look a little wider and the landscape is much more friendly than it’s ever been before. Real-money daily fantasy sports leagues, the only form of sports betting explicitly legalized by the UIGEA, are thriving in popularity today. Sites like DraftKings and FanDuel are advertising with the major sports leagues now. And DraftKings even sponsored several of the players at the final table of this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event.

When it comes to legalization today, there’s a world of difference when it comes to institutional support between sports betting and poker. The NBA’s commissioner has begun leading the charge to legalize sports betting, which he called “inevitable” earlier this year and which the majority of Americans support, according to a recent poll. Other major leagues aren’t on board, but the NBA has a template sports betting law based on research in other countries – and as the NFL continues to stage more games overseas where betting is completely legal, they might be tempted to change their stance back stateside.

Meanwhile, online poker is drowning without support from any major players. The American Gaming Association, which once testified before Congress in favor of federal online poker legislation, has now backed away from that stance as one of its members spends millions encouraging federal prohibition. The only active force consistently lobbying Congress on online poker is the Poker Players Alliance, which hasn’t had much effect so far and isn’t likely to see a watershed moment anytime soon. As such, online poker legislation on its own is a dead letter, particularly with Sheldon Adelson crusading against all online gambling and his minions coughing up legislation in response.

If the sports leagues, who have traditionally been the major opponents of allowing sports betting outside Nevada, change their tone on legalizing sports betting, they could easily counterbalance Adelson’s influence in Washington. And since the NBA and their ilk are pretty likely to outlive the one guy in America who really cares about prohibiting online gambling, having them enter the fray would be a pretty strong signal that the game is going to change. The irony in such a situation would be pretty thick because poker proponents had the chance early on to encourage the legalization not just of poker but of all gambling. Instead they avoided the question altogether until after the UIGEA was passed, and then fell back on seeking a carve-out from the law for online poker as a game of skill.

The old saw that poker isn’t gambling may be true in a handful of cases for the most talented players, but in the long run everybody else has to beat the rake, just the same as sports bettors have to beat the vig on their losing wagers. Still, that’s the line was pushed. It was a more politically attractive angle when trying to get a law passed in a conservative Congress than arguing that all forms of online gambling should be legalized. Besides, who cared if others got to gamble the way they wanted, so long as those millions of players in the world’s hottest game got to continue taking to the tables?

In the end, trying to leave all other gambling out of the equation proved to be just as effective as a full frontal assault for all gambling would have been. And it had the side effect of alienating a lot of people who otherwise would have been allies to the poker community. Looking back a few years from now, we may end up seeing the sale of PokerStars to Amaya as the first major sign of the end of poker’s hopes for being the only game on the block. Amaya has been angling to launch a sports betting product in 2015 since before the acquisition, and the customer database they bought along with PokerStars contains plenty of would-be sports bettors just waiting for an invitation.

Instead of being a gold mine because they’re loyal poker customers at the world’s largest poker room, those PokerStars players could eventually end up being most valuable primarily because they’ll no longer have to go elsewhere to bet on the games that they watch while they’re playing in their favorite cash games or tournaments. And if they’re able to play from the U.S., there’s a chance it will only be because poker was tacked on when the NBA’s template law was ushered through Congress after a few years of heavy campaign contributions to the right legislators. If so, try not to choke on the irony while you’re watching Monday Night Football, check-raising that donkey on your left and hoping the Seahawks cover the spread.

November 19, 2014

British heptathlon star Karla Drew turns £5 football bet into £50,000

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As an up-and-coming British heptathlete, you'd expect Karla Drew to have a great chance of beating the bookies when it comes to predicting Olympic or World Championship athletics results.

But it turns out that the 25-year-old also knows more than a thing or two about football - because she took a bookmaker to the cleaners by turning a £5 bet into more than £50,000.

The Sheffield-based athlete - who is coached by the famous Toni Minichiello, the man who made Jessica Ennis a star - decided to stick a 10-match accumulator on the latest round of international football matches with bookie Victor Chandler, who is famous for his smug smirking in his TV ads.

But old Victor wasn't smirking when Panama drew with Canada and Uruguay beat Chile in the early hours of Wednesday morning: those were the last two result that Karla needed to scoop her returns of £50,354.

The other picks in her epic bet, as she shared on Twitter, were wins for Brazil against Austria, Estonia against Jordan, Italy against Albania, Portugal against Argentina, Germany against Spain, France against Sweden and England against Scotland.

All 10 of those predictions came true.



She said on Wednesday: “This is a life-changing win for me. Being an MSC student, I’m not entitled to any Student Loan. I want to continue my studies and do a PhD in Sports Psychology and this will enable me to realise my dream.”

“I was going to go to sleep before the final results came in but I was just too excited so I carried on refreshing the scores in bed. I only started to really believe I would do it with about 10 minutes to go of the Panama vs Canada game. I still can’t believe I have won!”

BetVictor’s Director of Public Relations, Charlie McCann said: “Karla acknowledged on Twitter that she faced a sleepless night on Tuesday knowing that eight of her ten selections were winners but she need not have worried. Few football fans will remember the goalless draw between Panama and Canada with quite the same affection as one lucky Sheffield student and it is a fantastic story that her win will enable her to continue her postgraduate studies and long term objective of being a sports psychologist.”

Not only that, but suffice to say at least one young athlete won't be scrabbling around trying to find the money to get to international meetings over the next year or two. Well done!

Betsson invests in Rush Sports app

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European sports betting operator Betsson AB has invested in the Swedish startup-company Rush Sports AB, which has developed the first true app for event-driven real-time betting – Rush Football. The founders of the company are also behind the successful apps Forza Football and Forza 90′.

Rush Football aims to be the first app to fully integrate a live score service with real-time betting, allowing users to follow matches and place bets based on match events; not just in a single app, but also in the same view.

“The investment in Rush Sports AB is part of Betsson’s investment strategy, in which Betsson continually evaluates opportunities to strengthen the company’s position in the market. We believe in this investment and look forward with enthusiasm on the development of Rush Sports AB and Rush Football” says Magnus Silfverberg President and CEO of Betsson AB.”

“We want to develop the best products within mobile sports betting” states Martin Lindau, CEO Rush Sports AB. “With help from Betsson, Rush Football has all the possibilities of becoming another success.”

Rafa Nadal triumphs in grudge match against Ronaldo as SportStars duel

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Tennis: Former World No.1 and 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal has beaten the Football legend Ronaldo (Brazilian) in the challenge game of Poker.

Nadal and Ronaldo had met in the Poker tournament last year, when the Spaniard had won. But this year Ronaldo wanted to take a revenge, so he challenged Nadal back in September.

Ronaldo had said he had learnt more tricks and techniques, but those could not help him, as he lost. Nadal posted the photo with Ronaldo and wrote on his Facebook account, ''I won #theduel!! A great game of poker with Ronaldo! The benefits will be donated to charity''.

The 28-year-old Mallorca resident had recently undergone a surgery and he is expected to start training for Tennis in December. Nadal has set his sight on playing in Doha and Abu Dhabi at the start of the next year.

November 18, 2014

French football rocked by match fixing scandal

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olice carried out raids on numerous homes on Tuesday and arrested the presidents of two clubs, who are suspected of fixing or attempting to fix football matches in France’s second division.

Among those arrested according to Le Parisien newspaper was the president of Caen, Jean-François Fortin and the president of Nîmes Olympique, Jean-Marc Conrad.

In all there were around ten arrests made, all related to the suspected fixing of matches in the 2013-2014 season.

The two men arrested are suspected of rigging a match between their two clubs in May 2013, so that it ended in a draw.

That result ensured that Caen would be promoted to France’s top division and Nîmes Olympique would avoid relegation to the third tier.

According to Le Parisien, French police are looking at several games played by Nîmes last year, suspecting that they too may also have been rigged.

Police suspicions were first raised when they were investigating a separate case against former Nîmes shareholder Serge Kasparian and his casino empire Cercle Cadet.

In a separate case, three of the directors of the club Olympique Marseille have also been arrested on Tuesday, accused of misuse of company funds in relation to the transfer of striker Andre-Pierre Gignac from Toulouse to Marseille in 2010 for €18 million.

Current club president Vincent Labrune; Jean-Claude Dassier, who held the post from 2009 to 2011 and current CEO Philip Perez are under police investigation, suspected of paying kickbacks to middlemen.

Amaya to focus on sports betting product development amid bwin.party takeover rumours

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Amaya Gaming CEO David Baazov, outlined the importance of sports betting for his company’s future growth strategy. Speaking to investors after reporting Amaya Gaming’s Q3 results, Baazov confirmed that the operator would continue to “invest heavily” in developing a proprietary sports betting product.

Baazov outlined that Amaya would look to launch a sportsbook for its Full Tilt brand in the coming months. The CEO confirmed that Amaya would look to utilise third party technologies for non-differentiating components of the products development.

Amaya sports betting products will differentiate from competitors by building certain player mechanisms in-house, such as loyalty programs and customer services.

Baazov confirmed that Amaya sports betting products will be primarily attached to acquired poker brands PokerStars and Full Tilt. The brands will begin to operate sports betting verticals in select licensed European markets.

Amaya Gaming’s recent igaming technology acquisitions and its corporate strategy set on expanding its services for the US igaming market, have led financial news sources to speculate that the Canadian Gambling operator is preparing a $1.2 billion takeover of Gibraltar based bwin.party.

Last Friday Financial Times Alphaville Editor Paul Murphy reported that Amaya Gaming and igaming technology provider Playtech were the two rumoured parties bidding on acquiring bwin.party.

November 12, 2014

Bwin.party in takeover talks

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The Board of Directors at bwin.party were forced to issue a statement to the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday as speculation about a possible takeover bid boiled over and became public knowledge.

The statement reads:

“Further to recent media speculation regarding a possible bid for bwin.party, the Board of bwin.party confirms that it has entered into preliminary discussions with a number of interested parties regarding a variety of potential business combinations with a view to creating additional value for bwin.party shareholders.

Such discussions may or may not result in an offer being made for the Company. However, as all such discussions remain at a preliminary stage, there can be no certainty as to whether or not they will result in any form of transaction with any party.”

According to an article on the Financial Times Alphaville, it is Amaya Gaming Group who the potential buyers of what was once the largest publically traded online gaming company in the world. Amaya, of course, are the owners of bwin.party's partypoker's rivals PokerStars and Full Tilt.

Paul Murphy of the Financial Times wrote in his article, “We believe the bidder here is Amaya Gaming Group” and the potential price would be 145p per share, valuing the company at around £1.19 billion.

However, an article appearing in the London Evening Standard claims it is Playtech who are looking to acquire bwin.party after it announced it was raising a €315 million war chest for acquisitions and “organic opportunities.”

Bwin.party have so far declined to comment on who preliminary talks are with, but Amaya is set to publish its financial figures on November 14 so if it is one of the potential buyers we would expect an announcement before then.

It will be interesting to see if it is Amaya or Playtech looking at the buyout and what plans each company would have for bwin.party.

The stock market reacted positively to the news and bwin.party's share price rose 12.52% to 121.3p.

November 10, 2014

Boylesports seeks CEO for UK expansion

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Irish businessman John Boyle, the founder of Boylesports, is ready to step back in as Chairman of the betting operator, as the company looks to expand its presence and operations in the UK betting and gaming market.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Boyle stated that he would return to managing Boylesport governance if the company could find a Chief Executive Officer to take management operations.

Boyle further stated that the operator needed to expand its operations and presence in the UK betting market, as it had reached peak expansion within Ireland were it operators 198 retail betting outlets.

Speaking on corporate strategy, Boyle detailed that the operator may look undertake a major betting acquisition in order to establish its presence in the UK betting market. Boylesport senior management were currently in the process of identifying potential targets.

“A big push into the UK would be one of the next steps for the business. And if it happens it will be done in scale. Now that we are debt free we would have backing from the banks,” Boyle commented.

The privately owned operator is in the process of moving its operational base to Gibraltar, which it believes will help it expand in the UK market. Boylesport is seeking acquire a top Chief Executive to undertake ambitious growth plans and execute dynamic strategies for its business divisions.
Speaking on the matter Boyle commented: “I was always looking for someone to come along and take my role, always looking for a good CEO. But to get someone who would have that passion and care, not just do the job, that’s the challenge.”

November 07, 2014

French Internet Poker Market Falls To €57m In Q3 2014

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French online gambling regulator Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne (ARJEL), has released its third quarter results for the country’s gambling industry and while sports betting gross gaming revenues were up by a massive 94% to €60 million, online poker continued its dramatic decline with revenues shrinking by 2% to just €57 million.

Poker Declines For Third Consecutive Quarter

In the third quarter, ARJEL reported a 2% fall in the country’s online poker market to €57 million, and while cash games noted a turnover drop of €59 million to €1.040 billion, tournament entries actually improved slightly by €2 million to €354 million.

Earlier this year, ARJEL President Charles Coppolani declared that poker was a losing proposition, and issued a public statement saying; “The fad is over. Basically, the online poker market may be mature.” Unfortunately, France’s quarterly results seem to be leaning in that direction, and the country has now experienced three quarters of declining revenues.

Nevertheless, while Coppolani has dismissed poker as a “fad” and “too complicated for a young audience”, the ARJEL President seems to be overlooking what is likely to be the real root cause of the problem, namely a ring-fenced market with a lack of liquidity, and a French government which has placed too high a tax burden on online poker operators.

Unappealing French iPoker Market

French online poker operators are currently subjected to an extortionate 37% tax rate, and also find themselves further disadvantaged by an estimated 45% of French players preferring to play on unlicensed sites, representing a considerable drain on France’s online poker industry. While ARJEL’s current President Coppolani seems to have overlooked just how significantly these factors have affected online poker in France, ARJEL former President Jean-François Vilotte,at least seemed to have had a better grasp on the situation and previously warned:

“Poker is going through a difficult time, but this is not something that is happening only in France, as Spain and Italy are experiencing a similar trend as well. Seen from a broader perspective, this is a problem of legalized markets competing against non-legalized ones. If legalized markets won’t learn how to become more flexible and adjust themselves quicker to what people want, they will keep doing the work for illegal websites and help them to win against their legal competitors.”

In addition, this uncompetitive situation has recently affected the country’s players and on September 26th, Europoker.fr officially shut its doors leaving between €300,000 and €500,000 of customers’ bankrolls and bonuses stuck in their online accounts.

Signs That ARJEL May Finally Be Addressing Shortcomings

However, there are at last signs that France’s regulator is beginning to see the need to improve the condition of its online poker market, and Coppolani recently met with a select group of French players and journalists in an effort to improve communication between ARJEL and the players in the future. Amongst a number of issues he has promised to consider is the need to introduce more poker games to the French online poker community, to reduce tax for online poker operators, and to share liquidity with other European countries, such as the UK, Spain and Italy.

Sports Betting The Outstanding Performer

While online poker continues to struggle from a number of factors, France’s gambling regulator ARJEL had nothing but praise for the country’s sports betting industry, which reported gross gaming revenue (GGR) of €60 million, up by 94% compared to the €31 million generated in Q3 last year.

Helping France’s sports betting balance sheet was the country’s promising performance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, which saw the national team reach the Quarter-finals before losing 1-0 to eventual winners Germany. While French bookies took €47 million from punters during the World Cup, French sports betting in general was up by 34% to €245 million in Q3, with football betting the most popular attraction with 63% of the action. Tennis proved the next most popular sport with 24% of total sports wagering, while horse racing continued to wane, falling by 7% in GGR to €238 million.

Russian Online Poker To Be A Victim Of Ukraine Conflict?

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In June 2009, the Russian Federation ordered the Sports Ministry to remove poker from its national sports registry, and since then the government has intermittently ordered Internet Service Providers to block online gambling websites from the country. Recently, however, Russian authorities signaled a U-turn in its negative approach towards iGaming after it requested the Russian Ministries of Finance, Economics and Justice to prepare a report on possible legalization, but now the prospects for online poker regulation appears to have dimmed once more following the heightened tensions between Russia and The West following the Ukraine Crisis which began on 21 February 2014.

Russian online poker a $150m industry

Russia is a country heavily reliant on the revenues generated from its energy sector, and in 2012 oil and gas accounted for 16% of the country’s GDP, around half its federal budget, and 70% of total exports. Therefore, its not difficult to see how online poker regulation could significantly impact the country’s economic outlook, especially with the industry predicted to generate up to 3 billion roubles ($87 million) in its first year of operation, rising to 5 billion roubles ($146 million) by year four.

With proposed amendments to the law suggesting a competitive taxation regime of 20% on a company’s gross gaming revenues and 13% on withdrawals made by poker players from their accounts, the government could stand to collect more than half a billion dollars in tax revenues over the next five years. Interestingly, chief researcher at the Centre for Tax Policy Research Institute of the Ministry of Finance, Vladimir Bauer, has indicated online poker would likely be categorized as an “intellectual and commercial game” so that it could be taxed as an electronic service.

Online poker legalization essential

Last month, a government ministries meeting concluded legalization of Russia’s online poker market was essential, with all arguments related to security and public safety subsequently dismissed. It was then decided the country’s interests could best be served by opening the industry to Western iGaming operators, and introducing a system whereby operators were required to store their customers’ personal data on servers hosted within Russia.

The country currently restricts all its gambling activities to five established gambling zones where casinos are permitted, but legislators even seemed positive towards allowing online poker to be offered outside of these far flung corners of the federation.

Online poker a victim of geopolitics?

While the Ukraine Crisis has been raging since February, recently the conflict involving Russia and The West has heightened following the introduction of a wave of sanctions against Russian individuals and businesses designed to impose a high cost on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
Given the current climate with The West, which threatens to draw a cold war era type “iron curtain” across Europe, it has become increasingly unlikely the Russian parliament will react positively to any new bill which would give Western businesses access to Russian online poker players. A more likely scenario may now involve legislators restricting online licenses to just existing domestic casino operators already operating inside Russia.

No real alternative to Western poker rooms

Although sending a strong message out to its political opponents, the move to exclude Western operators from Russia could ultimately be self-defeating in the absence of any real home grown competitor. Outside of the country, ex-Soviet Republic, Georgia, may represent the best option to bring online poker to Russia, with its poker site Adjarabet currently ranked on PokerScout‘s ‘Online Poker Traffic Report’ in 10th place with 1,000 cash game players over a seven-day-period, and Europe-Bet in 22nd place with 350 players.

Just like Ukraine, however, Russia has extremely hostile relations with Georgia and in 2008 it invaded South Ossetia in the north of the country, and has continued to occupy the region ever since. Creating “frozen conflicts” is widely seen as a tactic Russia employs in order to destabilize former USSR neighbors and keep them in its orbit of influence. Therefore, it’s anyone’s guess how long the stand-off between the West and Russia will last, and at which point a regulated online poker market may see the light of day in Russia.