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.

July 13, 2015

888 play final hand battle for Bwin.party

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Online poker operator 888 Group believes it is still at the table in the battle for the online gaming company Bwin.party.

The group, which runs a popular poker website as well as online casino gaming, has arranged a meeting with Bwin this week.

The move comes despite Bwin’s board declaring last week that a rival offer from GVC and Canadian poker giant Amaya was its preferred option.

After that announcement, GVC chief executive Kenny Alexander said was “just days away” from completing the deal.

A spokesperson for GVC yesterday downplayed the challenge from 888: “We have put forward a very compelling offer for Bwin, and are pleased to have received the support of the Bwin board.”

Both bids point to synergies between their operations and that of Bwin, and the potential savings that could come from increased scale.

While 888 provides the technology behind Bwin’s poker platform via its Dragonfish business-to-business service, GVC argues that its bid offers even greater cost synergies.

Alexander has confirmed that part of the cost savings would come from job losses – removing some of those who would be doing duplicate roles in the expanded company.

If its bid were successful, GVC would retain Bwin’s sports betting company. Amaya, which owns the market-leading PokerStars website, would take over the poker business.

The announcement from the Bwin board last week confirmed that GVC would buy its shares at a value of 110p a share, and said it “has determined to work with GVC so that they can finalise their offer over the coming days.”

The joint bid from GVC is very similar to the one it made for Sportingbet, alongside bookmaker William Hill in March 2013.

A final decision by the Bwin board is expected later this week.

July 10, 2015

Unibet Acquires Stan James Online

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Unibet Group plc has today signed an agreement to acquire the online gambling business of Stan James Group plc together with full rights and ownership of the brand. The transaction does not include the UK shops business operated under the Stan James brand, which for a transitional period has been granted rights to the brand. Stan James is one of the most well respected online gambling operators in the locally regulated UK market offering online sports betting, casino and poker through its web site www.stanjames.com.

The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to complete in the second half of the third quarter 2015.

The transaction will significantly strengthen Unibet’s position in the large UK online market which is estimated to be worth around GBP 2.7 billion in 2015 according to H2 Gambling Capital and thus is one of the largest on-line markets globally that has already re-regulated with attractive terms and conditions. The acquisition price of GBP 19 million is payable fully in cash and will be adjusted for customer liabilities that Unibet will take over on completion.

Stan James has approximately 150 employees based in Gibraltar. In line with standard EU rules on the acquisition of a business, the employees will transfer their employment to Unibet.

In the five month period to 31 May 2015, the GWR of Stan James online business was GBP 10.5 million and the EBITDA, after charging UK point of consumption tax, was GBP 1.4 million. On an annualised basis the acquisition multiple is therefore around 6 times 2015 EBITDA, without taking account of any future synergies from the transaction. Such synergies can consist of more effective marketing and economies of scale associated with third-party procurement of products. For the second quarter of 2015, the number of quarterly active customers amounted to 84,266.

“We have long been looking at strengthening our position in the UK online market. Stan James as an operator is one of the most well-respected in the UK market with particular strengths in horse-racing and other British sports. Stan James has had a long presence in the British market where there are few companies of this size available for acquisition. Since Unibet has only recently targeted the UK market there is little overlap between our respective businesses. Over time we see a significant potential to increase the breadth of the Stan James product range, such as live streaming, casino and improving the mobile offering,” says Henrik Tjärnström, CEO Unibet.

Denis Kelly, CEO of Stan James Online says, “We are delighted to join the wider Unibet group. There is a substantial market opportunity in the UK following the re-regulation. Through the combination of Unibet’s expertise in marketing and financial strength, together with Stan James’ high quality sports and racing betting offering aimed at the UK market, I am confident that we can increase substantially the combined Group’s market share in the UK. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the shareholders of Stan James for their strong support of the business.”

July 05, 2015

Playtech win deal to supply Norsk Tipping

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Playtech have signed an agreement to supply locally adapted content to gaming operator Norsk Tipping.

The deal which will supply game content to over 4,300 interactive gaming terminals will start from August this year with the first delivery of the content of retail gaming specifically for the Norwegian Belago (bingo halls) and Multix (retail) sectors.

The company, under Playtech subsidiary Videobet Interactive Sweden, is one of three suppliers selected to provide new content for all Norsk Tipping interactive gaming terminals. The duration is for an initial two-year period that includes an option for two further one-year extensions.

Shimon Akad, chief operating officer at Playtech, said: “We have an excellent relationship with Norsk Tipping and this news only serves to reinforce this. We’re delighted both with the outcome of the procurement process and scoring highest among our competitors.”

He added: “The content agreement is in line with our regulated markets strategy and strengthens our market share in Norway alongside our existing software, systems and hardware provision.”

Lene Finstad, executive vice president of product and brands at Norsk Tipping, said: “We are excited to have Playtech as one of our three partners for the delivery of new interactive terminal games. In its tender the company demonstrated a deep understanding and a highly attractive games strategy for the Belago and Multix markets, and we look forward to bringing a wide range of new content to these markets to further develop them in a responsible, yet attractive way.”

June 26, 2015

William Hill exits Portugal and Estonia markets

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In accordance with “recent regulatory developments”, William Hill has confirmed that it will exit its betting and gaming services from Estonia and Portugal markets.

The operator send email communications to its affiliates and media partners stating that its services for the markets would end on 28 June.

Affiliates and media partners have been instructed to remove all William Hill marketing inventory

William Hill has further instructed Estonian and Portuguese players to withdraw any existing funds

A William Hill communication read

“We would like to inform you that following recent regulatory developments in Estonia and Portugal, with effect from June 28th 2015, William Hill will cease to accept business from customers in Estonia and Portugal,”

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your efforts and our joint work together over the past years in the Estonian and Portuguese markets.

“We value your cooperation and contribution and, though William Hill is obliged to cease to accept business from customers in Estonia and Portugal for the time being, we are confident that we will have the opportunity to work together in the future.”

June 23, 2015

Bwin.Party sells poker tournaments business for $35m

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Bid target Bwin.Party has sold its televised poker tournaments business to a Chinese gaming company for $35m (£22.1m).

The online gambling firm is offloading World Poker Tour (WPT) to Ourgame International, a Hong Kong-listed developer of internet and mobile games.

Loss-making WPT broadcasts high-stakes poker tournaments in more than 150 countries, and Bwin.Party will remain a sponsor of its shows and events until December next year, with first refusal over other deals beyond that date.

Dave "The Devilfish" Ulliott, Britain’s best-known professional poker player who died earlier this year, is one of WPT's past champions.

The sale comes as Bwin.Party itself considers two competing takeover approaches, one of which is understood to value the company at €1.5bn (£1.1bn). Martin Weigold, finance chief of the FTSE 250 group, said the WPT disposal was “consistent” with its plan to sell non-core businesses.

“We believe that now is the right time to release that value for shareholders so that we can focus our efforts on our core real money gaming and technology business,” he added. Shares in Bwin.Party were up 2.9pc in afternoon trading on the sale.

WPT, which holds tournaments in cities such as London and Las Vegas, posted an adjusted loss of €4.1m last year on revenues of €10.4m. PartyGaming, which merged with Bwin in 2011, bought the business for $12.3m almost six years ago. Beijing-based Ourgame, the new owner, agreed a licensing deal with WPT covering a number of Asia countries in December.

Bwin.Party made no mention of its potential takeover in Monday’s announcement.

Amaya, the Canadian giant behind Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker, has teamed up with GVC for a €1.5bn approach for the company, while online gambling group 888 Holdings has also made a rival takeover proposal.

Shares sales earlier this month by the two founders of PartyGaming rattled investors by sparking concerns that a deal for Bwin.Party might not materialise.

Ladbrokes admits merger talks with Coral

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Ladbrokes has revealed it is in shock merger talks with fellow bookmaker Coral as CEO Jim Mullen aims to make immediate progress in catch up with rival William Hill.

Ladbrokes has issued a statement to the stock market, responding to press speculation about a merger, in which it admits to having talks. It said: “In response to recent press speculation, Ladbrokes Plc confirms that it is in discussions with the board of Gala Coral Group Limited regarding a possible merger of Ladbrokes and Coral Retail, Eurobet Retail and Gala Coral’s Online businesses, to create an enlarged business which would be listed on the official list of the UK Listing Authority and traded on the main market of the London Stock Exchange.

“Shareholders are advised that there can be no certainty that the discussions between Ladbrokes and Gala Coral will lead to any agreement concerning the possible merger or as to the timing or terms of any such agreement and there can be no assurance that, even if reached, any such agreement would be completed. Ladbrokes also notes that, in the event that such a transaction proceeds, it may undertake a non pre-emptive equity placing to strengthen the balance sheet of the Combined Entity.”

Ladbrokes is also considering postponing a planned Business Review presentation scheduled for 30 June which it says may now be re-scheduled depending on how discussions progress.

It is certainly one of the most stunning potential mergers in the UK gambling industry, the nearest in scale being the merger between bwin and Party Gaming which hasn’t been an overwhelming success. It certainly represents a bold piece of corporate maneouvering from Jim Mullen. He commented:

“Since becoming CEO my focus has been on a more aggressive plan to build digital scale and grow our recreational customer base across all channels, which is key to creating a more sustainable and growing Ladbrokes. My plans are well advanced and I look forward to presenting them to shareholders.

“A merger with Gala Coral could create a combined business with significant scale and has the potential to generate substantial cost synergies, creating value for both companies’ shareholders.

“The Board has not yet concluded whether a transaction is strategically attractive and can be delivered to shareholders on appropriate terms.”
Coral’s bookmaking business has long been mooted for a stock market listing once the company had divested its bingo business, but few would have anticipated this route. A major hurdle for the deal would be the Competition and Markets Authority, whose predecessor the Office of Fair Trading frequently forced bookmakers to sell off any competing ‘local’ betting shops. The deal will likely see a huge number of beting shops from the combined group go up on the market to satisfy competition concerns, providing opportunities for a firm like Paddy Power to expand significantly and instantly.

June 19, 2015

Russian bookmakers slam government’s proposal to tax bettors’ winnings

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Russia‘s bookmakers are protesting their government’s proposal to tax sports bettors’ winnings.

Russia is in the process of regulating its online sports betting market and its most recent draft decree was published in May. The Ministry of Finance’s latest proposal calls for bettors to be exempt from a 13% betting tax provided their winnings total less than RUB 4k (US $74).

But Russian bookmakers point out that the tax would apply if a player’s winnings top RUB 4k at any point during an as yet undetermined period of time – believed to be a calendar year – regardless of whether a player’s overall betting activity results in a net loss during this period.

Oleg Zhuravsky, president of the First Self-Regulatory Organization of Russian Bookmakers, told Bookmakersrating.ru that both bookies and bettors were opposed to the tax plan. Zhuravsky called the proposal “a complete misunderstanding” of the betting process that would only encourage bettors to seek out internationally licensed betting sites.

Konstantin Makarov, CEO of Russian lottery operator Bingo Boom and president of the rival Russian Bookmakers Association, warned that the proposal could result in bettors unintentionally opening themselves up to charges of tax evasion.

Makarov laid out a scenario in which a bettor had accounts with multiple betting operators, and his individual winnings at any one site might fly under the RUB 4k threshold while his overall winnings might exceed this amount. Similarly, bettors actively seeking to avoid taxation could intentionally break up large bets across multiple bookies.

Makarov also warned that, with one in 10 Russian adults enjoying sports and tote betting, both bookmakers and the Federal Tax Service would require significant boosts in manpower to track the individual wagering to ensure compliance with the proposed regime.

Public comment on the current betting regulatory proposal will remain open until August 8.