July 29, 2008

One Sportingbet employee released, no formal charges for other detainee

One of Sportingbet’s two employees detained by the authorities in Turkey has been released without charge and has returned to the UK, while the other has been refused bail and is awaiting formal charges, the company said this morning.

Both Turkish nationals appealed separately against their arrests in May this year in relation to Sportingbet’s Turkish offering Superbahis, the operator said it was still seeking clarification as to what the formal charges were. A number of employees connected to Maslin Properties, Sportingbet’s former marketing partner in Turkey, were still in custody in connection with this matter. Sportingbet said its relationship with Maslin ended on 1 March 2007.

Turkey introduced regulation in February 2007 that makes it illegal for “unauthorised” operators to offer bets to Turkish citizens. Sportingbet has said it is unclear whether the law applies to itself because its servers are located outside the country. The group continues to take bets from the Turkish market.

Sportingbet’s share of revenues from Turkey has dropped over recent months. For the third quarter ended 30 April 2008, net gaming revenue (NGR) from Turkey was approximately 14% of group NGR, compared to approximately 26% on the previous quarter and since March 2008, NGR from Turkey was down to around 9% of group NGR.

Mansion's owners move into online banking

The owners of online gaming company Mansion have launched an independent online bank aimed at gaming enthusiasts.

FSA-regulated Ivobank will provide its customers in the UK, Ireland, Canada and Spain with instant transfers, competitive rates of interest and a virtual debit card.

Ivobank’s managing director Timothy Sawyer said the online bank aimed to fill a gap in the online gaming market.

”The online gaming industry has developed rapidly in recent years, but the financial services supporting it have not kept pace,” said Sawyer.

”Many online businesses and customers have been ill-served to date, resulting in relatively high costs and relatively low levels of service.”

Gibraltar-based Mansion has suffered a number of setbacks in the past couple of years, including the closure of its sportsbook business and disappointing results from its sponsorship of premiership football club Tottenham Hotspur. But billionaire backer Putra Sampoerna is optimistic about this latest venture, with plans to attract one million customers during the next five years.

July 24, 2008

PartyCasino back with Terminator and Rambo slots

PartyGaming has added two more film-branded slots to its PartyCasino product range. The company has signed a four-year licensing agreement to create and release slot games based on The Terminator and Rambo movies.

The rights to the two films are owned by Canal subsidiary StudioCanal and the deal follows on from Party’s agreement with Paramount Studios to release online slots based on the Mission:Impossible and Saturday Night Fever franchises. Party is also set to roll out Top Gun and Godfather-branded games as part of the deal with Paramount.

Jim Ryan, chief executive of PartyGaming, said: “Creating unique and exclusive themed content is a key element of our strategy, because the power of popular international brands and their ability to add substantial value to our game portfolio is clear. We plan to license more brands over the coming months to improve further the quality and range of our games and keep ahead of our competitors.”

July 21, 2008

Two more players sanctioned for gambling

The Czech Republic's Frantisek Cermak and Slovakia's Michal Mertinak became the latest players to be banned and fined for betting on tennis matches, the ATP said on Monday.

As the governing body of men's tennis continues to crack down on gambling in the sport, the two Eastern European doubles specialists became the first non-Italians to be sanctioned under the ATP's anti-corruption programme.

Cermak, 31, who does not have a singles ranking, was banned for 10 weeks from Monday and fined $15,000, while world number 616 Mertinak received a two-week suspension and a $3000 penalty.

"An ATP investigation launched in November 2007 found that Mr. Cermak had wagered on tennis matches during a period dating from 9 Sept. 2006 through 1 Feb. 2007," the ATP said in a statement.

"The same investigation found that Mr. Mertinak had wagered on tennis matches during October of 2006."

The ATP said neither player had placed bets on their own matches and the independent hearing officer found no evidence of any intent to affect the outcome of any matches wagered upon.

"The ATP's anti-corruption programme is clear that gambling on any form of tennis match will not be tolerated," said Gayle David Bradshaw, ATP's executive vice president, rules and competition.

Five Italians had already been sanctioned since the ATP launched a worldwide investigation almost a year ago.

Alessio di Mauro, Potito Starace, Daniele Bracciali, Giorgio Galimberti and Federico Luzzi have been punished for gambling on tennis matches.

Di Mauro was handed the stiffest sentence of nine months and fined $60,000.

Corruption has been high on the ATP's agenda following an investigation last year prompted by irregular betting patterns in a match between Russian Nikolay Davydenko and Argentine Martin Vassallo Arguello in Poland.

Both players deny any involvement but British online betting exchange Betfair voided all bets on the match.

Several players have since said they had turned down offers to throw a match in exchange for money.

The ATP's Anti-Corruption Program prohibits players and their entourage from betting on any form of tennis. (Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Miles Evans)

July 17, 2008

Betfair and Sportingbet challenge Australian ad ban

Betfair and Sportingbet Australia have launched a challenge in the Federal Court of Australia to laws that prevent interstate-licensed operators from advertising or sponsoring racing or sporting events in New South Wales (NSW).

Commenting on the legal action, Andrew Twaits, director of corporate and business affairs for Betfair in Australia, said the ‘protectionist’ laws deprived racing clubs and other stakeholders of valuable advertising and sponsorship revenues.

“We think the legislation is invalid and, more importantly, is holding back the growth of the NSW racing industry through a misguided attempt at protecting the NSW TAB’s wagering monopoly,” he said.

Although gambling in Australia is traditionally the subject of the laws of individual states, relations between them are governed by the Australian constitution. The NSW laws banning advertising by betting companies licensed outside the state have been susceptible to challenge since March, when Tasmanian-licensed Betfair won a groundbreaking ruling in the High Court of Australia that government laws banning state residents from using a betting exchange were unconstitutional as they imposed protectionist barriers on interstate trade.

Twaits confirmed to eGaming Review that Sportingbet and Betfair’s joint action will proceed on the same basis as March’s landmark ruling. “The challenge is based on section 92 of the constitution, which is the same provision of the constitution on which we relied in challenging the validity of the Western Australian Government’s laws to ban betting exchanges in that state. We are seeking a declaration that the laws relating to the advertising restrictions in NSW are invalid,” he said.

Michael Sullivan, chief executive of Sportingbet Australia, added: “We believe this legislation is fundamentally flawed and it contradicts the spirit of business in Australia by restricting fair and open trade between the states.”

Sportingbet and Betfair’s action has been launched in the wake of the NSW government’s July 1 announcement that all interstate TABs, bookmakers and betting exchanges will be required to pay for the right to use NSW racing information under race fields legislation which comes into force on September 1.

Twaits explained that Betfair was happy to pay a fair fee to the state’s racing industry, but that the additional levy undermined their ability to compete on a level playing field.

“The two issues are unrelated in a legal sense. However, in a practical sense, the government’s failure to lift the interstate advertising regulations at the same time as they enacted race fields legislation – requiring all interstate wagering operators to pay product fees in NSW on top of what they pay in their local jurisdictions – finally put to rest any suggestion that the government was willing to embrace competition in the local wagering landscape.”

In a statement published the day following the initiation of legal proceedings, NSW Racing countered by saying that the fee still represents competitive value to interstate operators, and that its introduction is necessary to protect industry participants from mounting financial hardship. A spokesperson for NSW racing minister Graham West also said in a statement to Australian Associated Press: “The legislation being challenged is about protecting the NSW racing industry, a significant employer in this state. As the matter is now before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

EGBA raises the bar for responsible gaming

The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) has launched a new set of best practice standards aimed at ensuring consistent standards of player protection, fair gaming and responsible operator behaviour in the European online gaming and betting environment.

The EGBA Technical Standards will require all EGBA members to comply with over 170 technical points of best practice in all areas of their operations, ranging from the prevention of underage and problem gaming through to the implementation of responsible and ethical marketing practices.

Compliance with the new standards will be verified by a compulsory annual audit carried out by independent standards and player protection body eCOGRA, itself subject to a regular quality assurance review by auditing firm KPMG.

According to EGBA, this latest self-regulatory initiative on behalf of its members complements legal requirements already imposed by EU licensing jurisdictions.

EGBA chairman Norbert Teufelberger commented: “These standards are a sign of our commitment to an exemplary level of corporate and social responsibility. They could serve as a basis for reflection at a time when governments and regulators across Europe are trying to find ways to best protect consumers in the online gaming and betting environment.”

Andrew Beveridge, chief executive of eCOGRA, added: "Our goal is to ensure that EGBA has a meaningful professional review process for determining each member's compliance with agreed and consistently applied standards, which consumers and regulators have come to expect in the online gaming and betting industry.”

July 14, 2008

Battle of chips: Computer beats human experts at poker

Human pride took a hit 11 years ago when IBM's Big Blue computer beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov. Now it's poker players' turn to be humiliated by a machine.

A computer system called Polaris outperformed some of the world's top players last weekend at a human-vs.-machine competition in Las Vegas.

The score was computer 3, humans 2, with one draw.

If you think it should be easier for a computer to win at poker than at the highly intellectual game of chess, think again. The human element makes poker a much more complex challenge.

"Poker is a completely different game," said computer scientist Michael Bowling, the leader of a Computer Poker Research Group at the University of Alberta, Canada.

"In chess or checkers, you have perfect information. There are no secrets on the board," Bowling said. "But in poker you don't know the other person's cards. The basic computer techniques used in chess can't help you in poker."

The poker computer project may have practical applications beyond the card room. For example, Bowling said poker-like skills might be useful in bidding auctions where multiple companies are competing for government contracts or buyers are hunting deals on eBay.

"There is a lot of uncertainty there," he said. "Should you wait or bid? The same things apply in poker."

Bowling's team launched Polaris five years ago as a project in artificial intelligence. At first it did well against amateur players but couldn't beat professionals. Last year, it narrowly lost a match against two poker pros in Vancouver, British Columbia.

This year, a stronger version of Polaris — one that learns how to adapt to an opponent's strategy in midgame — triumphed over seven top-ranked humans drawn from the online poker-training site www.stoxpoker.com.

So far, the system plays a relatively simple game of two-person Texas Hold 'em. The next goal is to take on games of three or more players.

"That's very challenging," Bowling said. "There is no perfect strategy to play against multiple players."

Unlike Big Blue's IBM supercomputer, the Canadian team used a cluster of five small, off-the-shelf computers linked in a network to prepare its strategy before the game.

The system repeatedly played 8 billion games against itself to devise multiple strategies, each slightly different. Some strategies were more aggressive, others more passive.

When it came time for the match, a laptop was sufficient to manage the system. The laptop, of course, showed the perfect poker face.

During the game, Polaris analyzed its human opponent's style of play and adjusted its strategy to meet it. For example, the system plays more aggressively in order to get the human to give up and fold his cards.

"The computer pushes humans to make more decisions. More decisions mean more mistakes. Aggression raises errors," Bowling said.

Bowling conceded that it will take a few more competitions for human poker players to accept that a computer can outdo them.

"Now that we've lost, I'm itching for a rematch," said Jay Palansky, one of Polaris' opponents.

Playtech signs up with Paramount for classic titles

Playtech has signed a licensing agreement with Paramount Pictures to produce games based on two of the studio’s classic releases, Gladiator and The Untouchables.

Under the terms of the four-year deal, Playtech licensees will have the right to offer a number of games based on the two titles. The games will be offered online, as part of Playtech's market leading casino game portfolio, and via server-based gaming terminals operated by Playtech subsidiary Videobet.

Mor Weizer, chief executive of Playtech, said: "We are pleased to have secured this important deal with Paramount Digital Entertainment, which will enable our licensees to offer games featuring two very well-known brands, Gladiator and The Untouchables. We are confident that this exclusive material supplied to our licensees will support their marketing efforts by increasing the profile of their games portfolio and enhancing the gaming experience for customers."

July 06, 2008

Littlewoods set to revamp Pools

Betting firm Sportech has appointed Branded Moments of Truth to relaunch its Littlewoods Football Pools brand ahead of next month's start of the 2008/09 season.

Its rebrand as The New Football Pools follows its merger with rival pools firms Vernons, which Sportech acquired last year, and Zetters, which it bought in 2002. The offering, is aimed at the modern football fan, with bigger jackpots to compete with the National Lottery. Consumers will be able to play online, by mobile phone and in betting shops.

The relaunch will be supported by a £5m promotional campaign created by direct specialist Stephen Francis Whitson.

Littlewoods Pools attracted up to 10m players a week at its peak in the 80s, but business slumped when gamblers were lured away by the bigger prizes offered by the Lottery, which launched in 1994.