December 17, 2009

Betfair and Ladbrokes lose legal first round against Dutch government

The Advocate General (AG) of Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ),has provided his opinion in the cases concerning Betfair and Ladbrokes against the Dutch Government before the ECJ in what represents an early stage victory for the monopolies but that poses a threat to the legality of De Lotto’s automatic appointment as The Netherlands sole egaming supplier.

The AG’s opinion is not legally binding, but is typically seen as being an indication of the tone of the ECJ’s later, binding decision.

AG Bot concluded that article 49 of the EC Treaty must be interpreted to mean that “the principle of equal treatment and the transparency requirement that flows from it also applies to the gambling sector in the context of a single license regime,” implicitly challenging De Lotto’s right to act as The Netherlands’ sole legal supplier of online gaming, online sports bets and the national lottery without having to compete in a tender process against EU-licensed lottery providers.

However Bot did not challenge the legality of a state enforced monopoly per se.

Ladbrokes’ managing director of remote betting and gaming John O'Reilly said: " We continue to believe that the ECJ should uphold principles of free and fair competition across borders as there is no logic in the fact that the Dutch monopoly could freely compete against us in the UK but we are prevented from accepting bets from any Dutch resident that finds us on the Internet.”

Sigrid Ligné, Secretary General of lobby group the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), which represents operators Bet-at-home, Bwin, Digibet, Expekt, Interwetten, PartyGaming and Unibet, said: “This is a key question for the Court given that the exclusive licence has repeatedly been handed out to De Lotto without any form of tender.”

Chris Bryant, a partner at the Brussels office of law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said: “This is round one to the monopolies.”

April Carr, an associate in the EU competition and regulatory team at law firm Olswang said: "This will be disappointing for those online operators who thought they could rely on EU law to liberalise the gaming markets. If the opinion is followed by the European Courts then there is reduced scope for them opening markets."

The case continues and a judgement is expected next year.

December 16, 2009

UEFA suspend Bulgarian referee Anton Genov in match-fixing probe

UEFA have suspended Bulgarian referee Anton Genov, pending an investigation into his alleged involvement in helping to fix an international match as part of an apparent betting coup.

The governing body of European football stated there were obvious irregular betting patterns during a friendly match between Macedonia and Canada back in November.

Genov awarded four penalties, two to each side, during Macedonia's 3-0 win.

"After interviewing the referee in question, UEFA has decided not to appoint Anton Genov to any European matches until further notice," UEFA spokesman Rob Faulkner said in a statement.

Betting agencies were alerted by the number of bets being placed on combinations of at least three goals being scored and the number of penalties awarded.

December 14, 2009

Merger on cards for PartyGaming and Bwin

Less than a month ago, at the eGaming Review Awards 2009, the online gambling industry’s annual prize-giving, Bwin Interactive Entertainment, the Austrian company, beat off competition from PartyGaming to pick up the award for Operator of the Year. However, by the time next year’s awards come around, the rivalry may have ended if talks over a £2 billion-plus merger are successful.

The companies, both quoted, are expected to face pressure from the Takeover Panel this morning to clarify their position after speculation, first reported in The Times on Thursday, that they are holding formal talks over a merger.

PartyGaming, based in Gibraltar but listed in London, took a small step into sports betting three years ago with the €102 million (£91.6 million) purchase of Gamebookers, but in recent months it has been declaring its determination to seek a bigger target in order to become a leading sportsbook operator and complement its traditional strengths in online poker, casino and, more recently, bingo.

The prospects for a deal have been enhanced by the settlement agreed with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) in April that has effectively closed the book on the possibility that PartyGaming could face prosecution over its activities in America before it withdrew in 2006 when President Bush introduced a formal ban on internet gambling.

The group paid $105 million (£65 million) to settle the case with the DoJ, and since then has already made two acquisitions. In July, it announced the takeover of Cashcade, the owner of Foxy Bingo, for up to £96 million, and then last month it completed the acquisition of the majority of WPT Enterprises, the owner of the World Poker Tour, for a minimum of $15.3 million.

Bwin, too, has outlined plans to participate in industry consolidation. In 2007 it held abortive talks with Sportingbet, its London-listed sports betting rival. Then in September this year, the Vienna-listed group announced the acquisition of Gioco Digitale, the Italian poker room, in a cash-and-shares deal worth €115 million.

Like PartyGaming, Bwin has suffered regulatory problems in recent years, although in its case the country in which it has fallen foul of the law is France, rather than America. At the end of 2006, the group’s joint chief executives were arrested and then bailed after signing a football sponsorship deal with AS Monaco. In recent months, France has relaxed its protectionist gaming laws and Bwin is hoping to be a beneficiary.

Jim Ryan, PartyGaming chief executive, is hoping that the Obama Administration will be receptive to similar moves to remove the ban in America. In the wake of the DoJ settlement, he declared: “We’re hopeful that, in the fullness of time, the new Administration will take steps to regulate it.”

US Congress made it illegal to make payments to online gambling sites in October 2006, prompting quoted operators, including PartyGaming, 888 and Sportingbet, to close their US operations and start negotiations with the DoJ and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

In its heyday PartyGaming was the world’s biggest online poker company and in the blue-chip FTSE 100. Its colourful founders pocketed billions of pounds in its controversial 2005 flotation and subsequent share sales, but its shares collapsed after the US ban.

One of its biggest issues today is vying with rivals, including PokerStars and Full Tilt, which continue to defy the law and still take bets from American punters. The greater “liquidity” those companies attract from US players also makes them more attractive to European players.

A source close to the talks cautioned that they were still at a “very early stage”, although he admitted the companies knew each other “extremely well”. He said that precise terms, including the make-up of a combined board, had yet to be agreed, although Mr Ryan is tipped to take the chief executive’s role in an enlarged group.

PartyGaming has a market value of about £1 billion, while Bwin is valued at about £1.2 billion. The rumour last night was of a “merger of equals” although analysts said that PartyGaming had the capacity to fund an outright acquisition in cash and shares.

A deal could give PartyGaming a strong hand as it seeks to go one better and pick up the top prize at next year’s EGR Awards.

December 11, 2009

Bodog centre moves east to London

Bodog founder Calvin Ayre is to buy a residence in London ahead of a move to split his time between the UK capital and his present home in Antigua.

Ayre said that he has instructed an agent to find him a home in London and that he favours the Fitzrovia area north east of the centre “near Charlotte Street and all those restaurants. I like it there.”

The move follows the launch of the Bodog-licenced poker network in September, which is based in Canadian tribal gambling centre Kahnawake but has a business development team operating from London, where the billionaire Bodog founder will now spend roughly half his time.

“The UK is the most gaming friendly jurisdiction on the planet. You can stand in the middle of the street and shout ‘I run an online gambling company!’ and the only reaction will be ‘so what? Please stop shouting.’ The UK has completely opened up to the global network, and London has the infrastructure to support it.”

Ayre also recently revealed that Bodog is seeking licence deals with operators for Bodog-brand launches in Latin American markets, expanding the license model that already includes the poker network; the Bodog Asia brand launched in May with Haydock Sports; Bodog’s US-facing brand licensed to Mohawk Morris Gaming Group in September 2007; and Bodog Europe, which launched in March this year and operates Bodog’s UK and Canada-facing sites.

32Red live with GBE iBroker sportsbook

Online casino 32Red has launched its 32RedBet sportsbook, becoming the third white-label licensee to go live with Global Betting Exchange’s iBroker sportsbook solution.

32Red chief executive Ed Ware said: “iBroker offered us a number of compelling reasons over its competition such as, but not limited to, its ability to hedge into the Betdaq betting exchange, its simplicity to integrate into our existing platforms, competitive pricing and cost-effectiveness. It allows us to operate on a zero-risk basis, if needed.”

Brian O’Sullivan, chief executive of Global Betting Exchange (GBE), also the operator of the Betdaq betting exchange, added: “We are delighted with the launch today of 32Redbet. We have worked closely with Ed Ware and his team over the past few months to deliver a unique low-cost, no-risk sportsbook built on GBE's iBroker platform. 32Red is one of the most respected names in online gaming and I am confident Ed and his team will make a great success of this new product.”

Ware said he hoped the sportsbook would increase the stickiness of the 32Red offering. “It minimises the danger of existing 32Red players using competitor betting services and then remaining with that competitor for all their betting and gaming needs. Next year’s World Cup was also at the front of our mind here. We also believe that offering sports betting will increase the return on investment of existing promotions and potentially allow us to target other niche market areas.”

3D poker room PKR went live with the GBE-powered sportsbook solution in September of this year, followed in November by AsianLogic.

Ladbrokes launches iPhone sports betting app

UK bookmaker Ladbrokes has launched a new sports betting application for the Apple iPhone, developed by mobile technology specialist Mfuse, through which the company's complete sports betting service will now be available to the estimated 1.5 million iPhone users in the UK.

The new web app offers a complete betting service over the iPhone’s large touch screen, with Ladbrokes customers able to benefit from a comprehensive range of betting markets including access to an extensive range of in-play betting.

Benefits of the new service include the ability to check the latest odds, including updates in real time, full account management, bet in-play and all the latest results.

Ladbrokes already offers a wide range of casino games and slots on iPhones, recently launching Mega Moolah, the biggest progressive online slot to its mobile service.

"Mobile betting and gaming will be a key driver of growth in the sector in the next few years – the Ladbrokes iPhone application is another step forward in making mobile betting and gaming easier to access," said John O’Reilly, Ladbrokes Managing Director, Remote Gaming.

According to Ladbrokes, the company has already seen over 25,000 active customers on its existing mobile services this year, an increase of more than 50% compared to last year. Turnover on its mobile services is predicted to be up by 60% over the full year.

Svenska Spel ups minimum gambling age & support funding

Sweden's Svenska Spel is looking to raise the bar on responsible gambling by increasing the national minimum age for lottery ticket sales in Sweden to 18 years, as well as increasing its investment in problem gambling support.

Coming into effect in 2010, the new age limit for lottery tickets means that all of Svenska Spel's products across all sales channels will have a minimum age limit of at least eighteen years old.

"Corporate social responsibility is an important cornerstone of Svenska Spel’s business," said Meta Persdotter, CEO of Svenska Spel. "Our ambition is to minimise underage gambling wherever it may occur. To do so we must also be clear and consistent in our view of gaming and age limits, particularly towards our business partners and customers."

Svenska Spel currently has a minimum age limit of 18 years for Oddset games as well as and Vegas gaming machines, while players at Casino Cosmopol must be a minimum of 20 years old.

The company said that the minimum age limit would make both handling and age verification in retail outlets much easier.

"For some time, we have conducted a dialogue with representatives of the service and convenience goods trade, and this decision is in line with the industry’s own demands for a uniform age limit and that the handling of games and lotteries follow the rules that apply for other goods with age limits," said Håkan Sjöstrand, Business Area Manager at Svenska Spel.

Sjöstrand said that the decision would also offer possibilities for additional associations to sell lottery tickets, with the company investing more resources on the development of subscription and Internet partner services, as well as the sale of game and lottery tickets.

"Associations and clubs that can handle the age check of games and lotteries in accordance with current rules can continue to sell our products," confirmed Sjöstrand.

Svenska Spel currently has approximately 6,800 representatives selling Svenska Spel’s lottery tickets, as well as cooperation agreements with approximately 3,000 associations in Sweden selling Triss lottery tickets, amongst others.

"This decision is positive for two reasons – on one hand, shop employees need not think about different age limits for different products, and on the other, it signals a shared view that all gambling can potentially lead to problems and that there should therefore also be an age limit on lottery tickets," said Bengt Hedlund, President of the trade association, Svensk Servicehandel & Fast Food.

The company has also pledged to invest SEK3 million in order to ensure the continuation of support for problem gamblers.

The investment will mean that two programs in the country, a 24 hour gambling helpline and an internet based self help program, will continue to support problem gamblers in 2010.

The company said however that as a gaming operator, it was not its task to directly finance the treatment of people with gambling problems and urged the government to make a clear distinction between the preventative measures which fall under the remit of gaming operators and the treatment of problem gamblers by the authorities.

"It feels good to be able to save two well functioning projects under a transition period until the authorities have decided who should fund them," said Margareta Winberg, Chair of Svenska Spel.

"Today it is not our task to finance the treatment of people with gambling problems, but on the other hand, we must prioritise the consideration of social protection."

Ms. Winberg said there was need for a clear demarcation between what is preventive measures and what is care and treatment of gambling addiction, and where the responsibility lies between different authorities versus Svenska Spel as a gambling company.

December 02, 2009

Spain to probe players suspected of betting on matches

Spanish authorities will open an investigation into players suspected of betting on the outcome of matches, the country's football federation (RFEF) said on their website ( on Tuesday.

This month German police uncovered what European football's governing body UEFA described as the biggest match-fixing scandal on the continent.

"UEFA, through an international investigation into European football, alerted the RFEF of the existence of infractions committed by sportsmen who had betted on the outcome of matches they were playing in, and others," the RFEF said.

Initial enquiries have led to the federation alerting the state prosecutor as some of the activities could be classed as criminal offences.

Two weeks ago, German police said they had dismantled a gang with more than 200 suspected members operating in nine European leagues.

Police in Germany, Britain, Austria and Switzerland staged simultaneous raids arresting 15 people in Germany and two in Switzerland.

The gang is suspected of having paid off referees, players and officials to win at least 10 million euros (9.1 million pounds), with officials speculating this to be the tip of the iceberg only.

Bwin crowned EGR Operator of the Year 2009

Bwin has won Operator Of The Year at the EGR Awards 2009, the top trophy at the online gaming sectors' industry awards.

The Austrian gaming and betting giant beat off strong competition from rivals including Bet365, PartyGaming and Betfair to land the industry’s top prize, which was presented at London's Old Billingsgate Market last night on the first night of EGR Live, eGaming Review's two-day conference and exhibition for operators.

Collecting the award, Bwin UK country manager Nic Wenn said: ”It's great that Bwin has won this award after ten years. I think Bwin have carried on doing wht Bwin have been doing, leading the way in opening new territories in Europe and leading the technological advance in our industry."

Bwin was shortlisted on the strength of its scale and reach. The company also topped eGaming Review’s Power 50 leading operators for the second year running in 2009 and acquired the leading Italian poker site Gioco Digitale to make it one of the front runners in Italian gaming space.

Judges praised the company for its ‘consistency, leadership, scale, the strength of the brand, for promoting responsible gaming, and for showing continued, consisted leadership.’

UK online bookmaker Bet365 was shortlisted thanks to its huge turnover and for being one the major players in online betting.

Betclick has been one of the major industry growth stories of recent years. The company and its parent group Mangas Gaming has become one of the major players in egaming in just under four years and has major plans.

Betfair, which won UK Sports Betting Operator of the Year, made the list for having changed the face of betting in the past 10 years and has also recorded stellar growth in 2008-09 and has made a move in the US market.

PartyGaming has signed major B2B deals this year and has serious intentions of returning to the highly lucrative US market should it ever regulate.

William Hill Online has effected a major turnaround this year thanks to the Playtech and Orbis deals signed at the tail end of 2008. The company is sure to be a strong contender at future awards events.

Ukrainian ref linked with fixing probe - UEFA declines to comment

Europe's ruling football body UEFA on Tuesday did not want to confirm a report that Ukrainian referee Oleg Oriekhov has been suspended in connection with a match-fixing scheme on the continent. German Der Spiegel news magzine said on its website on Monday that UEFA suspended Oriekhov and that he was at the UEFA headquarters in Switzerland for a hearing over allegedly having contact with a prominent suspect in the case.

"UEFA cannot confirm and does not wish to make any further comment on this, while the investigation is still going on," said a statement to the German Press Agency dpa. Spiegel Online said that Oriekhov admitted to UEFA anti-corruption officials that he was in contact with the man who arrested among others two weeks ago.

The man in question is allegedly a senior figure in the betting ring for the prosecution in Bochum, Germany, which is leading the investigation.

Spiegel Online also said that Oriekhov dismissed claims he manipulated a Europa League match in early November. The 42-year-old officiated the 3-1 victory of Swiss club Basel against Bulgaria's CSKA Sofia on November 5 in group E.

The UEFA said last week it was probing six Europa League and One Champions league qualifiers in July and August involving five clubs from four countries: KF Tirana (Albania) KS Vilaznia (both Albania), FC Dinaburg (Latvia), NK IB Llubljana (Slovenia) and Budapest club Honved (Hungary).

The UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino also said that UEFA was probing the possible involvement of three referees and another person connected to UEFA in the match fixing scheme.

Bochum prosecutors said two weeks ago that they are probing some 200 matches in nine domestic leagues. Seventeen arrests have been carried out, 15 alone in Germany, including a Croatian man who was convicted in a German 2005 fixing affair around referee Robert Hoyzer.

Prosecutors say that Germany-based betting rings are suspected of bribing players, coaches, referees and other officials to fix matches. They are said to have won more than 10 million euros through these schemes.

Lawyers later said that players were intimidated and that cooks in hotels and team doctors were given sedatives to knock players out. The betting ring allegedly also has a link to Asia and other sports like basketball and tennis may also be affected.

Players in lower German football leagues have been suspended, including SC Verl captain Patrick Neumann, who according to his lawyer has gone into hiding fearing repercussions from the betting ring.

"Patrick panicked and became afraid. He can identify the men who made contact with him. This time not only bribes were used, but intimidation and violence as well," lawyer Lutz Klose told the Koelner Stadtanzeiger paper.

December 01, 2009

FIFA warns on illegal betting

FIFA has warned South Africans not to get involved in illegal betting syndicates, mostly from Asia, that are expected to descend on the country en masse in the run-up to the World Cup.

FIFA says the multibillion-dollar industry is controlled by organised criminals who engage in loan-sharking and use intimidation and violence to collect debts.

And while illegal betting is not as big in South Africa as it is in Europe and the Far East, SA Football Association boss Kirsten Nematandani has warned local referees and premier league teams to be vigilant.

He said Safa was already investigating several claims of match-fixing in the PSL and had sent all premier league referees for lie-detector tests. A report was due soon, he said.

"I can't say much more about the claims but there are a number of allegations being investigated. We have to stay vigilant and continue to watch out for signs of match-fixing."

FIFA president Sepp Blatter will hold an extraordinary general meeting in Cape Town on Wednesday. An ongoing investigation into match-fixing in Europe will be discussed.

Blatter said at the opening of the Soccerex business conference in Johannesburg on Monday that the economic crisis had resulted in some resorting to match-fixing.

"There is cheating, violence, doping, illegal betting and many other problems in the game," said Blatter.

FIFA had asked Early Warning System (EWS) in Switzerland to keep Asian crime syndicates and other gambling mafias around the world from fixing matches, he said.

EWS started monitoring the preliminary competition of the World Cup in 2007 and is now monitoring all FIFA competitions.

EWS spokesman Wolfgang Feldner said Africa's sports betting share on the world sports betting market was about one percent.

"Based on the estimation that the world-wide turnover for sports betting is over $300 billion (R2 219 billion) a year, we know there is an important share in illegal betting in this amount, particularly in the Asian market," he said.

"We cannot make statements or estimations about the illegal sports-betting market in South Africa in particular, but are monitoring the world-wide market," he said.

Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble said in a 2008 report on illegal betting and organised crime that 430 people had been arrested and 272 underground gambling dens - handling $650m in illegal bets - had been shut down.

He said gambling on soccer matches might seem as harmless as placing a small bet on your favourite team but these illegal operations were often controlled by organised criminals who frequently engaged in loan-sharking and used intimidation and violence to collect debts.

"If that doesn't work, they force their desperate, indebted victims into drug smuggling, and the family members of victims into prostitution," said Noble.

"One must remember that organised crime never loses money in gambling operations - one way or another, they make a profit."

From 2003 to 2005, police in Hong Kong had seized more than $10m in cash and betting slips related to illegal soccer gambling.

Noble said that while it was difficult to determine the exact amount of money involved in the match-fixing, European football governing body UEFA had claimed that an overseas syndicate had made $5-million on one championship match alone in July 2007.