February 05, 2016

PartyPoker to return to 21 online gambling markets under GVC

PartyPoker returns to 21 new online gambling markets including jurisdictions it exited as part of its “volume to value” strategy.

PartyPoker has begun operating in a number of new national markets after GVC Holdings completed its deal to buy bwin.party.

Bwin’s online poker room has written to affiliates asking them to estimate the number of first time depositors they anticipate in each market.

New sign-ups from 18 countries in EU and South America served by bwin.Party were blocked in April 2013. The decision was likely a mix of regulatory concern and simple cost analysis. The remaining countries may represent markets either too small or simply unprofitable for bwin.party to maintain operations in.

Many EU countries on the list curbed or prohibited online poker such as Greece, Poland, Romania, Cyprus and Hungary. Finland and Serbia, on the other hand, had a small regulated online poker markets.

South American countries — Argentina, Brazil and Colombia — were also blocked same with three former Soviet Republics Armenia, Belarus and the Ukraine.

Many of the markets that PartyPoker is re-entering are expected to introduce online poker licensing systems such as Colombia, which opened a consultation on launching a regulated online gambling market. Brazil has approved a legislative attempt to legalize online sports betting, casino and bingo games last year.

Bwin.party group head of partypoker and Cashcade Tom Waters confirmed the news to EGR, saying that it had re-opened in a “limited number of regulated territories” following a “thorough review” of PartyPoker’s operations.

“Along with other operators in the industry, we do accept gameplay from customers based in yet to be regulated territories where customers are not prevented from accessing online gaming products,” said Waters. “We have re-opened registration for a number of markets and could potentially look to do more if the commercials support it.”

January 27, 2016

William Hill, Unibet and Betway blacklisted by Lithuania

William Hill, Unibet and Betway have all been blacklisted in Lithuania following a request by the Lithuania Gaming Control Authority to the countries ISP providers to block the companies offering online gambling to residents.

Under orders from the National Parliament after a list of blacklisted companies was drawn up who are deemed to have broken national online gambling laws.

The three online operators are the first of the International companies to have been blacklisted with more to follow it is understood. The move follows new laws that were passed at the beginning of the year to tighten regulations on overseas companies offering online gambling within the country.

At present only online sites TonyBet and Orakulas are allowed to offer online gambling within Lithuania as they have been fully licensed within the country.

However those currently blacklisted and those companies that are on the list to be blacklisted are still welcome to apply for an online gambling license to offer online games said the Gaming Control Authority.

January 21, 2016

French online betting grows but profits remain elusive

France’s online betting volumes continued to grow impressively in 2015 but the country’s igaming market is still precarious, year-end figures from the country’s regulator ARJEL reveal.

The figures show that online betting revenues from regulated operators did not slow down in 2015, despite no major football tournament such as the 2014 World Cup taking place.

Betting stakes rose 30% during 2015, reaching €1.44bn, while stakes placed in the fourth quarter of the year beat all previous records and reached €452m, the highest volume since the market regulated in 2010.

The rise in betting volumes is a result of an 8% rise in the number of weekly active punters to 200,000 and an increase of 1.8 points in the pay out ratio to 81.3%, which led to French punters betting more.

Gross profits were up 19% for betting operators to €270m on 2014’s figure of €227m. However, with operators’ taxes based on stakes the level of taxation works out at 46% of gross profits and net profits for online betting, the actual amount operators are left with and from which they pay their running costs, rose just 6% in 2015.

French-licensed betting operators recorded losses of €11m in 2014 and it is highly likely that they will continue to be loss-making in 2015.

In terms of market share, new entrant Winamax, which diversified by launching a betting site in May 2014 and Unibet have been highly aggressive in going after French players.

Stakes for horse racing pari mutuel were down 2% to €1bn, their lowest level since 2010, while online poker cash game stakes saw a further drop of 14% to €3.7bn although entry fees for tournaments rose 14% to €1.7bn.

January 18, 2016

GVC looks to offload parts of Bwin's payments division

Online gambling company GVC is likely to sell parts of Bwin.Party’s payments business this year and has held early talks with payments processing firms.

Kenny Alexander, the chief executive of GVC, said that after the £1.1bn Bwin takeover he would probably offload small parts of its Kalixa division.

Kalixa is a payments services business and the bulk of its work is for Bwin. However, the subsidiary - which began as Bwin’s internal payments department - has grown and now also manages transactions for other companies such as retailers.

Mr Alexander said he was most likely to sell the parts of Kalixa that handle external processing to another payments business.

“We’ll probably look at maybe disposing of bits of that,” he said. “We’ve had very early discussions.”

The GVC boss dismissed suggestions he might sell Bwin’s Foxy Bingo brand, describing it as “a cracking business”.

GVC is today expected to signal its intention to make further acquisitions with the appointment of a well-regarded City analyst as its head of investor relations and corporate strategy.

Nick Batram, who focuses on the gaming and leisure industries for stockbroker Peel Hunt, is to join GVC and part of his role will be to help it to find new M&A targets.

Mr Alexander said that GVC will probably start to look at fresh bid targets in a year, after the Bwin deal.

The gambling chief also said GVC would also probably sign up to the horseracing industry’s controversial new funding scheme, becoming an “authorised betting partner” of the British Horseracing Authority.

Such partners agree to three-year deals to pay a proportion of their racing revenues to the industry. Several bookmakers that already pay the racing levy on their betting shop estates oppose the new funding arrangements

Tennis match fixing: Evidence of suspected match-fixing revealed

Secret files exposing evidence of widespread suspected match-fixing at the top level of world tennis, including at Wimbledon, can be revealed by the BBC and BuzzFeed News.

Over the last decade, 16 players who have ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) over suspicions they have thrown matches.

All of the players, including winners of Grand Slam titles, were allowed to continue competing.

The TIU- set up to police the sport - said it had a zero-tolerance approach to betting-related corruption.

Chris Kermode, who heads the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the body that governs world tennis, rejected claims evidence of match-fixing had "been suppressed for any reason or isn't being thoroughly investigated".

But he added: "While the BBC and BuzzFeed reports mainly refer to events from about 10 years ago, we will investigate any new information."

The cache of documents passed to the BBC and Buzzfeed News include the findings of an investigation set up in 2007 by the ATP.

Its job was to look into suspicious betting activity after a game involving Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello.

Both players were cleared of violating any rules, but the investigation developed into a much wider enquiry looking into a web of gamblers linked to top-level players.

The documents we have obtained show the enquiry found betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy and Sicily making hundreds of thousands of pounds betting on matches investigators thought to be fixed. Three of these matches were at Wimbledon.

In a confidential report for the tennis authorities in 2008, the enquiry team said 28 players involved in these matches should be investigated, but the findings were never followed up.

Tennis introduced a new anti-corruption code in 2009 but after taking legal advice were told previous corruption offences could not be pursued.

"As a result, no new investigations into any of the players who were mentioned in the 2008 report were opened," a TIU spokesman said.

In subsequent years, there were repeated alerts sent to the TIU about a third of these players. None of them was disciplined by the TIU.

A group of whistle blowers inside tennis, who want to remain anonymous, recently passed the documents on to the BBC and Buzzfeed News.

We contacted Mark Phillips, one of the betting investigators in the 2007 enquiry, who told the BBC that they discovered repeated suspicious betting activity about a clear group.

"There was a core of about 10 players who we believed were the most common perpetrators that were at the root of the problem," he said.

He has never spoken publicly about the material he gathered, which he said was as powerful as any he had seen in over 20 years as a betting investigator.

"The evidence was really strong," he added. "There appeared to be a really good chance to nip it in the bud and get a strong deterrent out there to root out the main bad apples."

The BBC and Buzzfeed were also passed the names of other current players the TIU have repeatedly been warned about by betting organisations, sports integrity units and professional gamblers.

Many of these players have been on the radar of the tennis authorities for involvement in suspicious matches going back to 2003.

The BBC and Buzzfeed News have decided not to name the players because, without access to their phone, bank and computer records, it is not possible to determine whether they may have been personally taking part in match fixing.

However, tennis' integrity unit does have the power to demand all this evidence from any professional tennis player.

"There is an element of actually keeping things under wraps," said Benn Gunn, a former police chief constable who conducted a major review of betting in tennis that led to the creation of the Tennis Integrity Unit.

It's the first time he has publicly spoken about his concerns.

"If they were really serious about dealing with this, then they really need to create an integrity unit with teeth," he said.

The European Sports Security Association, which monitors betting for leading bookmakers, flagged up more than 50 suspicious matches to the TIU in 2015.

The organisation declared that tennis attracts more suspicious gambling activity than other sport.

While he welcomed the support of the betting industry, Nigel Willerton, director of the TIU, said "it is not the role of betting companies to make judgements about corrupt activity".

He added: "All credible information received by the TIU is analysed, assessed, and investigated by highly experienced former law-enforcement investigators."

The problem of suspicious betting and match-fixing is not going away.

Eight of the players repeatedly flagged to the TIU over the past decade are due to play in the Australian Open which starts on Monday 18 January.

BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller:

"The TIU has a full-time staff of just five and relies on intelligence from players and betting companies to alert them to potential corruption. They have a presence at between 20 and 30 tournaments a year, and their investigations over the past two years have resulted in seven players and one official being banned for between six months and a lifetime.

"Only one of those players has ever reached the top 200, and there are clearly temptations for lower-ranked professionals. Players outside the top 200 are unlikely to earn much more than £40,000 in prize money each year, and that is before coaching, travel and hotel expenses are taken into account.

"It is highly debatable whether enough resources are directed towards the TIU, and another potential flaw is that representatives from the sport's four governing bodies decide whether the evidence gathered is strong enough to be presented to an independent hearing. Professional Tennis Integrity Officers from the ITF, ATP, WTA and the Grand Slams make that call, and as a result the process is not as transparent as it should be."

January 14, 2016

Winning Powerball Tickets Sold in at Least 3 States for Nearly $1.6B Jackpot

The winning Powerball numbers were drawn Wednesday night: 8, 27, 34, 4, 19 and the Powerball of 10.

California lotto officials tweeted almost immediately after that a winning ticket was sold in the state. Later, California Lottery spokesperson Russ Lopez said there were two more winning tickets sold, one in Tennessee and one in Florida.

The California Lottery also tweeted that it sold 12 tickets that matched five of the six numbers.

California lottery officials said the winning ticket was sold at the 7-Eleven on Chino Hills Parkway.

The jackpot, which reached record levels after 20 drawings without a winner, was estimated to be nearly $1.6 billion. According to the Texas Lottery, the cash equivalent was $983.5 million.

This Powerball jackpot first started at $40 million on Nov. 7, 2015.

According to Texas lottery officials earlier today, there was an 85.8 percent of the possible number combinations had been sold.

January 13, 2016

China's gambling mecca runs of luck

Macau, China’s sole gambling mecca, is the inverse of Las Vegas.

Its tiled promenades are tidy and largely free of panhandlers. There are no flashing pyramids or fake Eiffel Towers, but plenty of stone facades designed centuries ago by Portuguese craftsmen. Inside its 30-plus luxury casinos, gamblers tend to gulp milk tea instead of Jack Daniel’s.

In recent history, Macau has been a raging success story. It has become the world’s most profitable gambling city, raking in more cash between a few of its casinos than the whole of the Vegas strip — all without descending into disorder and open sleaze.

But Macau’s run of good luck is over. The coastal enclave, long flush with mainland Chinese cash, was recently declared the world’s fastest-plummeting economy.

And it ended 2015 with a grim statistic: year-on-year gaming revenue nosedived by just over a third to roughly $30 billion, according to government data. That’s like losing the entire GDP of Cambodia or Senegal at slot machines and card tables.

Macau’s gloom, described by one Hong Kong bank as a “death spiral,” is not about to dissipate anytime soon.

Part of Macau’s downturn can be blamed on China’s overall economic slump. As the only Chinese territory where casinos are legal, Macau soared in the past decade alongside the explosion of Chinese wealth.

But the glitz and glamour of its casinos — one of which is topped with 24-karat gold-gilded cupolas — was paid for by a boom era that China may never replicate again.

The crash is also attributed to a crackdown led by China’s President Xi Jinping. Pervasive corruption, he warns, could bring on the “downfall of the state.”

So he’s crusading to purge every official who’s illegally funneling government funds into their private accounts. This campaign has brought heavy scrutiny to any large sums moved off the mainland — including cash transfers to Macau.

Before the crackdown, high rollers from Shanghai to Shenzhen were easily courted by brokers, some linked to organized crime, who beckon the super rich to Macau’s casinos. These middlemen serve a dual purpose: doting on the wealthy gamblers like royalty while loaning them gobs of cash to be repaid with interest.

Called the “junket” system, it has attracted tycoons and dodgy politicians alike. It’s also notoriously slippery. The American gambling magnate Steve Wynn, whose casino empire stretches to Macau, has described these operations as a “giant, entrepreneurial pyramid scheme” and said monitoring its operators is “almost impossible because they multiply like rabbits.”

Communist party chieftains and their cronies, feeling the government’s gaze upon them, are now rightfully afraid of jaunts to Macau where they may be accused of spending ill-gotten funds or laundering money.

And since China’s corruption crackdown shows no signs of stopping, Macau may be forced to reinvent itself.

There is plenty of excess in Macau, where the skyline is dominated by behemoth gambling complexes — one of which claims to be the largest casino on earth. But Macau has never embraced the brand of in-your-face debauchery epitomized by Vegas.

December 28, 2015

Ladbrokes boss makes the biggest gamble of his career

I was brought up with my grandparents,” says Ladbrokes chief executive Jim Mullen, and they “would show me how to put on bets”.

“What I didn’t know at the time was my grandfather and my grandmother were teaching me my arithmetic and fractions.

“They were putting a bet on and then I would have to work out what the winnings were, and that was the game we played on a Saturday and a Sunday.

“I look back on it fondly as I try to do the same with my own sons now.”

Mullen has been enthusiastic about gambling ever since those early maths lessons. And Ladbrokes’ £2.3bn merger with rival bookie Coral arguably marks his biggest wager yet.

Beleaguered Ladbrokes has lost ground to competitors in recent years and Mullen hopes to reverse that decline by combining the company with Coral to create Britain’s biggest bookie, a giant with about 4,000 betting shops.

Informal talks between the two companies started before Mullen took over at Ladbrokes in April. However, Mullen has been central to the deal since taking charge of the troubled bookie, and is emphatic the merger will help revive its fortunes.

But the tie-up faces challenges that Mullen, who will lead the merged company, must overcome.

The biggest is securing the approval of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) without being forced to sell so many shops the deal becomes unworkable.

Some analysts have estimated the regulator could demand that Ladbrokes Coral, as the combined business would be called, offloads more than 1,000 shops. Mullen dismisses this as “just a farcical figure” and adds: “I would hope that the CMA… knows that we’re doing this obviously to grow scale in a sector which I believe is con-solidating.”

Mullen must also contend with opposition to the deal from a vocal Ladbrokes shareholder, the Irish billionaire Dermot Desmond. The tycoon urged investors to block the tie-up, arguing the merger encumbers Ladbrokes’ shareholders with privately-owned Coral’s debt.

Although shareholders overwhelmingly approved the deal last month, Desmond, who has encouraged Ladbrokes to hire new M&A advisers to examine alternatives to the Coral deal, has pledged to fight on. Despite that threat, Mullen refuses to criticise the outspoken investor.

“I am happy to discuss and debate the concerns that he has, but I’m just not quite clear what the alternative is,” he says.

Does he like Desmond? “Yes,” comes the quick reply, “because he invests in Ladbrokes and I like my shareholders. I also like that he’s invested in Celtic and it’s my hometown club.”

Born in Glasgow, Mullen, 45, is an avid fan of Celtic and enjoys betting on Scottish football “because I think I know something about it”.

Practising his sums with his grandparents, Mullen, now a married father of two boys, grew familiar with gambling from a young age.
“All my family went to betting shops,” he says. “I was brought up where it was a pastime.”

After leaving John Ogilvie High School in Hamilton in South Lanarkshire, Mullen studied computing at Glasgow Caledonian University, when he made a killing staking a considerable portion of his student grant on Celtic winning the double. Gambling aside, Mullen, who also has an MSc in software engineering, funded his student days working in a William Hill betting shop, and after graduating took a job at Celtic’s rival club, Rangers, developing its ticketing.

Jobs at advertising agencies both in Scotland and London were followed by a spell at News International where, among other things, Mullen developed digital strategy for Sun Bingo. He then joined William Hill’s online business as chief operating officer in 2010 before moving to Ladbrokes in 2013 to lead its digital operations.

Mullen is refreshingly honest about the mistakes that have damaged Ladbrokes.

“We missed out in football,” he concedes, admitting that rivals “stole a march” in developing bet-in-play products for the game.

Under his predecessor, Richard Glynn, Ladbrokes focused on building its own in-house digital technology rather joining rivals in enlisting the expert help of third parties such as Playtech. It was “a brave decision”, Mullen says, but “it didn’t work out and put us back three years”. Ladbrokes eventually struck a partnership with Playtech in 2013.

Still, Mullen will not blame Glynn for Ladbrokes’s misfortunes.

“I got on well with Richard; he made some informed decisions and some of the bets didn’t pay off. But I’ve been the CEO for eight months now, so you need to starting looking at Jim Mullen,” he says.

Certainly, the new boss has been quick to develop a turnaround plan, which he unveiled in July alongside a dividend cut.

While waiting for the CMA to investigate the Coral merger, Mullen wants to transform Ladbrokes into a “multi-channel” business.

Quarterly results in October showed Mullen’s plan is starting to bear fruit, with the bookie having acquired more than 20,000 new active online punters through its shops.

However, despite that progress, the Ladbrokes boss is adamant the entire industry now requires respite from new regulation if bookies are to successfully plan for the future.

Since last December, gambling firms have been hit by a 15pc tax on online betting, an increase in the duty on gaming machines to 20pc, and restrictions on staking on fixed odds betting terminals.

“I just ask for clear air from the government and regulators,” says Mullen, who believes the divisive industry “needs defending by leaders who actually love the sector”.

He is scathing of critics who he believes do not understand gambling, which has staunch opponents.

“I just don’t like people who have never put a bet on who make judgement calls on this sector provides,” Mullen says.

He speaks with equal passion about horse racing, where an escalating row over racing funding could see some bookies barred by the sport from sponsoring events.

“I will be showing up at all of the opportunities to sponsor racing until racing tells me I’m not welcome,” Mullen says.

He warns that if Ladbrokes is forced to divert its sponsorship money into other sports “it will take three years for it to come back [to racing]. That would be a very, very dangerous place for us to get to.”

Ladbrokes is “fanatical” about racing, making it a natural sponsorship partner for the sport, says Mullen.

Indeed, the first bet he can remember placing with his grandparents was on Red Rum’s third Grand National win.

Mullen says his two sons are not bad at picking race winners, either.

“By going on the colour of silks, their performance has been far better than mine from following the form, which is the great thing about sport.”

December 18, 2015

PokerStars rolls out BetStars 1.0

Having confirmed that subsidiary PokerStars would be launching a standalone betting product, Amaya Inc has today debuted BetStars.com version 1 for select jurisdictions.

The new brand will operate under the domains Betstars.com, Betstars.eu, and Betstars.uk, and on dedicated iOS and Android applications, marking the initial first stage of Amaya and PokerStars’ entry into the sports betting market.

Amaya confirmed that the sports betting product would be supported with a new sportsbook platform which would be rolled out in early 2016.

PokerStars will further support its new brand with an external customer acquisition campaign in the first half of 2016. As part of this marketing campaign, BetStars intends to introduce an innovative new betting product on the platform which will distinguish the brand from competitors.

Rafi Ashkenazi, CEO of Rational Group, commented on the initial launch of the BetStars brand

“We’re very excited about the launch of the BetStars brand, and expect it to be one of the most talked about sports betting sites in 2016 as it continues to evolve with new products and features that we believe will set us apart as a betting brand for the true sports fan. We’re applying the same dedication and passion we have for poker to sports betting, and intend to create an authentic, world-class offering. The BetStars brand will build on this passion and provide a safe, trustworthy and, most importantly, exciting environment for sports fans.”

BetStars will initially offer a range of betting options across more than 25 sports, including football, tennis and basketball, as well as specialty offerings such as eSports and poker. More sports markets will be made available in 2016, including horseracing.

The brand will also feature a range of in-play betting options and exclusive offers and promotions that sports bettors expect from a world-class online sportsbook. PokerStars anticipates the brand will expand into additional key jurisdictions throughout 2016, extending its reach to approximately half of PokerStars’ unique active poker customers.

December 11, 2015

Brazil allows for gambling debate but national framework still faces long road

he Brazilian off and on approach to regulating gambling appears to be on again after a special review committee for the Brazilian Senate progressed the legislative agenda for a regulated national betting industry.

The idea of regulating gambling in a country that banned bingo reletively recently in 2007 was mooted earlier this year as the government faced a fiscal crunch.

Bill 186 has now been approved by the Special Committee on National Development, with the body reportedly including research on the prospect of opening a legalised national online gambling framework.

The committee’s findings, which includes the potential for 35 casinos in the country, will now be open for discussion to members of the Brazilian senate.

In light of its progress, Brazil’s pro-gambling lobby has stated that any new national gambling framework still faces a long road to becoming a reality, betting consumers and campaigners should therefore remain objective about the country adopting a legalised agenda in the near future.

2015 has seen Brazil suffer a financial ‘annus horribilis’ as the country sees its worst economic growth performance in 25 years. Furthermore this week the Moody Investor Service downgraded Brazil investment grade to ‘Junk Status’.

Close associates of President Dilma Rousseff have publicly stated that the government are willing to implement a new national gambling framework as state public funding initiatives appear to be “cash-strapped”.

However Rousseff critics have pointed out that the government are in no way prepared to act on their ‘easy rhetoric’, as any talk of progress on a national gambling agenda is met with in-action.

Leading Brazilian political figureheads have agreed that the government can no longer afford to ignore a potentially regulated industry that could raise an estimated R$ 23 billion (£4 billion) in taxes. Furthermore all political parties appear to agree that at present national gambling laws are simply out of date with modern consumer habits.

Brazil’s slow progress towards even reviewing its gambling framework has left many commentators cynically questioning whether any government would want to pass a national gambling framework which will potentially have to satisfy multiple stakeholders; at intra-state level, national sporting bodies, federal police and a divided senate.