September 03, 2015

Betfair used by gangland figure Horty Mokbel for money laundering

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Leading online gambling agency Betfair is being used by underworld figure Horty Mokbel as an online bank and suspected vehicle for laundering millions of dollars of drug money, raising serious integrity concerns.

Fairfax Media has learned that Mokbel and his associates have been shifting funds between accounts linked to his associates and a Melbourne telecommunications company, Roctel. Mokbel controls a large chunk of the company, having invested at least $1 million.

The use of Betfair raises questions for the James Packer-owned gambling agency, as Mokbel, who is a convicted drug trafficker and the brother of jailed drug lord Tony Mokbel, has been banned by Victoria Police from all racetracks and Crown Casino since 2004.

But police are also in the spotlight for failing to ban one of Mokbel's key associates, Paul Sequenzia, from racetracks, despite the prominent owner of harness racers being linked to the cobalt doping scandal, and a race fixing syndicate.

Pictures have emerged of Sequenzia at Cranbourne on August 25, watching his horse Fake Smile win – the fifth win in five starts for the horse.

Sequenzia pocketed a share of $3848 in prize money on August 25, taking Fake Smile's earnings to almost $20,000. Fake Smile could become the most successful horse owned by Sequenzia since Sushi Sushi, which earned more than $1.1 million before it was put down last year.

Fairfax revealed in July that Sequenzia was linked to the cobalt scandal that is gripping the racing industry, as it is believed Dr Adam Matthews – the vet described as the "Stephen Dank" of the equine world for his links to horse doping – owed him money.

It was revealed in February that he had links to possibly doped horses in NSW.

On August 5, a cobalt inquiry heard that harness racing identity John "The Ghost" Camilleri sent a text message in January claiming that Sequenzia, who he called "Swayze", had placed a winning $25,000 bet on a horse after Camilleri told him it had been dosed with "a bag of magic", meaning cobalt. Camilleri later said he had lied in the text message.

Sequenzia, the brother-in-law of slain gangland figure Mark Moran, also owned the first horse to test positive to the substance EPO, and has been sanctioned by racing authorities for a string of offences, including misleading them about the ownership of Sushi Sushi.

He is a long-term friend of Horty Mokbel, who has been trying to rebuild his wealth since being released from prison in 2011. A court heard in early 2012 that Mokbel earned a paltry $368 a week working in a gym while he was on parole.

But, according to an underworld source, Mokbel has funnelled about $3 million through Betfair by using accounts opened by Roctel principals and their partners. It is suspected the funds are the proceeds of drug trafficking.

Roctel is based in a small office at a Northcote business park.

Mokbel was one of the first people banned from all gaming venues under special police powers introduced in 2004, but being added to the blacklist failed to curtail a keen interest in gambling and the races.

His latest criminal charge related to a 2011 prison fight which started because of a bet on an NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys. A pouch of tobacco had been wagered by prison inmates.

In 2007, assets from the $1.5 million sale of champion racehorse Pillar of Hercules were frozen when it was found the horse was bought with the proceeds of crime on behalf of a Mokbel syndicate.

The images of Sequenzia at Cranbourne show him freely associating with others trackside and in what appears to be an owners area, and gambling at on-course betting machines.

Another image from 2012 shows Mokbel and Sequenzia reuniting after the former was released from prison on drug offences.

Betfair, an internet betting agency, did not respond to a request for comment. Betfair Australasia is wholly owned by James Packer's Crown Resorts, which bought the firm from the London-listed Betfair last year.

Betfair claims to be the world's largest online betting exchange. Customers open online accounts using minimal personal information, and deposit funds to gamble. That money can be withdrawn to a linked bank account on the customer's request.

Victoria Police would not comment on why individuals had not been issued exclusion notices, but said the criteria for banning included being suspected of using racecourses for criminality, or whether it was considered to be in the public interest.

Those who are banned have their photos provided to racing authorities and track security staff.

A spokeswoman said the force was aware online betting accounts were being used to launder money. The gaming company said it worked "collaboratively" with law enforcement agencies

Paddy Power share price surge creates 207 millionaires

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Last week’s 20% surge in Paddy Power shares has created a total of 207 ‘paper millionaires’. Prior to the UK August Bank Holiday weekend Paddy Power shares traded at €96.

The Irish Independent newspaper reported the shareholder figures following a review of Paddy Power Plc register, detailing that 207 accounts held 10,000 + shares which following last week trading gains would translate into a value of €1 million.

The surge saw big gains for the Power family (founding stakeholders) who are the largest individual shareholders with a 7.89% stake in the operator valued at a present €370 million.

Founding Paddy Power stakeholders John Corcoran and Stewart Kenny, saw their share price assets rise to €137 million and €38 million.

Former CEO Patrick Kennedy who left the operator in January, held shares worth over €55m at the end of last year. The Irish Independent further reports current Paddy Power CEO Andy McCue holds share bonus of 75,000 valued at a present +€3 million.

Having floated on the London FTSE exchange in 2000, Paddy Power continues its strong trading momentum which has seen its share price rise tenfold since the 2008 financial crisis.

If merged with online competitor Betfair, shareholders are set to own 52% of the new enterprise which is estimated will produce revenues of + £2 billion. At present the two operators have not agreed on whether the union will take the form of a merger or a takeover by one of the companies.

September 02, 2015

North Carolina will Introduce BBQ Scratch and Sniff Lottery Tickets

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In the never-ending effort to make buying a lottery ticket new and fun, the N.C. Education Lottery has come up with this: Tickets that smell like barbecue when you scratch them.

Lottery officials will unveil their new BBQ Bucks scratch-off tickets Tuesday at Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue in downtown Raleigh and at Queen City Q in Charlotte. The $2 scratch-and-sniff tickets will bring a chance to win up to $25,000 and to enter a secondary drawing for one of 10 prizes of 100 pounds of pork and a Big Green Egg to grill it on.

It’s the first scented scratch-off game for the North Carolina lottery, as the state joins a growing number selling tickets with what are meant to be appealing aromas. Colorado began selling tickets with coffee, chocolate and bouquet scents as far back as 2008. Texas, Florida and Missouri have offered chocolate tickets, too, while Nebraska unveiled Sriracha-scented scratch tickets at its state fair over the weekend.

But pig products appear to be the hot thing in lottery tickets this year, with New Hampshire, Colorado and Indiana all introducing bacon-scented tickets. In Indiana, players of the Bringin’ Home the Bacon game can enter a separate drawing for a chance to win $250 worth of bacon each year for 20 years.

North Carolina lottery officials say their tickets will smell like “smoky BBQ,” side-stepping the issue of whether it is eastern or western style.

“I can tell you that there was intention to make sure the ticket’s scent didn’t try to live up to the real thing, which the lottery is content to leave to BBQ experts, like the folks at Cooper’s,” said lottery spokesman Chris Bushnell. “That’s why we went with a smoky scent.”

The odds of winning at BBQ Bucks, including break-even prizes, are 1 in 4.55, and odds of claiming one of the $25,000 top prizes are 1 in 888,000. The first tickets will be available at Cooper’s Barbecue on Wilmington Street from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The state sold nearly $2 billion in lottery tickets in the fiscal year that ended June 30, providing more than $500 million for a variety of education programs. Many legislators want to goose those sales by increasing advertising for the lottery and making a version of instant tickets available on the Internet or smartphones.

September 01, 2015

888 raises the stakes in Bwin bidding war

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Online gambling company 888 has upped the stakes in its £1bn takeover battle with GVC by raising its bid for Bwin.Party.

Bwin, which offers poker, bingo and sports betting online, revealed on Tuesday that 888 had made a revised takeover proposal and that it was now evaluating the bid. It must weigh the offer against a competing proposal submitted by Sportingbet owner GVC, which is gate-crashing a deal already agreed between Bwin and 888.

The terms of 888’s revised cash-and-shares approach have not been not disclosed, although it is understood that the company has lifted the paper element of its offer to increase the value of its bid to around 115p a share. Bwin said the proposal came with “a number of pre-conditions” that are thought include an increase in the break fee to about 1pc of the overall deal value.

GVC, which is much smaller than Bwin and so would need to structure the deal as a reverse takeover, is understood to have made its latest cash-and-shares bid on Friday evening. The gambling group said its offer valued Bwin at 131p a share and a spokesman for GVC said the bid "is without conditions which 888 has now introduced".

The latest twist in the takeover saga marks a success for Bwin’s board, which has effectively engineered a bidding war between 888 and Aim-listed GVC.

Although Bwin recommended an £898.3m offer - the equivalent of 104.09p a share - from 888 in mid-July, rival suitor GVC refused to concede defeat and made a takeover proposal worth about £1bn last month.

Bwin’s board and shareholders had concerns with GVC’s bid, including questions over whether the combined business will secure a main market listing on the London Stock Exchange and a New Jersey gambling licence. However, Bwin kept the takeover battle alive by working with GVC to overcome those worries.

Once satisfied with GVC's proposal, Bwin last Thursday incited another round of bids from both suitors by inviting the Sportingbet owner to make a formal offer on its “best terms”.

Bwin, which has been up for sale since last November, said it would now consult with its “key shareholders” over coming days to decide which of the two competing proposals is in investors’ “best interests”.

August 27, 2015

Vietnamese lawmakers push to legalise gambling

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Lawmakers in Vietnam are pushing the government to stop making gambling a crime after 70 years after it was called “a social evil” by the then ruling government.

During a discussion on amendments to the Penal Code many lawmakers urged the government to stop considering gambling a crime that is taking place all over the country.

Pham Xuan Thuong from the northern province of Thai Binh said the country seems to be tough on gambling, but in fact the enforcement of anti-gambling laws is not strict and effective enough.

“In many cases, police arrest many gamblers but then decide to drop charges while those prosecuted end up receiving suspended sentences”, he said.

“Lottery is a kind of gambling, so why don’t we organize gambling activities in a more sensible and manageable way?”

Do Van Duong from Ho Chi Minh City also voiced his support for the abolishment of gambling crime.

“Gambling has existed for a long time. As long as they have money, some people will gamble. We should not worry that gambling will lead to crimes, but think about how to manage gambling activities,” he said.

Gambling was outlawed in Vietnam in 1948.

August 26, 2015

The NFL's hypocritical stance on fantasy football and gambling

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The NFL says it strongly opposes gambling. In the past year alone, the league successfully sued the state of New Jersey to prevent it from legalizing sports betting, and forced Tony Romo and several other players to cancel their appearances at a Las Vegas conference because it was held at a convention center owned by a casino.

The irony, though, is that the conference was about fantasy football: an ultra-popular game that involves wagering real money based on what occurs on the football field. Some legal scholars argue that fantasy is gambling, but the NFL actively promotes it — its problem with Romo's conference was the locale.

Nearly a decade ago, the NFL — along with other pro sports leagues — carefully carved out an exception for fantasy sports in a congressional anti-gambling law. Today, it hosts fantasy games on its website and hawks them in commercials that play constantly during its games.

The reason is simple: Fantasy drives ratings and, in doing so, makes the NFL a ton of money. But as daily fantasy sports explode in popularity and blur the line between fantasy and gambling, the league's position is becoming less and less tenable.

Even though several of the NFL's founding owners had made their fortunes through gambling-related activities, the league opposed it nearly from the start, largely because of the fear that it could lead to match-fixing. In the '40s and '60s, it suspended several players for betting on games, and in 1976 it unsuccessfully sued the state of Delaware to block the state's sports lottery.

Afraid of such activities spreading from state to state, in 1992, then-NFLCommissioner Paul Tagliabue successfully lobbied Congress to pass a law that prohibited gambling on sports anywhere that it hadn't already been legalized. "It is a matter of integrity," Tagliabue said at the time. "It is a matter of the character of our games, of the character of our fans, and a matter of values."

Over the next decade, though, something new came along: fantasy sports.

The basic idea — assembling imaginary teams of players that compete on the basis of their individual real statistics over the course of a whole season — was first developed in the '50s, and for decades, fantasy baseball was the most commonly played. But fantasy football's popularity exploded once computers allowed for automatic stat tracking, and especially after 1999, when Yahoo became the first major site to host leagues for free.


Paddy Power and Betfair outline proposed merger plans

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Paddy Power and Betfair have agreed a deal in principle to merge and form a new combined company.

Should the deal go ahead, both operators said ‘Paddy Power Betfair’ would become one of the world’s largest public online betting and gaming companies.

Under the agreement, Paddy Power shareholders would own 52% of the firm, with Betfair shareholders owning 48% of the issued share capital in the new combined company.

Upon completion, Paddy Power shareholders would receive a special dividend of €80 million ($92 million).

Gerry McGann, who last month took over as chairman of Paddy Power, would serve in the same position at the company, with Betfair chief executive Breon Corcoran also taking up the same role.

In addition, Paddy Power’s chief executive Andy McCue would become chief operating officer and an executive director, while Betfair chief financial officer Alex Gersh would retain his role and serve as an executive director.

Paddy Power Betfair’s board of directors would also include other non-executive directors nominated equally from each of Paddy Power and Betfair.

“The possible merger would create one of the world's largest public online betting and gaming companies by revenue with enlarged scale, capability and distinctive and complementary brands,” Paddy Power and Betfair said in a joint statement.

“The combination has compelling strategic logic and represents an attractive opportunity for both companies to enhance their position in online betting and gaming and to deliver synergies, customer benefits and shareholder value.”

The potential merger comes at a time when a number of other major operators are considering similar deals.

Ladbrokes and Gala Coral are expected to complete their proposed merger in the near future, while bwin.party is currently the subject of a bidding war between 888 and GVC Holdings.

Confirmation of the potential merger came as Paddy Power and Betfair revealed year-on-year growth in their latest financial results this (Wednesday) morning.

For the six-month period through to June 30, Paddy Power posted net revenue of €527.8 million, an increase of 33% on the €396.5 million recorded in the first half of last year.

Operating profit was also up 33% on a year-on-year basis to €80.1 million, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) hiked 27% to €106.1 million.

Reflecting on the results, chief executive McCue said: “We have made substantial progress implementing the strategy we set out in March, with further payback to come from new mobile product releases, refreshed marketing campaigns and efficiency gains.

“We now expect full year 2015 reported operating profit to be a mid to high single digit percentage above 2014 and the consensus market forecast.”

Meanwhile, revealing its financial results for the three months through to July 31, Betfair announced that it achieved revenue of £135.4 million, which represents an increase of 15% on the £117.3 million posted in the corresponding period last year.

While sports betting remains the company’s main source of income, contributing £89.9 million to the total revenue figure, Betfair’s US business experienced the most growth in the quarter, with revenue from this division up 42% year-on-year to £20.1 million.

Betfair’s gaming arm also posted a 27% year-on-year jump in revenue during the first quarter.

Commenting on the results and the potential merger, chief executive Corcoran said: “Betfair's current momentum is strong and the business remains well placed to execute against our strategy and to continue to deliver profitable growth

“The proposed merger with Paddy Power is hugely exciting; it would create a truly global sports betting group with unmatched products and talent, and significantly enhanced scale.

“The combined business would be one of the world's largest online sports betting operators, with revenues totalling more than £1 billion.”

August 24, 2015

GVC Holdings states it will only re-bid for bwin.party if 888 increases current offer

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Having placed its takeover bid past the £1.1 billion mark, UK news sources have stated that GVC Holdings governance could “walk away” from its ongoing battle with 888 Holdings for bwin.party Entertainment.

Speculation has been rife regarding the takeover of bwin.party and its two bidding rivals GVC and 888. Last week The Times reported that GVC Holdings and its bid advisor Cerberus Capital Management were considering bidding 130p per share for the operator.

However it appears that GVC Governance will only increase its cash and shares offer for bwin.party if 888 raises its current bid. Furthermore the London AIM listed operator is willing to turn its back on the takeover battle if 888 remains the recommended bidder with its current £908 million value of bwin.party assets.

London business analysts have noted that bwin.party and its advisors have played a clever game regarding its takeover position and the interest of the bidding parties. The underperforming operator has been marked as a game changing deal for both GVC and 888. The bidding operators have differing sets of plans for bwin.party should they manage to acquire the company.

Noting its vantage point, analysts and industry commentators have stated that it is likely that bwin.party governance will hold out for bid increases from both 888 and GVC. It is further noted that the operator will look to drag on bid negotiations which have been ongoing since this February, as governance looks to secure the best deal for shareholders.

August 19, 2015

IGT Wins Multi-Hand Poker U.S. Patent

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nternational Game Technology (IGT) has announced today that its operating company was recently issued U.S. Patent No. 9,105,158. This patent grants IGT’s operating company exclusive rights in the field of multi-hand poker functionality in video poker games through November 2016. This pivotal patent is central to many of IGT’s industry-leading multi-hand video poker games including All-Star Poker TM, Ultimate X Poker TM, Hyper Bonus Poker TM, Triple Play™ Five Play ™ Ten Play™ Draw Poker and many other five, ten, 25, 50 and 100 play IGT video poker products.

“Multi-hand poker remains a pillar of IGT’s industry-leading video poker product portfolio,” said Jacob Lanning, IGT Vice President of Product Management. “This important patent enables IGT to maintain its global leadership in video poker content creation and deployment and allows the Company to continue to create proven game themes that are often some of the highest-earning titles on our customers’ floors.”

August 17, 2015

How Wall Street Money Transformed Online Gambling Forever

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In September 2013, New York money man Jason Ader, who runs SpringOwl Asset Management, flew to Israel to meet Ruth Parasol, the California-born former billionaire who played a big role in creating the online gambling industry. Parasol founded PartyGaming, which was the biggest online poker company in the world until it left the U.S. market after Congress passed new legislation in 2006.

Parasol had watched her company enter into a non-prosecution deal with U.S. prosecutors and her former partner, Anurag Dikshit, pay a $300 million fine and plead guilty to violating a U.S. law that the Justice Department no longer believes prohibits online poker or casino games. PartyGaming merged with Bwin Interactive, which specialized in online sports betting, to create publicly-traded Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment. But the Gibraltar-based company was flailing and Parasol, who still owned a big chunk of the company’s stock, was looking to sell a block of it, partly because of reasons related to her divorce to Russ DeLeon, who also owned a lot of shares.

Ader met Parasol in her house in the Israeli seaside town of Herzliya and DeLeon was there, too. Parasol wanted to meet the guy who was going to buy a portion of her shares. Parasol hadn’t run a gambling company in years, but Ader, a former Wall Street gaming analyst, was amazed by her knowledge of what was going on in the online gambling industry, particularly the evolution of games on mobile devices. Ader apparently passed Parasol’s test and ended up buying about half of her stake and much of DeLeon’s stock as well for some $100 million, making his firm Bwin.Party’s third-biggest shareholder.

These sorts of symbolic hand-offs have been reshaping the online gambling industry, moving it away from the bold risk-taking entrepreneurs who pioneered the business and putting new players in control, often in a way that represents a clean break from an era where the creators of the online gambling industry were bumping into governments and law enforcement, particularly in the U.S. Just like Michael Milken’s financings had backed Steve Wynn to remake Las Vegas years ago, the transformation of online gambling is being driven by Wall Street and some of the biggest names in finance, firms like Blackstone, BlackRock, Apollo, and Cerberus Capital Management. In the next few weeks, the reshaping of the online gambling industry will hit a new stage as a bidding war sparked by Ader for Bwin.Party comes to its conclusion.

Ader made an impact quickly. His block of Bwin.Party stock came with a board seat, but after he didn’t approve of the direction that Bwin Interactive’s co-founder, Norbert Teufelberger (who was once arrested at a press conference in France), was moving Bwin.Party as CEO, Ader successfully launched an activist campaign to reconstruct the board. He also helped push the board to hire Deutsche Bank to look for a company to buy Bwin.Party. By the summer of 2014, the company was in play.

At the same time that Ader was agitating for a sale at Bwin.Party, the credit division of New York-based Blackstone Group, the biggest private equity firm in the world, was preparing to back David Baazov, the then 33-year-old founder of tiny Amaya, to buy PokerStars, the world’s biggest online poker company. PokerStars, based in the Isle of Man, had been founded by Isai Scheinberg and his son, Mark Scheinberg, but they were ready to sell for the right price—in cash. The duo had run into legal problems after PokerStars continued to offer online poker in the U.S. after Congress passed the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. They always maintained PokerStars had operated legally in the U.S., but the company ended up paying $731 million to settle with federal prosecutors and still was having trouble returning to U.S. states like New Jersey that had opened up to online poker after the Justice Department reversed its position on the law government lawyers had used to go after it. Isai Scheinberg, who lives in the Isle of Man, had remained under indictment (Mark was never charged) and the Scheinbergs were ready to deal.

With the backing of Blackstone’s credit division (which committed $1 billion) and New York-based BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, Amaya bought PokerStars and its sister company, Full Tilt Poker, in a $4.9 billion cash deal in August of 2014. The deal would not have been possible without Blackstone’s credit division, known on Wall Street as GSO. Amaya was a small company. In fact, when Baazov first delivered to the Scheinbergs a $3 billion commitment letter on Blackstone’s letterhead, the Scheinbergs found it necessary to verify with Blackstone that the letter was authentic. “It was like them telling me, ‘Not to say that you guys forged it, but we got to talk to them directly,’ ”. The deal was also reliant on Baazov getting banks like Deutsche Bank and Barclays to lend against online gambling assets, the first such big loan ever.

The Amaya deal for PokerStars shocked the online gambling industry. One of the biggest impacts was felt by Bwin.Party, which traditionally ran PokerStars’ biggest competitor and saw its stock plunge in the aftermath of the announcement of the deal. The stock fell so sharply in the summer of 2014 that at one point Ader considered trying to find a way for his financial firm to purchase the whole company itself while moving the board to expand its search for the right buyer. “I didn’t like how the process was being handled, I had to push 888 (Holdings) which was a perfect strategic buyer, to get invited,” says Ader.

GVC Holdings, a small and publicly-traded online gambling company that focuses on so-called gray markets where laws are unclear, made a bid in May that was at one point backed by Amaya to buy Bwin.Party. Not long after GVC jumped into the ring, 888 Holdings, a publicly-traded Gibraltar company focused on online poker and casino games and founded by two sets of Israeli brothers, launched its own bid backed by JPMorgan Chase and Barclays, as two big banks once again committed to loan money against online gambling assets.

In July, 888 struck a deal to buy Bwin.Party for about $1.4 billion. The deal would create a serious rival for Amaya and Pokerstars, which currently dominate online poker outside of the U.S. But it’s not a done deal yet. GVC Holdings lost Amaya’s backing but gained new financial commitments from Cerberus Capital Management, billionaire Stephen Feinberg’s New York financial firm. As a result, GVC moved in August and submitted a slightly richer bid for Bwin.Party than the 888 deal, but GVC’s offer is largely a stock deal that would leave Bwin.Party shareholders holding stock in the riskier combined entity. For now, shares of Bwin.Party are up 40% in the last year. On the surface, it seems 888 is more likely to win out.

Wall Street money has not solved all of the online gambling industry’s problems. In the U.S., for example, still only three states—New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware— have regulatory regimes for online gambling and hopes that important states like California might usher in a new golden age of online gambling have so been disappointed. Even Amaya’s PokerStars has been yet unable to get back into New Jersey after just about one year of trying. There had been assumptions that such a reentry would be swift under a new Wall Street-backed ownership structure. Still, with big financial firm backing, the online gambling business looks a lot different today than it did just over a year ago.