January 28, 2010

Sky Betting to switch focus to online in 2010

Sky Betting and Gaming is changing its focus to online gambling rather than interactive TV gambling until TV technology improves, managing director Richard Flint has said.

Weekly unique users of Sky Betting and Gaming’s four egaming sites - SkyPoker, SkyBingo, SkyBet (sports betting) and SkyVegas (casino) – increased by roughly a third to roughly 80,000 a week in 2009, from roughly 60,000 a week in 2008, he said, while interactive TV users fell by the same proportion to 5,000, from 7,500 a week in 2008.

Flint said: “Looking back our focus was on interactive TV, but as technology hasn’t moved as quickly as we would have liked, we have changed our focus to be an online company instead of a TV company.”

Broadcasting giant and parent company BSkyB is to roll out broadband connected set-top TV boxes over the next two years that will improve the availability of quality interactive TV technology, he added, “but in the short term our focus will be on internet and mobile.” Sky’s mobile sports betting service is provided by Mkodo, and mobile gaming by Million-2-1.

The news coincided with the division’s own half-year results, which showed gross margin of £30m, up more than a fifth on the £24.7m it recorded the year before.

This beat the average recorded by BSkyB, as whole, which reported a 4% rise in profit for the period boosted by the popularity of its high-definition packages. Division turnover rose 19%, but did not disclose the exact figure.

In an unrelated development, Sky Betting and Gaming signed a deal with online payments business Neovia for the supply of Neovia's Neteller wallet solution yesterday.

January 27, 2010

UK bingo industry going up in smoke?

Bingo is a UK cultural institution. There was a time when bingo was played casually at church fundraisers or by school children as a fun way to learn, but recent years saw an explosion in the popularity of the game as it became commercialized, televised, and most importantly, monetized.

The last two years, however, have been hard on the UK bingo industry. The main culprit is 2007’s smoking ban, which forbade smoking in public places. This drove people out of the country’s bingo halls, which suddenly were not as appealing as they once were. Other contributing factors include increased government taxation and the recent economic downturn. At the same time, however, internet bingo in the UK has seen a significant boom as players stay home to enjoy the pastime.

Gala Coral Group Ltd., one of the UK’s largest land-based bingo companies, is feeling this pressure as its creditors consider selling £189 million ($308 million) of the debt they hold in the company, effectively transforming the debt into equity. This is only a small portion of the money Gala owes – their total debit hovers somewhere around £2.5 billion.

“The U.K.’s bingo business has gone through a difficult period and Gala’s problem is compounded by its significant level of debt,” says London gaming analyst James Hollins. Gala recently got lender approval to waive restrictions on their debt until the end of February, giving them time to restructure their finances and to plan their next move.

Meanwhile, online bingo games in the UK continue to flourish. UK internet bingo operators have seen revenues rise 20% annually for the past two years. The UK recently re-worked their gambling laws, requiring tighter regulation and taxation of offshore gambling companies, but since many UK online bingo sites are locally operated, they will remain unaffected.

Sportech buys US racing business SGR

Sportech, the UK football pools owner, is to buy racing and venue management business Scientifc Games Racing (SGR) from Scientific Games, the US lottery specialist with which Playtech formed the Sciplay joint venture last week, for up to $83m (€58.9m, £51.2m) in cash and shares.

The deal is intended to expand Sportech’s strength in pari-mutuel betting on football markets into horseracing, and will allow the British company access to SGR’s client base in North America, central and South America, as well as Denmark, Germany, Finland, Ireland, The Netherlands and Turkey.

It follows Sportech having formed an joint venture with Indian gaming group Playwin this month as part of an acquisition campaign of pools betting companies pledged by chief executive Ian Penrose this year after the company negotiated new banking facilities.

Penrose: “We have been focusing on strengthening our core market better.”

The acquisition has been funded in part by Playtech having taken a 10% stake in Sportech today worth £10m ($16.2m, €11.5m). This is ahead of a third deal in which SGR-seller Scientific will take a 20% stake in Sportech, interlocking the three companies.

Sportech issued the shares to Playtech as part of an open offer of 58.4 million shares priced at 50p each, of which Playtech took 19.88 million, which combined with a placing is intended to raise £29.2m ($47m).

The pools business will pay an initial $65m (€46.1m, £40m) for SGR, followed by $10m on 30 September 2013, plus further payments of up to $8m if SGR meets certain targets over the next three years.

SGR management will join the Sportech board, Penrose said.

January 25, 2010

Irish Labour Party pushes online gambling tax reform

Just days after the UK announced stricter regulation for offshore sports betting firms that cater to local punters, now Ireland is following suite – but this time, the issue is tax. Current levies in betting shops across Ireland sit at a standard 1%, a rate which also applies to internet bookies. Under the new reform, the tax on all sports betting operations, including online sportsbooks in Ireland, is to be raised to 1.5%.

This seemingly small increase is expected to generate revenues of around €90m for the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. This Fund has seen a 13% reduction in government funding since October 2008, and more cuts have been promised for 2010. This recent chain of budget cuts has already started to drive betting shops out of business across the country, with more than 100 closing in the last 12 months.

Taxing foreign-based internet bookmakers, it seems, is a way to get some money back into the Fund, without the Irish government having to dip into their own pockets (the government funds half of the greyhound industry in Ireland already).

The Irish Bookmakers Association, on the other hand, believes that the 1.5% levy will only have a negative effect on local betting shops, and could lead to further closures and job losses.

Regardless, Labour is serious about the changes. Spokesperson Mary Upton states, “Online operators who are not based in Ireland but who are providing a service to Irish customers and who refuse to register and pay the betting levy will be blocked by Irish internet service providers, upon the direction of the Government.”

Upton was quick to point out that the new levy does not affect online casinos in Ireland. Foreign companies offering online gambling services in Ireland will pay the levy on sports bets only, not on other forms of internet gambling.

Florida looking into regulating online poker

Lawmakers in the state of Florida are looking into the possibility of legalizing and regulating online poker for local residents. Analysts in the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (basically the state government’s research branch) have decided that it’s time to make a decision, and they are considering three possibilities: allow online poker, ban online poker, or wait to see what the US government decides to do about online poker sites in the United States.

One of the primary arguments for regulating online poker is that it would be too difficult to try to implement any sort of ban. This has been demonstrated by the US government’s inability to prevent players from gambling on websites that are hosted in other countries. In fact, the current “ban” on internet gambling in the United States does not actually aim to prevent players from gambling online; instead, it only goes after banks in an attempt keep players from funding their accounts, because that is one small portion of the picture that the government can actually control.

Alex Regalado, one of the analysts looking into the possibility of legalizing online poker in Florida, talks of difficulty they would face trying to ban online poker sites. "Because they’re in other countries,” he says, “the law enforcement doesn't reach there."

In a recent report presented to the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, Regalado continues: "A law to prohibit Internet gambling could be difficult to enforce as anyone with the appropriate equipment and Internet connections can play online poker in the privacy of his or her own home."

Further arguments suggest that by allowing and regulating online poker in Florida, legislators could cut down on the use of unregulated sites that some players frequent. Regulation is important in the online poker industry because it ensures fair play, secure software, and safe financial transactions.

Meanwhile, the US government is facing similar questions in its debates over American online gambling laws. It is too early to say who will decide on the issue first.

Match fixing scandals plague China’s domestic league

In the latest blow to the world of Chinese football, three high-ranking officials in the Chinese Football Association (CFA) have been detained under suspicion of being involved in match-fixing. The arrests represent a goal on the part of a recent high-profile campaign to clean up the nation’s football leagues and to stop recent trends of match fixing and illegal sports gambling.

Chinese gambling laws have not changed much since 1949, when most forms of gambling in the country were made illegal. Today, a limited sports lottery represents the extent of ‘official’ sports betting in the country. Even though this lottery sees annual profits in excess of $1 billion, this pales in comparison to the amount of money exchanged through underground sports betting operations, and through online sportsbooks in China.

The officials who were detained are Nan Yong and Yang Yimin, both vice-presidents of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), and Zhang Jianqiang, who was in charge of referee assignments. These detentions occurred on the tail of two others last week: Jia Xiuquan, former head coach of the national Olympic team, and Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese Super League (CSL) are also being questioned by police.

Unfortunately, the problems with Chinese football go beyond match fixing. Nan, one of the men detained, is also accused of using his connections to pick host cities for international matches that offer good “connections” for him and his associates. Nan is also thought to be involved in some kind of deal with former sponsor Iphox, a British company that pledged 50 million yuan ($7.3 million). Iphox has yet to pay, and Nan, though responsible for the contract, has yet to go after the money.

Some believe that nothing short of a complete restructuring of CFA management can save Chinese football. This might be just what is happening here. While this kind of “house cleaning” won’t necessarily end the problems with internet betting in China, it seems like a good enough place to start.

January 21, 2010

Francais des Jeux joins Barrière for online poker move

With the regulation of the French online gambling market on the cards for this year, Francaise des Jeux (FDJ), the French lottery and sports betting monopoly, has joined forces with the Barrière casino group to offer an online poker room which will compete with the many others anticipated to flood the market when it opens.

According to French newspaper, Le Figaro, the FDJ had a very good year in 2009, and intends on moving from number three to number two on the worldwide lottery scale, so that it would be in front of Spain and behind Italy. Before a controlled opening of the market even occurs, Le Figaro state that 750,000 French people play online poker, and in the face of future competition, the French intend on preserving their monopoly on online gambling.

Currently all gambling in France is controlled by state agencies Francaise des Jeux and PMU but the new law will see private companies regulated and licensed.

The move will be subject to the agreement of the Arjel, the Authority of regulation of online games in France.

A similar move was made in Denmark after the Danish government drafted up legislation for a partially liberalised market set to come about in 2011. This would mean open competition for poker and casino, therefore Danske Spil, like FDJ, was on the lookout for an online gaming company which would ensure its success when this happens. It recently found this partnership in PartyGaming.

January 20, 2010

Mexico’s transformation in the world of gambling

he gambling industry that can be found in today’s Mexico can be taken as no indicator of how the industry developed in the South American country. The history of gambling in Mexico has seen many ups and downs.

In 1935 when the country’s president, Lazaro Cardenas, came into power, the gambling industry came to a screeching halt. Mexican gambling law continued to tighten until the industry was almost completely killed off. In recent history, laws began to slacken once again, letting the nation’s citizen once again enjoy one of their favorite pastimes.

After years of oppression over gambling, it was obvious that new liberality in the industry would lead to an economic boom. Such was the case and Mexicans today can gamble in any way that they wish including casino gambling, poker, bingo, and sportsbetting.

Much of the Mexican gambling industry is supported by foreigners and tourist in the country. Casinos are common in popular tourist destinations and around the United States border. This foreign play is also common when it comes to internet gambling in Mexico.

As of 2002, the government has issued several licenses for online casinos in Mexico. The interesting thing about these Mexican online casinos is that they cannot be accessed by the Mexicans. These casinos exist purely for the satisfaction of foreign nationals, while the government makes a solid revenue through licensing fees and taxes.

Mexicans who would like to gamble from home must play from foreign sites, many of which are available even in Spanish. As punters can see, the evolution of the gambling industry has been tempestuous, but at this point nationals can gamble however they wish. Taxes provide the government with a constant source of revenue and everyone is happy.

Italy braces for 2010 online gambling explosion

It looks like 2010 is going to be a big year for internet gambling in Italy. Back in June of 2009, the Italian government passed Law No. 77 which legalized online fixed-odds games of chance, along with online poker and ring games. The law was the end result of a three-year project to liberalize the domestic gambling market.

Now, time has come for Italy to opens its doors to the rest of the world. The Italian regulatory body, called AAMS, is still working on sorting out the details of how offshore online gambling sites will be regulated, but they are coming very close to the end, and everything is expected to launch this year.

The regulation is going to be extremely tight. First off, a flat 20% tax is going to be levied on the gross profits of all offshore operators. Licenses will cost a whopping €360.000, and will automatically expire at the end of June, 2016. Operators who wish to offer online bingo games in Italy will have to pay an extra €50,000.

The real issue, however, is Italy’s demand for centralization. All online gambling services that offshore companies provide to Italian players must be served through a dedicated platform, and must be linked to a central computer system operated by the AAMS. This system will monitor every wager placed by Italian players, and these wagers will be taxed in real time. Additionally, all games must be tested and approved by AAMS officials before they can go live.

Despite these strict rules, more than 60 operators already have licenses to operate in Italy. Later in 2010 the AAMS intends to re-open the licensing process to allow more companies to buy their way in to the Italian internet gambling market, though this could be delayed because the European Commission intends to scrutinize Italy’s new regulatory and operational schemes before they go into action. The market, however, remains hot, and Italians are anxious to see the selection of online gambling sites available to them expand.

Online casino to send winners to India for charity

An online casino called Slots Galore is running an online competition which will send the winner flying off to India to participate in a massive charity event, working to help improve the quality rural schools across the country. The Rickshaw Slots Contest is being held in conjunction with Gaming Zion. The event will run from February 01 to April 30. Participation is free, and no purchase is required to win.

The tournament winner will be awarded with two round-trip tickets to Chennai, India, along with two tickets to enter the 2010 Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge. The Rickshaw Challenge is a motor rally which sees participants tour around the Indian subcontinent in autorickshaws, which are small three-wheeled motorized vehicles. The event takes place over two weeks, and winners of the Rickshaw Slots Contest will be provided with hotel accommodation during the whole rally.

Charity is a major focus of this event. The organizers of the Rickshaw Challenge have teamed up with Round Table India, a charity organization which has been operating in India since 1927. One of the primary goals of the organization is to encourage “Freedom through Education”, and to accomplish this, they organize the building of new schools in areas where they are needed most. They also work to provide of infrastructure and educational materials to existing schools in rural areas across India.

Participants in the Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge are encouraged to take part in local Round Table India projects by making donations to help build new schools and recruit quality teachers. Teams can also help by distributing supplies to existing schools.

Eurosportbet in doubt as management toppled

Eurosportbet's future has been thrown into doubt with news that parent company Bouygues has taken over the management of SPS Betting, the online gaming firm operating the site, which was launched in May and is the betting arm of the Eurosport TV network.

Eurosportbet, which obtained an Alderney licence in June 2009, was set up by the former chief executive of French commercial TV giant TF1, Patrick Le Lay, to compete with major European operators such as Bwin, Unibet and Betclic.

It has been gearing up for a French launch in preparation of the upcoming regulation there later this year.

However according to reports in France’s Le Monde newspaper and iGaming France, Bouygues, one of the biggest industrial groups in France, had taken over the management of SPS as a result of major disagreements between bosses at the company.

Disagreements between Le Lay and Nonce Paolini, his successor at TF1, which is part of the Bouygues conglomerate, are understood to have been behind the move.

In December last year, Paolini asked TF1 majority shareholder Martin Bouygues to remove Le Lay from the channel’s board, a request that was complied with despite Le Lay having only joined the board in June.

TF1 then agreed to buy out investment fund Serendipity’s stake in new 2009 Power 50 entrant SPS Betting, one of the SPS backers and which is headed up by Le Lay, “as a consolation prize”, according to sources at the TV channel.

Although Eurosportbet’s turnover is not significant because it only operates in the UK, it has around 70 employees, with 15 traders based in Paris.

Le Monde speculated that TF1 might in fact be in discussions with potential partners with a view to selling the business, or could simply close it down.

However, Le Lay recently revealed that Serendipity backers Artemis and Bouygues had found the idea of setting up an online betting company “bizarre”. Both Artemis and Bouygues refused to consider taking over existing operators as they believed them to be illegal in the eyes of the French authorities.

SPS Betting were unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

In other news, Bouygues is close to an agreement to get SPS to join Francaise des Jeux and Barriere in launching an online poker site for the French market, according to Le Monde.

January 19, 2010

New Jersey introduces first intrastate gambling bill

The state of New Jersey has introduced the first intrastate gambling bill in the US, potentially leading the way to the opening of the US egaming market on a state-by-state basis.

The S3167 Senate Bill bill introduced by Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) would enable the state’s Atlantic City casinos to offer online version of their games including poker, blackjack and baccarat. The intrastate system would be regulated by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, which would establish a new division to oversee operations and licensing.

Casinos holding permits would pay an initial up-front licensing fee of US$200,000, with the yearly renewal to be at least US$100,000. They would also be required to pay US$100,000 non-refundable deposit and a US$100,000 annual fee to be put towards dealing with compulsive gambling.

Permit holders would pay tax of 20% on internet wagering gross revenue, with a portion of these tax revenues channeled to the New Jersey Racing Commission “to be used for the benefit of the horse racing, including but not limited to the augmentation of purses.”

The act would take effect immediately upon new Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signing it into law. Christie will take office tomorrow, Tuesday 19 January.

Previous Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine was supportive of measures to expand gambling provision in the state, last year joining a successful challenge to a federal ban on state-regulated sports betting. Christie’s position on Lesniak’s bill is as yet unclear.

The Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) was a plaintiff in last year’s suit with Corzine to join a challenge to the federal ban on state-regulated sports betting, and worked with NJ legislators on the new intrastate bill.

iMEGA chairman Joe Brennan said: “New Jersey is recognised as having the toughest gaming regulators in the US, but as a leading gaming state with a long track record of doing things the right way, internet gambling will have a great home here and the opportunity to begin normalising the industry.”

Brennan added that although iMEGA remained supportive of federal efforts to legalise interstate gambling in the US, especially by Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Robert Menendez, he said these efforts “had stalled.”

Brennan said: “If states assert their right to regulate gambling and take a serious look at permitting Internet gambling within their borders, one side effect may be a breaking of the deadlock in the US Congress.”

California and Florida are among the states currently considering authorising intrastate poker as allowed under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act 2006.

January 18, 2010

UK proposes rule changes, online gambling stocks fall

Last week, the UK government announced plans to change their online gambling regulation procedures. These plans include stricter licensing requirements for all operators, along with a new levy on offshore internet gambling firms that offer their services to British players.

The proposed changes would also require all licensed online sportsbooks in the UK and abroad which cater to Britons to monitor all member activity, watching for “suspicious” betting patterns. These reports would need to be made available to gambling regulators in the UK.

“The new system outlined today will ensure that all businesses offering online gambling to our consumers adhere to our rules -- not someone else’s”, explained Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe when the announcement was made last week. “This is also about making sure overseas firms contribute their fair share towards regulatory costs and vital services like problem gambling treatment.”

As a result of the announcement, stocks in two major online gambling companies dropped several pence each. These firms, William Hill and Ladbrokes, both offer internet betting in the United Kingdom. Both were originally based in the UK, but relocated their central offices to the offshore tax haven of Gibraltar in August 2009 to avoid local gambling tax hikes.

While levies have been mentioned, taxation of foreign operators has not. According to a Treasury spokesperson: “The focus of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) review was on the regulation – not taxation – of remote gambling... The Treasury will continue to work with DCMS to ensure that any implications for tax policy, arising from the proposals, are properly considered.”

The UK government has shown willingness to negotiate, and says it will discuss plans with both Ladbrokes and William Hill, along with other companies that will be effected, before making any final decisions.

The big debate on gambling in Slovenia

Gambling facilities such as large brick-and-mortar casinos come with a plethora of benefits attached to them. Initial intentions are usually that they will create a flow of revenue to the area where they’re built. Local and National governments can then make big bucks by taxing them heavily.

Another factor that really great about land-based casinos is that they bring tons of jobs with them. This is especially important at times when jobs are scarce, unemployment rises, and the economies of the world are suffering.

Slovenian gambling law, is sympathetic to gambling and there are quite a few casinos located in the small country. Casinos near the Italian border even get plentiful action from Italians who cross the border on a daily basis to make bets. It is estimated that one quarter of the tourism in Slovenia is gambling tourism.

To further culminate the blossoming gambling industry in the country, the Slovenians decided to build a $1.5 billion super casino in Nova Gorica starting in 2005. Unfortunately, just a few years later the idea was scrapped due to different political agendas, ownership issues, tax structure, and religious opposition.

The mega-casino idea was tossed prior to the current economic crisis. If this were not the case, or if work on the project were to be resumed once again, maybe Slovenia wouldn’t be in such a tight place. The government has been regulated casinos since 1995 and could have probably raised millions more through this Hit/Harrah’s Entertainment project.

At this point, nationals can still enjoy the land-based and online casinos in Slovenia. Whereas the government had earlier forbidden gambling on some foreign sites, the trend never really caught on and people use them every day.

Online gambling in Slovenia, can only be done on sites based abroad as the government does not issue online gambling licenses to any company. Internet gambling falls in a gray zone of legality but being that Slovenia has no jurisdiction over sites based abroad, they are perfectly accessible. Should the government wish to continue the building of the mega-casino, the country would see a lot more jobs and money available for use by locals.

January 15, 2010

Ladbrokes refuses to pay out £7.1 million on snow bet

Standing in a bookmaker’s, Cliff Bryant thought that a heavy snowfall had changed his life forever.

Told by the cashier that his two accumulator bets had come in, Cliff was set to scoop £7.1m.

But his hopes were dashed when officials at Ladbrokes’ head office told him that he was owed just a measly £31.78 – because according to the company rulebook this specific type of bet should never have been accepted.

Now Cliff, from Shirley, Southampton, intends to seek legal advice.

It comes after he placed two £5 accumulative bets on postcodes where it would snow on Christmas Day.

Although he says that he was advised to do so by the cashier, Ladbrokes argues that it was a mistake and that he should never have been allowed to place the bet as an accumulator.

A money-spinning accumulator bet is a series of wagers where the winnings from the first bet roll over to the next and can only be won when all separate bets named are successful.

But Ladbrokes says that according to its rules the bets should only have been accepted as a single bet and therefore Cliff was entitled to just over £30 as winnings.

The bookmaker does not dispute that Cliff was correct in each of his bets, and another bookmaker, Paddy Power, confirmed that he would have won £4,922,800.31 on the first bet and £2,233,492.73 on the other.

The graphic designer, 52, said: “Gutted is not the word.

“This is a genuine mistake and if I make a mistake in my work like that it costs me dearly and I think the offer should be a lot more generous than they have made.

“Millions of pounds will have been spent on this bet at Christmas. How many of those people will have been allowed to place accumulators?

“They are one of the leading bookmakers in the country and I think they ought to do their homework a bit better in future.”

Cliff has now called on Ladbrokes to make its rules clearer as they were not made obvious to him either in the shop or online.

The Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) is now investigating the bet.

Danny Cracknell, adjudication manager at IBAS, quoted a section from the Ladbrokes rulebook which said: “Single bets only are accepted, accumulative bets accepted in error will be settled as singles with the stake equally divided.”

Ladbrokes spokesman David Williams said: “We have apologised to the customer for any confusion and for mistakenly accepting an accumulator bet when our own rules state that only single bets are available on a market of this nature.

“We are happy to void the bets and to pay the customer his winnings on the relevant singles.”

Last night an independent solicitor said that Cliff ’s chances of seeing his winnings were slim.

Rick Munro, commercial dispute resolution partner at Lamport Bassitt, said: “Generally speaking gaming bets are largely unenforceable. You rely on the goodwill of the people you are placing the bet with.

“There are some exceptions to this but the general rule is he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

“It’s about one of the only contracts in public policy where the contracts are unenforceable.”

January 14, 2010

New Ladbrokes sportsbook this week

Ladbrokes is to launch a new version of its online sportsbook this week, with plans to live stream over 30,000 sporting events on the site this year.

The bookmaker will hope that the new sportsbook will help to repair some of the damage done to the bottom line by two periods of unfavourable market conditions for sports betting providers, with the UK cold snap causing a wave of racing abandonments in December and January and Ladbrokes third quarter results being hard hit by football bets after the first 66 Premier League matches saw just four draws, compared with a five-year season average of 25% of games drawn.

The British bookmaker has spent over £3 million on internet broadcast rights to a range of sports fixtures including football from 11 countries including Italy, Portugal and Brazil and international, Europa Cup and Asian Champions League matches, as well as Wimbledon, Australian Open and ATP tennis events and the Australian Twenty20 league cricket.

With the exception of horseracing, these will be free to view for registered Ladbrokes customers, with punters obligated to place a minimum £1 bet to access racing coverage.

The site will also feature a dedicated in-play module on the homepage, with in-play betting having accounted for 43% of the firm’s online sports betting turnover excluding racing in 2009, and 38% the year before.

The launch coincides with the launch of Ladbrokes’ Italian poker offering today, Ladbrokes.it. The site, which has 35,000 registered customers, will offer free play Texas Hold 'em tournaments and plans to launch cash games when regulation allows. Ladbrokes was cleared to launch tournament poker in Italy in December.

Ladbrokes managing director of remote betting and gaming John O’Reilly said: “The site further reflects the growing importance of betting in-play and live video streaming content. This initiative, together with further development of our mobile offering and the development of new markets in Europe, will continue the growth.”

The company is the third operator this week to announce plans for a new sports betting product, with Titan Poker having launched the first ever Playtech-designed sportsbook this month and Tell Gaming to launch an Odds Matrix-powered sportsbook in March.

Estonians rejoice as online gambling legalized

A major change has just been made to Estonian gambling laws that makes it legal for players to gamble online. The impetus for the change is financial – Estonia is going to be entering the euro zone next year, and sees the taxation of online gambling operators as an outstanding potential for extra income. Estonia is currently experiencing one of the worst recessions in the EU, and the liberalization of gambling is expected to help the nation’s financial situation considerably.

The change is being made in two steps. First, effective immediately, players can begin using locally-hosted and licensed online gambling sites in Estonia. The next stage, which sees the opening of Estonia’s internet gambling industry to foreign operators, will not come into effect until 2011. This will give the regulatory bodies time to sort out licensing with foreign operators that are willing and able to comply with Estonia’s regulatory requirements. These requirements are still being drafted, but the country has made it clear that they will be precise, with rules designed to prevent corruption and money laundering.

Rumors of investments are already beginning to float around. Gambling operators may view Estonia as a gateway for the entire Baltic market. Estonia has recently seen a huge increase in advertising campaigns coming from foreign operators; now it seems these will really begin to pay off.

The Olympic Group is among the first to receive a local license. The group will be offering a Playtech-powered casino to Estonian players. Playtech Executive Manager Mor Weizer said, “We are truly glad of this opportunity to start our partnership with Olympic as the leading casino entertainment provider in Central and Eastern Europe.”

The decision to open up Estonia’s internet gambling industry comes in on the heels of the very successful Baltic Poker Festival.

Irish bookie taking bets on Sarah Palin's news gig

Two days ago, word came out that Sarah Palin will be joining FoxNews, one of the largest US television news broadcasting networks. Palin has been a key name in the US political scene since the 2008 presidential candidate John McCain chose her to be his running mate. Palin is the former governor of the state of Alaska.

Palin’s new post at Fox News is as a news commenter – a role which many feel she lacks qualifications for. One skeptic is PaddyPower, the largest online sportsbook in Ireland, which is now taking bets that she won’t last a year.

There are actually two bets being offered. The first is “When will Sarah Palin lose her Fox News position?”, and the sportsbook is giving 8:1 odds that she’s gone by September. The second wager is a bit more interesting – it’s called “First Minority Group Sarah Palin offends”, and it lists 15 different odds, from 4:1 for Gay/Lesbian/Bi-sexual to 25:1 for Jehovah's Witness. Interestingly, the site lists the Irish as one of the least likely to be offended. PaddyPower says this second bet will be settled on “the first public apology Sarah Palin makes on Fox News”.

Paddy Power is also giving 5:1 odds for the 2012 US presidency – she ties with Hillary Clinton for fourth place. Palin is also getting 50:1 odds as the next replacement for Simon Cowell on the popular television show American Idol.

While online sportsbooks obviously focus on sports matches and events, it is becoming more common for these side bets to show up, covering major world events, elections, television programs, and more. Commenting on this trend, PaddyPower spokesperson Ken Robertson says, "We did in fact offer a number of betting markets on Tiger Woods, the most popular of which was the value of the potential Woods divorce settlement."

Australian Open embraces online gambling

The Australian Open kicks off in a few days, starting on Monday January 18 and lasting for about two weeks. Out of 32 official sponsors that the tournament has picked up this year, one comes from the world of online gambling. The sponsor is Betfair Australia, an internet bookmaker based out of Hobart.

Tennis has had a rough couple of years, and its association with gambling has been carefully watched lately. Just last week, for example, a player on the WTA Tour named Ekaterina Bychkova was approached and asked to throw a match. When officials found out, Bychkova was suspended for 30 days and fined $5,000 just because she didn’t report the incident.

The connection between the Australian Tennis Open and an online sportsbook in Australia is therefore raising some eyebrows. Betfair Australia will be prominently displayed throughout the Open, setting up its own booth and advertising its services. Open officials are being cautious, and have asked Betfair to provide details of all customers who place wagers on tournament matches this year.

The partnership, however, is offering something unique that could have an impact on the relationship between the tennis world and the gambling industry. Betfair Australia has promised to give a portion of every wager placed on the Open to Tennis Australia, a nonprofit federation that puts together the tournaments. The amount of money that Tennis Australia will make from the deal is quite small, but this high-profile commercial link could well suggest to the public that Open officials condone online gambling, or even complicit in online gambling scandals.

On the other hand, since Internet betting in Australia, like all forms of gambling in the country, is socially acceptable, the deal could also work the other way. The fact that Betfair Australia is contributing financially to the Australian Tennis Open may help to heal the bruised relationship between the sport of tennis and the gambling industry in general. As always, only time will tell.

January 13, 2010

Titan Poker launches Playtech sportsbook

Titan Poker, the leading poker room on the iPoker Network, has launched a sportsbook.

TitanBet is the first and only sports betting platform developed by Playtech, and is powered by Bet Radar, which provides users with statistics, live scores and results.

Marc Kenigsberg, marketing vice president at Titan parent company Euro Partners said: “Sports betting is one of the major growing markets in online gaming and Euro Partners is approaching it with full force.”

Titan Bet uses the same cashier as TitanPoker, meaning that deposits can be used to bet on either platform. It will be available in German, French and Spanish by the end of January, with Danish, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish language versions to follow.

UK cold snap hits racing bets

Bookmakers with major racing markets including Betfair, Coral and Ladbrokes have been hit hard by Britain’s cold snap, the December figures from top odds comparison site Oddschecker reveal, with the weather having caused a wave of racing abandonments.

The data from the site, which boast more than 600,000 unique users a month, has been seen exclusively by EGRmagazine.com, and shows racing cancellations having diminished Betfair’s strong lead in referrals from the site over Bet365 and having allowed SkyBet to overtake Coral.

The abandonments also saw Ladbrokes lose the ground it won on Oddschecker in November, when its traditional strength in horseracing saw it overtake Stan James and arch rival William Hill.

Oddschecker commercial manager Simon Miller said: “The gap at the top has shrunk to its smallest ever level. Bet365 kept its market share static but Betfair saw its share slide by 1.2% and now only stand 0.4% ahead of Bet365. Betfair always perform strongly in months full of racing but with abandonments around, especially on Boxing Day, this blunted Betfair’s strongest weapon and saw it fall back.

“On the flip side, Skybet used this opportunity to jump above Coral for the first time since June. Relatively weak in racing without Best Odds Guaranteed, Skybet weren’t harmed as much as the others and its strength in football saw its market share rally. As abandonments continue into January, it will be interesting to see which bookmakers have come out on top in testing times.”

With the cold weather intensifying this month and with a new cold snap hitting Wales, south east and south west England only last night, the impact on racing-heavy bookmakers is likely to be even greater in January.

Miller added: “Attracting racing customers in January has been more competitive than ever, but bookmakers who are competitive on markets such as specials, darts and golf could see their market share on Oddschecker increase.”

January 12, 2010

Ladbrokes CEO Chris Bell to go

Ladbrokes is seeking a new chief executive, Chris Bell having decided to step down this year after almost two decades at the British bookmaker.

Bell, who joined Ladbrokes in 1991, will leave the British bookmaker in the summer.

Ladbrokes chairman Peter Erskine said: “Chris Bell has made an invaluable contribution to the growth and development of Ladbrokes during his 20 years with the company, nine-years as chief executive.

“It has been agreed between the board and Chris that this is an appropriate time to seek new leadership for the business. The Board is currently engaged in the search for a new chief executive to fully capitalise on Ladbrokes’ brand strength and position the company for a new era of profitable growth.”

Bell joined Ladrbokes in 1991 from drinks company Allied Domecq and became managing director in 1995. He became chief executive when Ladbrokes was split from the Hilton International hotels group in February 2006, after serving as chief executive of Ladbrokes Worldwide.

Bell has been criticised over the past 12 months for overseeing a difficult period that included a heavily-discounted rights issue in October last year that led to a wave of short-selling of Ladbrokes stock. He took the decision to move the Ladbrokes online sports book offshore to Gibraltar in November after years of lobbying the UK government over gambling taxes.

January 11, 2010

BetOnSports chief exec Carruthers jailed

Former BetOnSports boss David Carruthers has been sentenced to 33 months in prison for his role in the business offering online gambling to Americans.

Carruthers, 52, the London-listed business' one-time chief executive, was sentenced in a federal court in Missouri after having earlier pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.

He was arrested in Texas in July 2006, and had agreed to cooperate with US authorities for leniency.

The sentencing "concludes a lengthy investigative and prosecution effort by several law enforcement agencies," the Justice Department said in a statement.

BetOnSports was founded in 1995, and by the time of its float on London’s Alternative Index Market (AIM) in 2004 had nearly one million registered customers. The company ceased operations in 2006 following Carruthers’ arrest and the suspension of trading in the US.

Carruthers sentencing follows that of BetOnSports founder Gary Kaplan, who was jailed for more than four years and ordered to hand over more than $43m (£26m) in illegal earnings in November for his part in the business, after earlier admitting conspiring to violate the federal racketeering and other US laws at the US District Court in St. Louis in August.

The plea was widely expected after Kaplan was left as the only executive of the sportsbook facing trial after his brother, Neil Kaplan, and sister Lori Kaplan Multz pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and the illegal transmission of bets in June 2009, in what was expected to have been a prelude to a deal with Kaplan himself, with former colleague Penelope Tucker pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting wire wager act violations along with the pair.

Danske Spil chooses PartyGaming to launch online games in Denmark

PartyGaming, the world’s leading listed online gaming company, today announces an exclusive, five-year agreement to provide an online gaming platform for poker and casino games in Denmark for Danske Spil A/S (‘Danske Spil’).

Controlled by the Danish Government, The Danske Spil Group is one of the largest betting and gaming organisations in Europe with DKK 10,955 million of turnover in 2008. Offering a variety of gaming products in Denmark including the national lottery, numbers games, instant games as well as gambling on machines, Danske Spil has also established a large online gaming business and already has over 500,000 registered online customers.

In 2009 the Danish Government published draft legislation for a partially liberalised gaming market in Denmark that is expected to become law in 2011. If adopted, poker and casino will be among the games subjected to open competition in the Danish market. Whilst Danske Spil has strengthened its position in a number of online gaming categories such as bingo, sports betting and casual games with strong growth in the number of players and revenues, it recognised the need to join forces with a leading online gaming company in order to achieve its potential.

Over the past seven months, Danske Spil has screened the market for providers of services and potential online partners that specialise in poker and casino games. As part of its selection criteria, Danske Spil was determined to find a supplier that matched its own high standards for product quality, security and ethical requirements. PartyGaming passed all of these pre-requisites and is set to create a new strategic alliance with Danske Spil in Denmark. It is expected that the commercial terms between both companies will be finalised within the next few weeks.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Jim Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of PartyGaming said:

“This is a landmark B2B deal for PartyGaming and validates our strategy to become a leading provider of B2B services to both corporates and governments around the world. Danske Spil is widely recognised as one of Europe’s leading gambling businesses, one that is pre-eminent in the Danish market. We are delighted that Danske Spil has recognised our expertise and high standards of business practice and we look forward to building a significant and profitable enterprise as soon as the newly regulated Danish online gaming market opens.”

H.C. Madsen, CEO at Danske Spil, said:

"With some of the world’s leading products in online poker and casino as well as a large international customer base, PartyGaming is definitely a strong business partner for Danske Spil. Combining this with Danske Spil’s unique and strong position in the Danish market with more than 500,000 Danish online customers will guarantee that together we will deliver a highly attractive customer experience to players in Denmark."

January 08, 2010

Spain's regulators to debate draft egaming laws

Spain is on the cusp of publishing new draft laws to regulate online gaming.

The Sectorial Gaming Commission, a grouping of the gaming authorities of the country’s 17 autonomous regions and its two federal gaming authorities, the State Lotteries Monopoly and National Gaming Board, is expected next week to call a meeting to discuss the draft regulation.

This follows a wait of more than three years for the draft rules to be published.

However the fate of any draft gaming regulation in Europe's fifth largest economy will be decided by tax provisions in the proposed rules, with regional regulators likely to veto national laws in favour of attempts at local regulation if the national schemes does not give them a large enough share of tax revenue compared to federal government.

As a result of both the protracted wait and doubts over their potential tax share, some autonomous regions, such as the Canary Islands, are believed to have already initiated the drafting of regulation locally.

Santiago Asensi, a gaming lawyer at law firm Asensi Abogados, said: “They know it doesn’t make any sense for Spain to regulate online gaming 17 times over, but it’s a question of money. If money doesn’t arrive proportionally [to the regions], then there will be barriers to national regulation.”

The draft laws will not contain specific details on taxation, which is likely to lead to heated debate as the regulation takes shape over 2010.

Asensi added that Autonomous Regions’ freedom to regulate online gaming is “a grey area,” as although they possess the authority to regulate gaming within their own region, it is unclear under which circumstances online gaming is considered to cross or not to cross regional boundaries.

Victor Chandler signs one-off football sponsorship deal

Victor Chandler has signed a unique one-game shirt sponsorship deal with Football League Championship side West Bromwich Albion for tomorrow’s televised game against promotion rivals Nottingham Forest, with the Gibraltar-based bookmaker’s logo set to appear on both sets of shirts since the company is also the principal shirt sponsor of Nottingham Forest.

For the second season running, West Bromwich Albion has been playing in unsponsored shirts as the club searches for a suitable long-term sponsor. Following the club’s relegation last year, the club announced that it would open talks with companies about single or multiple game shirt sponsorship deals after clarifying the issue with the Football League. The club was previously prohibited from entering such deals under Premier League rules.

"We are delighted to have teamed up with Victor Chandler for Friday's game,” said WBA’s Finance Director, Mark Jenkins. "There cannot have been too many occasions when a company has sponsored the shirts of two opposing teams and we are looking forward to announcing similar deals with other interested parties for future games."

Victor Chandler becomes the second company to take advantage of the match-by-match shirt sponsorship deals WBA are able to offer, after Rank’s Blue Square sponsored the side during last month’s home match against Queens Park Rangers.

"I am delighted we have reached agreement with West Bromwich Albion so the Victor Chandler name will be carried by both teams on Friday evening,” said Chairman Victor Chandler.

The Friday night game at the Hawthorns will be shown live on Sky Sports however the game could fall victim to the severe weather effecting the UK this week, with more snow and further sub-zero temperatures set to cause postponements and cancellations across British sporting fixtures.

January 07, 2010

Betfair launches first TV widget betting application

Looking to benefit from the emerging Internet-connected TV platform, online betting exchange Betfair has launched the first betting application for TV’s running the Yahoo! TV Widget Engine, an applications platform which allows users to interact with Internet content and services that compliment and enhance the traditional TV viewing experience.

Betfair has created a specialist interactive TV team to lead innovation of this TV technology. The Yahoo! Widget Engine is based on the popular Konfabulator widget platform for the PC, which has been re-engineered specifically for consumer electronics devices.

“TVs are the centre of home entertainment and live sport on TV drives our business,” said Simon Miller, CEO Betfair TV Ltd. “The way people interact with their televisions is changing. Our investment in this exciting new platform ensures that Betfair is an integral part of the future of Internet-connected TV.”

According to industry analysts Futuresource Consulting, 20% of flat panel TVs shipped in Europe this year will have Internet capability with the installed base of connected TVs increasing to 15 million devices by the end of 2010, representing nearly 10% of the total number of flat panel TVs in use.

“Yahoo! is the trusted partner for publishers who want to take advantage of our global distribution channels and advancements in building a worldwide developer ecosystem for publishing and distributing new and innovative TV Widgets,” said Arlo Rose, Senior Director of Product Management and Design, Yahoo! Connected TV. "In those countries that allow it, the Betfair TV Widget provides sports enthusiasts with an online entertainment experience to enhance their sports television watching.”

Betfair will be demonstrating its football betting application at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which begins today at the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

New dedicated internet TV sports betting service launches

Aiming to deliver an unrivalled betting-focussed programme to both customers and bookmakers, a new dedicated sports betting Internet TV service, The Betting Channel, has been launched with support from Satellite Information Services (SIS), the news and sports coverage provider part-owned by UK bookmakers Ladbrokes, William Hill and the Tote.

The channel has begun streaming via TheBettingChannel.tv, initially broadcasting from 9am to 11am Monday to Saturday with plans to lengthen the programming output to six hours a day.

The concept is the result of several years planning by former Sky Sports and Liverpool TV presenter Alan Bentley, who has been working towards the idea of an online platform to provide entertaining and informative betting comment and live updated odds.

“After such a long time spent working on this project it’s a very exciting time for the whole team and me personally,” said Alan Bentley, The Betting Channel founder and presenter. “We believe the immediacy of our offering will prove attractive because punters will be able to obtain continually updated sports news and odds as soon as the news breaks. And by using an internet platform to broadcast we offer an immediate global reach.”

Bentley will anchor the live magazine show from London studios alongside co-host Simone Thomas, regularly assisted by a host of sports and betting journalists including football pundit Alan Brazil, The Racing Post’s Mark Winstanley and former Arsenal footballer Perry Groves.

A team of top broadcasters and sports personalities both in the studio and on the telephone provide expert analysis of all major sports events of the day from around the world, identifying regular betting opportunities, including in-running, around that particular event.

Following its launch on interactive TV, The Betting Channel’s future plans include the provision of bespoke content for bookmaker partners, the launch of an affiliate scheme, expansion of the website and SMS and mobile content syndication.

The company plans to stream both the magazine output and coverage of live events onto bookmakers’ own websites and create and deliver podcasts, vodcasts and other compelling content for clients. The Betting Channel site will also host virtual games and act as a portal to sponsor online poker and casino offerings.

PMU signs 4-year FFF tie

Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU) has signed a four-year sponsorship deal with the French football federation as the French monopoly operator prepares for the liberalisation of the French market this year.

PMU is one of France’s two giant state-backed gaming and betting providers, together with Française des Jeux (FDJ). It has around 10,000 retail outlets in France and recorded a turnover of €9.3bn in 2009. PMU and FDJ both joined the Power 50 list of leading operators this year ahead of the opening of the French market to foreign competitors in early 2010.

The deal with the Federation Francaise De Football (FFF) sees the operator join sports brand Adidas, bank Credit Agricole and energy giant GDF Suez as a sponsor for both the men’s and women’s national teams and French amateur football.

It will take effect after the 2010 FIFA World Cup to be held in South Africa. Prior to that, PMU will also sponsor coverage of the World Cup on the Eurosport and TF1 television channels, despite Eurosport having launched its own sports betting site in May.

The FFF sponsorship is PMU’s second major deal since five-year tie up with Paddy Power’s new business-to-business arm announced in November, which will see Paddy Power provide PMU with fixed-odds risk management and pricing tools..

January 06, 2010

British horse racing seeks to broaden industry's appeal

s part of an initiative to revamp the UK horse racing industry and broaden the sport’s appeal with the general public, the industry taskforce programme Racing For Change has unveiled ten trial measures to be implemented during the first half of 2010, including the use of decimal odds instead of fractions on several racecourses for one weekend this Spring.

The Racing For Change taskforce, which features representatives from the sports’ major organisations, has proposed a number of new initiatives to modernise the image of British horseracing, some of which were long overdue, such as the listing of first names as well as surnames for all jockeys and trainers in race cards, while race names are to be simplified and racecourse announcements modernised.

Other initiatives include encouraging on-course bookmakers to offer standard each-way terms and enhanced customer services, a new website to be launched to promote horseracing as well as a central public relations campaign to promote racing to a wider audience, and a new free membership club for younger adults offering discounted admission to courses and shares in racehorses.

The trial of decimal odds for starting prices is the most striking and controversial of the initiatives, since fractional odds have been used by racecourses and bookmakers for hundreds of years. However racing officials have long championed the use of decimals as a simpler method for attracting a wider audience to bet on horses.

“British horseracing is the envy of the racing world with our abundance of outstanding horses, trainers and jockeys as well as a host of first class racetracks,” said Chris McFadden, the Racing For Change Chairman. “Yet, despite the likes of Sea The Stars and Kauto Star, the sport needs to work harder to connect, as it did in the past, with the wider public. This is a result of a significantly more competitive betting and leisure environment - so we have to raise our game.

“What has encouraged us during the research and consultation stages of the project is that, fundamentally, there is little wrong with the racing as an entertainment, leisure and betting medium."

McFadden said that the industry needed a clearer structure and better presentation of its strengths - its drama, spectacle and heritage as well as its equine and human stars.

“What we need to do is promote the sport in a way that makes it relevant to a much bigger audience and these 10 initiatives are the first steps in that process. Most thriving customer facing organizations, having optimized their core product, build on their success by doing hundreds of small things consistently well. This is what racing must set out to achieve,” added McFadden.

“Work to overhaul the fixture list and to develop racing’s prize assets is well underway and we expect to make further announcements on this over the next couple of months.”

January 05, 2010

Belgium becomes latest to ignore EU online gambling agreements

Many countries are making their own laws regarding online gambling and are ignoring European Union trade agreements in the process. The latest to do so is Belgium, where lawmakers have inked new laws in an effort to regulate online gambling in the country.

Belgium lawmakers felt that the current Internet gambling system was being corrupted by organized crime. They believe that regulations would keep the crime out of the industry, but what they have come up with is in direct violation of EU agreements.

The European Union warned Belgium in a letter back in June of last year that these new laws would be a violation. Belgium, however, ignored the warning, and created new regulatory laws to oversee Internet gambling, more specifically, online poker.

Some of the top online poker players in the world reside in Belgium. With the new laws in place, major poker sites such as PartyPoker, Full Tilt, and PokerStars, would not be permitted to accept players from Belgium. That means that the top players could only play while putting themselves at risk of arrest.

The EU has not been consistent in their upholding of agreements. While Belgium and France has been warned about their nationalization of online poker, other countries such as Italy have been permitted to regulate their online gambling industry.

The US, which is the biggest online gambling market in the world, has been in violation of EU agreements since they enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act back in late 2006. Lawmakers in the US, however, are in the process of attempting to overturn the UIGEA and set up a regulated Internet gambling industry in the country.

888 founder Aharon Shaked passes away

The co-founder of online gambling giant 888, Aharon Shaked, passed away on Saturday at age 58 following a difficult battle with illness, Israeli business news site The Marker reported.

The businessman, who previously practiced dentistry in his native Israel, made a fortune in the online gambling world together with his brother Avi Shaked after the two established 888 Holdings in 1997.

The idea for the company began at a dentistry conference in Monte Carlo in the 1990s, when Shaked noticed the large amounts of people flocking to the city's casino, and on his return to Israel made a decision with his brother to establish an online casino. Although neither brother had any previous experience in gambling, the two spent time at casinos in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, where they learnt the trade and picked up the knowledge that would help them create their empire.

The brothers mortgaged their houses in 1995 in order to obtain the funds to establish 888, and the rest is history. The company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2005, at a time when Aharon and Avi Shaked owned 70 percent of the stocks. They each sold stocks worth $91.3 million and both held on to stocks worth $267 million each.

Aharon Shaked told a British newspaper following the company's listing that his new found wealth would not change his life, vowing that rather than spend it all on fancy restaurants and new cars, he would put the profits toward charities for underprivileged children in Israel.

January 04, 2010

Sportech agrees new deal with Lloyds

Gaming group Sportech has agreed revised banking facilities of 90.75m with Lloyds, comprising 87.75m of term loans and 3.0m of working capital.

The group's net debt at 18 November amounted to 81.5m.

Its new agreement includes amendment of the maturity date on the senior term loan facility to 30 June 2013 and extension of the maturity date on the working capital facility to 30 December 2010.

Key financial covenants of the revised facilities have been adjusted to provide greater headroom until the end of the term. Part of the revised term loan will be available to finance business development opportunities.

CEO Ian Penrose said, 'We now have in place robust facilities, which allow the group to pursue both organic and development opportunities.'

Greece picks Spanoudakis as OPAP CEO

Greece named Yannis Spanoudakis, a senior Athens 2004 Olympics organiser, as the new chief executive officer of Europe's biggest betting company OPAP , a company official said on Wednesday.

'The Greek state proposes Yannis Spanoudakis as new CEO and Haris Stamatopoulos as new Chairman,' OPAP's outgoing CEO Christos Hadjiemmanouil said in a general shareholders meeting held to approve the appointments.

Spanoudakis was a former managing director with the Athens 2004 Olympics organising committee and a senior executive with Dow Chemical. Stamatopoulos is a former chief of the Athens International Airport.

The Greek state is OPAP's biggest shareholder, with a 34 percent stake, which means the proposed candidates should get shareholders' approval.

Hadjiemmanouil and other board members offered their resignation after the new Socialist government came to power in the Oct. 4 elections.

OPAP has a national monopoly on sports betting and lotteries until 2020 but is facing stiff competition from foreign Internet bookmakers although online betting is still illegal in Greece.

Analysts are concerned about the impact of any new gaming taxes imposed on the company as the Greek government struggles to shore up its battered finances.

The government has suspended until April 30 a 10 percent lottery tax introduced by its conservative predecessors.

OPAP shares reversed earlier losses after the announcement, to trade 0.1 percent higher at 15.47 euros at 1052 GMT.

Shares in OPAP, down 25 percent since the start of the year, have underperformed a 23 percent rise of the Athens bourse's benchmark index.

The stock trades at 7.5 times estimated 2009 earnings, compared with a multiple of 7.2 for British bookmaker Ladbrokes and 13 for Italy's Lottomatica, data from Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S showed.

UB partners up with the Calgary Flames

UltimateBet, the online poker site owned by Tokwiro Enterprises and a member of the Cereus Network, has signed a sponsorship agreement with Canadian National Hockey League team the Calgary Flames, integrating tickets in its games into its promotional activities.

The agreement includes provision for UltimateBet's logo to appear on dual rinkboards at the Flames' home arena when the Alberta team takes to the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 2nd, 2010.

To celebrate the Calgary collaboration at eight home games during the month of January, UB.net is giving U.S. and Canadian players a chance to earn one of four pairs of prestige tickets to attend the NHL match up between the Flames and the Ottawa Senators at Pengrowth Saddledome on March 11th.

Players with a penchant for first class hockey who want to benefit from the promotions can participate in one of eight daily UB.net online poker satellite tournaments, where the top 100 players from each qualifier will win a seat into a Sunday Main Event, details of which are available on the UltimateBet website.

Starting on Sunday, January 3rd, the Texas Hold ‘em satellites will take place every Sunday through Saturday throughout the month, at three hour intervals intervals from 6am until midnight. Each UB.net Calgary Flames Main Event awards the winner with the top prize of two tickets to the Flames Vs Senators game, plus $1 000 cash for travel expenses.

An additional pair of tickets to the luxury hospitality suite at the Flames V. Senators ‘face-off' will be given away on location at one of the eight home games. The random lucky in-arena winner will go head to head on the Jumbotron with a pre-recorded Phil Hellmuth in a hockey-trivia game of "Truth" or "Bluff". If the challenger can beat the Poker Brat at correctly guessing which facts are true or false, then the tickets are theirs for the taking.