April 20, 2018

From facing Arsenal to betting ban: Former Lincoln defender Bradley Wood suspended from football for six years

Former Lincoln City defender Bradley Wood was banned for six years and fined £3,275 pounds by an FA tribunal on Thursday after being found guilty of match-fixing and betting offences.

The player was accused of getting himself booked on purpose in two FA Cup matches in January and February 2017 to "influence a football betting market".

Wood, who played against Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter-finals last season, had denied deliberately seeking out yellow cards in the games against Ipswich Town, where he committed a 90th-minute professional foul, and Burnley where he was involved in an altercation.

Seven people had bet on Wood being cautioned, none of whom had previously bet on such a thing, according to the FA and betting companies.

The bets were also "atypical in the context of the caution betting market" and the potential winnings, which were not all paid out, in the region of £10,000.

"The betting evidence and the evidence of Mr Wood's association with those placing the bets is compelling," the tribunal said.

It ruled, however, that Wood's conduct had not constituted "match-fixing at its most serious" and there were mitigating factors which meant a lifetime ban would have been disproportionate.

Woods was banned for five years for the match-fixing offences and a further year for 23 other charges of betting on the outcome of matches.

Lincoln are in the fourth tier of English soccer after winning promotion back to the league at the end of last season when they also reached the FA Cup quarter-finals.

April 12, 2018

Playtech makes a $1.05B play for Italian betting firm Snaitech

Online gambling technology provider Playtech has agreed to buy a 70.6% stake in Italian gambling firm Snaitech, a move that the UK company expects will enhance its “revenue mix towards regulated markets.”

Playtech makes a $1.05B play for Italian betting firm SnaitechThe “initial acquisition” of Snaitech carries a price tag of €846 million ($1.05 billion), Playtech announced in a Thursday filing. The British gambling company is required to make a mandatory takeover offer for the remaining stake in Snaitech after the initial acquisition is completed sometime in the third quarter of 2018. The mandatory takeover offer is aimed at delisting Snaitech from the Milan Stock Exchange, according to Playtech. It expects the entire transaction will be completed before the year ends.

The deal will be funded by Playtech’s existing cash resources, plus new debt, and is expected to deliver cost material annual cost synergies of €10 million.

If the deal manages to clear regulatory and shareholder approvals, it would mean that Playtech will be seeing 78 percent of its revenue from regulated markets. The Snaitech acquisition will allow Playtech to establish “strong presence in Italy, Europe’s largest and growing gaming market, a fragmented market which is relatively underdeveloped online.”

Playtech sees the acquisition as an opportunity to combine “two market leading players in the B2B/B2C space with brand strength and scalable offerings,” giving the British company “incremental organic growth potential and greater strategic optionality.”

Snaitech is licensed by the Italian Monopolies Authority to offer gaming services and products, including sport and horse racing betting; virtual sports; video lottery; online and mobile poker, skill games, casino games, bingo; esports; and pari-mutuel. The SNAI retail betting network has more than 1,600 points of sale located throughout Italy. The group also operates 60,000 “New Slot” as well as more than 10,000 video lotteries across the country.

In 2017, Snaitech generated revenue €890 million and EBITDA of €136 million.

The acquisition deal couldn’t have come at a better time for UK’s Playtech, which has been battling the sweeping regulatory changes at its home market on top of the persisting operational problems in Asia.

Playtech reported a modest 18% net revenue gain in 2017, following Malaysia’s crackdown on gambling in the country. In February, Playtech Chairman Alan Jackson said the company is looking to diversify its revenue base by investing in fast growing regulated and regulating markets in Europe and Latin America.

April 05, 2018

Lottoland sings swan song, but Aussie newsagents aren’t buying it

Online gambling company Lottoland has finally begun singing its swan song, in an attempt to pull at the heartstrings of newsagents before it’s evicted from Australia.

On Thursday, Lottoland has published a full-page newspaper advertisement appealing to newsagents to come to the table and discuss a win-win solution for both parties in the wake of the Australian government’s decision to ban online betting on lotteries and keno.

The ad comes as a letter addressed to newsagents penned by no less than Lottoland CEO Luke Brill, who offered them 20 percent of the profits generated from every bet they refer to the online gambling firm. Newsagents may earn thousands of additional dollars from the proposal, according Brill.

At the same time, Brill said newsagents that took part in the program would have an opportunity to benefit financially from Lottoland bets on overseas lotteries.

“The reality is that the proposed legislation could make life even more difficult for newsagents while reducing choice for hundreds of thousands of customers,” Brill said in a statement. “We want to partner with newsagents to provide our customers with greater choice, in a way that will be fair and profitable for your business.”

Brill then took aim at rival Tatts Group, which it accused of bankrolling local lotteries in their fight against Lottoland.

The Lottoland boss claimed that Tatts is cementing its monopoly in Australia, to the detriment of both the newsagents and players. Their continued operations in Australia encourages both competition and innovation, according to Brill.

If there’s one threat to newsagents’ survival, Brill said that it is no other than Tatts.

“We believe in a level-playing field that encourages rather than restricts competition and innovation. That’s why we want to work with you as a true business partner,” he said.

However, Lottoland’s last-ditch appeal has fallen on Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association’s (ALNA) deaf ears.

In a statement, ALNA CEO Adam Joy said newsagents will never align themselves with a business that lacks consumer protections and doesn’t deliver what it promotes. Joy also dismissed Lottoland’s latest ad to be a desperate PR maneuver.

“Lottoland have spent years denigrating newsagents, and a partnership requires trust. They have repeatedly said that they are not targeting the customers of newsagents, yet this idea along with its entire business model does exactly that,” Joy said.

April 03, 2018

DraftKings seeks partners for US betting expansion

US daily fantasy sports operator DraftKings is reported to be seeking casino and leisure partners, with a view to expanding its future sports betting proposition.

DraftKings leadership seeks to gain a competitive advantage over potential US market incumbents, as the Supreme Court reviews the repeal of federal PASPA provisions.

This February, DraftKings declared its statement of intent on becoming a major player in licensed US sports betting, opening a strategic ‘betting’ office in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Furthermore, DraftKings has appointed UK betting executive Sean Hurley as the company’s first-ever Head of Sportsbook, tasked with delivering a US-centric sports betting platform and strategy.

DraftKings which to date has raised +$700 million in enterprise funding, believes that it has the best organic strategy for a potential US betting market.

Through its daily fantasy sports offering, DraftKings has a secured 10 million US customers and built a platform tailored to US sports engagement (live streaming, ticketing, payments).

For the betting sector, all eyes remain on Capitol Hill, as industry stakeholders await the judgement of the Supreme Court.

Latest industry reports indicate that 19 states have declared an interest in implementing licensed sports betting, should the Supreme Court repeal PASPA.

However, as yet little is known with regards to how US betting legislations and provisions will be shaped up, and what potential requirements will be needed by operators seeking to enter the market.

GVC gets bigger, more impressive, and more unwieldy

GVC is certainly becoming a very large company, now that regulators have approved its deal to acquire Ladbrokes Coral. The ever wily GVC is being praised for its genius move of offering Ladbrokes a sliding contingent offer based on whatever the politicians in the House of Commons decide will be the maximum safe allowable bet at fixed odd betting terminals that makes up so much of Ladbrokes’ revenues, and that will end the problem of gambling addiction once and for all. Having covered all the bases before the pitch was even thrown, GVC made an offer that Ladbrokes Coral couldn’t refuse.

GVC’s latest acquisition follows its last-minute sniping of 888 for bwin.party, which itself merged in 2011, rather unsuccessfully. Now with Ladbrokes Coral, GVC is effectively, GVC Ladbrokes Coral bwin.party and friends. Plus a bunch of other satellites that GVC has gathered recently including a Greek gaming company called Zatrix, and Georgian firm called Mars LLC, or the Crystalbet Acquisition. Greece and Georgia. Hmm….

It’s been rather impressive how GVC has managed to accomplish all this roll-up without leveraging itself up the wazoo. Its debt, before the merger with Ladbrokes Coral at least, was only £300M, just over 10% of its market cap. With all the acquisitions it has splurged on, it could be considered something between miraculous and sleight-of-hand.

There is an answer as to how GVC has managed to do all this, but before I just blurt it out, let me say GVC has proven me wrong time and time again. Its share price just keeps marching on higher and higher, despite a less-than-conservative business model, dangerous markets, and, of course,losing money. GVC has lost £178M over the last two years, and £284M overall since its founding.

So how did they do it? It’s something of a self-fulfilling positive feedback loop driven by rising equity. Take the latest deal with Ladbrokes Coral. 32.7 pence in cash and 0.141 GVC share per Ladbrokes share amounts to £625M in cash and the rest paid in issued equity. The higher GVC shares go, the more attractive and valuable are its share-based offers for potential buyouts, the more it can rely on just gifting shares to those it merges with and the happier its partners are to receive those shares. And the more GVC acquires, the bigger it looks, the more excited shareholders become, the higher its stock goes, which feeds right back into the loop for the next acquisitions.

The question is, what good are the acquisitions for besides creating a giant gambling umbrella organization with GVC at the head? What is the glue that will keep all these moving parts together besides being all loosely in the gaming industry? Do they function together, or are they just an impressive gathering of names that executives can list off regarding how much market share in whatever segment is under their control?

It sort of reminds me of the AOL-Time Warner merger of 2000, though not as blatant in its merger-for-the-sake-of-a-merger nature. Yes, different segments of the gambling market are related, and there might be some cost-savings and efficiencies that can be found here and there thanks to it all being under common ownership, but is there anything really compelling about the fact that Ladbrokes Coral Group and GVC are now owned by the same people? Maybe there is something compelling to a sharper eye, but nothing really stands out all that obviously to my average vision. Perhaps the fact that I can’t see it is the reason I’m not at the top of the industry making all the important decisions.

Skeptical about this assessment? Me, too. GVC has gone much higher for much longer and impressed far more investors than I ever anticipated, and good for them. But listen to what the UK regulators at the Competition and Markets Authority had to say when approving this deal. It relegated a foundational brand of British betting culture since the 19th century to a subsidiary of what is turning out to be a modern roll-up behemoth.

GVC has a small presence in the UK and only offers services online. The Competition and Markets Authority has found that GVC and Ladbrokes are not close rivals and there are many other providers of betting and gaming services online. The CMA looked closely at betting services for individual sports and individual games but found that, in all cases, there will be enough rivals to the merged entity to prevent price increases or a reduced quality of service as a result of the merger.

If they are not close rivals then what is the point of merging? Can sports betters in Germany and Italy have any impact on FOBT gamblers at betting shops in the UK? Yes, there will be some efficiencies and synergies and overlap, but really, Ladbrokes Coral and GVC are two different companies. They just happen to be under the same umbrella now.

What I’m worried about is what happens to GVC’s various disparate parts when the equity bull that has been fueling this motley collection of gaming and betting firms comes to a halt? It’s the acquisitions that have been fueling the stock price.It hasn’t been the money, since none much has been made yet. It’s the promise of higher earnings through the excitement of mergers and acquisitions that has fueled much of this run and may continue to do so yet. Who knows for how much longer though.

When I think of GVC Ladbrokes Coral bwin.party Zatrix Mars LLC, I think of all these separate firms that have merged together though I don’t understand exactly why, other than for the money of the deal.

So will this merger help? I don’t quite see how it could hurt exactly, but I don’t see how it really changes all that much for the positive either, aside from GVC getting to show everyone how big it is and how much it owns now.

March 22, 2018

Final Hurdle Cleared For Ladbrokes Coral GVC Deal

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has given the green light to the Ladbrokes Coral GVC deal after the competitions watchdog said “the deal does not give rise to competition concerns”.

It added that they are not close rivals and there are many other providers of betting and gaming services online”.

The CMA said its probe “looked closely at betting services for individual sports and individual games but found that, in all cases, there will be enough rivals to the merged entity to prevent price increases or a reduced quality of service as a result of the merger”.

With the rubber stamp the deal which will see GVC take a 53% controlling stake in the betting firm with GVC Chief Executive Kenneth Alexander taking the top job.

At present the takeover deal is valued at £3.2 billion but will rise with add-ons and performance. It was only last November Ladbrokes acquired Gala Coral in a £2.3 billion merger now GVC is moving in to take control of them both.

GVC and Ladbrokes Coral believe the tie-up will help make £100 million a year in cost cutting helping to improve shareholder value. Ladbrokes Coral has over 25,000 employees working in retail and online and GVC has 2,800 employees in Europe and globally for its online brands.

March 21, 2018

Professional Sports League Begin Preparations for Supreme Court’s Sports Betting Ruling

While the professional baseball teams in Arizona and Florida gear up for the upcoming 162-game season, the Major League Baseball officials are eagerly waiting for the highly anticipated sports betting ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States. If the Supreme Court repeals the apparently unconstitutional PASPA or Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, the individual states will be free to design their respective legislation for regulating and operating sports betting within their borders.

That being said, if the Supreme Court makes a favorable ruling, the fans of MLB in certain states might be able to place their legal bets on the upcoming tournament matches. As such, the MLB officials are now gearing up to prepare their teams and players by providing them dedicated training on sports wagering. In addition to this, the umpires and coaches of the MLB tournaments will also be provided proper sports betting training.

It is being speculated that before July this year, the Supreme Court is likely to announce its decision on what is being regarded as the most highly publicized federal lawsuit in a long long time. If the Supreme Court repeals the 25-year-old PASPA, it is literally going to bring about a drastic transformation in the concept of sports gambling in the United States. In the case of a revocation of the federal law that currently prohibits sports betting in all states but four, the individual states would be allowed to take their own decisions as to whether or not they want their citizens to sports wager.

In a conference with the local news reporters, the commissioner of the Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred outlined that they are quite optimistic about the promising future of sports betting in the country. In addition to the MLB, the other three major sports leagues in the US are also preparing their teams and officials for a possible change in the sports betting laws in the country.

Not only are these sports leagues educating their players about the concept of sports betting, but also are themselves constantly studying and monitoring sports betting data to be better equipped with the right information when the need arises. The sports leagues are also researching their various options in terms of new businesses and partnerships that might help enhance their revenue streams in the future.

National Lottery Expansion Triggers Scare of Problem Gambling

With multiple private National Lottery operators opening an average of 50 new establishments every single month for the last couple of years, experts are viewing the situation as a precursor for a surge in problem gambling in Ireland. Ever since a Canada-regulated consortium was provided the franchisee of National Lottery back in 2014, there has been a reported increase of nearly 50% in the number of authorized retailers selling scratch cards and draw tickets for Lotto. The reported rise in the number of retailers shows a jump to 5790 in the current situation from 3,700 in 2014.

The PLI or Premier Lotteries Ireland is currently owned and operated by a pension fund based out of Toronto, with the erstwhile state operator An Post holding a minority stake in it. According to a report published by a local media house, the company is mulling over a proposition of adding a new set of over 320 retailers to its existing comprehensive network of National Lottery within the next two years.

However, the chief executive officer at a charitable organization called Problem Gambling Ireland, and an addiction counselor, Barry Grant, has expressed his views on the proposed expansion majorly targeting the rural areas by saying that it could actually have a negative effect on the population of the country.

Barry said that while lottery ticket draws fall on the far end of the risk factor scale of gambling, the scratch cards bring with them an instant gratification factor which makes them quite similar to the hardcore casino gaming on slot machines. He further added that the scratch cards are far more addictive and harmful as compared to traditional lottery draws with a majority of the purchases for the former falling under the category of impulse buying. And making scratch cards available throughout the country would only promote the habit of impulse buying.

As such, scratch cards could end up becoming a major factor that can make the issue of problem gambling more prevalent across the country. Recalling his experience with his counseling clients in the past, Grant remarked that he has met a huge number of people who were struggling with the problem of spending hundreds of dollars every week only on scratch cards! With more and more people buying scratch cards with money they cannot afford, personal debts are also on an all-time rise.

Donald Trump personal aide John McEntee sacked over gambling habit

President Donald Trump’s personal assistant, John McEntee, lost his White House job this week because an investigation found he was a frequent gambler whose habit posed a security risk, according to two people familiar with his departure.

A background investigation found that Mr McEntee bet tens of thousands of dollars at a time, making him unsuitable for a sensitive position close to the President, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. There was no indication his gambling was illegal, but there was concern that the 27-year-old could be vulnerable to outside influence, the person said.

Mr McEntee declined to comment.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the concerns about Mr McEntee’s gambling.

Mr McEntee, who had been one of the first staffers to join the Trump campaign and served as the President’s “body man” after Mr Trump’s election, was escorted off the White House grounds on Monday after being notified that he was being let go. Mr McEntee was “very upset” to learn he was being terminated, according to one person and complained he had done nothing improper.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier this week declined to offer an explanation for his departure, saying, “we don’t comment on personnel issues”.

Mr McEntee was a starting quarterback at the University of Connecticut and then worked as a production assistant at Fox News. He joined the Trump campaign as a volunteer in July 2015 after doggedly writing to the campaign’s website asking for a job. When no one responded, he offered to take a position responding to website email, according to Trump advisers. He eventually was hired as trip director, overseeing preparations for campaign events. “I bought into the message,” Mr McEntee told Bloomberg News in 2015 of his decision to join Mr Trump. “I was sick of the career politicians”.

After Mr Trump’s victory, Mr McEntee was named as the President’s special assistant and personal aide. When he joined the White House, he reported in his personal financial disclosure two primary assets: a bank account containing $100,000 (£71,680) to $250,000 and another containing $15,000 to $50,000.

Mr McEntee’s cousin, Zac McEntee, serves as personal assistant to treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Mr McEntee’s firing came as White House chief of staff John Kelly has sought to speed up the background investigations of staffers still awaiting security clearances.

Two White House advisers said they learned about Mr McEntee’s gambling habit after his dismissal. His hasty exit from the White House upset a number of staffers in the building, who described him as a loyal aide who deserved a more ceremonious departure.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump’s re-election committee announced that Mr McEntee would join the campaign as a senior adviser for operations.

March 20, 2018

‘Fixing matches like nobody has done before’: Skenderbeu’s amazing tale

In Korce they love their football team and that is why, on 21 February, thousands of the Albanian city’s inhabitants gathered to sing for Skenderbeu. The rally stretched far down the main avenue, one placard standing out among scarves and banners. Its message was clear: “Do not kill our dream.”

Everything Skenderbeu have achieved is on the verge of being discredited by the most extraordinary match-fixing inquiry of all time. A leaked UEFA report has recommended the six-times national champions, who competed in the Europa League group stage this season, are banned from its competitions for an unprecedented 10 years; if the governing body’s control, ethics and disciplinary body agrees, almost a decade of progress will come to a shuddering halt.

UEFA has not made the report, written by two of its ethics and disciplinary inspectors, public but it has circulated widely in Albania. It brought the population of Korce to the streets and its contents are damning. It concludes Skenderbeu “has been fixing football matches like nobody has ever done before in the history of the game”, alleging the club have essentially operated as a vehicle for organised crime, and shines a light on the detail that underpins UEFA's match-fixing inquiries. UEFA did not confirm or deny the document’s authenticity.

Skenderbeu have previously received punishment for match-fixing, a year-long suspension from European competition served in 2016-17. That was upheld by the court of arbitration for sport (Cas), as an “administrative measure” in a two-step UEFA process; the current investigation forms the second stage and is part of a more serious “disciplinary measure”.

The suspension came after UEFA's betting fraud detection system (BFDS) identified 53 matches involving Skenderbeu – spanning friendlies, domestic fixtures and European club competitions – allegedly manipulated for betting purposes between November 2010 and April 2016. The case focused on four games: two from the 2015-16 Champions League qualifying rounds and two from that season’s Europa League group phase. Skenderbeu were, based largely on the BFDS’s processes, banned. The new report adds fresh evidence from a panel of coaches while employing an external company to reconfirm its findings in an effort to press the case for a more severe punishment.

Skenderbeu are accused of “manipulation attempts to obtain criminal betting profits on a stunning global scale”, earning millions of dollars. The report alleges the club have “no respect for the integrity of the game” and that they contrived a highly organised structure intended to harvest huge sums through gambling. It is an allegation the club have denied.

“KF Skenderbeu’s legal department is following the necessary procedures for the issue in question and expresses confidence that the case will be closed successfully,” read part of a statement after the report’s existence became known.

The report argues two group games, at Sporting Lisbon and at home to Lokomotiv Moscow, are of particular concern. Skenderbeu lost 5-1 and 3-0 respectively, both matches’ outcomes following rapidly escalating betting patterns almost to the letter.

The former saw a flurry of “exuberant and illogical” bets made for six or more goals to be scored with Sporting 4-0 up late on; the latter, according to the report, became subject to a rush of highly suspicious, and accurate, bets when Skenderbeu were a goal down with five minutes left. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing from Skenderbeu’s opponents.

The best-known of the ties is a Champions League second qualifying round, second leg against Northern Irish side Crusaders on 21 July 2015. Skenderbeu had won the home fixture 4-1 and went 2-1 up in the return. There followed what the report terms “some outrageous suspicious live betting” totalling “a minimum of several hundreds of thousands of dollars”; Skenderbeu ran scant risk of losing the tie at this stage and conceded twice in the last 10 minutes, with Crusaders also having two goals disallowed. A tweet from Crusaders’ goalkeeper, Sean O’Neill – “If there is not a UEFA investigation into our game tonight, then there is something wrong” – is among the evidence submitted.

The BFDS uses algorithms and mathematical models to assess betting movements around games, which are “escalated” for further examination if irregular patterns appear. Skenderbeu have had more than twice as many games escalated as any other club since the system’s inception in 2009. UEFA has enlisted a British firm to conduct anonymised analysis of betting data from 10 of those games; the results bore almost total similarity to those of the BFDS and are central to the report’s conclusion.

Another cornerstone will be the findings of an “expert panel” whose members included Leicester City assistant manager Michael Appleton. They were asked to review incidents from alleged “appalling” and “embarrassing” play against Crusaders to “a few suspicious moments” in another cited game against Dinamo Zagreb.

The situation allegedly developed after Agim Zeqo was appointed Skenderbeu president in January 2010. At that point the club risked relegation. They survived, proceeding to win the league five years running; the report shows the first of their games to be “escalated” occurred in November 2010.

Zeqo said: “I vehemently deny that any match-fixing occurred during my tenure as KF Skenderbeu’s president. I stand ready to face such allegations openly in public, including any court of law if necessary.”

Current Skenderbeu president, Ardjan Takaj, who succeeded Zeqo in 2012, and former Albanian finance minister Ridvan Bode are said to have been influential to the alleged scheme. The latter is stated by the report to have been a key donor. He allegedly holds “the power, the connections and the knowledge to influence Skenderbeu’s matches, and ... has done so over the years”.

Takaj is accused of targeting friendlies for illegal gain and using relationships with Skenderbeu players to impact their on-pitch actions. A labyrinthine section of the report focuses on Takaj’s business dealings, exploring links between Skenderbeu and betting companies in which he allegedly is, or has been, involved.

Both men deny match-fixing. Bode said he had never supported Skenderbeu financially. He said the allegations were made with “reckless ease” and continued: “I was never part of and have never been aware of any attempt to influence any match’s result.”

Takaj said the allegations about his business involvement were “decontextualised”, and continued: “I have never been involved, directly or indirectly, in any activities aiming to manipulate the outcome of the match, neither [have] persons related to me.”

The 40-year-old goalkeeper Orges Shehi, whom the report alleges profited from match-fixing through his actions, remains in the team. Defender Tefik Osmani, accused similarly, is still around too and both issued denials. Shehi said: “I believe in the values of sport and of sportsmanship and have tried all my career to give an example for the next generations.” Osmani said: “I completely deny these allegations.”

Takaj is determined to clear the club’s name: “A 10-year sentence is in practice a capital punishment.”

It does not help Skenderbeu that Albania’s football federation last year stripped the club of its 2015‑16 title, also deducting 12 points for 2016-17, for match-fixing at national level. Another appeal to Cas is believed to be pending.

A further strand of the report’s argument is that, since the Cas hearing in July 2016, no Skenderbeu matches have been escalated. Skenderbeu must wait for UEFA's decision and came under the spotlight when the governing body announced last month that its disciplinary inspectors had received death threats after the report was leaked. The club distanced itself from those but they underlined the unsavoury nature of the case.

A letter by Sotiraq Filo, mayor of Korce, to UEFA's president Aleksander Ceferin, concluded by asking Ceferin and UEFA not to “kill the resurrected hope of an entire nation for football”. If Skenderbeu are found guilty this time, then responsibility will lie closer to home.