Category Archives: Business

Tabcorp raises bet on online lottery reseller Jumbo Interactive


Australia’s largest betting operator Tabcorp Holdings has increased its stake in online lottery reseller Jumbo Interactive Limited, further cementing the commercial relationship between them.

Tabcorp raises bet in online lottery reseller Jumbo InteractiveIn a disclosure to the Australia Stock Exchange, Tabcorp said it bought approximately 3.5 million Jumbo shares at an excise price of AUD2.37 (US$1.75) per share, for a total of AUD8.3 million ($6.08 million). The sale was made through Tabcorp’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Tatts Online Pty. Ltd.

The Aussie wagering operator also sold approximately 2.9 million Jumbo shares worth AUD6.9 million ($5.09 million) to a group of institutional investors in conjunction with the exercise of the option with the operator of Oz Lotteries site. Despite this move, Tabcorp’s stake in Jumbo still grew to 12.49 percent. As of July 3, Tabcorp’s shareholding in Jumbo has increased from 6.6 million shares to approximately 7.2 million shares.

“Tabcorp regards its holding in Jumbo as strategically important. Tabcorp has no current intention to sell any remaining shareholding in Jumbo,” the company said in a statement.

The relationship between Jumbo and Tabcorp started in May 2017 when Tatts Group Limited inked a long term extension and expansion agreement with the online lottery reseller. The AUD15.66 million ($11.56 million) initial investment of Tatts was used by Jumbo to fund or supplement additional growth or business investment opportunities; strategic acquisition opportunities; and expansion opportunities to accelerate its growing charity lottery business.

In its recent trading update, Jumbo expressed optimism that its net profit after tax (NPAT) may grow 45 percent to AUD11.3 million ($8.34 million) in FY 2018 from AUD7.6 million ($5.61 million) in the previous financial year.

The company’s total transactional value may also rise 25 percent to AUD182 million ($134.36 million) in FY 2018, while growth in its active customer base is expected to lift Jumbo’s FY2018 revenue by 15 percent to AUD37.3 million ($27.54 million).

Jumbo Interactive founder and CEO Mike Veverka attributed the company’s optimism to the “continual improvements in marketing that have engaged existing customers as well as acquiring new customers.”

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Deep Dive into Slovakia: How iGaming sites can build traffic (Part 2)


This is a guest contribution by Ivana Flynn, a Malta-based SEO Consultant. If you would like to submit a contribution please contact Bill Beatty for submission details. Thank you. 

Our deep-dive into the Slovak market takes a closer look at the reality on the ground and how you can profit from it.

Deep Dive into Slovakia: How iGaming sites can build traffic (Part 2)In Part 1 of Deep Dive into Slovakia, we discussed the reality on the ground and how iGaming operators and affiliates can profit from it. Now let’s look at how the typical marketing strategies employed by iGaming firms can be applied to Slovakia. 

Marketing strategies for operators and affiliates who want to apply for licence

If the laws do get changed, and you apply and receive a licence, then you will have access to the standard advantages.

These are:

The possibility to use Google Adwords PPC campaigns. I have found one of the top affiliates which is using Adwords on google.sk, and they seem to have complete control of this market right now. There are a lot of big keywords which they don’t even try to cover, so PPC could be worth exploring.

Greater advertising choices. Most of the big local sites use display advertising, and you must negotiate with the site directly (not with a network). If you can show you have a licence, then you will have a better chance of being accepted, as the site won’t have to worry about any advertising fines. Similarly, a lot of the big native and display advertising networks do accept gambling adverts but often want to see a local licence before accepting them.

Marketing strategies for operators who don’t want/can’t wait to get a Slovak licence

With so many international operators seeming not to care about the potential fines, and Slovak ISPs and banks seemingly not blocking sites or payments, there will be a temptation for operators (and affiliates) to not bother waiting for a licence. This is especially likely with a proposed tax on revenue of 23% and considering the unstable political climate.

For those in this position, here are some strategies to gain a share of the Slovak market.

SEO

No good strategy in a market like Slovakia would be complete without some good old-fashioned SEO.

Aside from building quality on-site content in the Slovak language, operators and new affiliates would obviously need to build links from quality local sites to their pages, to challenge the top spots.

Acquiring links from existing Slovak sites might be difficult, because of the potential €250,000 fine that the site owner might face. Foreign operators in Malta might not feel threatened by such fines, but a small amateur site owner in Bratislava is likely to take these threats very seriously. The situation for link-building in Slovakia is likely to be very similar to the one in Finland right now.

Slovakia therefore looks like the kind of market where you may need to run a quality Private Blog Network (PBN) to build rankings.

A potential PBN strategy for Slovakia

I would recommend a multi-tier structure, with the bottom tier being made up of expired .sk domains with positive metrics.

The content on these sites should be recreated as much as possible using the waybackmachine downloader tool. A new landing page would then be created with casino content in Slovak, and a link from that page to the upper tier sites.

These upper tier sites would be made up of expired .com or .eu domains, with positive metrics. The content would be changed to iGaming content in the Slovak language, with links to the money sites.

This mix would protect against the .sk sites being confiscated by Slovak authorities at any future stage, while still allowing for some local TLDs.

.sk domains no longer require to be registered to a Slovak business address, but anonymous ownership is not allowed, although some registrars will allow you to use their details. You can buy expired .sk domains at Webhouse.

Top keywords for your SEO strategy

Keyword research of the Slovak market shows that poker is still a popular subject in the country, as is roulette.

The data below is pulled from SEMRush and Google Trends, and shows the following suggested keywords to focus on (where available, monthly search volume is given).

Kasino: 1000
Poker Online: 880
Ruleta: 1000
Ruleta online: 210
Poker: 14800
Online Ruleta: 20
Kasino online: n/a
Hracie automaty: 15 – 100
Hracie automaty online: 0- 100
Online kasino: n/a
Hraj v online kasine: n/a
Online kasina: n/a
Hraj online: n/a
Stavky online: n/a
Online stavky: n/a
Stavkuj online: n/a
Online stavkovanie: 0 – 90
Vyhraj v online kasine: n/a
Ako vyhrat v online kasine: n/a

Right now, the top keywords seem to be mostly informational in nature, reflecting the newness of the Slovak market. The user intent seems to be about learning more about how to bet online, and not about which is the best casino.

Building landing pages with content focusing on satisfying these user intents seems to be the way to go for now. It might not convert immediately, but building trust is an important step at the top of any sales funnel.

Social media

Deep Dive into Slovakia: How iGaming sites can build traffic (Part 2)There’s no surprise about who dominates the social network scene in Slovakia, with Facebook and Instagram both the most prominent.

Facebook’s targeting tools are second-to-none, but they require a big advertising spend before they will allow you to run gambling ads. In a small country like Slovakia, it probably isn’t going to be worth it.

However, gambling fan pages that aren’t too pushy should work well.

I see three basic ways of getting traffic from social media in Slovakia:

– Find a local influencer on FB or Instagram and get him or her to endorse your brand
– Start a FB group where people can swap tips, bonus offers etc.
– Start an Instagram account and send out a mix of funny gambling-related pictures/quotes, and offers such as welcome bonuses

Partner with existing Affiliates

Operators looking to gain a quick foothold in the Slovak market will naturally turn to the affiliates who are dominating the google.sk SERPs.

The current reluctance for these affiliates to partner with licenced local operators means there could be room for some negotiations.

Use Adwords even if you don’t have a licence

I have heard that some clever PPC ninjas use cloaking to display adverts in countries where they don’t have a licence. It sounds really risky to me, but if you have plenty of accounts that you don’t mind sacrificing, and don’t put landing pages directly on the money sites, then it might work.

Display

This form of banner advertising dominates the top local sites. Most of the big media sites will probably turn down gambling content because of the fear of fines.

That said, I know that one of the big names on the blacklist uses display advertising on one of the top 50 sites in Slovakia. I won’t name names, to protect both parties, but this shows it is possible.

Adult

Several of the top 50 sites are adult-themed and are part of the Trafficjunky network. The targeting options on Trafficjunky are excellent, allowing you to target even to the city level.

This could be useful in a diverse country like Slovakia. For example, Google Trends data shows that the hracie automaty (online slots) keyword is much more popular in the east of the country than the west. Similarly, you can target by gender, so you could perhaps offer games popular with women on the ‘female-friendly’ adult niche.

If you want to try the adult channel, you should know that visitors who are there for the free content tend to have low conversion rates. That could be a problem on a CPM model (as Trafficjunky is) as you might have to burn through a lot of cash to see results.

However, premium adult subscribers tend to convert a lot better, and Trafficjunky have several sites which offer these customers, making this network the perfect place to experiment.

Native

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years, you probably have been exposed to native advertising.

In contrast to display ad banners which leave no doubt they have a commercial intent; native ads aim to blend in with other articles on a site. Here’s an example of native advertising from the Times of Malta recently, alongside some classic display banners.

This form of advertising has become very popular in the English-speaking markets in recent years, especially on informational websites like online news, forums and other places where users come to consume information. However, it’s pretty new in Slovakia and not many publishers have signed up with the big networks (yet).

Native works well for binary options and other such financial niches. People are always on the lookout to make some money, and if you can create native adverts which claim to spill the secrets that the casinos don’t want you to know about, then this could be the perfect way to tap into the Slovak customer’s hunger for information.

The MGID ad network allows gambling content, and doesn’t specifically prohibit it in Slovakia, but you should check with them before trying this out.

TL; DR: What you need to keep in mind about iGaming in Slovakia

Slovakia has a lot of potential for the right operator or affiliate seeking to expand into a new market where customers are still in the information-gathering stage.

Anybody thinking of entering the Slovak iGaming market will need to be flexible to deal with unstable and unreliable laws and regulations. Don’t be scared off by media reports on the potential sanctions for not having a licence—keep a pragmatic and realistic view of how you can reach Slovak customers.


Ivana Flynn is a Malta-based SEO Consultant dedicated to helping iGaming operators and affiliates improve their organic search rankings. Her biggest professional passion is using SEO to break into new and tricky markets. In her spare time, she bakes, works out and plays with her cats.

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Scientific Games continues hiring spree with new Chief Commercial Officer


Scientific Games continues hiring spree with new Chief Commercial OfficerScientific Games (SG) is barreling forward with its plans to take over the world. Recent announcements brought news of two new members to the team—Doug Albregts as the Executive VP and Group CEO for its Gaming Division, Tim Butcher in the executive VP and chief product officer role across all of the company’s divisions and Nikos Konstakis as the VP of the company’s new sportsbook. SG has added yet another veteran to the fray, picking up Steve Schrier to be the chief commercial officer of the firm’s digital division.

Schrier has been involved in a variety of senior sales roles for the past two decades, covering different aspects of technology, gaming and products. He is joining SG following a successful stint as the VP of sales for Playtech Plc. His appointment will begin in July of this year, and he will report to SG’s CEO, Jason Walbridge, in SG Digital’s office in London.

In a statement, the company said, “In his role, Mr Schrier will establish world-class customer partnerships and be responsible for all account management and business development across SG Digital.” SG Digital CEO Matt Davey said, “Steve’s appointment marks the elevation of our customer engagement strategy… to cement SG Digital… as a global digital gaming powerhouse.”

In no small part a result of the recent reversal of the U.S. Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), Schrier pointed out that the digital gaming industry “continues to go through a rapid period of transformation and SG Digital is advancing on all fronts under Scientific Games’ leadership.” He added that he and his team will be concentrating their efforts on creating “world-class” partnerships while providing unparalleled customer engagement.

SG created its SG Digital arm in February to enhance its digital presence. The new unit incorporates the company’s existing portfolio with those of NYX Gaming Group, a sports betting company it acquired in January.

SG Corporation is a publicly traded company on NASDAQ under the symbol SGMS. It is the world leader of gaming entertainment and is ranked first in technology-based gaming systems. It also offers a variety of digital real-money gaming and sports betting platforms, as well as casino table and lottery games. It has net income of more than $1.3 billion and revenue of over $2.8 billion.

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New Jersey online gambling market has second-best month


new-jersey-online-gambling-borgata-live-dealer-casinoNew Jersey’s regulated online gambling market had its second highest revenue month in April, despite online poker’s perpetual inability to grow.

Figures released Monday by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) show the state’s licensed online gambling operators generated combined revenue of $23m in April, a 10.6% improvement over the same month last year but below the record $25.6m set in March 2018.

In what has become a familiar refrain, the online casino vertical did all the heavy lifting, with revenue rising 12.7% year-on-year to $21.25m, while the online poker vertical continued its one-way ticket to Palookaville by falling 10.5% to $1.76m.

The Golden Nugget’s family of online casino sites – GoldenNuggetCasino.com, BetfairCasino.com and PlaySugarHouse.com – saw its revenue slip slightly from March’s record $8.65m but the $8.13m earned in April was still sufficient to claim top honors for the month.

The Borgata family of sites ranked second with just under $4.6m, of which $514k came from online poker. The Borgata’s online casino sites soft-launched their new live dealer casino games towards the end of the month, joining the Nugget, which became the first New Jersey operator to launch a live casino offering way back in August 2016.

Resorts Digital Gaming, whose operations include PokerStarsNJ.com and MoheganSunCasino.com, placed third with just over $3.6m, of which nearly $800k came via poker.

Caesars Interactive Entertainment New Jersey ranked fourth with $3.5m, to which poker contributed a mere $449k. The Tropicana’s casino-only site brought up the revenue rear with $3.17m in April.

The April numbers will likely get lost in the day’s far more eventful development, namely, New Jersey’s sports betting victory at the US Supreme Court. It seems a no-brainer to imagine that the state’s licensed online operators will be chomping at the bit to add sports wagering to their list of gambling products but they’ll have to wait for the DGE and state legislators to give them the all-clear.

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Dutch court: sports bet monopoly good, lottery monopoly bad


dutch-court-sports-betting-monopolyThe Netherlands’ highest administrative court says the government has to rethink its lottery monopoly, but monopolies on sports betting and lottery scratch cards can continue to exist.

In 1964, the Netherlands granted Lotto BV (now Nederlandse Loterij) monopolies over lotteries, scratch cards and sports betting, based on the Gaming Act approved that year. When these licenses expired on December 31, 2014, the Kansspelautoriteit (KSA) regulatory body automatically renewed them without granting other companies the opportunity to bid for the right to offer these services.

A number of international gambling firms, including Betclic, Betfair and Unibet, along with the European Gaming & Betting Association, challenged the renewal and won lower court victories, only to have the KSA appeal the verdicts.

On Wednesday, the Administrative Law Division of the Council of State upheld the sports betting and scratch card monopolies but ordered the KSA to rethink its decision to renew Lotto BV’s numerical lottery monopoly.

The Council of State declared that, while the sports and scratch monopolies undoubtedly ran contrary to European Union trade rules governing the free movement of services, they were nonetheless justified due to EU loopholes for monopolies that claim to be protecting consumers, combating illegality and minimizing gambling addiction.

However, the Council of State said it saw no difference in the likelihood of someone becoming addicted to Lotto BV’s lottery products versus the traditional draws offered by the country’s six licensed charity lottery operators. The KSA will now have to open a tender for lottery rights or come up with some other reason to justify Lotto BV’s most favored nation status.

It’s worth noting that Lotto BV’s ongoing sports betting monopoly applies only to land-based betting. Online sports betting licenses are expected to be open to multiple companies once the Dutch senate okays the Remote Gaming Bill, which was approved by the legislature’s lower chamber nearly two years ago but has been languishing in legislative purgatory ever since.

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Poll: Americans want states, not feds, to control sports betting


sports-betting-poll-state-control-legal-wageringAmericans want individual states to control legal sports betting, not the federal government, according to a new poll.

On Thursday, the latest Seton Hall Sports Poll revealed that 62% of respondents believe state governments should be overseeing legal sports betting activity if the Supreme Court overturns the longtime federal betting ban, compared to just 27% who want federal oversight.

The poll, which was conducted this week with 736 randomly selected adults, found that 55% of respondents favor legalized betting versus just 35% who are opposed. The numbers match a Washington Post-University of Massachusetts Lowell poll last September that found 55% support and 33% opposition.

Far more men (63%) than women (47%) in the new Seton Hall poll looked favorably upon legal wagering, and support was also highly dependent on age, with 68% support among those aged 18-29 years compared to just 37% of those aged 60 or over. Those who failed to finish high school were also far more likely to support (71%) legal wagering than those with post-graduate degrees (39%).

The NCAA has been fighting New Jersey’s efforts to authorize legal wagering and, should the Supreme Court overturn the federal prohibition, the NCAA will likely continue to fight for a carveout that bans wagering on college athletics. But 49% of the Seton Hall respondents believe college sports should be fair game for wagering versus just 36% who want college games off the board.

When it comes to the faux controversy over the alleged impact that legal wagering will have on the integrity of sports contests, a plurality (48%) of respondents felt integrity will be negatively impacted compared to 42% of those who said the opposite.

That negative view was echoed in a 2017 Seton Hall poll regarding the NFL’s Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas, which found 46% of respondents believed the relocation would “increase the likelihood of players, referees or team officials gambling on the outcome of games.”

Incredibly, one-third of those who favor legal wagering believe it will negatively impact the sports. Poll director Rick Gentile described this contradiction as “outrageous … It comes close to saying ‘We don’t care about the legitimacy of the games, what matters is being able to bet on them.’” God bless you, ‘Murica… You rarely disappoint.

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Spanish online gambling and betting market poised to hit $1.22B by 2023


Online gambling and betting businesses in Spain are on track to becoming a billion-dollar industry, according to forecasts.

An AFP report quoted consultancy firm Ficom Leisure, which said that Spain is now “on the radar of the international market” as it predicts the market’s annual online gambling and betting revenue to hit €1 billion (US$1.22 billion) to €1.5 billion ($1.84 billion) in the next three to five years.

Spanish online gambling and betting market poised to hit $1.22B by 2023Ficom anchored its analysis on Spain’s 2017 online figures, with sports and casino gross gaming revenues jumping to €560 million ($687 million). Ficom senior partner Christian Tirabassi told the news outlet that, unlike other European markets, Spain still has plenty of room for growth.

Sports betting and gaming company Optima Chief Executive Jacob Lopez Curciel agreed with Tirabassi, saying that Spain remains unsaturated compared to other countries.

The only concern that Curciel had in Spain was the country’s penchant for new regulations. He pointed out that too much regulation will make the market more expensive for betting operators.

However, Spain’s Congress of Deputies, the lower house of its parliament, has just proposed cutting taxes on online fixed-odds sports betting, exchange betting and fixed-odds horseracing revenue from the current rate of 25% to 20%. The proposal, which is intended to make the market more attractive to operators who have yet to acquire a Spanish license, has a ways to go before it becomes law, but would offer a significant boost to operators’ bottom lines.

Optima’s Curciel suggested that Spain-based operators should include horse racing in their offerings, saying, “At the moment for Spanish players the sports they bet on are football, basketball and tennis but I think horse racing is growing, quite fast actually, and it is a product that has to be there.”

“There could be some consolidation such as multimedia products and between retail and online,” Curciel told AFP. “The operators and suppliers of technology for racing are producing streaming and will work very well for Spanish players.”

For Mikel Lopez de Torre, chairman of Spanish online gambling trade body Jdigital, the Spanish online gaming and betting market is ripe for consolidation as it matures in the coming years.

“It is hard to see how we can make room for 12 more brands without seeing any consolidation beginning with those at the bottom of the pyramid and that has to start in the next five years,” de Torre said.

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PokerStars, GVC, Paddy Power Betfair join US casino lobby


american-gaming-association-pokerstars-stars-groupAmerica’s top casino lobby group has welcomed six new members, including a company the group once called “a business built on deceit, chicanery and the systematic flouting of US law.”

On Thursday, the American Gaming Association (AGA) announced that it had added six new companies as Board-level members, including BMM Testlabs, Oklahoma-based tribal casino operator Choctaw Casinos and Resorts, Nevada’s Golden Entertainment, UK-listed operators GVC Holdings and Paddy Power Betfair, as well as The Stars Group, parent company of PokerStars.

AGA president/CEO Geoff Freeman said the newly “diverse membership reflects the interest of the casino gaming industry.” Freeman said the addition of these six “industry leaders” would allow the AGA to better serve as “an effective advocate for the industry as a whole.”

The AGA announcement is proof that, if you wait long enough, the world eventually turns on its head. In 2013, the AGA actively campaigned against PokerStars being issued a New Jersey online gambling license, marking the first time the lobby group had ever felt the need to intervene in a licensing process.

Stars, then under its original ownership, had sought to participate in New Jersey’s regulated online market after reaching a $731m settlement with the US Department of Justice to resolve its civil liabilities stemming from the 2011 ‘Black Friday’ online poker indictments.

That settlement stated that the DOJ saw no legal reason why Stars should be excluded from future participation in US regulated markets. But the AGA insisted at the time that the settlement hadn’t “altered in any way” the rank odor of criminality wafting off the Stars brand.

To be fair, the AGA was then under the command of Frank Fahrenkopf, who handed the reins of power to Freeman just one month after making those pejorative comments toward Stars. But it does vividly illustrate how much the US gambling landscape has changed since those days.

PokerStars did eventually get licensed in New Jersey (as did GVC Holdings’ PartyPoker brand) and the AGA has since reversed itself on a number of other positions, including its recent support for overturning the federal ban on single-game sports betting outside Nevada.

The AGA’s welcoming of online gambling operators into the fold will almost certainly revive concerns that Las Vegas Sands will withdraw its membership from the AGA. Sands boss Sheldon Adelson, who hates online gambling the way Donald Trump’s hair hates gusts of wind, previously threatened to withdraw his financial suppport unless the AGA reversed its position advocating for online legalization, which prompted the AGA to knuckle under.

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Betfair Australasia begs Aussie states for tax relief


betfair-australasia-tax-relief-pleaBetfair Australasia is warning Australian state governments that their plans to impose online betting point of consumption taxes (POCT) are going to blow up in their faces.

On Friday, the Brisbane Times disclosed the existence of a report prepared by the Betfair Australasia betting exchange urging the state governments in South Australia and Western Australia to rethink their decision to impose a 15% tax on all online wagers placed by their states’ residents.

South Australia began collecting its POCT last July, while Western Australia’s new tax is set to take effect on January 1, 2019. Australia’s federal government is also mulling imposing a national POCT in order to harmonize the country’s online taxation system.

Betfair Australasia, which is owned by casino operator Crown Resorts and licensed in the Northern Territory, warned the states that the tax hikes would force it to hike its own commission fees, which will cause “leakage” of its customers to internationally licensed online gambling sites that aren’t subject to the states’ tax grab.

Betfair CEO Tim Moore-Barton claimed to have endured numerous instances of high-volume bettors who shifted their action off his site in response to previous fee increases and in search of better value for their wagering dollar.

Moore-Barton further claimed that this leakage will not only reduce his company’s revenue – which will in turn reduce both the states’ tax take and contributions to racing bodies – but will also create an integrity “black hole” through the inability of state gaming regulators to monitor real-time betting data for suspicious patterns.

As ever, the Philippine-licensed CITIbet betting exchange was singled out in the report as the most likely beneficiary of customers forced off Betfair by fee hikes. CITIbet is often cited as the bête noire of Australian betting operators and racing stakeholders.

Other NT-licensed Australian online wagering sites will also struggle under the weight of the new taxes, possibly leading to a wave of down under consolidation. William Hill recently put its Australian operations under review, citing the POCT as well as new restrictions on both online in-play and credit betting.

Betfair Australasia’s future is marked by other uncertainties, including how long its owner Crown intends to keep it in the fold. In December, Crown announced it was selling its 62% stake in the CrownBet online betting site, part of Crown’s ongoing effort to reduce the scope of its operations to just its domestic resorts.

The CrownBet sale reduced Crown’s digital division to just Betfair and a Texas-based social gaming operation, neither of which seems to qualify as a land-based casino.

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Saudi Arabia to host first card-playing contest for cash prizes


saudi-arabia-card-contest-cash-prizesSaudi Arabians are simultaneously celebrating and bemoaning their government’s decision to hold the deeply conservative country’s first national card-playing tournament for cash prizes.

Last Thursday, the official Twitter feed of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority (GSA) announced that the country would hold its first card-playing national competition for cash prizes from April 4-8 at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in the nation’s capital Riyadh.

The contest, which will be overseen by the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports, will be centered around Baloot, a wildly popular local trick card game with similarities to the French game Belote. Baloot is also available on multiple Android and iOS mobile apps, some of which are among the top game apps in Saudi Arabia.

The top four finishers of the contest will share a total prize purse of SR1m (US$270k), half of which will go to the overall winner. Many observers expressed surprise at the amount of the prizes, given the lack of precedent for the contest.

Predictably, news of the tournament has delighted the nation’s Baloot fans while enraging social conservatives, some of whom view even the game of chess as a waste of time that promotes forbidden gambling activity.

Those conservatives should brace themselves for even greater outrage, as one veteran Baloot player told Arab News that he expects women to take part in the contest. Assuming that’s allowed, it would mark another bold step forward for Saudi women, who will finally be allowed to drive cars starting this June.

The end to the female driving ban is part of crown prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program, which aims to reshape the national economy to create a more modern and secular country. Just this weekend, the government announced that women would be allowed to start their own businesses without the permission of a male guardian.

It remains to be seen whether the prince is pushing too hard on the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Many of the Twitter comments criticizing the Baloot contest half-joked that it wouldn’t be long before Riyadh started to resemble another desert city – Las Vegas – through the addition of casino gambling.

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