March 31, 2011

PokerStars.com alliance for Wynn Resorts

Land-based casino operator Wynn Resorts Limited has announced a strategic partnership with PokerStars.com that will see the two jointly run a regulated online poker domain for US-based players at PokerStarsWynn.com should Congress ratify federal legislation currently under consideration.

Isle of Man-licensed PokerStars.com is the world’s largest online poker site with more than 40 million members and also operates PokerStars.fr in France, PokerStars.it for Italian players and Estonia’s PokerStars.ee.

“The companies will first work to secure the passage of federal legislation that will finally and conclusively define illegal internet gambling, provide law enforcement with the tools necessary to stop illegal Internet gambling, protect consumers by establishing a robust regulatory environment for the safe operation of online poker by experienced operators and establish a regime for the assessment and collection of taxes,” read a statement from Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts.

Wynn Resorts owns and operates Wynn Las Vegas Resort and Country Club and Wynn Macau Resort and is listed on the NASDAQ Stock Market. It recently revealed that its net revenues for 2010 had increased 37.4 percent year-on-year to $4.18 billion.

“After much study, we are convinced that the lack of regulation of Internet gaming within the US must change,” said Stephen A. Wynn, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Wynn Resorts.
“We must recognise that this activity is occurring and that law enforcement does not have the tools to stop it. As a company that has safely conducted gaming in the US for more than 40 years, we believe that the same can be done for poker on the Internet.

“Additionally, it is time that the thousands of jobs created by this business and the potentially significant tax dollars come home to the United States.”

Congressman John Campbell introduced his Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act to the House of Representatives in Washington, DC two weeks ago and this proposed legislation would, if passed, establish a Federal regulatory and enforcement framework under which online gambling operators would be able to obtain licenses authorising them to accept bets and wagers from individuals in the United States. The measure is being co-sponsored by fellow Congressmen Barney Frank, Peter King and Ed Perlmutter and calls for the ‘implementation of new technologies to prevent underage play and problem gambler abuse’ and would see the Federal government and states given the authority to ‘prevent consumer fraud and generate revenues through taxes that are currently being paid to competing countries’.

“We have long supported the enactment of local regulatory regimes that protect consumers and provide valuable tax revenues and jobs,” said Mark Scheinberg, Chairman for PokerStars.com.
“PokerStars.com is closely regulated in many European countries and it has been endorsing the adoption of the same approach in the United States for years with this alliance representing a critical step in that direction.

“We are excited about the opportunities that partnering with Wynn Resorts, a pioneering leader and innovator in gaming, will present for PokerStars.com in the United States. These opportunities include the rapid ramp-up in hiring of a large numbers of professionals in this growing global technology and services sector that will benefit from US talent to keep up with global demand.”

March 30, 2011

Regulators approve Caesars link with 888

The Nevada Gaming Commission regulator yesterday approved the business relationship between Caesars Interactive Entertainment Incorporated and 888 Holdings under the language of the Nevada Foreign Gaming Act.

Gibraltar-based 888 is one of the world’s largest operators of Internet gambling operators while Caesars Interactive is the online subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment Corporation, the globe’s largest land-based gaming company.

888, through its Dragonfish independent business-to-business division, signed a long-term agreement in 2010 to provide Harrah’s Interactive with technology and services to operate online gambling sites for the World Series of Poker and Caesars brands. Although these domains are only available to players in the UK and not those in the United States, Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment submitted requests to the Nevada Gaming Commission and the Nevada State Gaming Control Board last year in order to discover the ‘suitability concerning (Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment’s) supplier relationship with Dragonfish’.

“The application relates to state law in Nevada that covers Nevada gaming companies conducting gaming outside the state of Nevada,” read a statement from 888.

The Foreign Gaming Act was last cited in 2007 when regulators found Hong Kong businesswoman Pansy Ho suitable to serve as a business partner for MGM Mirage in their shared ownership of the MGM Grand Macau. However, this marked the first time that regulators investigated the suitability of an online operator that took wagers from Americans before the enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006.

The business relationship between Caesars Interactive and 888 was approved by the Nevada State Gaming Control Board two weeks ago while Thursday’s endorsement by the Nevada Gaming Commission marked the first time that regulators had explicitly allowed a land-based casino operator to do significant business with a foreign company offering online gambling.

“We are pleased with the successful outcome of this review by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission,” said 888 chief executive Gigi Levy. “We look forward to our continued relationship with Caesars.”

March 22, 2011

Greece drops egaming black period

The Greek government has dropped the proposed black period from the draft egaming bill it presented to its parliament last week, which would have required applicant operators to cease activity in the market until approved.

The “black period” clause had been present in the initial draft released by the government in January, leading to fears operators would have to suspend operations until licensed, with the likes of Sportingbet, which generates 15% of NGR from Greece, particularly affected.

While companies will still be required to incorporate in Greece in order to qualify, several of the financial requirements have been lowered, with those licensed only needing a minimum share capital of €400k (compared to €500k before), and a letter of credit for €200k (instead of €300k) in order to enter the tender process.

Other changes introduced include the lowering of the participation fee (minimum bet) from €5 to between €0.10 and €2. The issuing of a player ID card also becomes compulsory.

The Danish government also proposed a “black period” ahead of the regulation of its egaming market, until a complaint over tax rates to the EC compressed the possible timeframe for this to be implemented and enforced.

March 19, 2011

Redbet announces second acquisition

Swedish online gambling provider Redbet Holding AB has announced that its Redbet Gaming Limited subsidiary has finalised the purchase of Scandinavian online gambling brand DoubleCardrooms.com through an asset deal.

The acquisition of the Malta-licensed brand follows Redbet’s purchase less than two weeks ago of Eastern Europe-focused i4Poker.com through a similar process and means that the Stockholm-based operator now has seven sites including TotalPoker.com and WhiteBet.com.

“The acquisition of DoubleCardrooms.com is the second acquisition in a short time,” said Jorgen Andersson, Chief Executive Officer for Redbet Holding.

“Our expansion efforts consist of both organic growth and acquisitions. We are actively seeking acquisition opportunities opened up by the consolidation of the gaming market both in new and existing markets.”

March 17, 2011

Gaming bill will give monopoly to OPAP

The new gambling bill’s apparent favouritism towards Greek gaming company OPAP is leading to a complete monopoly in the sector, MPs warned yesterday.

The bill was re-tabled at the House Institutions and Legal Affairs Committees yesterday, after receiving the seal of approval from the European Commission.

The Attorney-general (AG) was summoned to yesterday’s meeting however to settle a dispute between the government and online casino operators.

The latter say the bill – drafted by the finance ministry – omitted to include OPAP in its ban on supplying online betting games, even though OPAP offers games of luck such as Joker, Proto and KINO.

AG Petros Clerides said the OPAP games were completely different, as they operate under an inter-state agreement and are not played by the player directly over the internet.

The Chairman of the House Finance Committee, DIKO’s Nicolas Papadopoulos, said the bill – which bans online casino games and regulates betting, while also imposing a 3.0 per cent tax on certain bets – was leading to a clear monopoly.

“The specific bill will not ban gambling, but legalise it and unfortunately it will legalise it for only one company, which will enjoy a monopoly,” said Papadopoulos, adding: “Of course I am referring to OPAP, a company which gained around €70 million in 2009, of which only a little over €1 million went to state coffers in the form of taxes.”

He said this bill would lead to a continuation of this monopoly and wondered why the finance ministry was attempting to abolish all of OPAP’s competitors in order to allow the organisation to profit millions from lucky games.

“Massive technical matters are raised over whether we can truly restrict gambling over the internet with legal bans,” said Papadopoulos. “We have our doubts over whether this could be a success; those who know how the internet works will know how easy it is for anyone to overcome any restrictions, any filters, in order to gamble on the internet and it is na├»ve to think that we can stop the phenomenon with filters and laws.”

The DIKO deputy was concerned that all the law would achieve would be to encourage gamblers to seek the services of the underworld and lead to the creation of a black market for gambling, which would lead to even less control than the state has now.

The Chairman of the House Institutions Committee, EVROKO’s Rikkos Erotokritou, said the Attorney-general’s explanations needed to be clarified further. “It seems that from the moment that there is a violation of the regulations for the protection of competition, it is OPAP and some subsidiary companies that will benefit from the introduction and implementation of this bill’s provisions,” said Erotokritou.

He added that this would lead to a monopoly, “which it is categorically banned from reason, but also the spirit of EU law.”

OPAP is a private Greek gaming company that operates on the island through its local counterpart, set up in 2003 following a bilateral agreement.

Bet365 launches latest in-play betting system

Online gaming operator bet365 has launched its latest in-play betting system which allows hundreds of thousands of concurrent users to be supported on the company’s system.

Bet365 said that its software development teams have played a major role in overcoming the significant challenges that delivering an in-play betting system presents, including the delivery of a continuous stream of real-time information whilst simultaneously receiving and processing a huge amount of incoming customer data.

The company’s latest in-play betting system employs a distributed computing model to deliver the scale necessary to meet the demand for bet365’s products.

“We could not achieve the scale we have without our Systems teams,” said Martin Davies, bet365’s chief technology officer. “They have enabled us to take the pressure off of our databases and storage systems and increase the scale and flexibility of our systems through the creation of our own personal cloud.”

Bet365 said that in-house innovations in push technology enabled the company to inject data into any area of the user’s dashboard in close to real-time, whilst sophisticated software offers greater speed and scalability by storing the information in the cloud.

The result is a system that automatically refreshes the chosen elements of the dashboard without interfering with the user’s experience, which is capable of handling thousands of changes per second and delivering them out to interested users in near real time.

The latest in-play betting system also gives users the freedom to view information on multiple sports or in-depth information on the sport of their choice. It also provides fully integrated audio and visual coverage of live sporting events.

“I’m very proud of our systems teams,” continued Davies. “They continue to push through barriers to deliver a rich multi-media experience that is controlled by the user and can support millions of people across the world simultaneously.”

Betfair "concerned" about Ongame future

Betfair chief executive David Yu has admitted the company is “concerned” about the post Bwin.Party merger future of Ongame, only eight months after moving its poker product to the network.

Speaking after announcing the exchange would move offshore and operate under a Gibraltar licence from tomorrow, Yu said that despite its poker revenues falling 20.5% in the third quarter of 2010, he was pleased with Ongame’s performance since Betfair migrated its customers to the network in July, but added he was “unsure what would happen” when PartyGaming and Bwin merge on 31 March.

The future of the network, a Bwin subsidiary, has been in doubt since the approval of the merger and after it was revealed that it will could be sold before the end of the year.“It’s a concern given the uncertainty,” said Yu, “but we’ll stay in contact with them and we hope it will work out for us and other licensees”.

Asked if he had a back-up plan should Ongame’s situation change, Yu said: “We think about what might happen, we have the necessary experience and understand how networks work, but we’ll have to see how it goes and react accordingly.”

Yu and CFO Stephen Morana were asked about the drop-off in poker revenues during a conference call with city analysts this morning, and admitted they were disappointed with the immediate aftermath of the migration from Betfair’s standalone poker platform in July.“Some of our higher-value customers didn’t make the move across when we migrated, but we remain of the belief it was the right thing to do for us,” said Morana.

Yu added: “We’ll have to continue to work to try get more of them [higher value players] either though enhancing the product and our offering or through cross selling. We’re a leader in sports through our exchange and we get a lot of great customers coming in through sports betting, so cross sell will become even more important to us.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. We need to get the right message across as our poker is now a better product with better liquidity post-migration.”

March 11, 2011

Online business helps bottom line at Paddy Power

Irish online gambling provider Paddy Power has released its financial results for 2010 showing a 56 percent year-on-year increase in operating profits to €103.8 million helped substantially by the firm’s iGaming activities.

Dublin-based Paddy Power revealed that its profits before tax for 2010 rose 55 percent year-on-year to €104.2 million while its net cash position improved from €75 million at the end of 2009 to €159 million as of December 31.

Paddy Power declared that its gross win for 2010 improved by 50 percent year-on-year to €443.5 million with its amounts stakes growing 39 percent when compared to 2009 to hit €3.834 billion.

The operator revealed that 72 percent of its total operating profits came from online activities while its PaddyPower.com domain reported a 52 percent year-on-year rise in gross win to €163.7 million with an operating profit up 26 percent when compared to 2009 to €57.5 million.

In addition, mobile turnover was up more than three-fold compared to 2009 to €112 million, which equates to eleven percent of its total sportsbook stakes, while Paddy Power revealed that 31 percent of online sportsbook customers now place their bets using a mobile device to generate 19 percent of its stakes.

“These are record results for Paddy Power with increased profits in all divisions,” said Patrick Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer for Paddy Power.

“They demonstrate the benefit of our ongoing business development initiatives and investment, which position the group well for further growth in 2011 and beyond. “2011 has started well for the group with turnover up 16 percent and total gross wins up 38 percent in the first two months versus the same period in 2010 in constant currency.”

Fortuna appoints Stefanek in Poland

Eastern European online sportsbook operator Fortuna Entertainment Group NV has announced that Jan Stefanek has been appointed as the new General Manager of its Fortuna Zaklady Bukmacherskie subsidiary in Poland.

Fortuna is a leading fixed-odds betting operator with outlets across Central and Eastern Europe and revealed that Stefanek has served as Sales Director for its Polish unit since February of 2007 and was appointed to the board of Fortuna Zaklady Bukmacherskie five months later.

The 33-year-old holds a degree in economics and management from the Business University of Ostrava and worked as Projet Manager for Koras Trade for two years beginning on 2000 where he was responsible for constructing a telecommunication network for mobile operator Cesky, which is now known as Vodafone CZ.

“In 2003 and 2005, he was a real estate developer and participated in a number of large real estate development projects in North Moravia,” read a statement from Fortuna.

“Later, in 2006 and 2007, he worked as Project Development Manager with construction company TCHAS. As the General Manager of Fortuna Zaklady Bukmacherskie in Poland, he is replacing Ales Dobes who decided to resign from the post in order to pursue other career opportunities.”

March 10, 2011

PartyGaming and Full Tilt given the boot in Belgium

PartyGaming and Full Tilt Poker are amongst a number of companies being asked to leave the fledging online market in Belgium or face criminal and administrative sanctions.

The Belgian Gaming Commission yesterday sent out letters to regulators in Alderney and Gibraltar asking them to tell any licensees operating illegally in Belgium to shut those operations down immediately.

In the letter to Alderney, seen by GamblingCompliance, PartyGaming Plc and Full Tilt Poker are picked out as “two operators with significant market share in Belgium” that are working without local authorisations.

Belgium’s updated Gambling Act came into force on 1 January this year, bringing the online market under a licensing system and controversially closing it off to any operator without a land-based permit.

As well as charging a number of online companies licensed in Alderney and Gibraltar with operating illegally in Belgium, the regulator notes that they are allowing players to break the 21 age limit on their sites.

“This means that, in addition to the primary offences identified above, your licensees are also engaged in money laundering because money is being moved through the financial system that is connected to the commission of these underlying crimes,” Etienne Marique, chairman of the Belgian Gaming Commission, states in the letters.

Marique goes on to say that he and his team expect co-operation from the Alderney Gambling Control Commission and Gibraltar’s Gambling Commissioner by preventing the licensees from targeting Belgian players.

Otherwise, he adds, “in addition to pursuing the operators themselves, we will consider pursuing individuals of the [Alderney and Gibraltar regulators] personally for their liability in not preventing these crimes taking place.”

The Belgian regulator has given Alderney and Gibraltar until April 1 to respond, the same day that PartyGaming’s merger with Austria’s Bwin takes full effect.

Peter Naessens, legal counsel to the Belgian Gaming Commission, told GamblingCompliance that the letters were the first step towards ring-fencing the Belgian market against unlicensed operators.

Naessens explained that if the companies refuse to close their sites to Belgian customers, the regulator would pass their details on for criminal prosecution or pursue them with administrative sanctions themselves.

It is unlikely that any operator hit with such cases would then be granted an online licence, according to Naessens.

“These players have a dishonest competitive advantage in the Belgian market. We have to take action against them otherwise players will not move across to our legal operators,” Naessens said.

He used PokerStars, which is in partnership with Belgian firm Circus Groupe, as an example of a licence holder who could see their market share eroded by unauthorised rivals not tied to the same regulations.

Internet poker giant PokerStars launched its Belgium-facing website at the beginning of March and is targeting April or May for the start of its marketing campaign.
In an email to affiliates, PokerStars explained that due to legal restrictions the Belgian site will not offer first deposit bonuses for players and that Belgian residents will only be allowed to play other Belgian customers for cash games.

The new Belgian gambling legislation arms the regulator with internet filtering, advertising restrictions and financial transaction blocking to deal with unlicensed operators, Naessens says it is not ready to use them yet.

Agreements have been reached with internet service providers and financial institutions, he says, but the regulator will not be able to deploy the measures until the second half of the year.

The online market is also not yet fully operational, as it waits for approval from the European Commission on certain licensing regulations later this month.

Belgium has a further pile of royal decrees which need to be enacted to fully kit out the new gambling market, but without a formal government to pass them progress is slow.

Emergency cabinet meetings at the end of last year, though, ensured enough measures were in place for the new Gambling Act to come into effect on January 1.

Full Tilt Poker and PartyGaming were unavailable for comment yesterday.

London-listed PartyGaming said in its full year results last week: “While Belgium has enacted a law for the regulation of online gambling there, the requirement to first have a land-based license is seen by many as being in breach of EU law although no action has yet been taken by the European Commission.”

New Pre Paid Affiliate Payment Card Service Announced

In a "joint solution" designed to provide "fast payments in local currencies to affiliates around the world,” Intercash, a leading online payment solutions provider, has announced that a plan to integrate its technology with DirectTrack, an affiliate marketing and tracking platform, to offer international pre-paid affiliate payment cards.

“The integration will provide global pre-paid cash cards to affiliate networks and merchant programs from a variety of markets, including retail, financial services, agencies and iGaming,” company reps stated in a news release. “The joint solution will enable affiliate programs running on DirectTrack to quickly make commission payments in localized currencies to affiliates around the world.”

As of yet, DirectTrack has little presence in the online casino affiliate industry. But Intercash does: It’s already used by Winner Affiliates, some casinos in the Playtech network, and others. And this announcement will likely see it expanding that market share by offering something that’s always in demand: Alternate payment methods for gambling affiliates. (The fact that this news was distributed via online gambling channels strongly suggests that the companies are aiming to become major players in that market.)

Under the new offering, affiliate programs that use the new prepaid cards get instant, 24/7 access to their funds and info, in their local currency, via Intercash. Reporting will be available via the DirectTrack system.

“More affiliate marketing software providers are offering access to our safe and efficient payment solutions within their platforms,” said Patrick Seguev, Intercash CEO. “One of our most cost effective solutions, our new Intercash Zero program, allows merchants to issue pre-paid cards with zero investment. This option significantly reduces the upfront costs incurred with traditional payment methods and helps attract high-performing affiliates from international markets.”

“Affiliate networks and programs can gain a competitive advantage by processing affiliate payments through their DirectTrack systems,” said George Bordo, general manager of Direct Response Technologies. “Joining forces with Intercash to offer global pre-paid cards will provide our clients a new and cost effective way to further increase affiliate satisfaction and our company additional opportunities especially in markets such as iGaming.”

March 08, 2011

Betfair joins UK offshore exodus

Betfair has become the latest operator to move offshore to escape the UK’s 15% gross profits tax and will save close to £20m a year, its chief executive announced during its third quarter results this morning.

As of tomorrow the newly floated betting exchange will operate under a Gibraltar gaming licence following in the footsteps of rivals Ladbrokes and William Hill, both of which have announced millions of pounds in cost savings since their departure from the UK two years ago.

Betfair CEO David Yu has made no secret of his desire to move more of Betfair’s operation offshore. In October the exchange opened a new Dublin office to house its data centre and telebetting operators. This was considered a warning to the UK government to take action over proposed tax increases including the horseracing levy which it today said it would continue to pay for the time being. The UK government has been reviewing the licensing system but has yet to announce any decision on reforms, however Betfair’s statement today could spark calls for reforms to the law.

Last year the betting exchange paid £6.1m in payments plus another £1.25m voluntary payment due to its overseas customers betting on horseracing. At the time Tessa Murray, director of corporate communications at Betfair, told eGaming Review there were “no immediate plans to go offshore”.

In a statement Yu said that in recent months Betfair had transferred the majority of its key systems from the UK to Gibraltar and Dublin employing over 120 people. He said its revised structure would “provide the company with the freedom to locate key technical equipment in more efficient locations in order to improve service to customers and compete on a level basis in the UK market”.

In a conference call with city analysts this morning, queries were raised about the wisdom of Betfair’s continued methods of contributing to the horseracing industry, with suggestions that its existing goodwill (or lack thereof) with the industry might make sponsorship a more beneficial option than continued levy contributions.Yu responded by explaining that the company will continue to hold talks with the racing board before settling on the best way to go about contributing to the industry.

“We believe making contributions to racing is important, and we will look at what the right mechanism is. We need racing to do well and if it continues to thrive that would only be good for our business.”

Betfair said its operational costs would rise in the short term due to running both new and existing data centres, but that this would reduce as its systems consolidation programme is finalised at the end of next year. It would then see significant tax savings of as much as £20m a year and £10m of underlying earnings.

The company said it would continue to be incorporated in the UK and employ 1,200 people at its headquarters in Hammersmith in London and at its other offices in Stevenage and Halifax.

Betfair floated on the London stock exchange in October last year valuing the company at more than £1bn. Shares were first traded at 1300 pence and hit a high of 1610 pence later that month, however the price has since slumped over fears of increased regulation in the industry. Shares closed yesterday at 887.5 pence, valuing the business at £954m.

March 04, 2011

Betsafe sponsors Danish football league

Betsafe has become the first private egaming operator to sign a sponsorship deal with the Danish football league, ahead of the market opening there later this year.

The three-year deal will see Betsafe become the third main sponsor of the Danish Superliga and the second tier of Danish football – the Danish 1st Division – renamed the Betsafe Liga.

Richardt Funch, Betsafe’s country manager for Denmark, said the deal would give the company “a unique strategic platform” once the Danish law came into effect later this year. “This deal will send a clear signal to the industry that Betsafe has very high ambitions and will become a significant operator in the future Danish betting market.”

Betsafe’s deal, announced by the league yesterday at the Farum Park stadium near Copenhagen, will come into force once Betsafe has received its licence under the forthcoming Danish law.

The Danish government reassured the industry in January that licensed operators would be active in the market by the autumn, despite an open complaint over proposed tax rates to the EC.

March 03, 2011

Online gambling bill presented in Iowa

A Senate study bill to examine the possibility of regulating online gambling in the state of Iowa will be put before a committee headed by Democrat Senator Jeff Danielson.

Following local media reports yesterday, and just two days before New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is due to announce his judgement on his own state’s proposed legislation, the Iowa legislature released a copy of Senate Study Bill 1165, described as an act “relating to [regulating] certain forms of gambling including horse racing, pari-mutuel wagering, gambling games and intrastate internet poker, creating regulatory and tax structures and providing penalties”.

The bill will need to first pass a committee vote by the end of this week, go through the state legislature’s two houses before then going to Governor Terry Branstad in order for it to become law. Lobby groups have suggested the bill – if successful – could help generate as much as US$35m in annual revenues for the state.

Under the terms of Iowa’s bill, online poker hub operators would be required to pay an annual fee of US$250,000 for a licence, as well as a one-off fee of $3m upon the receipt of any licence, although this would ultimately be credited against the ‘gross receipts’ taxes incorporated into the bill. Hubs could only be provided by organisations already running a land based casino, an authorised gambling boat, or a racetrack enclosure within the state’s boundaries, the bill said. Hub operator licences would last five years and could be renewed for further five-year periods, it added.

Contrary to earlier suggestions, players would not be forced to attend gambling establishments in person to open accounts. The bill states that accounts may be registered “in person, by mail, telephone, or by electronic means”