Category Archives: Business

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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Delaware’s iGaming suffers double-digit decline in 2017


delaware-igaming-declineDelaware’s regulated online gambling market suffered a double-digit decline in 2017, reversing 2016’s double-digit gains.

Official figures filed by the Delaware Lottery show the state’s three gaming operators licensed to take online casino and poker action – Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway – earned combined online gambling revenue of just under $2.4m in 2017, down 18% from 2016’s total.

The state’s annual revenue is essentially a rounding error for many gambling markets, but such is the glacial state of US online gambling legalization that there are still only three active intrastate markets, so it is worth mentioning, if only to provide counterweight to New Jersey’s 2017 haul of $245m.

Video lottery games (slots to the rest of us) provided the bulk of the year’s iGaming revenue, but its $1.57m revenue was 10% below 2016’s $1.75m slots total. It was a similarly sad story for table games, which earned just under $559k last year, down 28% from $777k in 2016.

Leave it to poker to grab the most garish headline. Annual poker revenue hit a whopping $231k in 2017, down 38% from 2016’s $376k, possibly because one of the state’s 15 active players lost his phone or something. Bottom line, those plans to pool liquidity between New Jersey’s much larger (but similarly struggling) online poker sites and those of Delaware and Nevada can’t come soon enough.

Delaware launched its intrastate online gambling market in 2013, and while its population of less than 1m meant it was never going to produce mind-boggling revenue numbers, it at least appeared to be heading in the right direction. For instance, the 2016 annual haul was 62% higher than 2015’s result and represented a new record for the state.

The Delaware Lottery isn’t scheduled to release its final sports lottery numbers – which essentially dovetail with National Football League activity – until next month. However, the comparable figures available for the first three months of each season indicate that the state is well on its way toward exceeding last year’s total. Always leave on a high note, as they say.

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Kenyan betting operators lose court challenge of new 35% tax


kenya-betting-tax-challenge-dismissedKenya’s betting operators will have to face their new 35% tax obligations after a court dismissed a challenge of the government’s tax hike.

Kenya’s government approved a new uniform 35% tax on all gambling products this summer, despite protests from operators that the new rate made their businesses unviable. The new rate, which kicks in on January 1, 2018, marks a significant rise over the existing rates, which for betting operators had been a mere 7.5%.

In October, the Pambazuka National Lottery filed a lawsuit alleging that the tax hike was unconstitutional., given that parliament approved the hike as an item in the national budget, rather than subjecting standalone legislation to greater public scrutiny.

The suit also accused President Uhuru Kenyatta of exceeding his authority in signing the legislation, and argued that the tax imposed an unreasonable and excessive burden on the industry.

On Thursday, Kenya’s High Court rejected the challenge, saying it was within the National Assembly’s authority to approve the budget without the Senate’s involvement. The Court similarly ruled that Kenyatta had acted according to the law and that the challengers had failed to prove that the new tax lacks a public purpose.

The government justified its tax hike as a means to deter youth from getting involved in gambling. Kenyan-licensed operators countered that the new tax will ultimately be passed onto bettors, who will then transfer their betting activity to internationally licensed betting operators, thereby decreasing the government’s share of betting revenue and eliminating the government’s ability to oversee betting activity.

Justice John Mativo described taxation as “a way of apportioning the cost of government among those who in some measure are privileged to enjoy its benefits hence must bear its burdens … its imposition does not necessarily infringe on the citizens’ rights unless it is demonstrated to be outrightly arbitrary and unconstitutional.”

The Court also chided the appellants for failing to disclose that the law was the subject of a separate challenge. SportPesa filed the first lawsuit against the law in October, one week before the PNL suit.

While the suits were later consolidated into a single proceeding, Mativo claimed the “multiplicity of actions on the same matter between the same parties” was “regarded as an abuse,” since the parties “had a duty to bring such information to the court so as to help it avoid rendering conflicting decisions on the same subject.”

SportPesa is Kenya’s leading betting operator and a major financial supporter of local sports teams and associations. The company previously warned that it would be compelled to significantly reduce its sponsorship budget if the new tax was imposed. SportPesa also threatened to scrap its entire Kenyan operations if the tax went through, although it later walked back these threats. The company has yet to publicly comment on the ruling.

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Delaware silently preparing for US sports betting D-day


Aside from New Jersey, other states are gearing up to cash in on legalized sports betting, assuming the U.S. Supreme Court decides to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Professional Act of 1992 (PASPA).

Delaware silently preparing for US sports betting D-dayDelaware is preparing to roll out its professional and out-of-state college sports betting offerings should the high court decide in favor of New Jersey’s petition, Delaware Online reported.

State Finance Director Rick Geisenberger said Delaware may be able to introduce single-game betting on professional sports within weeks after the Supreme Court issued its ruling, which could come as early as June.

At the moment, Delaware’s offerings are limited to parlays or multi-game betting on football.

“If we can get to market faster than some of our neighbors there could be some real upside,” Geisenberger said, according to the news outlet. “We’re working to roll it out as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, state lottery director Vernon Kirk said the tentative plan of the Delaware Gov. John Carney’s administration is to initially confine betting on NFL, NBA, NHL, major league baseball and out-of-state college sports teams to the state’s three casinos.

Unlike New Jersey, Delaware doesn’t need legislative action to begin offering sports betting since the state is one of the four states exempted from the 1992 nationwide ban on sports gambling.

Kirk, however, said they will let their lawyers have a second look at the law even though they believe that the state “doesn’t need to return to the [General Assembly to institute full scale sports betting].”

If the Carney administration’s plan pushes through, sports betting will provide a much needed financial boost to the struggling Delaware Park, Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, and Harrington Raceway, according to the report.

New Jersey wants to allow sports gambling at its casinos and race tracks, and to collect taxes from it. At least 10 other states say they’re ready to allow sports betting if New Jersey wins.

The push for legal sports betting in the United States received a boost during an early December hearing after a majority of the Supreme Court justices appeared to agree with New Jersey that PASPA violates the U.S. Constitution’s protection of state’s rights.

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Brazil senate committee delays gambling vote (again)


brazil-online-gambling-legislation-delayBrazil’s agonizingly slow path to liberalizing its gambling market took yet another detour to Tardy Town this week, but politicians promised that forward progress is just around the corner.

On Wednesday, the Constitutionality and Justice Committee (CCJ) was scheduled to vote on PLS 186/2014, the Senate’s version of the perennially delayed gambling legislation that has been trying to drag Brazil’s market into the 21st century for several years now.

However, in the days before Wednesday’s vote, several senators put forward controversial new amendments, including one that would require gaming operators to enter into partnerships in which local companies would hold at least a 30% stake, while another amendment proposed a blanket 30% tax on all land-based and online gambling revenue.

Thankfully, neither of those amendments appear to have been incorporated into the bill, although the CCJ did agree to include a prohibition on slots and video bingo machines outside of casinos, while also handing control of the jogos do bicho (animal game lottery) to the federal government rather than the individual states.

Due to the revisions to the legislation, the CCJ postponed its vote on PLS 186/2014 due to the need to hold a hearing to discuss the amended text. The CCJ now intends to vote on the revised bill next Wednesday (13), although it should be noted that this Wednesday’s scheduled vote was itself delayed from the previous Wednesday.

It’s unclear whether the legislation has the 14 votes needed to clear the 27-member CCJ, with at least 12 votes said to be firmly in the ‘no’ camp. While a negative vote next Wednesday wouldn’t necessary spell the death of the bill, it would inject further delays into an already drawn-out process.

The Chamber of Deputies has its own gambling bill, PL 442/91, and the recent establishment of a pro-gaming parliamentary front indicates there is sufficient support to pass their bill if they just schedule a damn vote. Brazil’s President Michel Temer has indicated he’s prepared to sign gambling legislation into law assuming it ever reaches his desk.

In the meantime, international gambling operators will go on salivating at the thought of accessing Brazil’s massive market. Last month, the Remote Gambling Association released a KPMG report that claimed Brazil’s regulated online gambling market could generate annual revenue of R6.7b (US $2.1b), putting it second only to the UK in terms of scale. That is, assuming Brazil’s politicians finally succeed in pushing this lame runner across the finish line.

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Bwin.ru launch brings first int’l online betting brand to Russia


bwin-russia-online-betting-sergeyevGVC Holdings’ flagship betting brand Bwin has gone live in Russia, marking the first entry of a western bookmaker into the country’s licensed online betting market.

This week witnessed the launch of Bwin.ru, the joint venture of GVC Holdings, Russian-licensed bookmaker Digital Betting LLC and online technology firm Rambler & Co. The latter two firms are controlled by A&NN Investments, which is owned by Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut.

The launch was somewhat overdue, coming over five months after the joint venture plans were first announced, and the company originally targeted a September launch, which was later pushed back to October, and eventually to November. Regardless, Bwin.ru becomes the 15th officially approved online bookmaker to launch in Russia’s regulated market.

Digital Betting CEO Dmitry Sergeyev (pictured), who also serves as Bwin.ru’s CEO, has set a goal of capturing 10% of Russia’s online betting market within three years. The deep-pocketed Mamut has promised to spend up to €10m per year boosting awareness of Bwin’s Russian site.

As with all Russian online bookmakers, Bwin.ru customers will have to register both via the site and with a TSUPIS online payments hub. Digital Betting belongs to the First Self-Regulatory Organization of Russian Bookmakers, and all First SRO members funnel their payments through the First TSUPIS hub.

The registration process involves both online registration and physically presenting one’s identity documents at a retail venue. Digital Betting lacks a retail bookmaking presence, so Bwin.ru punters will have to traipse down to their local Mobilnaya karta money transfer outlet to complete their transaction.

And just because Bwin.ru got the green light from Russian regulators doesn’t mean other Bwin domains are welcome in Russia’s ring-fenced betting-only (no casino, no poker) market. In June, the Roskomnadzor telecom watchdog had blacklisted 118 Bwin-related domains. As of Tuesday, that number had risen to 126.

Russia’s parliament is currently mulling legislation that would clamp down on financial institutions processing payments for unauthorized online gambling operators. Last week, Sergeyev told Bookmaker-Ratings that the legislation was “a good bill” but he wondered if unauthorized operators “will find options for circumventing” its restrictions.

Sergeyev said much will depend on how the Federal Tax Service monitors and updates its funding blacklist. Russia blacklists over 1,500 gambling domains every week, a system that even Russia’s Communications Minister says is “not viable,” and Sergeyev has concerns that bookies will similarly shift their funding through different companies to evade the financial censors.

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OPAP revenue jumps as pace of VLT rollout accelerates


opap-vlt-revenueGreek betting and lottery operator OPAP reported double-digit revenue gains in Q3 on strong growth in its betting and expanded video lottery terminal (VLT) divisions.

On Tuesday, OPAP reported that its revenue in the three months ending September 30 was up 12% year-on-year to €357.4m, while earnings shot up 49% to €93m and net income rose nearly two-thirds to over €48m.

It’s worth nothing that the earnings figure got a wind-assisted boost from a €14.7m reversal of litigation provisions, while Q3 2016 also suffered from €6.4m in one-off VLT arbitration-related costs. Absent those factors, earnings were up a more modest 13.6% to €78m. Similarly, adjusted net profits came in at €37.6m.

Delving deeper into the revenue numbers, OPAP’s betting revenue was up 21.4% to €112.3m in Q3, thanks in part to the ongoing deployment of its new self-service betting terminals (SSBT). The company’s virtual sports products were also credited with having a particularly strong quarter.

The mainstay lottery segment reported a modest 1.7% revenue gain to €193.9m while the Instant & Passive segment saw revenue fall 3% to just under €34.9m.

OPAP’s new VLT segment contributed nearly €16.3m, bringing the segment’s year-to-date contribution to €25.6m. OPAP had an installed VLT base of just under 5,300 at the end of Q3, up from 3,031 at the end of Q2.

OPAP says the pace of the VLT rollout has picked up in Q4 to date, with over 7k operational units as of November 15. The company expects to have around 10k VLTs in place by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, the Greek parliament approved legislation that will cap the total number of VLTs at 25k, a reduction of 10k from what OPAP was originally promised. To compensate, the new legislation frees OPAP from the requirement of subcontracting out a portion of its VLT business while also extending OPAP’s betting license by a further eight years.

Greek legislators have also promised to address two other gaming industry issues before the year is through. One bill would overhaul Greece’s land-based casino market, authorizing the relocation of the Regency Casino from its current spot on Mont Parnes while reducing casino gaming revenue taxes to something more compatible with operator profits.

The other piece of legislation would finally implement long-promised changes to online gambling regulations. The changes would include formal licensing of international operators, but questions remain as to whether the tax rates will be reduced to a level that would entice operators to submit applications.

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Bank of America – Merrill Lynch: Time to bet on William Hill


It’s the time of the year for window dressing and the folks over at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (Merrill) are suggesting that the stocks of British bookmaker William Hill are already ripe for plucking.

Bank of America – Merrill Lynch: Time to bet on William HillThe international financial investment institution has given the stocks of William Hill a “buy” rating from “underperform,” its biggest upgrade in more than three months that helped propel it toward the top of the FTSE 250, according to The Evening Standard.

Most investors are wary of making a bet not only on William Hill but also on other bookies, especially after the British government launched a crackdown on fixed-odds betting terminal (FOBTs).

The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is conducting its 12-week consultation on the sector and investors expressed fears that a potential reduction in maximum stakes to just £2 will cost the industry as much as £639 million a year and a whopping £5.5 billion over 10 years.

Merrill, however, urges investors to look way beyond the DCMS consultation since Hills’ shares have already priced in the worst-case scenario of a £2-per-spin cap on roulette machines.

The brokerage firm told investors to focus on the developments in the U.S., where the issue of the federal sports betting ban will now be tackled by the Supreme Court.

At this moment, only Nevada is allowed to offer single-game sports betting. The ban is currently being challenged by New Jersey before the high tribunal.

Should DCMS decide to impose a £2 cap on FOBTs, Merrill pointed out that the U.S. market could offer William Hill a lifeline. The financial investment firm pointed out that William Hill dominate sports betting in Nevada with a 55 percent share of the market and this will grow even bigger if the Supreme Court decides in favor of New Jersey.

“Even if William Hill lost market share it could prove to be a very large driver of growth,” the brokerage firm said.

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BetStars wins license in Czech Republic, gets banned in Slovakia


betstars-czech-betting-license-slovakia-banOnline gambling operator The Stars Group had a mixed week in the former Czechoslovakia, gaining a betting license in the Czech Republic while having other operations banned in Slovakia.

Late last month, Czech gambling affiliate PokerArena reported that The Stars Group’s BetStars brand had been granted an online sports betting license in the Czech Republic, the first online betting license the market has issued to an international operator. In February, The Stars Group’s flagship PokerStars brand became the first international operator to launch a Czech-facing online poker site.

But last week saw PokerStars and BetStars domains added to the growing online gambling blacklist in neighboring Slovakia. The finance ministry debuted its online blacklist in July and has been steadily adding naughty names of international companies not authorized to accept action from local punters.

Among the Stars-related domains making (or failing to make) the grade in Slovakia are BetStars.com, BetStars.eu, PokerStars.eu and PokerStarsCasino.eu. Unlike in the Czech Republic, Slovakia hasn’t opened up its online poker and casino market, choosing to leave those products as the sole responsibility of the state-owned TIPOS national lottery.

Among the other international names earning spots on Slovakia’s blacklist are numerous Bet365-affiliated domains, the Kindred Group’s Unibet and Stan James Online brands, JetBull, lottery betting operator Lottoland, Betfair.com, Betsafe, Betway, Winmasters and sports betting mainstays Pinnacle.

However zealous Slovakia’s ban-happy finance ministry may appear, they’re rank amateurs when it comes to the continent’s ban-hammer (and sickle) champs, Russia. In the month of October alone, Russia’s Roskomnadzor telecom watchdog brought its gavel down on 7,417 gambling domains.

Among these domains, a stunning 1,026 were related to online betting operator Fonbet, which has a Russian-licensed site but also operates an international .com business that offers products beyond those permitted under Russia’s sports betting-only regime. The fact that one single company could have over a thousand mirrors blocked in a single month amply demonstrates the inherent folly of such tactics.

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Sentencing hearing: Absolute Poker’s Scott Tom never inhaled


absolute-poker-scott-tom-sentencing-marijuanaAbsolute Poker (AP) co-founder Scott Tom and former US President Bill Clinton have at least one thing in common: neither one of them inhaled.

CalvinAyre.com has obtained the transcript of Tom’s September 28 sentencing hearing, which saw US Magistrate Judge Barbara C. Moses order Tom to spend a week in jail after he pled guilty to a single misdemeanor count of transmission of gambling information. (The full transcript can be read here.)

In case anyone needs a refresher, Tom and his step-brother Brent Beckley founded AP and its sister site Ultimate Bet, both of which went belly-up shortly after the April 15, 2011 Black Friday online poker indictments. Were it not for outside funds contributed by PokerStars’ former owners, AP’s customers would still be waiting to be reunited with their account balances.

One of the early items raised in the hearing by Tom’s attorney James Henderson was a correction to “one minor problem” in the pre-sentence investigation report that even Henderson admitted was “not of particular relevance to today’s proceeding.”

Henderson noted that the report’s claim that “five years ago Mr. Tom had smoked some marijuana or something.” This had led the Court to impose a drug testing regimen, with Tom being tested “10 or 12” times, all of which he passed with flying (yellow) colors.

Henderson said his client had informed him that the report’s pot-smoking claim was “incorrect information” and that Tom “has never used marijuana.” It’s worth noting that Tom was most likely not hooked up to a polygraph machine at the time he made this statement.

Tom’s insistence on asserting his lifelong ability to ‘just say no’ reflects recent attitudes at US border crossings, in which many an overzealous Barney Fife has questioned would-be tourists if they have ever – and we mean ever – smoked pot. Believe it or not, in today’s America, merely confirming that you once got hot-boxed in the back seat of a Chevette in junior high school can potentially bar one’s future entry into the country for five years.

TOM “REGRETS” RENOUNCING CITIZENSHIP
And Tom is considered a foreigner in US eyes, having renounced his US citizenship “many years ago,” although Henderson said that’s a decision that Tom now “regrets.” AP’s operations were largely based in Costa Rica, but Tom took up residence in Antigua – which lacks an extradition treaty with the US – after US authorities began actively targeting online gambling in 2006.

Henderson said Tom has been “trying to arrange to get back in the United States pursuant to visas in the future.” Tom still has family in the US, although his mother died during the period in which he was reluctant to set foot on US soil.

ABSOLUTE DISAGREEMENT WITH FATHER OVER BAIL MONEY
Tom’s father is still alive and was the source of the $100k that Tom was required to post at his bail hearing in February. The sentencing hearing revealed that there is sharp disagreement between Tom and his father regarding whose money this is.

Henderson told the court that Tom had inherited the $100k “from his grandmother” and that he’d given it to his father “to hold for him because he was obviously out of the country experiencing these legal difficulties.” Henderson said that Tom’s father “is now contending that that is his money.”

This poses a problem, because the release of this money was intended to provide a good chunk of the $300k that Tom was ordered to forfeit as part of his plea deal. Tom brought $25k to the hearing that he intended to pay toward this forfeiture.

Henderson said his office was working on resolving ownership of this $100k to ensure it didn’t go “back to the father and have that money disappear,” but Judge Moses took it upon herself to place the $100k into a trust account pending the resolution of the dispute.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
As for the rest of the forfeiture amount, Moses left it up to the government to establish a payment schedule. How Tom will afford it was also addressed, with a mention of Tom’s Antigua-based business – a celebrity party boat recently profiled by Flushdraw’s Haley Hintze – that Henderson assured Moses had “survived the hurricane problem down there.”

Moses inquired about Tom’s former residence in Costa Rica as another potential source for raising the forfeiture funds. While the “fairly nice home” is currently generating rental income, Henderson claimed it “appears to be basically unmarketable” based on the fact that a home of equal value just down the street had been on the market “more than three years” without a single offer. Tom “just can’t make [his CR house] liquid at this point.”

In delivering Tom’s sentence – which included the surprise seven-day jail stint – Moses said his AP involvement “does indeed appear to be the only significant blemish on an otherwise law-abiding life” and that Tom had “demonstrated that you are capable of living a law-abiding life for a sustained period of time.”

But Moses emphasized that Tom “did commit a crime. That’s why you’re here. You pleaded guilty to a crime … It is a misdemeanor, to be sure, which has immigration and other consequences, but a misdemeanor is a crime. I cannot ignore that.”

Tom’s sole statement during the hearing is reprinted below in its entirety:

“Your Honor, I very much regret the choices I’ve made, and after years of isolation and time to think, I realize I needed to come and face the Court in the US to try and move forward with my life. I hope you can consider my apology, and I look forward to returning home to a productive life.”

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