October 29, 2015

Betfair Doubles Probability of Brexit

The chances of the UK leaving the European Union have almost doubled in just three months, if the odds from Betfair Group Plc's gambling exchange are any indication of sentiment.

The probability of a majority vote for leaving the EU has jumped to 36 percent, from 18.5 percent at the end of July, based on the odds given to bettors on the outcome of the referendum.

While bettors are following the momentum of the polls, it would require a huge swing for so-called Brexit to become the favorite outcome.

"A vote in favor of staying in the EU is still the firm favorite at 1.56 (4/7 or a 64% chance), in much the same way as the Scottish Referendum market was predicting a No to independence from very early on," Betfair spokeswoman Naomi Totten said by e-mail. "The price for a vote in favor of leaving the EU is the shortest it has been since June, currently trading at 2.76 (7/4 or a 36% chance), but in the context of the market it is still very much assumed that Britain will vote to remain within the EU."

UK Prime Minster David Cameron has said a referendum on Britain's membership will be held by the end of 2017 - though a date hasn't been set yet. The Conservative government wants the U.K. to stay part of a reformed EU and is currently in negotiations with regional leaders to secure chances before the vote.

October 28, 2015

Bet365, Coral and Totesport tweets banned over Jordan Spieth images

Bet365, Coral and Totesport have hit a triple bogey after the UK advertising watchdog censured the bookmakers for using images of US Open champion Jordan Spieth to promote betting.

Under the UK advertising code it is illegal to use people aged under 25, or someone who appears to be so, to play a “significant role” in promoting gambling and betting.

Images of Spieth, who is 22, featured in Twitter campaigns for the bookmakers.

Coral said the photo of Spieth was used to illustrate the odds available rather than promote specific bonus offers, but it had made changes to ensure that similar tweets complied with the code.

Bet365 said its tweet reported on a major sporting event and therefore did not breach the code, while Totesport said Spieth was neither a young person nor vulnerable and the ad did not show him gambling or indulging in juvenile or loutish behaviour.

The Advertising Standards Authority said the tweets were designed to promote each bookmaker’s brand and referred to future sporting events on which the public might consider betting.

“We considered the tweet[s] [were] directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods,” said the ASA. “We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible and breached the [advertising] code. The ad must not be shown again in its current form.”

October 27, 2015

Lessons from William Hill: Adapting to modern customers in a traditional industry

The evolution of the gambling industry has always been intrinsically linked to the diversification of its channels.

From the racecourse, to telephone betting, retail shops, online and now mobile, industry players have faced the need to adapt each time a new channel has presented itself.

3.7m people a year in UK now bet online via their smartphone, desktop computer or tablet - and digital growth certainly isn’t slowing down, either.

A recent study by Juniper suggests that by 2019, nearly 10% of the adult population of the planet will have gambled online or on a mobile device, and the biggest concentration of these gamblers will be in the UK and Italy.

Crucially, however, our industry is one of the few that doesn’t see one channel replace another over time.

Rather, they co-exist, creating an audience of customers that's genuinely omnichannel. In our case, at William Hill, these multichannel users today represent a striking 22% of our customer base.

This rise of digital and omnichannel customers has caused issues in all areas of retail, issues that have been covered extensively on this site in the past.

But in the case of the gaming industry, the size of the omnichannel segment of our customer base has meant this sector has faced more pressure in responding to the challenge quickly.

While this has required significant investment and effort, the industry has ultimately benefitted from tackling this head on; it’s enjoyed additional growth, an expanded competitive set, and enhanced experiences for customers.

Initially this was simply to meet user demand, opening up a new, alternative avenue for betting and gaming online.

However, whilst location remains a key driver of customer loyalty for our retail stores, online is a completely different story.

There are far fewer barriers to stop digital customers from switching between competitors, meaning the industry has had to shift its approach towards a concerted effort to develop a truly compelling customer experience.

Like the rest of the industry, William Hill has created a unique internal culture, which has played an important role in nearly a century of success.

However, to tackle this new challenge, it was recognised that William Hill needed to look at innovating its own management structures and internal culture.

At the same time, it needed to preserve the proven business structure that had served it and its staff well.

It’s no secret that real innovation often comes from small, nimble technology startups, rather than out of huge, decades-old PLCs.

The rise of digital has forced bookmakers to become somewhat more innovative, but nothing has come out of these organisations in recent years that has really disrupted the betting market.

Similarly, the best organisations - in terms of digital experience and responding to the insights generated through user analytics - are those that can quickly adjust their approach and experiment with potentially risky new strategies.

It was to this end that we pursued a unique strategy in establishing WHLabs, designed to embody a dramatic cultural and management shift away from the traditional structures of William Hill the FTSE company.

By establishing WHLabs as a self-contained experimental division, we can provide the right environment for innovation in an agile, ideas-driven culture, without fear of impacting the core William Hill business.

Once a development has been shown to be beneficial to the user experience, it can then be incorporated in to the wider business.

One of the key principles behind the new division is that projects should not be target and statistic focused; experimentation is important and taking risks should be encouraged.

At the same time, we still need to be able to gauge just how effective and popular our developments have been with customers.

At the heart of this has been a need to enable modern, data-driven marketing efforts.

Building a detailed profile of a customer has always been a fundamental challenge for the marketing departments of bookmakers, and indeed most retailers.

Now in the digital and multichannel age, bookies are tasked with building a profile of a customer using data from disparate devices, the customer’s in-store betting habits, and wider data on the customer’s general likes and preferences.

To make the most of this, we need a site that can efficiently adapt to what we learn about these customers, which is why Project Trafalgar was initiated.

A modern, responsive new front-end web and native app platform, it gives a more consistent experience across devices and, crucially, takes control of code drops in-house.

That empowers our development teams to assess and react to our users’ experiences, making site changes, running A/B tests and quickly deploying new features.

It's about taking the profiled data and turning it into actionable insight that improves a user’s journey.

Through Trafalgar we can make those changes and deploy new things quickly and in-house, ultimately delivering a host of intelligent touch and conversion points at the right moment in the user’s journey.

Personalisation has been a major topic in recent years throughout the retail sector. What started as a tool for encouraging sales and driving loyalty has become an expectation of customers, with those businesses that fail to accurately tailor their services falling behind the competition.

With more than 1.3m sports betting opportunities available on the William Hill site each day and the increasing usage of mobile devices, surfacing the right content at the right time is critical.

WHLabs is therefore working to develop a sophisticated personalisation system that uses betting history and behavioural patterns to recommend.

To understand the scale of the task, think Netflix recommendation capability and multiply that challenge by a “product” set (prices and markets) that updates minute by minute.

Crucially, WHLabs is aiming to bring together both customer data and contextual big data to build a definitive picture of its customers.

Intelligent use of the information from across our owned channels can only go so far.

This is a major investment to tackle a challenge that is faced by all digital marketers, not just those in the gaming sector.

“Why would a bookies care about tech?”

The scale of our technology capability and ambition takes people by surprise if they’re never used our products.

We get interesting reactions at events and in conversation from people whose perception of what our business does is very wedded to old memories of waiting outside a betting shop for their granddad as a child.

In reality the gambling and gaming business is a technology game and has been for a long time.

The complexity of delivering and transacting across millions of products is huge.

Add to that our investment in digital marketing and our commitment to improving the customer experience and it suddenly becomes clear that not only do we have to run a brilliant core business, but we have a need for the innovative capabilities of WHLabs as a standalone unit.

Not only because we share the same customer expectations as any other retail sector - personalisation, new and enhanced user experiences - but also because the need to be innovative in how we approach all elements of our existing proposition is driving a cultural shift towards an agile, data-driven ethos.

The story of Pinnacle Sports is a case study in how bookmaking sites, illegal in the United States, manage to operate on American soil

Hard by the High Line, in a vintage industrial building with a Romanesque arch, lights flash on powerful computers in row after row of metal cabinets and cages. Power lines connect the equipment to diesel generators on the roof. Cables route data through the building to conduits beneath New York City streets.

This is one small corner of the Internet, unremarkable except for the confluence of two facts: Sports betting is largely illegal in the United States. And this Manhattan building, on 10th Avenue in Chelsea, is one node in a vast network used by a major offshore sports book — ever faster, ever more sophisticated and harder to track or regulate.

The network is traversed by United States customers of pinnaclesports.com, a hugely successful Internet sports-gambling company with headquarters until recently in a shopworn hotel in the tiny Caribbean island nation of Curaçao. The unlikely chief of Pinnacle Sports is a granddaughter of a former North Dakota governor who famously engaged in a bit of Cold War diplomacy with Nikita S. Khrushchev.

For years, offshore sports books like Pinnacle have used technology and other means to keep prosecutors at bay. In the United States, field agents are arrested, money is forfeited and the illegal gambling rings are seemingly dismantled. Yet they rise again, with different street soldiers and a new arsenal of deception. The one constant is the Internet, which allows for the electronic brain of these sports books to evolve, beyond the reach of American prosecutors.

This pattern raises a persistent question: Are the successes of law enforcement tantamount to cutting off a lizard’s tail only to see it grow again, and if so, is the battle even worth fighting? Is the better way — with gambling increasingly woven into the fabric of American sports — to simply legalize it so it can be regulated?

That question is playing out in the rising controversy over betting on daily fantasy sports — the now-ubiquitous business that was given life by a 2006 federal law that tried, and largely failed, to stamp out old-school sports betting. Fantasy sports received an exemption on the ground that it is a game of skill, not chance — a contention being examined by a growing number of investigators.

The story of Pinnacle — pieced together from documents and interviews as part of The New York Times’s investigation of unregulated online gambling, in collaboration with the PBS series “Frontline” — is a case study of how more traditional, and far less public, offshore sports books operate and, at least for now, survive on American soil. Indeed, experts say illegal sports betting remains a considerably larger business than its legal cousin, fantasy sports.

In a statement, Pinnacle said it “pulled out of the United States in 2007,” after the passage of the federal online gambling law, and since then had “never knowingly taken bets from the United States.” The company says it is fully licensed in Curaçao, where online gambling is legal.

However, American and European investigators have determined that since 2007, Pinnacle has had thousands of betting customers in the United States, documents show.

What’s more, using advanced Internet technology, The Times found that Pinnacle, along with other gambling sites, had quietly developed a direct digital presence in the United States, allowing it to communicate quickly with its potential customers. Speed is the currency of today’s Internet, where users expect a website rich with graphics and interactive features, but may abandon the site if it takes more than an instant to load.

How many of Pinnacle’s users are actually betting or simply visiting the site cannot be known. What is clear, though, is that by 2014, vast amounts of gambling data, once housed legally offshore, were being delivered to the United States from equipment in New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas and elsewhere.

This represented a new and pervasive domestic presence, one that investigators have largely overlooked.

“For them to knowingly collect data in New York for the purpose of furthering a bookmaking enterprise, if that’s what they’re doing — that would be a significant exercise of brazenness on their part,” said Gerard Brave, the chief of the rackets bureau for the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, who has prosecuted Pinnacle operatives in recent years; the company itself has not been prosecuted in the United States.

Mr. Brave added, “That would be very interesting to us, and we would certainly be looking into that.”

In its statement, Pinnacle said: “All content is delivered legally from Curaçao. We use U.S. traffic acceleration companies, which is fully in compliance with all U.S. laws.”

But last week, as this article was nearing publication, United States traffic to the Pinnacle website abruptly shifted from equipment on American soil to servers in Europe and elsewhere, according to an analysis by Dyn, an Internet performance company.

Each online sports book has its own DNA. Some are run by Mafia associates or are part of larger criminal enterprises. Pinnacle is different. There has been no shortage of old-time bookmaking techniques, including operatives making street drops with bulging bags of cash. But some of its senior operatives have had an unusual social conscience, attuned to gay and environmental groups, and campaigns to protect whales, dolphins and children in need. And it has often been ahead of the pack, and of investigators, in its use of the Internet.

To understand how betting rings employ the Internet to navigate around legal traps requires a journey to places that, for most people in the online age, are far more foreign and remote than a Caribbean island — places where the virtual and physical worlds intersect.

October 23, 2015

Sixers, PartyPoker end partnership amid daily sports fantasy surge

The Philadelphia 76ers and PartyPoker have ended what both sides said in 2014 was a groundbreaking partnership between an NBA team and an online gambling business.

Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil confirmed Wednesday night that the partnership had ended, but declined to explain why the two businesses parted ways, other than to say that even multiyear partnerships such as this one have "triggers" that allow for "adjustments based on market opportunity."

Someday, sports gambling - online and otherwise - might be a hot market opportunity nationally, as it is in Las Vegas now and in other countries such as the United Kingdom.

But today, the hot sports market opportunity is the explosion of advertising and attention devoted to daily fantasy sports - and the Sixers were the first NBA team to sign a sponsorship deal with DraftKings, a fantasy-sports operator.

In fantasy sports, people choose real players for an imaginary team. Points are awarded based on the real statistics of real players.

Along with FanDuel, DraftKings has spent millions on advertising on television screens, social media, billboards and other places capable of displaying their name. In recent days, the AT&T SEPTA station, which is where fans get off to watch all four Philadelphia teams, was plastered with DraftKings advertising.

Sixers owner Josh Harris also owns the New Jersey Devils of the NHL and the Devils' home arena, the Prudential Center in Newark. O'Neil serves as CEO of the company that overseas all three operations.

The PartyPoker deal remains as is with the Devils and the Prudential Center.

PartyPoker gained approval to run online gambling - not involving sports - through casinos in Atlantic City in 2015.

On Jan. 9, 2014, at a news conference in Newark, O'Neil announced the deal with PartyPoker's parent company, Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment Plc.

"This is our flag in the ground that we do things differently," O'Neil told Bloomberg News on the day of the announcement. "We're looking for groundbreaking opportunities with companies willing to take chances."

In a statement issued that day, Norbert Teufelberger, CEO of Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment, said, "We are excited to be working with the Devils and 76ers and to be able to offer their fans great digital content and unique game-day experiences. They are two of the most iconic names in American hockey and basketball with huge and loyal fan bases throughout New Jersey and the surrounding metropolitan areas. There is an affinity between playing in online poker tournaments and sports - winning is about having intense focus, stamina, and a great competitive spirit."

Bwin.Party could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

What changed in less than 12 months is that daily sports fantasy exploded in the United States.

In December 2014, the Sixers announced that DraftKings would become the "presenting partner" of several of the team's digital platforms, including the official website, newsletter, mobile app, and radio broadcast.

On Feb. 2 of this year, DraftKings and PartyPoker were part of a Sixers contingent that rang the opening bell to start trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange. But PartyPoker is not part of the Sixers' sponsorship lineup for the 2015-16 season that starts Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the daily sports fantasy surge has prompted debate about whether it is any different than gambling, which is prohibited in all but four states and meaningful only in Nevada. The Justice Department and other authorities are looking into FanDuel and DraftKings, though the area has little in the way of regulation.

Also, PartyPoker's parent company, Bwin.Party, was sold in September to GVC Holdings for $1.4 billion. Speculation in the online gambling media is that GVC might sell PartyPoker to Amaya Gaming, a Montreal-based company that owns PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. Amaya also has a sports fantasy division called StarsDraft. Amaya said recently StarsDraft will operate in only four states, one of which is New Jersey.

EU's top court slams German licensing regime

The European Union’s top court has issued an opinion that says Germany can’t prosecute unauthorized sports betting operators because the country’s gambling regulations run contrary to European law.

On Thursday, the Court of Justice for the European Union (CJEU) released an opinion by Advocate General Maciej Szpunar in the case of Sebat Ince, a Turkish national residing in Germany.

Ince ran a ‘Sportsbar’ which provided technology that allowed German bettors to connect with a Malta-licensed online betting operator. German authorities wanted to prosecute Ince for taking bets without a license but a Bavarian court asked the CJEU to rule whether the prosecution violated EU prohibitions on the restriction of trade.

Germany passed its federal interstate treaty on sports betting in 2012 and issued 20 online betting licenses in 2014 following a widely criticized application process. However, court challenges by rejected applicants have prevented the licenses from taking effect and the European Commission is currently considering whether to launch infringement proceedings against Germany due to its suspicion that the regime is incompatible with EU law.

Szpunar’s opinion can be read here, but in a nutshell, the ruling says Germany can’t prosecute private betting operators operating without a license because the chaotic and inscrutable tender process that capped the number of available licenses at 20 had failed to live up to EU standards of transparency.

A full ruling by the CJEU on Germany’s licensing regime is expected later this year. The German Sports Betting Association (DSWV) issued a statement saying it hoped Szpunar’s opinion would be enough to convince the German government to convene meetings with stakeholders to create a “fair and legally compliant” gambling regime.

Earlier this week, a court in the German state of Hesse rejected the appeal of an earlier ruling that prevented the issuance of those 20 sports betting licenses. The Hessian Administrative Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the ‘Gambling College’ that was established to vet the license applicants represented neither the federal nor state governments, creating, in effect, a third unaccountable level of government that the court called a “breach of the principle of democracy.” Ouch.

The Hessian court also determined that this Gambling College had disproportionately favored German companies over equally qualified firms from other EU member states when it came to deciding who made up the lucky 20 license recipients. The Court concluded that Germany would be far better off forgetting the whole sordid episode and starting the process over from scratch. Amen.

October 21, 2015

North Korea running online gambling sites

According to a new report by the South Korean National Intelligence Agency North Korea is running online gambling websites targeting South Korean gamblers.

At the recent National Assembly audit the National Intelligence Service said that more than 1,100 North Korean computer experts are running online gambling websites from locations such as China, Malaysia along with other Asian countries.

It is estimated that each one of those sites generate a minimum of $20,000 per year in profits, not much singularly but put together makes a lucrative business for the North Korean government. The intelligence agency also believes this could be the tip of the iceberg and much more could be generated they do not know about.

October 19, 2015

Binary options introduced to TotoGaming portfolio

Armenian-based bookmaker TotoGaming has released a binary options product from SpotOption onto its proprietary platform. Following the significant improvement in its in-play offerings, the bookmaker is planning to diversify its product range by integrating the best content available in the market, and to provide an exceptional and innovative service to its partners.

Through the partnership with SpotOption, one of the leading binary options platform providers, TotoGaming aims to deliver to its customers the opportunity to experience binary entertainment. World leading currency pairs, major company stocks, top traded commodities and major world indices are represented on a simple and user-friendly basis.

The web-platform has been developed to meet the needs and interests of the traders and opens the industry to everyone, from expert to novice. Trading options represent a large variety of betting possibilities from super-quick 30 seconds, to long-term bets up to one year, along with other attractive trading features.

To support its new product, TotoGaming is planning to launch a special advertising campaign with a TV star walking through all the new possibilities, pointing out the simplicity of success by using quick thinking and logic.

By the end of the year, TotoGaming is planning to enrich its portfolio with more innovative products and services and looks forward to new collaborations and synergies with world-class, state-of-the-art content providers.

“It was high time introducing such a product in our market,” commented TotoGaming Board Chairman Suren Khachatryan. “We have created a safe and secure trading environment for everybody and welcome our customers to enjoy the new Binary Options platform.

“TotoGaming stays in line with its major strategy of providing its customers with the best offerings, high quality products and forthcoming surprises.”

“We are proud that our valued partner, TotoGaming, chose our platform for binary options in the region,” commented Ran Amiran, CEO of SpotOption. “We trust that our partnership will only strengthen in time, and we will continue to do our utmost to ensure that user expectations from the binary product are surpassed.”

October 13, 2015

New Jersey ordered Amaya Gaming to fire four senior execs connected with PokerStars and Full Tilt

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) ordered Amaya Gaming to fire four senior execs connected with PokerStars and Full Tilt as a condition of receiving a license to operate online gambling in the state.

On Friday, the DGE released a report of its investigation of Amaya’s $4.9b acquisition of the PokerStars and Full Tilt online gambling companies. The previous week, the DGE announced that it had approved Amaya’s new brands to operate in the state’s regulated online gambling market via its partnership with Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino Hotel.

The announcement came one year after Amaya acquired the Oldford Group, the parent company of both brands, and filed a petition seeking to operate the brands in New Jersey. The report (read it here) details the lengths to which the DGE went to ensure that Amaya has sufficiently distanced itself from the principal figures associated with Stars and Tilt.

Amaya’s petition to the DGE said it had succeeded in “irrevocably and totally extinguishing the ownership interest of Isai and Mark Scheinberg” and had ensured that the Scheinbergs and other tainted execs “will have no further involvement in the operation or management of their former companies.”

Isai was Stars’ founder and one of the 11 individuals indicted on April 15, 2011 (aka Black Friday) for continuing to serve US customers following the 2006 passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).

The DGE says it examined over 45k pages of documents relating to Stars’ business dealings and conducted 71 sworn interviews with 64 former employees of Stars, Tilt and Pyr (Stars’ software division, since renamed Amaya Software) who were kept on following Amaya’s acquisition.

The DGE says it is satisfied that Amaya’s acquisition of Oldfod had “permanently and irrevocably severed all of the ownership interests” of the Scheinbergs. The DGE said Amaya’s acquisition had achieved the “significantly changed circumstances” benchmark laid out in the two-year suspension the DGE had slapped on Stars’ application to operate in New Jersey back in 2013.

However, the DGE ordered Amaya to “separate from employment on or before January 30, 2016, four individuals identified by the Division as having failed to establish the requisite good character, honesty and integrity required by the [New Jersey Casino Control] Act due to their involvement in the business activities of the PokerStars Entities between the enactment of UIGEA and Black Friday.”

The DGE didn’t identify the four individuals by name, but it did say it had conducted plenary investigations of four senior execs with ties to the previous regime and who remain with Amaya following the Oldford acquisition.

Those four execs are: Michael Hazel, Stars former CFO; Israel Rosenthal, director of operations for the Rational Group and a “long-time friend of the Scheinberg family;” Charles Fabian, former head of games systems development at Full Tilt’s parent Pocket Kings Consulting; and software manager Serge Bourenkov, who began working at Pyr following Black Friday, so he would appear to be in the clear.

Amaya also has to keep the DGE in the loop in case any of the former Stars and Tilt principals attempt to “influence, suggest or communicate with any employee of Amaya” regarding the company’s activities. Additionally, Amaya has to provide the DGE with minutes of all future meetings of its board of directors and compliance and audit committees.

The DGE says it has required other companies to sever ties with or forego hiring “at least 10 senior executives” since the state authorized online gambling in 2013. Sadly, these names also weren’t disclosed.

The DGE reported that PokerStars generated $44.3m in revenue from New Jersey players between Oct. 13, 2006 (the effective date of the UIGEA) and April 15, 2011.

When Stars reached its civil settlement with the Department of Justice in 2012, it returned just over $5m in deposited funds to its NJ players. Incredibly, the DGE says there remain an undisclosed number of open New Jersey PokerStars accounts containing nearly $428k as of January 2015. This sum will now become property of the state. Score!

The DGE’s opinion is that Amaya will not enjoy “an unfair competitive or economic advantage” based on Stars’ history in the New Jersey market. The DGE noted that Stars’ New Jersey database is over four years old and that the state’s existing online licensees have a 22-month headstart on Amaya. The DGE also claimed that some of these licensees were “large companies with powerful brand names that are well positioned to challenge” Stars and Tilt. Sure they are…

In the five-year period spanning 2010 to 2014, the Rational Group operations saw revenue go from $863.6m to $1.13b, while profit went from $188.9m to $416.2m. The company recorded a nearly $424m loss in 2011, but this was the financial year in which the expenses from the $731m DOJ civil settlement were booked.

The operations benefited from their home base in the Isle of Man, which imposed an effective tax rate of 1.1% in 2012 and 1.3% in 2013. The DGE said it examined tax records the company had filed in Australia, Malta, the UK, Ireland, Austria, Costa Rica, France, Macau and Russia and found no items that required further investigation.

As for Stars’ ongoing tax problems in Italy, Amaya told the DGE that it remains in discussions with the Italian tax authorities. Should Stars be found liable for a back tax payment, Amaya says indemnity provisions in the acquisition deal would allow it to pass the buck to Stars’ former owners.

It seems Amaya’s recent acquisition of daily fantasy sports operator Victiv, which has since been rebranded as StarsDraft, didn’t cost Amaya anything. The DGE says Victiv exchanged its assets for an undisclosed percentage of a joint venture, to which Amaya contributed branding and marketing, as well as access to its player database.

It seems former Full Tilt payments director Nelson Burtnick, who pled guilty in 2012 to conspiracy and accepting funds in connection with unlawful Internet gaming, was sentenced on September 16 to time served and one year of supervised release. Burtnick also forfeited approximately $300k.

Romania ONJN blacklists bwin.party services

bwin.party brands have been blacklisted by the Romanian online gaming regulator despite the operator having re-paid €8 million in back taxes and having been approved an igaming licence by authorities.

Romania’s regulator ONJN published a new blacklist of offending operators (click here to view list), which featured bwin.com, partycasino.com and partypoker.com.

ONJN informed that the bwin.party brands had breached national gambling polices by promoting their services to Romanian consumers, whilst government authorities were carrying a review of the country’s online gaming framework.

The regulator stated that bwin.party brand should have terminated all marketing activity for Romania during this period. ONJN did not inform the media whether bwin.party brands would be removed from the list having gained licensing provisions following the repayment of taxes.

bwin.party governance did not comment on the actions taken by ONJN regarding its services for the Romanian market. The operator was one of the first operators to receive igaming licensing for the market, along with leading European operators bwin,bet365, Sportingbet and PokerStars

October 09, 2015

Playtech confident on acquisitions despite CBI opposition

Playtech remains confident it would receive the necessary regulatory permissions for its two proposed financial trading acquisitions despite the intervention from Ireland’s financial watchdog with regard to one of the deals in question.

The announcement by Playtech on Monday that the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI) had notified the company of its opposition to the AvaTrade buyout late the previous week came out of the blue for both Playtech and the analysts who follow the group.

The company said on Monday it would be “seeking clarification from the CBI” and will “engage with them in order to discuss certain issues raised in the letter which the company believes can be addressed to the CBI’s satisfaction”.

It followed that up with another stock exchange announcement on Tuesday saying it had heard back from the CBI and “following this communication and having taken legal advice, the company intends to formally challenge the decision”.

Nick Batram at Peel Hunt suggested the CBI news was “undoubtedly a setback”, particularly given that the AvaTrade deal is commonly thought to be less contentious than the Plus500 deal, where Playtech is also currently engaged with the regulators across various jurisdictions to gain deal clearance.

“In the grand scheme of things AvaTrade is not a material transaction,” Batram said of the US$105m deal in a note to clients on Monday.

“However, it clearly creates uncertainty around the Plus500 deal. We don’t know whether the (UK’s Financial Conduct Authority) will be influenced or not by the CBI, but the Plus500 deal is already taking longer to complete than originally expected.”

For its part, Playtech remained tight-lipped over the details of the CBI objections, but sources close to the company suggest it is set to vigorously defend the deal and added that it is “very, very surprised” at the intervention.

It is understood the company received the notice late on Friday evening, after the markets had closed, and that up until that point there had been minimal contact with the regulator.

It will be appealing through the official regulatory process and it is thought that recourse to further legal avenues is available should it become necessary.

Combined, the AvaTrade and Plus500 deals mark a further evolution of Playtech’s march into financial trading (paywall), a move that began at the start of the year when it bought TradeFX, a company owned by Playtech’s majority shareholder Teddy Sagi.

The “opportunistic” Plus500 acquisition came after that company fell foul of the UK’s financial watchdog over its client ‘onboarding’ techniques. The FCA intervention saw Plus500’s share price take a 50% tumble, at which point Playtech stepped in with its takeover offer.

The original completion date for the Plus500 deal was pencilled in for September, but in a stock exchange announcement in mid-September, the company said that the necessary regulatory approvals were “taking longer than… originally anticipated”.

It said at the time that it was “currently not aware of any issues which would give rise to the required regulatory approvals not being granted in due course”.

The US$105m AvaTrade acquisition is the lesser of the two deals, compared with the £460m deal for Plus500. Playtech sees the AvaTrade deal as a bolt-on acquisition that had been agreed upon by TradeFX before the Playtech deal.

Goodbody analyst Gavin Kelleher said “in its own right AvaTrade is not huge driver of the investment case”. But he added: “However, given the delays with the Plus500 deal, which is a significant driver of the investment case, the market will be looking for that deal to complete within the next month.”

Playtech is understood to remain confident it will gain clearance from the UK’s FCA and other regulators involved in the Plus500 deal, including Singapore and Australia. The company noted at the time of the publication of the Plus500 buyout prospectus that further enquiries regarding Plus500 had been received from an unnamed regulator.

The deal already has clearance from the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySEC) and from the British Virgin Islands, however, analysts from Cannaccord Genuity pointed out that the news of the Irish issues “will clearly raise some concerns over the potential for the FCA to block the Plus500 deal”.

Batram at Peel Hunt pointed out there were questions about whether the FCA would be influenced by the Irish central bank’s intervention. “The Plus500 deal is already taking longer to complete than originally expected,” he added.

Playtech said this week that both deals were proceeding in line with regulatory guidelines and would be completed either this month or in November.

Canaccord Genuity said it believed the “heightened concerns over the timing and certainty of completion” of the two deals could cause some share price uncertainty. The Playtech share price suffered on the CBI news, falling from around 840p last week to 784p as of Thursday (yesterday).

In tangential news, financial trading rival IG Group announced on Wednesday it had settled a compensation deal with clients over events at the beginning of the year related to trading on the Swiss franc.

The company has accepted the Financial Ombudsman Service’s decision that the company could have settled certain ‘fill orders’ at a more beneficial price than that given to some of its clients. It said the decision would cost it £1m to rectify all accounts affected.

This stands in contrast to Plus500, which said at the time of the extraordinary movements in the Swiss franc that it had made money from the movements caused by the Swiss National Bank decision to end its currency peg to the euro (paywall).

October 07, 2015

Two Singaporeans charged for match fixing in Turkey

Two Singaporeans have been charged with corruption for involvement in match-fixing in Turkey in 2013, court documents showed Wednesday.

In a fresh case that highlights the global reach of football-rigging syndicates in the city-state, Rajendar Prasad Rai, 42, and Shree Manish Kalra, 22, each face three charges at a district court.

Two were lodged on Monday and the other in late September.

One accuses Rai of “instigating” Kalra to give 25,000 euros (US$28,185) to a Macedonian national, Marjan Stojanchevski, and two countrymen to fix the outcome of a match between SC Charleroi of Belgium and VVV Venlo of Holland on January 11, 2013 in Antalya, Turkey.

Another charge says Rai asked Kalra to give 15,000 euros to the same Macedonians to fix a game between Steaua Bucuresti and Dynamo Moscow on February 3, 2013 in Antalya.

The third charge alleges Rai asked Kalra to give 27,000 euros to the same people to fix a match between Sturm Graz and Steaua Bucuresti on February 1, 2013 in Antalya.

Kalra allegedly handed the money to the Macedonians in all three instances.

The charge sheets did not give details of the Macedonians, but a Marjan Stojanchevski is described as a linesman or referee on several football sites.

Each charge is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years or a maximum fine of Sg$100,000 (US$70,315) or both.

Rai is on bail of Sg$300,000. In a separate case he and another Singaporean are accused of trying to bribe three or four players of a local football team, Singapore Recreation Club, in the local S. League in July 2014.

Singapore has a long history of match-fixing scandals, a stain on its reputation as one of Asia’s least corrupt countries for business and government.

Last month a Singaporean man described by state prosecutors as “a criminal match-fixer extraordinaire” was sentenced to four years in jail for conspiring to rig a match in the recent Southeast Asian Games.

Rajendran R. Kurusamy, 55, pleaded guilty to bribing the manager and players of East Timor’s under-23 football team to lose a preliminary match against Malaysia scheduled for May 30 in Singapore, which hosted the games.

In 2013 police arrested Dan Tan, the notorious alleged mastermind of a global match-fixing ring linked to hundreds of rigged football games worldwide.

He is still being held under a law, usually applied to members of criminal gangs, which allows for detention without trial.

Singaporean businessman Eric Ding is serving a five-year jail sentence for providing prostitutes to Lebanese football referees to try to influence international matches in April 2013.

Experts have said that easy international transport, a passport accepted around the world and fluency in English and Mandarin have helped Singaporean fixers spread their influence – with the support of external investors, most believed to be from China.

October 02, 2015

partypoker Set to Make Changes to Level the Playing Field

The debate on whether third-party software should be allowed is almost as old as online poker itself. Players tend to be in one of two camps: (1) Third-party software should be allowed or (2) third-party software should be banned. There tends to be no middle ground on this subject.

Over the coming weeks, partypoker is taking steps to prevent players from using third-party software with a trio of changes to the partypoker client in a move that it believes will level the playing field for all partypoker players regardless of their skill levels.

In short, the changes taking place are:

  • Players will be able to view the last 12 months of their own hand histories within the Missions icon in the partypoker software, but hand histories will no longer be able to be downloaded and saved to their local devices
  • Players wishing to wait for a cash game will join the room-wide waiting list and be randomly seated when a seat that matches their preference becomes available
  • Players joining a cash game will see the names of their opponents only once their first hand is dealt

These changes will stop players from using poker tracking software and their associated Heads Up Displays (HUD), prevent players from sharing hand history databases and halt the use of seating scripts that some players use to target lesser-skilled players by automatically seating them in what is commonly referred to as the “God seat.”

Tony Dunst, a World Poker Tour champion and partypoker Ambassador, believes the upcoming changes will benefit both recreational players and professionals alike by preserving the quality of the games.

These changes at partypoker are designed to create a more hospitable environment for recreational players. Unfortunately, many of the tools and tactics that professionals use to maximize their edge have made the games too difficult for new players to survive. Without them, grinders will merely pass money back and forth while being raked, and games will inevitably dry up. I think these changes will help level the playing field for casual players, and preserve the quality of games for professionals.

”It is our duty as an online poker operator to provide a level playing field”

We put it to partypoker’s Head of Poker BI and Network Operations, Jay Kanabar that the upcoming changes to the partypker software may be seen radical to some section of the poker community, but Kanabar disagrees.

“To be honest, I don’t think there are radical changes, we are just doing our duty as an online poker operator to provide a level playing field and ensure that we strive to provide the fairest and most ethical environment for all poker players to enjoy the game that we all love.”

According to Kanabar, discussions about the changes have taken place over a 12-month period, during which time consultations with different sectors of the poker community have been had and analysis done on a plethora of statistics before reaching the decision to make the technical changes necessary to implement the aforementioned changes to the partypoker client.

Both Unibet Poker and Sky Poker prohibit the use of HUDs, with Unibet Poker taking things one step further by allowing players to change their screen name. Some sites, such as those on the MPN (formerly Microgaming), have tables where players remain anonymous throughout their session, but this last feature is not something that partypoker considered.

“I think it would be a real shame if online poker had to become completely anonymous, it wouldn’t be much fun to enter a WPT with everyone playing blindfolded. Our Poker for the People mission is about developing the partypoker community where players can play online and meet each other face to face at our live events. I think this is really important so I don’t feel that repetitive changing of screen names is good for partypoker or our players. I actually think this would be a defeatist solution and somewhat the easy way out.”

Comparisons will be drawn to the recent changes at Full Tilt where players can no longer select which tables they sit at, instead they choose which stakes they want to play for and are seated at a randomly selected seat.

Cash game traffic dropped significantly shortly after Full Tilt implemented its recent changes, something that Kanabar and his team are aware of, but believe that the changes set to come into force will benefit the site and its players in the long term.

“I think the changes we are making are more fundamental that other operators have so far implemented. We are not jumping on the recreational player bandwagon, we are making these changes to benefit all poker players and of course, we hope that partypoker will also benefit in the long term by making sensible, fair and balanced changes although it’s possible we could experience a drop but we want to be brave and not sit on the fence. If I walked into the Bellagio Poker Room in Las Vegas, I could not ask the Card Room Manager, “Who are your worst players? Can you lock me a seat up to the left of one of them? Where do I get the printout of all the hands everyone here has played over the last 6 months? When my juicy seat comes free can you give me a shout, I’m just nipping into Bobby’s Room to take some notes on the hands being played in there!”
Kanabar admits he has no issue with players who like to use third party software, but has received “overwhelming feedback from players that they would prefer not to use this software but are forced to because they would be at a disadvantage against the players that are deploying it against them.”

Players who are worried about their opponents trying to bypass these changes can rest assured that Kanabar and his team have thought of everything possible and steps are in place to prevent those players attempting to gain an advantage over others.

“We have made sure that we all our homework has been done before pushing the go button and delivering these improvements.”

October 01, 2015

Sky Bet moves into eSports with Betgenius

Sky Bet has become the latest bookmaker to get into eSports after launching a full eSports betting service including both pre-match and live betting through its partnership with Betgenius.

According to the recent report by Eilers Research, there are currently 2.3m eSports viewers, which is expected to rise to 19.5m by 2020. The report further claims that the current eSports betting market pulls in revenues of USD$24 million and that by 2020 this will reach USD$1.81 billion worldwide.

Ben Wright, Head of Sports Trading at Sky Betting & Gaming, said: “The eSports sector is such a fast growing market that we see great potential in this new offering. Our partnership with Betgenius and the new opportunities it provides for our customers is a key part of our vision of making betting better.”

Mark Locke, CEO of Betgenius, added: “Sky Betting & Gaming has been a critical partner in our journey to success, and the launch of their eSports product through Betgenius’ technology solidifies our long standing partnership. We are looking forward to what will be a very exciting time for both teams and carving out another profitable revenue stream.”

PokerStars back in the US - NJ Regulator approves Amaya Gaming

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has granted Amaya Gaming the right to offer online poker in the state with its brands PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker after some two years of trying to enter the fledgling internet business in New Jersey.

Amaya which will link up with Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City to offer online poker to state residents is seen as a positive to boost the sector there.

With PokerStars entering the US again with its 95 million registered users many observers say it will reshape the state’s fledgling online betting industry which has 17 websites currently offering online gambling.

Now with the world’s largest online poker operator allowed back it is expected to boost revenues in the state which had $122 million in revenues last year, and for the first eight months of this year brought in $96.7 million, an increase of 15.6% over the same period a year ago.

Amaya’s chairman, David Baazov, said he was pleased to add New Jersey to the list of regulated markets that have found PokerStars and Full Tilt suitable to offer real-money online gambling.

“We look forward to bringing our popular brands, innovative technology, marketing prowess and world-class security and game integrity to the growing New Jersey online gaming market,” he said.

The Division of Gaming Enforcement confirmed Wednesday it had issued waivers to six Amaya subsidiaries to operate PokerStars, the world’s biggest poker website, and Full Tilt in New Jersey through a partnership with Resorts Digital. Resorts president Mark Giannantonio said he didn’t know when the sites planned to go live.

PokerStars left the US online gambling sector back in 2011 and with the entry back into New Jersey many expect the company to apply for any state that legalises online gaming in the future.