January 18, 2008

Bwin first to advertise in Argentina?

Bwin is rumoured to have become the first online gambling operator to advertise nationally in Argentina in recent years, after a deal with one of the country’s leading publishers.

The daily newspaper Clarin, which has 44% of the market share in Buenos Aires, has carried Bwin adverts on its website. Bwin operates with a license from the Provincia de Misiones in Argentina and is allegedly the first company to advertise since Yahoo! and others were instructed to remove gambling adverts some years ago.

Bwin was the second operator to obtain a legal license in Argentina, following Victor Chandler in November 2006.

Tim Phillips, from Buenos Aires-based Tamarind Media, told eGaming Review that the legal structure, whereby licenses are provincial rather than national, leaves advertising in a potentially grey area. “Bwin has a license to operate from a provincial gaming board, but not from the national gaming authorities, so technically, under Argentine law they are not allowed to advertise in any provinces other than the one they have the license from, and certainly not nationally,” he said. “However, if Bwin has started to advertise with the largest media owner in Argentina, then for sure others will follow. For Bwin to have taken the risk, it must have felt able to do so. This could signal a change.”

Manfred Bodner, co-chief executive at Bwin said that he would not comment on the news “for competitive reasons.”

The legality of advertising regulation has surfaced in the past. In 2005, Bwin announced it had completed a shirt sponsorship deal with Buenos Aires-based football team Boca Juniors. This was cancelled after Argentina’s National Lottery claimed that the US$13.5m deal was illegal as Bwin was unlicensed at the time.

Recent violent disturbances on two ‘floating casinos’ outside Buenos Aires have put into sharp focus the issue of gambling law in a region which has been called the “sleeping giant,” but still presents sizable challenges for operators looking to new territories.

Though riverboat casinos, owned by Barcelona-based Cirsa, and Casino Club, an Argentine company, are reported to have re-opened after a dispute with casino workers over union representation, there is still no schedule for new legislation in the country.

Ramón Moyano, partner at Buenos Aires-based legal firm Estudio Beccar Varela, told eGaming Review that regulations, while possible in the coming year, are not inevitable.

He said: “The issue is stuck at the moment because of political fighting. As far as the casino riots it is a labour-driven conflict.” He added that there have been many predictions that with a new administration, new regulations will follow.

888’s head of Latin American region, Andres Bzurovski, said that its partnership with Tower Torneos was “going strongly”. But he added that there are still difficulties in the region. He said: “The Tower Torneos partnership has proven to be an excellent relationship and we can say that it the largest local community of poker players in the region, creating the trends and culture Latin American Poker. In 2008 we will increase our cooperation and support towards Tower Torneos with the objective of having the two most important brands in the region, each one on its segment.”

He added: “LATAM it a difficult region, where a company needs a great amount of flexibility. It seems that gambling will be part of the political agenda, but you have to remember that there are local interests which are close to the government that do not want to openly discuss anything related to gambling.”