July 25, 2017

Czech legislators to add new gaming regulations

National legislators held a session yesterday discuss gaming regulations, according to Prague Monitor. After the meeting, new amendments could be added to federal laws in order to control potential public corruption through gaming operations. Earlier this year, the Congress approved a gaming law, which was previously modified by a lobbying organisation.

“During the legislative process, the gambling bill underwent several changes as a direct consequence of the gambling lobby’s intervention, which led to particular interests being put above public interests,” revealed a public analysis issued by the office of Human Rights Ministry.

Czech Republic Cabinet met yesterday in order to review the analysis and discuss further regulations for gaming activities. According to the document, the industry could represent a risk of corruption in public administration, as “favouritism, non-standard lobbying, economic and media pressure” could influence government officials, as reported by the local news outlet.

The Ministry’s document also reveals connections between gaming companies and national former and current authorities. The main example is the SYNOT gaming company owned by Senator Ivo Valenta, which employs former Finance Ministry officials. Czech Republic has been allegedly experiencing “Revolving Doors,” a phenomenon where gaming businessmen achieve governmental positions and after their periods, they return to their previous businesses.

July 18, 2017

Uncertainty reigns in ‘Game of Thrones’ markets

With series seven of Game of Thrones rapidly approaching, William Hill’s market for who will end series eight as the ruler of the kingdom took a sudden and unexpected spike.

Cersei Lannister came in from 14/1 to become the overnight favourite at just 5/2. However, despite a mass influx of overnight bets, Cersei has drifted back out in the market and Daenerys Targaryen now appears to be destined for supremacy.

Nonetheless, tragedy has played a prominent role thus far in Game of Thrones and season seven doesn’t look like being subdued, it is just 6/4 that one or more of Cersei, Daenerys, Jon Snow or Tyrion lannister reach their demise in series seven.

“If our punters are to be believed, Cersei is going to have a very prominent role in these last two series of Game of Thrones,” said William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly.

Fortuna hurdles Romanian acquisitions legal debacle

There’s no more legal impediment that will bar investors of the Eastern European betting and lottery operator Fortuna Entertainment Group from voting on its proposed acquisition of four Romanian gambling companies after a Dutch appellate court dismissed a petition against the firm’s move.

SeeNews reported that the Amsterdam Court of Appeals threw out the petition for injunction that Franklin Templeton investment funds as it seeks to stop the purchase of Bet Active Concept, Bet Zone, Public Slots and Slot Arena.

Per Widerström, CEO of Fortuna, lauded the court’s Monday decision, saying the company may now move forward with their plans to boost the company’s Romanian market presence. The company has scheduled an extraordinary meeting of shareholders planned on August 1 to vote on the acquisition plans.

“This acquisition, together with previously acquired Casa Pariurilor (as part of Hattrick Sport Group), means that Romania will become our biggest market and that Fortuna Entertainment Group will become the number one regulated sports betting and gaming operator in the Romanian market,” Per Widerström, CEO of Fortuna, said, according to the news report.

In March, the Czech Republic-based Fortuna announced it was in the process of negotiating the acquisition of Romanian companies Bet Active Concept SRL, Bet Zone SRL, Public Slots SRL and Slot Arena SRL from Fortbet Holdings Ltd for €47 million (US$54 million).

Fortbet is the majority shareholder of Fortuna and the subsidiary of Penta Investment Group.

The purchase, however, was delayed after the Amsterdam Court of Appeals granted the petition filed by a group of shareholders advised by Templeton to stop the sale in April.

During the same month, Fortuna announced a €135m deal to acquire Hattrick Sports, which controls Romania’s leading betting brand Casa Pariurilor. That deal alone made Fortuna the number one retail betting operator in Romania, while also expanding its operations into Croatia.

Fortuna, which was established in 1990, posted a 12.2 percent revenue increase in the first quarter of 2017, thanks in part to its online betting operations. In the three months ending March 31, 2017, Fortuna said that its revenue grew to €42.7 million.

July 12, 2017

Partypoker owner GVC in the mood for more deals

The lack of a major sporting tournament this year has failed to knock the owner of online gambling brands Sportingbet and Bwin, as the acquisition-hungry firm said it would not rule out another deal.

GVC, which was catapulted into the FTSE 250 on the back of its most recent deal to buy Bwin, feels it is now in a position to seek out another rival in spite of completing two major deals in three years.

“The organic opportunity is significant, whilst we are also well positioned to pursue further acquisition opportunities should they arise,” chief executive Kenny Alexander said.

He added the amount the company spends on marketing would return to more normal levels at the end of the year meaning he was confident about the group’s potential performance.

The business freed up some cash earlier this year after refinancing a short-term loan from Cerberus Business Finance it had used to fund the Bwin acquisition. It agreed a €320m (£280m) lending deal with investment bank Nomura, comprising €250m to pay Cerberus the remainder it owed them, and a €70m credit facility.

In the six months to June 30, GVC saw net gaming revenue - the amounts staked minus winnings - rise 10pc to €484.8m. This was higher than the 7pc growth rate of the comparable year in spite of that period benefiting from the first few weeks of the 2016 European football championships.

While sports betting was down in terms of the amount of wagers being made by customers, its gaming brands more than took up the slack, with a 17pc rise in net gaming revenue to hit €1m per day.

The rise in customers within its gaming division has been helped by the Bwin acquisition, which completed in February last year, as Partypoker and other casino brands enticed players. The firm bought Sportingbet in March 2013.

July 07, 2017

This startup is building AI to bet on soccer games

Listen to Andreas Koukorinis, founder of UK sports betting company Stratagem, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that football games are some of the most predictable events on Earth. “They’re short duration, repeatable, with fixed rules, so if you observe 100,000 games, there are patterns there you can take out.”

The mission of Koukorinis’ company is simple: find these patterns and make money off them. Stratagem does this either by selling the data it collects to professional gamblers and bookmakers, or by keeping it and making its own wagers.To fund these wagers, the firm is raising money for a £25 million ($32 million) sports betting fund that it’s positioning as an investment alternative to traditional hedge funds. In other words, Stratagem hopes rich people will give Stratagem their money. The company will gamble with it using its proprietary data, and, if all goes to plan, everyone ends up just that little bit richer.

It’s a familiar story, but Stratagem is adding a little something extra to sweeten the pot: artificial intelligence.

At the moment, the company uses teams of human analysts spread out around the globe to report back on the various sporting leagues it bets on. This information is combined with detailed data about the odds available from various bookmakers to give Stratagem an edge over the average punter. But, in the future, it wants computers to do the analysis for it.It already uses machine learning to analyze some of its data (working out the best time to place a bet, for example), but it’s also developing AI tools that can analyze sporting events in real time, drawing out data that will help predict which team will win.

Stratagem is using deep neural networks to achieve this task — the same technology that’s enchanted Silicon Valley’s biggest firms. It’s a good fit, since this is a tool that’s well-suited for analyzing vast pots of data. As Koukorinis points out, when analyzing sports, there’s a hell of a lot data to learn from. The company’s software is currently absorbing thousands of hours of sporting fixtures to teach it patterns of failure and success, and the end goal is to create an AI that can watch a range of a half-dozen different sporting events simultaneously on live TV, extracting insights as it does.

At the moment, though, Stratagem is starting small. It’s focusing on just a few sports (football, basketball, and tennis) and a few metrics (like goal chances in football). At the company’s London offices, home to around 30 employees including ex-bankers and programmers, we’re shown the fledgling neural nets for football games in action. On-screen, the output is similar to what you might see from the live feed of a self-driving car. But instead of the computer highlighting stop signs and pedestrians as it scans the road ahead, it’s drawing a box around Zlatan Ibrahimović as he charges at the goal, dragging defenders in his wake.

Stratagem’s AI makes its calculations watching a standard, broadcast feed of the match. (Pro: it’s readily accessible. Con: it has to learn not to analyze the replays.) It tracks the ball and the players, identifying which team they’re on based on the color of their kits. The lines of the pitch are also highlighted, and all this data is transformed into a 2D map of the whole game. From this viewpoint, the software studies matches like an armchair general: it identifies what it thinks are goal-scoring chances, or the moments where the configuration of players looks right for someone to take a shot and score.

“Football is such a low-scoring game that you need to focus on these sorts of metrics to make predictions,” says Koukorinis. “If there’s a short on target from 30 yards with 11 people in front of the striker and that ends in a goal, yes, it looks spectacular on TV, but it’s not exciting for us. Because if you repeat it 100 times the outcomes won’t be the same. But if you have Lionel Messi running down the pitch and he’s one-on-one with the goalie, the conversion rate on that is 80 percent. We look at what created that situation. We try to take the randomness out, and look at how good the teams are at what they’re trying to do, which is generate goal-scoring opportunities.”

Whether or not counting goal-scoring opportunities is the best way to rank teams is difficult to say. Stratagem says it’s a metric that’s popular with professional gamblers, but they — and the company — weigh it with a lot of other factors before deciding how to bet. Stratagem also notes that the opportunities identified by its AI don’t consistently line up with those spotted by humans. Right now, the computer gets it correct about 50 percent of the time. Despite this, the company say its current betting models (which it develops for football, but also basketball and tennis) are right more than enough times for it to make a steady return, though they won’t share precise figures.

At the moment, Stratagem generates most of its data about goal-scoring opportunities and other metrics the old-fashioned way: using a team of 65 human analysts who write detailed match reports. The company’s AI would automate some of this process and speed it up significantly. (Each match report takes about three hours to write.) Some forms of data-gathering would still rely on humans, however.

A key task for the company’s agents is finding out a team’s starting lineup before it’s formally announced. (This is a major driver of pre-game betting odds, says Koukorinis, and knowing in advance helps you beat the market.) Acquiring this sort of information isn’t easy. It means finding sources at a club, building up a relationship, and knowing the right people to call on match day. Chatbots just aren’t up to the job yet.

Machine vision, though, is really just one element of Stratagem’s AI business plan. It already applies machine learning to more mundane facets of betting — like working out the best time to place a bet in any particular market. In this regard, what the company is doing is no different from many other hedge funds, which for decades have been using machine learning to come up with new ways to trade. Most funds blend human analysis with computer expertise, but at least one is run completely by decisions generated by artificial intelligence.

However, simply adding more computers to the mix isn’t always a recipe for success. There’s data showing that if you want to make the most out of your money, it’s better to just invest in the top-performing stocks of the S&P 500, rather than sign up for an AI hedge fund. That’s not the best sign that Stratagem’s sports-betting fund will offer good returns, especially when such funds are already controversial.

In 2012, a sports-betting fund set up by UK firm Centaur Holdings, collapsed just two years after it launched. It lost $2.5 million after promising investors returns of 15 to 20 percent. To critics, operations like this are just borrowing the trappings of traditional funds to make gambling look more like investing.

David Stevenson, director of finance research company AltFi, commented there’s nothing essentially wrong with these funds, but they need to be thought of as their own category. “I don’t particularly doubt it’s great fun [to invest in one] if you like sports and a bit of betting,” said Stevenson. “But don’t qualify it with the term ‘investment,’ because investment, by its nature, has to be something you can predict over the long run.”

Stevenson also notes that AI hedge funds that are successful — those that “torture the math within an inch of its life” to eek out small but predictable profits — tend not to seek outside investment at all. They prefer keeping the money to themselves. “I treat most things that combine the acronym ‘AI’ and the word ‘investing’ with an enormous dessert spoon of salt,” he said.

Whether or not Stratagem’s AI can deliver insights that make sporting events as predictable as the tides remains to be seen, but the company’s investment in artificial intelligence does have other uses. For starters, it can attract investors and customers looking for an edge in the world of gambling. It can also automate work that’s currently done by the company’s human employees and make it cheaper. As with other businesses that are using AI, it’s these smaller gains that might prove to be most reliable. After all, small, reliable gains make for a good investment.

June 28, 2017

Ladbrokes could face inquiry after betting addicts' details found in bin bag

Ladbrokes could face an investigation from the gambling regulator over an incident in which confidential information about betting addicts, including photos, names and addresses, was found in a bin bag on the street.

The Gambling Commission said it was looking into the bookmaker’s compliance with data protection laws after a passer-by found the sensitive documents outside a branch of Ladbrokes in Glasgow.

The data included personal details of customers who signed up for the betting industry’s multi-operator self-exclusion scheme (Moses), which allows problem gamblers to ban themselves from placing bets voluntarily.


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Bookmakers carry information about customers who have signed up to the Moses system to help shop staff identify customers who should not be allowed to bet.

The information includes their names, addresses, photographs and information about why they have chosen to exclude themselves but does not include bank account numbers or detailed information about their betting history.

The Gambling Commission said it was looking into why such sensitive data was not disposed of in a way that ensured customer’s personal information was protected.

“Customers trust that their personal data will be collected carefully and then protected properly,” said the Gambling Commission executive director, Tim Miller.

“We expect gambling operators to adhere to all data protection laws or regulations, which are enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

“In an instance where personal data has been breached, we would expect operators to do whatever they can to mitigate any harm caused.”

Ladbrokes usually collects such data from its stores and disposes of it securely through a company-wide procedure.

A statement on the Moses website reads: “Your personal details are kept confidential and only shared with the participating bookmakers their group companies’ and the central team administrators.”

Ladbrokes did not say how the information ended up in a bin bag on the street. But a spokesperson said: “We are taking this extremely seriously and [are] undertaking a full investigation.”

Ladbrokes is understood to have written to all of its shops reminding them of the need to dispose of sensitive information in the right way.

It has also begun an internal investigation to be sure that its procedures are as watertight as possible, according to the Scottish Sun.

Marc Etches, chief executive of leading charity GambleAware, said: “We really hope this situation does not put anyone off using self-exclusion, as research we published in March found that 83% of those who have used it found the scheme to be effective, although we would always recommend professional treatment alongside such measures.

“Self-exclusion is often a last resort for those already suffering from a gambling addiction and it’s important we identify those who are at risk as early as possible and prevent problems developing.”

Individual bookmakers have their own self-exclusion scheme but also use the industry-wide scheme Moses, managed by a responsible-gambling body called the Senet Group, founded by four major bookmakers in 2014.

Gamblers can voluntarily self-exclude for a year, a binding decision that cannot be reversed during the period.

At the end of the year, the self-exclusion will remain in place automatically for six months, unless the customer requests otherwise.

Amaya investors approve ‘The Stars Group’ name change

Following this month’s Annual General Meeting, Amaya Inc shareholders have approved the corporate name change of the company to ‘The Stars Group’.

The name change proposition was put forward by Amaya governance last May following the firm’s Q1 2017 trading update. Following a shareholder vote, Amaya governance details that The Stars Group name change has gained outright stakeholder backing.

The The company will now move to implement a full corporate rebrand, with its new name and logo. Amaya leadership expects to unveil its new corporate identity by August of this year coinciding with the relocation to a new head office in Toronto Canada.

Further to the name change approval, company shareholders also voted to approve continuance under the Business Corporations Act (Ontario), with Amaya to become an Ontario corporation.

The online gambling group, detailed that it had proposed a name change to investors in order to better represent its corporate assets and future vision within the global gambling sector.

Following a busy Q2 2017 period in which Amaya has undertaken an executive team overhaul led by Chief Executive Rafi Ashkenazi. The company has confirmed the leadership appointments of Brian Kyle as new Financial Officer and the appointment of Dr Jerry Bowskill as new Chief Technology Officer.

June 27, 2017

William Hill shutting its online operations in Israel, laying off more than 200

Оnline gaming giant William Hill plc will be shutting its operation in Israel. More than 200 of the company’s approximately 250 Tel Aviv based employees will be laid off, and the company’s offices at the Azrieli Towers will be vacated.

A small number of William Hill Israel key employees will be offered relocation to head office in the UK or elsewhere in Europe.

Sources at the company were quoted as saying that representatives of William Hill had begun meeting individually with Tel Aviv based employees, explaining the company’s decision to consolidate the online portion of its business, which is what the Israel operation dealt mostly with.

Israel is a major center in the online gaming world as well as in areas such as online marketing and software development which are essential to the industry. However the strong Shekel, combined with rising real estate prices and low unemployment levels, has made Israel a much more expensive place in which to do business. Israeli technology companies have also been actively outsourcing to lower cost locations such as India and Eastern Europe.

William Hill began operating in Israel in 2008, when it created William Hill Online as a joint venture with Teddy Sagi’s Playtech PLC. Playtech transferred assets and technology into William Hill Online, including a large number of Israel-based employees, in return for a 30% interest in the venture. William Hill bought out Playtech’s holding in the JV in 2013 for £424 million.

June 23, 2017

Football Association ends links with all betting firms after review

The Football Association will no longer have a betting partner after terminating a contract with Ladbrokes worth around £4m a year following a string of high-profile gambling controversies in the sport.

The decision follows a three-month review by the governing body into how appropriate such a deal was when the FA is noticeably becoming stricter in enforcing its ban on those connected with the game gambling on football.


It also comes after Joey Barton, serving an 18-month ban for gambling offences, accused the FA of hypocrisy over the deal. It had three years of a four-year contract to run. The chief executive, Martin Glenn, said: “We would like to thank Ladbrokes for both being a valued partner over the last year and for their professionalism and understanding about our change of policy around gambling.”

The EFL said the FA decision had no bearing on its own partnership with Sky Bet, which is in its fifth year. A spokesman said: “The EFL is of the firm belief that there is no conflict in having a commercial relationship with the gaming industry, as it is the FA who have the ultimate responsibility of enforcing any breach of the existing betting rules that all those who participate in our competitions have to adhere to.”

The FA chairman, Greg Clarke, has led the move to put space between the governing body and bookmakers, although he insisted the review was not linked to the Barton case. The player, who was banned in April having placed 1,260 bets on matches between 2006 and 2013, claimed this amounted to “hush money” and that it might prevent the ruling body from discovering match-fixing.

He told The Sunday Times last week: “What are the FA going to do, march into Ladbrokes and say: ‘Show us everyone who’s had a bet on this game?’ Ladbrokes are going to say: ‘Eff off, we pay you £10m a year [sic], keep your mouth shut.’ Do the FA not understand that’s hush money? Because if they don’t do it to Ladbrokes, they can’t do it to Betfair, Paddy Power, William Hill.

“They’ve given me such a harsh sentence because they want to maintain to the world, to the people who buy TV rights, that this is a very high-integrity game here. People who work for betting companies have told me that’s the key issue. The FA have no actual interest in [tackling] betting. And they can’t solve the problem, especially when they’ve got Ladbrokes as a partner. Because the players are going: ‘I’m not doing anything wrong.’”

The EFL said it would not be reconsidering its title sponsorship with SkyBet in light of the FA’s decision, arguing there was no conflict of interest.

“The EFL (as a competition organiser) is of the firm belief that there is no conflict in having a commercial relationship with the gaming industry, as it is the FA who have the ultimate responsibility of enforcing any breach of the existing betting rules that all those who participate in our competitions have to adhere to,” said a spokesman.

June 07, 2017

Pagcor to limit Philippine online gaming licenses to 50

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) said this week it is planning to initially trim the number of online gaming operators in the country to a maximum of 50. This measure is to prevent an oversupply of players in the industry.

Philippines flagJose Tria Jr., assistant vice president of Pagcor’s Offshore Gaming Licensing Department, said the regulator is eyeing to impose a moratorium to limit the number of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) until it is sure that the increase in players is not overtaking the demand. “We need to evaluate first if the industry is already oversaturated,” Tria told in an interview.

However, the Pagcor official clarified that such moratorium could be lifted anytime. “It depends on the evaluation. The saturation of the market can be seen in the audit system. If the income of each operator goes down from the previously reported, this means there are too much operators,” Tria added.

Tria said an oversaturation means that additional operators do not bring in additional income to the industry. “They are just dividing between themselves [the income] instead of increasing it. That means it’s already saturated,” he said.

Pagcor has so far issued 42 licenses to offshore operators to date. Pending applications, meanwhile, have gone down to 12 from the initial list of 44, Tria said. “After we released the list, we wrote a letter to the pending applicants. A lot of them did not pursue their application.”

Should the moratorium be imposed, only eight new operators stand to get their license application approved.