June 30, 2011

bwin.party begins formal process to sell Ongame

bwin.party digital entertainment plc said Thursday that it has commenced a formal process to sell the company’s Ongame B2B poker network, with a sale expected to be completed by the end of the year.

In a statement to shareholders at the company’s Annual General Meeting in Gibraltar later today, the board of bwin.party will say that current trading is broadly in line with management expectations, despite lower than expected sports margins due to a favourable run of events for customers in May.

While there has been an improvement in new player sign-ups in poker following action taken by U.S authorities against a number of the companies online poker rivals, this has not had a material impact on poker revenues. The company said that this is because new players represent just a small proportion of the overall player base.

Casino continues to perform well, while bingo has been slightly softer than expected in the period, the company said.

Since the completion of the merger, bwin.party said that it continues to make progress on implementing the plans made prior to completion, with the company on-track to deliver the full €55m of annualised synergies by 2013.

As part of its stated strategy to recycle surplus assets, the company confirmed that having taken some initial soundings from interested parties, it has commenced a formal process to sell its Ongame B2B operation, a leading online poker network including a technology platform.

bwin.party said that the company expects the sale to be completed by the end of the year.

Having undertaken a comprehensive review of its capital and distribution policy, bwin.party confirmed that it will commence payment of a dividend at the half year results to be announced on August 31st.

Adopting a progressive dividend policy, whilst maintaining an appropriate level of dividend cover as measured against the company’s free cashflow, bwin.party intends to pay out €15m as an interim dividend payable in October and €15m as a final dividend payable in May 2012.

Thereafter, the company intends to target a payout ratio of no less than 30 per cent of normalised annual free cashflow with the interim dividend representing approximately half of the total annual dividend.

bwin.party said that it will also implement a share buyback programme, subject to market conditions and shareholder approval later today, of up to €75m. The programme will remain in place for one year, with all shares purchased to be cancelled.

Polish punters blocked by Ladbrokes

Bookmaker will not apply for Polish licence

Bookmaker Ladbrokes have advised players and affiliates that the company will no longer continue taking bets and registrations from Polish IP Addresses or players who have their country of residence listed as Poland.

New Polish gambling legislation, due to come into force in July 2011, allows for operators to offer sports betting only under a Polish licence, which Ladbrokes doesn't intend applying for as it already operates under a European Union licence.

The bookmaker communicated with existing players requesting them to withdraw all funds from their Ladbrokes account and will settle outstanding affiliate payments towards the end of July 2011.

June 23, 2011

Ladbrokes makes approach for Sportingbet

Shares in Sportingbet plc soared by more than 15 per cent in London this morning after the company confirmed that it has received a “highly preliminary approach” from UK bookmaker Ladbrokes which may lead to an offer being made to acquire the company.

Yesterday, media reports were rife with rumours that Ladbrokes were lining up a bid of 70 pence per share for Sportingbet, valuing the company at more than £460m.

For Ladbrokes, the move comes just two months after protracted discussions with online gaming operator 888 Holdings plc regarding a possible merger or acquisition were terminated.

A move for Sportingbet would improve Ladbrokes’ online offering, allowing the company to close the gap on UK rival William Hill which has seen a resurgence online following a tie-up with online gaming giant Playtech.

William Hill secured an injunction against Playtech in March to “ensure that its legal rights under the WHO joint venture agreements were maintained”, after press speculation linked Playtech to talks with Ladbrokes.

Playtech and William Hill reached an amicable resolution to their dispute last month, following which Playtech entered talks to provide solutions and services to another UK rival, Gala Coral.

Sportingbet said this morning that the company’s board has received a “highly preliminary approach” from Ladbrokes which may or may not lead to an offer being made to purchase the entire issued and to be issued share capital of the company.

“There can be no certainty that any offer will be forthcoming or as to the terms of any such offer,” the company added. “A further announcement will be made in due course.”

Ladbrokes also issued a statement this morning, confirming that the company has held preliminary conversations with Sportingbet.

"The Board has set out previously a clear organic strategy for Ladbrokes," said Richard Glynn, CEO of Ladbrokes. "We also stated that we would explore appropriate opportunities that may help us accelerate that process and bring benefits to our shareholders. These talks should be seen in that context and are highly preliminary."

Sportingbet is currently in the midst of acquiring Australian rival Centrebet International Limited for approximately AUD$180m, with the company raising gross proceeds of £130m through the issue of shares and convertible bonds to finance the acquisition.

Yesterday Sportingbet confirmed that it has received all of the required proceeds in connection with its fund raising, satisfying the conditions for the acquisition of Centrebet.

Last year Swedish online gaming operator Unibet withdrew from merger talks with Sportingbet, while bwin also made a preliminary approach to acquire Sportingbet in 2007 at a time when the UK operator's market capitalisation exceeded £261m.

Police Announce Arrests in Greek Match-Fixing Probe

Nine people have been arrested in connection with a probe into match-fixing in Greek football, police announced on Wednesday.

Police conducted an extensive search at suspects’ homes following an investigation by Greek judicial authorities in the last few months over a list of 41 matches submitted by UEFA to the local football authorities.

The presidents of Super League sides Olympiakos Volou, Achilleas Beos and Kavala, Stavros Psomiadis are reportedly among the nine men arrested. Beos’s lawyer has confirmed the arrest of his client.

The nine Greeks – also said to include the president of second-division side Ilioupoli, Giorgos Tsakoyiannis, and the manager of second-division side Ethnikos Asteras, Nikos Pantelis – are remanded in custody accused of betting fraud, money laundering and participation in a criminal group.

According to reports, at least 20 people were detained in total, including a number of football agents and the son of a well-known Athens soccer and basketball official.

“As part of the Athens prosecutor’s investigation a large-scale police operation has been conducted, which has resulted in nine arrests so far in connection with match-fixing. Investigations are continuing,” said a police statement.

June 21, 2011

FIFA’s Security Head Says Significant Match-Fix Arrest Made in Singapore

The arrest of a Singaporean man by police in Malaysia on soccer match-fixing charges may be one of the most significant to date, according to the head of security at the sport’s governing body.

Rajendran Kurusamy, 51, was arrested three weeks after Malaysian police were given a photo and other details by FIFA officials. He’s been linked to match-fixing cases in Under-20 matches. The arrest comes as Wilson Raj Perumal, a Singaporean, and nine members of the same Finish team are accused of fixing games there.

“He’s potentially more significant than Perumal,” Chris Eaton said in a telephone interview from Singapore, adding Kurusamy has been working in “Europe and likely Central America, too, in my estimation.”

FIFA is investigating several games that officials suspect have been compromised by match-fixers, including Nigeria’s 4-1 victory over Argentina in an exhibition match on June 1. They’re also looking at a games between a team purporting to represent the West African state of Togo and Bahrain as well as matches games between Bulgaria and Estonia, and Bolivia and Latvia in Turkey, where all seven goals were scored from penalties.

FIFA set up an Early Warning System to detect suspicious betting patterns, which sparked the investigation into the Nigeria game. It’s also giving Interpol 20 million euros ($28.6 million) over 10 years to help tackle the problem. The groups are working on an anti-corruption center in Singapore.

“We’re seeing an explosion in the investigating and detection of match fixing,” Eaton said. “My estimation is this is because there’s more awareness of match-fixing and more recognition by police agencies to eradicate it.”

The size of the illegal gambling market is estimated to be worth $90 billion, according to the World Lottery Association, a lobbying group for state-backed lotteries.

June 13, 2011

Betfair files complaint with EC over Greek draft law

Betfair has filed a complaint with the European Commission over the ban on betting exchanges contained within the Greek draft egaming law.

Martin Cruddace, Betfair’s chief legal and regulatory officer, said: “Having played a constructive role in the preparatory phase of the draft Greek gaming law, we were disappointed with the inclusion of elements within it which unfairly discriminate against Betfair and are clearly incompatible with EU law.

“We have therefore asked the Commission to review the matter and engage with the Greek authorities, with the aim of addressing the concerns raised in our complaint."

In addition to challenging the blanket ban on betting exchanges, Betfair is seeking to address several other components within the draft law which it argues are in breach of EU law. These include the obligation to establish a Greek legal entity, locate servers and process gambling transactions exclusively within Greece, and also the requirement for online customers to obtain a special players ID card.

The EC is due to deliver its verdict on the compatibility of the Greek draft with EU law on 5 July. However shortly after notifying the proposal to the European Commission on 5 April, the Greek government withdrew the draft law from its own parliament for review amid Socialist Party concerns that the draft went too far towards “full deregulation of gaming and gambling.”

The Greek government originally presented its bill aimed at raising around €700m this year from the issue of 15-55 new licences to its parliament in March, by which time it had undergone several important changes since appearing in its initial form in January. These included dropping a proposed “black period”, requiring applicant operators to cease activity in the market until licensed, and opting for a 30% gross profit tax (GPT) instead of the 6% turnover levy originally proposed.

June 09, 2011

IG writes off Extrabet business

Financial spreadbetting business IG Group expects to report revenue for 2010 of £320m and adjusted profit before tax of £163m, representing year-on-year increases of 7% and 3% respectively.

UK revenues were up 3% year-on-year, Australia by 4% and Europe by 21%. The group however said in a trading statement this morning that it had been unable to secure a sale of its Extrabet sports betting business in its entirety on terms that were acceptable to the company, and so had commenced a redundancy consultation process with the employees of Extrabet.

The group would consequently incur one off costs in the year to 31 May 2011 of around £7.75m, comprising the write off of goodwill associated with the sports business of £5.25m (non-cash) and likely cash closure costs, including potential redundancy and lease-related costs, of around £2.5m. These cash costs have been recognised within adjusted profit before tax, said IG.

The spreadbetting operator however has reached agreement to sell the majority of the client list of Extrabet’s sports spreadbetting and fixed odds business to Spreadex Limited for semi-annual payments over the next three years, said IG. The payments will be calculated according to revenue that the acquirer generates from clients on this client list. This transaction is expected to conclude by the end of June.

IG is also seeking a buyer for its pricing engine software, used for market making into betting exchanges.

June 08, 2011

Australia: Sports set to clamp down on exotic bets

Cricket Australia and other major national sporting bodies are to follow rugby league's ban on exotic bets.

Australia's most prominent professional sports have also backed a federal government proposal to make sports corruption a crime, with penalties of up to 10 years in jail.

The Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMPPS) yesterday met Sports Minister Mark Arbib and gave him a paper on sports corruption.

The paper makes three major recommendations, which the minister endorsed.

Sports-specific national legislation that carries severe penalties for cheating in connection with betting.

Sports can veto exotic or spot bets that they think are at risk of corruption.

Victoria's sports betting Act is adopted across all states and territories, meaning all betting agencies must have integrity agreements with sports.

"A national approach to this is absolutely critical," Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said.

"To protect the integrity of the sports contest is absolutely vital and it's something that obviously the COMPPS sports have an interest in, but I think the whole Australian public has an interest in as well.

"Without national consistency on these issues, we simply don't believe that our governments are taking this issue seriously enough."

Last week, the NRL banned some exotic bets offered by bookmakers.

It follows last year's match-fixing scandal in the sport, where there was a massive plunge on a penalty goal being the first scoring play in a Canterbury-North Queensland match.

The AFL has already acted against exotic betting.

June 07, 2011

Greek league suspended over match-fixing

Greece’s Football Association has moved to suspend the country’s professional game over claims of match-fixing and violence.

What initially started out as a probe by UEFA, (European football’s governing body) into irregular betting patterns during the 2009 and 2010 domestic season has now lead to the Greek FA suspending all activities while various reforms are considered.

The 15-day lockout period fortunately takes place during Greece’s off-season which lasts until the end of August. In addition, the FA has okay-ed the friendly match between Greece and Ecuador scheduled for June 7th in New York.

In the meantime, seven people have been charged with betting on fixed matches, while another eight suspects are currently under investigation after each winning over €15,000 ($22,000) from the state-controlled football pools.

This follows the relegation of north Greek club Iraklis after discrepancies in its finances were uncovered.

As well as corruption, consistent violence has also plagued the domestic Greek Football scene leading to the extraordinary suspension decision.

For instance, on April 30th at the Greek Cup final between AEK Athens and underdogs Atromito, AEK hooligans invaded the pitch and attacked opposing supporters despite their team being 3-0 ahead.

Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) President Sofoklis Pilavios announced news of the suspension on Friday after EPO delegates approved the move by a 49 to 7 margin.

Commenting on the drastic decision taken by the EPO, Pilavios stated: “We are facing a very major problem of violence. We have a choice to make: Do we want football in the hands of hooligans, violence, and match-fixers, forgers, and liars? A game with deals made under the table, exploited by politicians, a game of violence and threats? Or do we want a game based on strong institutions and rules and strong moral grounding?”

June 02, 2011

Italian players arrested in match-fixing probe

The spectre of corruption returned to haunt Italian football yesterday when former star World Cup striker Beppe Signori was among 16 people arrested after investigators busted a football match-fixing operation that was so big police dubbed it a "proper criminal organisation".

In addition to Signori, who appeared in the 1994 World Cup final, police held other big-name players and club officials in towns across the country including Rome, Turin, Naples and Bologna. Magistrates claimed that players flunked matches for cash, while others were doped to ensure that they played badly.

The probe looks likely to rock Italian football just five years after the so-called Calciopoli scandal that led to Turin giants Juventus being relegated to the second division. In addition to the 16 arrested yesterday, another 12 people are officially under investigation in connection with the suspec-ted match-fixing scam.

Former Lazio and Bologna forward Signori, who retired in 2006, has been placed under house arrest. He is Serie A's eighth top scorer of all time with 188 goals. He was described as the "central element of a group of Bologna betters" involved in the scam, in an arrest warrant issued by Cremona investigating magistrate Guido Salvini.

In comments to the Ansa news agency, Signori said: "Have some mercy. I can't say anything. I will meet my lawyer and then he'll speak for me."

Atalanta's Cristiano Doni and former Sampdoria defender Stefano Bettarini, both of whom played international football for Italy, are also said to be under investigation.

Prosecutors said they had "important and irrefutable" evidence that the 16 were involved in manipulating results in 18 mostly Serie B (second division) and lower league matches in the season that has just come to an end, adding that Atalanta and Siena's promotion to the top flight may be in danger.

Police said the six-month investigation, triggered by a Serie B match in Cremona that aroused suspicion last year, had revealed the involvement of current footballers, club executives and sports betting operators. They said bets worth hundreds of thousands of euros had been placed on matches.

According to Mr Salvini, there was also a failed attempt to fix a Serie A match between Inter Milan and Lecce at the San Siro in March.

June 01, 2011

Phil Ivey breaks silence, sues Full Tilt

Poker professional and former Team Full Tilt member Phil Ivey has broken his silence about the ongoing non-repayment of funds to Full Tilt customers, expressing his disappointment and embarrassment and revealing that he has filed suit against the company.

With few exceptions, the online gaming community has been near unanimous in its condemnation of the way Full Tilt has handled its customers since the Department of Justice indictment in April which shut down their US operations.

In contrast to rival online poker operator PokerStars which was also subject to the DoJ indictments, Full Tilt has been accused of failing to communicate with players and lambasted for failing to begin the process of returning player funds.

In a statement released Tuesday, Ivey expressed his regret at being compelled to speak out, but said that he could no longer remain silent while so many players suffer economic harm.

“I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed that Full Tilt players have not been paid money they are owed. I am equally embarrassed that as a result many players cannot compete in tournaments and have suffered economic harm. I am not playing in the World Series of Poker as I do not believe it is fair that I compete when others cannot. I am doing everything I can to seek a solution to the problem as quickly as possible,” said Ivey.

“My name and reputation have been dragged through the mud, through the inactivity and indecision of others and on behalf of all poker players I refuse to remain silent any longer. I have electronically filed a lawsuit against Tiltware related to the unsettled player accounts. As I am sure the public can imagine, this was not an easy decision for me.”

The eight time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner said that he wholeheartedly refuses to accept inaction regarding the repayment of funds to players and expressed his anger at the fact that “people who have supported me throughout my career have been treated so poorly”.

“I sincerely hope this statement will ignite those capable of resolving the problems into immediate action and would like to clarify that until a solution is reached that cements the security of all players, both US and International, I will, as I have for the last six weeks, dedicate the entirety of my time and efforts to finding a solution for those who have been wronged by the painfully slow process of repayment.”

Earlier this week, Full Tilt stated that it has no specific timeframe for the repayment of player funds and claimed that the silence of its sponsored poker professionals was a result of ongoing legal constraints. The company said that it is in the process of raising capital in order to speed up the repayment of funds to US players but denied claims that it is in financial crisis.

Austrian tennis player receives life ban for match-fixing

Austrian tennis player Daniel Koellerer has been banned from professional tennis for life and fined US$100,000 after being found guilty of match-fixing by the anti-corruption Tennis Integrity Unit.

Koellerer was found guilty of three charges under Article D of the 2010 Uniform Tennis Anti-Corruption Program.

The three charges were; contriving or attempting to contrive the outcome of an event; soliciting or facilitating a player not to use his or her best efforts in an event; and soliciting, offering or providing money, benefit or consideration to any other covered person with the intention of negatively influencing a player’s best efforts in any event.

The three violations occurred between October 2009 and July 2010.

The case against him was based on the findings of a Tennis Integrity Unit investigation and considered by an independent Anti-Corruption Hearing Officer at a two-day Hearing held in London last month.

The life ban applies with immediate effect, and means that Koellerer, currently ranked 385 in the world but a former world number 55, is not eligible to participate in any tournament or competition organised or sanctioned by the governing bodies of professional tennis.

Last August, Koellerer and his agent Manfred Nareyka were disciplined under the Uniform Anti-Corruption Programme for facilitating betting. A Tennis Integrity Unit investigation found that Koellerer’s personal website carried details of betting odds on tennis matches and provided links to allow users to place bets.

The offence of facilitating betting contravenes Article D1b of the Uniform Tennis Anti-Corruption Programme. Both Koellerer and his agent admitted the offences, with Koellerer receiving a €15,000 fine and a three month ban from professional tennis. Both penalties were suspended for two years on the condition that he does not infringe the Uniform Tennis Anti-Corruption Programme in that period.

Nareyka received a twelve month suspension of credentials and access to any professional tennis events, again suspended for two years.

The Tennis Integrity Unit is an initiative of the Grand Slam Committee, the International Tennis Federation, the ATP World Tour and the WTA as part of the Uniform Tennis Anti-Corruption Programme.