August 27, 2015

Vietnamese lawmakers push to legalise gambling

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Lawmakers in Vietnam are pushing the government to stop making gambling a crime after 70 years after it was called “a social evil” by the then ruling government.

During a discussion on amendments to the Penal Code many lawmakers urged the government to stop considering gambling a crime that is taking place all over the country.

Pham Xuan Thuong from the northern province of Thai Binh said the country seems to be tough on gambling, but in fact the enforcement of anti-gambling laws is not strict and effective enough.

“In many cases, police arrest many gamblers but then decide to drop charges while those prosecuted end up receiving suspended sentences”, he said.

“Lottery is a kind of gambling, so why don’t we organize gambling activities in a more sensible and manageable way?”

Do Van Duong from Ho Chi Minh City also voiced his support for the abolishment of gambling crime.

“Gambling has existed for a long time. As long as they have money, some people will gamble. We should not worry that gambling will lead to crimes, but think about how to manage gambling activities,” he said.

Gambling was outlawed in Vietnam in 1948.

August 26, 2015

The NFL's hypocritical stance on fantasy football and gambling

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The NFL says it strongly opposes gambling. In the past year alone, the league successfully sued the state of New Jersey to prevent it from legalizing sports betting, and forced Tony Romo and several other players to cancel their appearances at a Las Vegas conference because it was held at a convention center owned by a casino.

The irony, though, is that the conference was about fantasy football: an ultra-popular game that involves wagering real money based on what occurs on the football field. Some legal scholars argue that fantasy is gambling, but the NFL actively promotes it — its problem with Romo's conference was the locale.

Nearly a decade ago, the NFL — along with other pro sports leagues — carefully carved out an exception for fantasy sports in a congressional anti-gambling law. Today, it hosts fantasy games on its website and hawks them in commercials that play constantly during its games.

The reason is simple: Fantasy drives ratings and, in doing so, makes the NFL a ton of money. But as daily fantasy sports explode in popularity and blur the line between fantasy and gambling, the league's position is becoming less and less tenable.

Even though several of the NFL's founding owners had made their fortunes through gambling-related activities, the league opposed it nearly from the start, largely because of the fear that it could lead to match-fixing. In the '40s and '60s, it suspended several players for betting on games, and in 1976 it unsuccessfully sued the state of Delaware to block the state's sports lottery.

Afraid of such activities spreading from state to state, in 1992, then-NFLCommissioner Paul Tagliabue successfully lobbied Congress to pass a law that prohibited gambling on sports anywhere that it hadn't already been legalized. "It is a matter of integrity," Tagliabue said at the time. "It is a matter of the character of our games, of the character of our fans, and a matter of values."

Over the next decade, though, something new came along: fantasy sports.

The basic idea — assembling imaginary teams of players that compete on the basis of their individual real statistics over the course of a whole season — was first developed in the '50s, and for decades, fantasy baseball was the most commonly played. But fantasy football's popularity exploded once computers allowed for automatic stat tracking, and especially after 1999, when Yahoo became the first major site to host leagues for free.


Paddy Power and Betfair outline proposed merger plans

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Paddy Power and Betfair have agreed a deal in principle to merge and form a new combined company.

Should the deal go ahead, both operators said ‘Paddy Power Betfair’ would become one of the world’s largest public online betting and gaming companies.

Under the agreement, Paddy Power shareholders would own 52% of the firm, with Betfair shareholders owning 48% of the issued share capital in the new combined company.

Upon completion, Paddy Power shareholders would receive a special dividend of €80 million ($92 million).

Gerry McGann, who last month took over as chairman of Paddy Power, would serve in the same position at the company, with Betfair chief executive Breon Corcoran also taking up the same role.

In addition, Paddy Power’s chief executive Andy McCue would become chief operating officer and an executive director, while Betfair chief financial officer Alex Gersh would retain his role and serve as an executive director.

Paddy Power Betfair’s board of directors would also include other non-executive directors nominated equally from each of Paddy Power and Betfair.

“The possible merger would create one of the world's largest public online betting and gaming companies by revenue with enlarged scale, capability and distinctive and complementary brands,” Paddy Power and Betfair said in a joint statement.

“The combination has compelling strategic logic and represents an attractive opportunity for both companies to enhance their position in online betting and gaming and to deliver synergies, customer benefits and shareholder value.”

The potential merger comes at a time when a number of other major operators are considering similar deals.

Ladbrokes and Gala Coral are expected to complete their proposed merger in the near future, while bwin.party is currently the subject of a bidding war between 888 and GVC Holdings.

Confirmation of the potential merger came as Paddy Power and Betfair revealed year-on-year growth in their latest financial results this (Wednesday) morning.

For the six-month period through to June 30, Paddy Power posted net revenue of €527.8 million, an increase of 33% on the €396.5 million recorded in the first half of last year.

Operating profit was also up 33% on a year-on-year basis to €80.1 million, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) hiked 27% to €106.1 million.

Reflecting on the results, chief executive McCue said: “We have made substantial progress implementing the strategy we set out in March, with further payback to come from new mobile product releases, refreshed marketing campaigns and efficiency gains.

“We now expect full year 2015 reported operating profit to be a mid to high single digit percentage above 2014 and the consensus market forecast.”

Meanwhile, revealing its financial results for the three months through to July 31, Betfair announced that it achieved revenue of £135.4 million, which represents an increase of 15% on the £117.3 million posted in the corresponding period last year.

While sports betting remains the company’s main source of income, contributing £89.9 million to the total revenue figure, Betfair’s US business experienced the most growth in the quarter, with revenue from this division up 42% year-on-year to £20.1 million.

Betfair’s gaming arm also posted a 27% year-on-year jump in revenue during the first quarter.

Commenting on the results and the potential merger, chief executive Corcoran said: “Betfair's current momentum is strong and the business remains well placed to execute against our strategy and to continue to deliver profitable growth

“The proposed merger with Paddy Power is hugely exciting; it would create a truly global sports betting group with unmatched products and talent, and significantly enhanced scale.

“The combined business would be one of the world's largest online sports betting operators, with revenues totalling more than £1 billion.”

August 24, 2015

GVC Holdings states it will only re-bid for bwin.party if 888 increases current offer

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Having placed its takeover bid past the £1.1 billion mark, UK news sources have stated that GVC Holdings governance could “walk away” from its ongoing battle with 888 Holdings for bwin.party Entertainment.

Speculation has been rife regarding the takeover of bwin.party and its two bidding rivals GVC and 888. Last week The Times reported that GVC Holdings and its bid advisor Cerberus Capital Management were considering bidding 130p per share for the operator.

However it appears that GVC Governance will only increase its cash and shares offer for bwin.party if 888 raises its current bid. Furthermore the London AIM listed operator is willing to turn its back on the takeover battle if 888 remains the recommended bidder with its current £908 million value of bwin.party assets.

London business analysts have noted that bwin.party and its advisors have played a clever game regarding its takeover position and the interest of the bidding parties. The underperforming operator has been marked as a game changing deal for both GVC and 888. The bidding operators have differing sets of plans for bwin.party should they manage to acquire the company.

Noting its vantage point, analysts and industry commentators have stated that it is likely that bwin.party governance will hold out for bid increases from both 888 and GVC. It is further noted that the operator will look to drag on bid negotiations which have been ongoing since this February, as governance looks to secure the best deal for shareholders.

August 19, 2015

IGT Wins Multi-Hand Poker U.S. Patent

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nternational Game Technology (IGT) has announced today that its operating company was recently issued U.S. Patent No. 9,105,158. This patent grants IGT’s operating company exclusive rights in the field of multi-hand poker functionality in video poker games through November 2016. This pivotal patent is central to many of IGT’s industry-leading multi-hand video poker games including All-Star Poker TM, Ultimate X Poker TM, Hyper Bonus Poker TM, Triple Play™ Five Play ™ Ten Play™ Draw Poker and many other five, ten, 25, 50 and 100 play IGT video poker products.

“Multi-hand poker remains a pillar of IGT’s industry-leading video poker product portfolio,” said Jacob Lanning, IGT Vice President of Product Management. “This important patent enables IGT to maintain its global leadership in video poker content creation and deployment and allows the Company to continue to create proven game themes that are often some of the highest-earning titles on our customers’ floors.”

August 17, 2015

How Wall Street Money Transformed Online Gambling Forever

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In September 2013, New York money man Jason Ader, who runs SpringOwl Asset Management, flew to Israel to meet Ruth Parasol, the California-born former billionaire who played a big role in creating the online gambling industry. Parasol founded PartyGaming, which was the biggest online poker company in the world until it left the U.S. market after Congress passed new legislation in 2006.

Parasol had watched her company enter into a non-prosecution deal with U.S. prosecutors and her former partner, Anurag Dikshit, pay a $300 million fine and plead guilty to violating a U.S. law that the Justice Department no longer believes prohibits online poker or casino games. PartyGaming merged with Bwin Interactive, which specialized in online sports betting, to create publicly-traded Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment. But the Gibraltar-based company was flailing and Parasol, who still owned a big chunk of the company’s stock, was looking to sell a block of it, partly because of reasons related to her divorce to Russ DeLeon, who also owned a lot of shares.

Ader met Parasol in her house in the Israeli seaside town of Herzliya and DeLeon was there, too. Parasol wanted to meet the guy who was going to buy a portion of her shares. Parasol hadn’t run a gambling company in years, but Ader, a former Wall Street gaming analyst, was amazed by her knowledge of what was going on in the online gambling industry, particularly the evolution of games on mobile devices. Ader apparently passed Parasol’s test and ended up buying about half of her stake and much of DeLeon’s stock as well for some $100 million, making his firm Bwin.Party’s third-biggest shareholder.

These sorts of symbolic hand-offs have been reshaping the online gambling industry, moving it away from the bold risk-taking entrepreneurs who pioneered the business and putting new players in control, often in a way that represents a clean break from an era where the creators of the online gambling industry were bumping into governments and law enforcement, particularly in the U.S. Just like Michael Milken’s financings had backed Steve Wynn to remake Las Vegas years ago, the transformation of online gambling is being driven by Wall Street and some of the biggest names in finance, firms like Blackstone, BlackRock, Apollo, and Cerberus Capital Management. In the next few weeks, the reshaping of the online gambling industry will hit a new stage as a bidding war sparked by Ader for Bwin.Party comes to its conclusion.

Ader made an impact quickly. His block of Bwin.Party stock came with a board seat, but after he didn’t approve of the direction that Bwin Interactive’s co-founder, Norbert Teufelberger (who was once arrested at a press conference in France), was moving Bwin.Party as CEO, Ader successfully launched an activist campaign to reconstruct the board. He also helped push the board to hire Deutsche Bank to look for a company to buy Bwin.Party. By the summer of 2014, the company was in play.

At the same time that Ader was agitating for a sale at Bwin.Party, the credit division of New York-based Blackstone Group, the biggest private equity firm in the world, was preparing to back David Baazov, the then 33-year-old founder of tiny Amaya, to buy PokerStars, the world’s biggest online poker company. PokerStars, based in the Isle of Man, had been founded by Isai Scheinberg and his son, Mark Scheinberg, but they were ready to sell for the right price—in cash. The duo had run into legal problems after PokerStars continued to offer online poker in the U.S. after Congress passed the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. They always maintained PokerStars had operated legally in the U.S., but the company ended up paying $731 million to settle with federal prosecutors and still was having trouble returning to U.S. states like New Jersey that had opened up to online poker after the Justice Department reversed its position on the law government lawyers had used to go after it. Isai Scheinberg, who lives in the Isle of Man, had remained under indictment (Mark was never charged) and the Scheinbergs were ready to deal.

With the backing of Blackstone’s credit division (which committed $1 billion) and New York-based BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, Amaya bought PokerStars and its sister company, Full Tilt Poker, in a $4.9 billion cash deal in August of 2014. The deal would not have been possible without Blackstone’s credit division, known on Wall Street as GSO. Amaya was a small company. In fact, when Baazov first delivered to the Scheinbergs a $3 billion commitment letter on Blackstone’s letterhead, the Scheinbergs found it necessary to verify with Blackstone that the letter was authentic. “It was like them telling me, ‘Not to say that you guys forged it, but we got to talk to them directly,’ ”. The deal was also reliant on Baazov getting banks like Deutsche Bank and Barclays to lend against online gambling assets, the first such big loan ever.

The Amaya deal for PokerStars shocked the online gambling industry. One of the biggest impacts was felt by Bwin.Party, which traditionally ran PokerStars’ biggest competitor and saw its stock plunge in the aftermath of the announcement of the deal. The stock fell so sharply in the summer of 2014 that at one point Ader considered trying to find a way for his financial firm to purchase the whole company itself while moving the board to expand its search for the right buyer. “I didn’t like how the process was being handled, I had to push 888 (Holdings) which was a perfect strategic buyer, to get invited,” says Ader.

GVC Holdings, a small and publicly-traded online gambling company that focuses on so-called gray markets where laws are unclear, made a bid in May that was at one point backed by Amaya to buy Bwin.Party. Not long after GVC jumped into the ring, 888 Holdings, a publicly-traded Gibraltar company focused on online poker and casino games and founded by two sets of Israeli brothers, launched its own bid backed by JPMorgan Chase and Barclays, as two big banks once again committed to loan money against online gambling assets.

In July, 888 struck a deal to buy Bwin.Party for about $1.4 billion. The deal would create a serious rival for Amaya and Pokerstars, which currently dominate online poker outside of the U.S. But it’s not a done deal yet. GVC Holdings lost Amaya’s backing but gained new financial commitments from Cerberus Capital Management, billionaire Stephen Feinberg’s New York financial firm. As a result, GVC moved in August and submitted a slightly richer bid for Bwin.Party than the 888 deal, but GVC’s offer is largely a stock deal that would leave Bwin.Party shareholders holding stock in the riskier combined entity. For now, shares of Bwin.Party are up 40% in the last year. On the surface, it seems 888 is more likely to win out.

Wall Street money has not solved all of the online gambling industry’s problems. In the U.S., for example, still only three states—New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware— have regulatory regimes for online gambling and hopes that important states like California might usher in a new golden age of online gambling have so been disappointed. Even Amaya’s PokerStars has been yet unable to get back into New Jersey after just about one year of trying. There had been assumptions that such a reentry would be swift under a new Wall Street-backed ownership structure. Still, with big financial firm backing, the online gambling business looks a lot different today than it did just over a year ago.

August 04, 2015

Malta suspend online gaming sites following mafia connections

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The Maltese Gaming Authority have suspended more online gaming licenses including Fenplay, Soft Casino Ltd and Soft Bet Ltd. All their operations have now been suspended and those companies cannot offer any online services to existing or new customers until a full investigation has concluded.

The raids last week by Italian police on the infamous ‘Ndrangheta Mafia, which controls much of Europe’s cocaine trade is run by Mario Gennaro who was propelled to a leading boss of the mafia crime gang following the huge success of the gambling empire which was used to launder money made from cocaine smuggling.

Arrest warrants were issued for those suspected of running the gambling empire along with 11 of the gambling sites run out of in Austria, Malta, Romania and Spain.

The ‘Ndrangheta is considered the most powerful crime syndicate in Italy, having surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Naples-based Camorra, because to the money it has made as the principal importer and wholesaler of cocaine produced in Latin America were laundered through the gambling websites and betting shops. There has been in total nine gaming sites that have had their licenses suspended since the crackdown last week.

July 30, 2015

Playtech launches Ladbrokes Omni sportsbook

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Playtech has launched its first omni-channel HTML5 front-end solution with Ladbrokes, enabling a seamless, fully responsive desktop and mobile user experience and a host of unique, new sportsbook features.

In a market-first, Ladbrokes’ new Playtech Sports HTML5 solution will significantly boost its sportsbook performance and optimisation capabilities ahead of the forthcoming English Premier League season.

It will offer players an unrivalled and personalised mobile and desktop experience in line with ‘Playtech ONE’, the cutting-edge omni-channel solution that allows customers to play any content, across any channel and is responsive to any device using one account and one wallet.

This is the second Playtech omni-channel HTML5 product rollout with several others due later this year. Earlier this month Playtech Bingo launched the industry’s first HTML5-only platform with a number of key licensees in the process of migrating to the new solution.

Playtech Bingo’s move to HTML5-only means it operates from one code base, increasing the number of software and content releases and enabling players to have a true omni-channel look and feel offering across both desktop and mobile.

The latest Ladbrokes desktop sportsbook will also be supported by Playtech Sports’ new NGen system, a fully bespoke solution capable of handling large volumes of data across concurrent sporting events and thousands of betting markets.

Playtech, under its Mobenga subsidiary, first partnered with Ladbrokes in May 2013 launching its mobile sportsbook platform in December of that year and completing the integration of Playtech Casino and all its digital products onto the market-leading IMS platform in April 2014. This has since allowed Ladbrokes to market effectively to its digital customers and significantly boost its online and mobile revenues.

The front-end desktop-mobile solution project began in January this year and has been completed in record time.

Since its launch on the Playtech Sports mobile platform Ladbrokes mobile sportsbook has gone from strength-to-strength with staking up 110% and active users up 62% for the year ended December 31st 2014.

The HTML5 omni-channel front-end is the first of several releases with the next in the autumn. It contains a number of new and exciting features designed to significantly boost the current user experience. These include:


  • New, dynamic layout with faster and easier navigation when searching for, and clicking on, the events and markets punters want to bet on
  • New football and horse racing homepages that allow players to switch from league-to-league, match-to-match and race to race in a single-click
  • New in-play enabling players to watch live and simultaneously access a variety of markets
  • New ‘My Accas’, a personalised accumulator feature allowing punters to bet in-play on multiple markets, follow their bet progress in real-time, or choose to cash-out early
  • New quick links enabling customer’s immediate access to sporting highlights, price boosts and offers


Liron Snir, VP Product, Playtech, said: “Playtech has been pioneering in releasing the industry’s first omni-channel products and platforms across bingo, sports and casino. A fully responsive desktop and mobile front-end solution is just the beginning of much more omni-channel ‘Playtech ONE’ activity we have planned in partnership with Ladbrokes.

“This has been a fantastic project to work on from start to finish with our Mobenga team completing their work in record time. We very much look forward to continuing our journey in partnership with Ladbrokes and helping them with the rapid growth of their digital business,” Snir added.

Andrew Bagguley, Ladbrokes Managing Director, Digital said: “We’ve developed and now delivered this new desktop platform with a combined team approach and in less than a year we have a very strong, joined up sportsbook proposition which we believe is the quickest and easiest customer experience in the market, across all digital devices.

“Delivering this adaptive experience allows us to empower the customer to engage with our digital product however and wherever they want with no experiential compromises for any channel.

“Customers expect a consistent approach and we’re providing it with a single platform. We’ll be releasing new updates to all our digital sites in sync every few weeks. We are experts in sports betting and want to carry on delivering real value to customers with a series of innovations and continual improvements throughout the summer and into the latter part of the year,” Bagguley added.

July 24, 2015

Ladbrokes merges with Coral to create £2.3bn bookmaking giant

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Ladbrokes, the beleaguered gambling company, has agreed a £2.3bn merger with Gala Coral to create Britain's biggest bookmaker.

The deal creates a company with £2.1bn of revenues and the country's largest estate of betting shops. The combined business, which will be listed on the stock exchange and called Ladbrokes Coral, will have a market capitalisation of £2.3bn. Both brands will be retained.

Ladbrokes has lagged rival William Hill in recent years, particularly in online sports-betting. It hopes that by merging with Gala's digital division, UK betting shop business, and Italian operation it can leapfrog its competitors. Gala's bingo business is not part of the tie-up.

Shareholders in Ladbrokes, which is already listed in the FTSE 250, will have 51.75pc of the new business, while investors in Gala, which is owned by a group of private equity houses including Anchorage Capital Partners and Apollo Global Management, will have 48.25pc. Ladbrokes is also launching a share placing of 9.99pc of its share capital on Friday.

Jim Mullen, who is currently boss of Ladbrokes, will lead the combined company, as was expected. Gala chief executive Carl Leaver will become executive deputy chairman.

Coral executive Andy Hornby, the controversial former banker who presided over the collapse of HBOS at the height of the financial crisis, will take the role of chief operating officer of the UK betting shop and digital businesses, but he will not be on the public company's board.

"This is a major strategic step for Ladbrokes which firmly accelerates our strategy to improve the customers' experience and build recreational scale," said Ladbrokes chairman Peter Erskine. "Ladbrokes and Coral are two highly complementary businesses, with rich heritage and brand presence across the UK and internationally."

Given the deal will create a dominant player in the betting shops, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will likely be a major obstacle to the deal. Without making any disposals, the new company would have more than 4,000 shops.

"Both Ladbrokes and Gala Coral are confident that the merger is deliverable and are committed to working closely with the CMA in its review," the companies said on Friday.

However, they added that "it is anticipated that the combined entity will need to dispose of retail stores to satisfy potential CMA requirements", although even after those sales it will still have the country's biggest shop estate, the companies said.

Cost synergies are expected to reach £65m per annum three years after the deal completes. Ladbrokes also revealed that it was slashing its dividend to 3p as it attempts to shore up its finances.

July 17, 2015

888 agrees to buy Bwin.party for £898.3m

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The company will pay Bwin.party shareholders 39.45p a share in cash and 0.404 new 888 shares for each share they own, beating a more valuable offer from GVC, which is backed by Canadian online group Amaya.

888, which in February rejected a takeover offer by William Hill, the UK’s biggest bookmaker, said it hopes to combine the companies’ digital gaming platforms and to become one of the leading operators in the global online gaming industry with combined annual revenues of roughly $1.1bn.

The deal will create a “strong player with the breadth of product, brands and geographic coverage to grow faster than either business would be able to achieve standalone,” Philip Yea, chairman of Bwin.party, said.

The enlarged group will have a strong position in sports betting, poker, casino and bingo, the companies said. 888 currently provides the technology that powers Bwin’s online casino games.

The offer represents a premium of 16.4 per cent on Bwin.party’s share price on May 14, the day before the company announced discussions about a possible tie-up. Bwin has been exploring a sale since November and its shares have fallen 10.67 per cent this year.

Bwin.party shareholders can elect to accept varying amounts of 888 shares and cash for each of their Bwin.party shares but the number of new 888 shares that will be issued will be fixed at around 341.6m. They will end up owning 48.9 per cent of the combined group.

Last week GVC confirmed it had offered 110p a share in cash and stock for Bwin, which would have valued the company at £906m. Its bid consisted of 45 per cent cash and 55 per cent in new GVC shares.

888 will finance the cash part of the takeover through a $600m term loan credit facility, the company said.

Bwin.party’s shares were down 0.9 per cent at 102p while 888’s were up 3 per cent at 165p in early London trading.

The new group is weighing whether to make bwin.party’s Studios B2B business into a standalone entity and potentially spin it off into a separate listed vehicle, with shares being distributed to 888 shareholders, the announcement said.

The companies said they estimated cost synergies achieved from the merger will amount to at least $70 million per year before tax by the end of the 2018 financial year.

Liz Catchpole, a bwin.party independent non-executive director and Martin Weigold, bwin.party’s chief financial officer, will join the 888 board as an independent non-executive director and a non-executive director.

Norbert Teufelberger, bwin.party’s chief executive, will provide consultancy services on the enlarged group’s sports-betting business.