April 30, 2011

FIFA: Academy of match-fixers operating out of Singapore

An “academy of match-fixers”operating out of Singapore could be responsible for rigging matches around the world, FIFA’s head of security Chris Eaton said in a newspaper interview on Saturday.

Eaton, who worked for Interpol for more than a decade before joining world football’s governing body, told Singapore’s The New Paper that a global investigation into match-fixing saw many of the lines of inquiry focused on the Southeast Asian city-state.

“Singapore seems to feature a great deal in these (match-fixing) allegations,” Eaton said in the interview in Finland.

“I form the conclusion that Singapore seems to have an academy of match-fixers, and that many of the inquiries we’re making on behalf of FIFA are coming back to Singapore.”

Investigators had delivered their findings to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has already vowed to clamp down on match-fixing.

Eaton said that while gambling on football was not the problem, criminal networks were eager to cash in on the tens of millions of euros being made through match-fixing.

The newspaper said a report published in December 2009 estimated $450 billion (S$632.5 billion) a year was wagered in Asia, including illegal and legal betting.

“With that kind of financial interest, criminals, being the greedy beasts they are, try to find ways to milk the potential windfall,” he added.

In Finland, Tampere United were expelled from all competitions by the Finnish FA earlier this month over irregularities related to a marketing deal.

The FA’s disciplinary committee said Tampere had allowed Singaporean firm Exclusive Sport PTE Ltd to improperly influence the choice of players for certain matches as part of a marketing deal. Tampere have since been reinstated pending an appeal.

A Singaporean man working for Exclusive Sport PTE Ltd was in late February detained by Finnish police as he was using a fake ID. He is suspected of fixing matches in Finland and elsewhere.

April 28, 2011

Gambling.com sells for $2.5 million

The UK’s Media Corp plc. has completed the sale of its Gambling.com domain name for US$2.5m in cash, well below its stated balance sheet value of $4.25m.

The company did not reveal the identity of the acquirer, but stated that the transaction includes only the Gambling.com domain name and website.

Media Corp said it will retain ownership of a number of significant assets relating to the business, including intellectual property, customer databases and infrastructure, which it said would provide significant economic benefit to purplelounge.com, the Group’s online gaming business.

“The sale of Gambling.com brings a significant boost to the Group’s already substantial cash reserves; we have recently seen a number of exciting acquisition opportunities in the online gaming and online advertising space. The successful sale of gambling.com has given the Group more than adequate financial resources to pursue these acquisition opportunities aggressively,” said Justin Drummond, CEO of Media Corporation plc.

As a result of the shortfall between the sale price of the domain name and its book value, Media Corp will incur a one-off loss in the current financial year of $1.75 million relating to the transaction.

The company said that the $2.5m sale price, together with the $13.2m in revenues generated by the website in the past five years, was a satisfactory result.

Investors, however, appear to have taken a different view, with shares in Media Corp plc falling 10.64 per cent in London this morning to 2.10 pence per share, just above their 52-week low of 2.08 pence.

April 18, 2011

Euro sites capitalise on "Black Friday"

In the 72 hours following the indictment of 11 senior executives and owners of three of the biggest US-facing poker sites, their European rivals have launched respective marketing drives in an attempt to capitalise on the availability of new players.

Since the US Attorney’s Office issued a notice on Friday bringing charges against Pokerstars founder Isai Scheinberg, Full Tilt’s Ray Bitar, and nine others for alleged fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling, traffic on a number of rivals' sites has risen dramatically.

According to Pokerscout’s weekly traffic report, all three affected sites have seen their traffic drop significantly, with Full Tilt’s 48% week-on-week decline the most striking. PKR, however has seen a 21% rise (the highest from a non-US site) while PartyPoker (9%), 888Poker (5%) and the iPoker network (4%) are also on the up.

Several networks and sites not taking US customers have hastily launched promotions to target those players looking to deposit on sites other than Full Tilt, Pokerstars and the Cereus, the two-site network that contains Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet, both of which are included in Friday’s indictment.

Last night, Unibet announced it would be holding its first ever €500,000 guarantee tournament, while ChiliPoker – on the iPoker network – countered what has come to be known as online poker’s “Black Friday” with its own “Purple Day” promotion, featuring 200% sign-up bonuses.

One European-based affiliate, who asked not to be named, told eGaming Review: “My inbox is getting constant messages such as 888 doubling their prize-pools, and Titan Poker offering 60% revenue shares and saying if you are a Pokerstars player you can send them a screenshot of your VIP status then you get the same level of loyalty there.

“I was surprised by the email [from Titan] because it was so obvious, but I think Pokerstars and Full Tilt have really played outside the rules of the game and now this is a very positive development for the whole affiliate system.”

He went on to suggest that, from a player’s point of view, a more carefree attitude towards funds locked up on the bigger US-facing sites could begin to reap rewards. “Many people think that playing on Pokerstars and Full Tilt is like playing Zynga poker because no one knows what the value of the chips really is,” he said.

Dominik Kofert, CEO of power affiliate PokerStrategy.com, is cautiously optimistic about the impact Friday’s news will have on the online poker market outside the US.

“The curious thing is that some of these same people used to say that – compared to some banks and payment providers – the safest place to keep money was on Stars and Tilt.”

His site refuses to take American players and runs IP blocks. Providing Pokerstars and Full Tilt can continue to run their non-US-facing sites, as is currently the case, he expects a “mini-boom” outside the US.

“The European-facing sites have launched their various promotions and I think Pokerstars will follow suit in the next few days,” he said.

“With more traffic going to those sites not taking players from the US, I expect Pokerstars and Full Tilt to divert more of their marketing spend to these markets in response.”

He added the priority for many of his players was to ensure their funds are secure, with many of them currently unable to withdraw from Pokerstars and Full Tilt.

“It is an issue of trust, and it is important that this element gets sorted out as quickly as possible,” he said.

But while European sites are seemingly showing a near-unanimous drive to capitalise on those players deserting the ‘big three’ in America, a mixed message is coming from stateside competitors.

Bodog made a mysterious return to Pokerscout's rankings with a 26% seven day rise in player numbers in the wake of Friday’s indictments, having blocked the tracking site earlier this year, while the Merge and Cake networks continue to take American players at the time of writing.

However, Victory Poker – one of the larger skins on Cake – is immediately abandoning its US focus. CEO Dan Fleyshman tweeted yesterday: “Asked the Cake Network to BLOCK US players from the Victory Poker site. They are supportive of my decision. Hope it gets regulated 1 day!”

April 15, 2011

FBI seizes PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged the founders of online poker sites PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker with fraud and conspiracy in an idictment unsealed Friday morning.

The indictment includes Isai Scheinberg and Paul Tate from PokerStars, Ray Bitar and Nelson Burtnick from Full Tilt, Scott Tom and Brent Beckley of AbsolutePoker. Also charged were Ryan Lang, John Campos, Bradley Franzen, Ira Rubin and Chad Elie who are believed to be working for payment processors. Campos and Elie were arrested Friday morning in Las Vegas and Utah. The DOJ is working with Interpol to secure the arrest of the other defendants.

A total of five domain names, including UB.com, PokerStars.com, FullTiltPoker.com, have been seized by the DOJ. Restraining orders were also issued for 75 bank accounts used by the poker sites and payment processors.

“As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions inillegal gambling profits,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “Moreover, as we allege, in their zeal to circumvent the gambling laws, the defendants also engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud. Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don’t like simply because they can’t bear to be parted from their profits.”

The indcitment alleges that the poker companies worked with payment processors to fool U.S. banks into processing payments to and from players. All 11 defendants have been charged with Conspiracy to Violate Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act which has a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross amount won or lost and three years supervised release.

The founders of the three poker sites have been charged with Violation of Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act , which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross amount won or lost and three years supervised release, and Operation of Illegal Gambling Business, which also carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross amount won or lost and three years supervised release plus the forfeiture of proceeds of offense.

The other charges are Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud and Wire Fraud and Money Laundering Conspiracy.

The DOJ is seeking $3 billion in penalties from the companies.

PokerStars has since prevented U.S. based players from accessing any cash games or tournaments on their site.

April 11, 2011

Greece delays egaming bill amid ruling party concerns

Greece’s draft egaming legislation has been withdrawn for further consultation, after the ruling Socialist party (PASOK) expressed concerns with the law tabled by finance minister George Papaconstantinou.

A PASOK MP present at a meeting of party members told Reuters: “There were objections…that Greece would become a vast casino.” Socialist party MP Dimitris Papoutsis added: “We should not go towards full deregulation of gaming and gambling."

The Greek government presented the bill aimed at raising around €700m this year from the issue of 15-55 new licences to its parliament last month.

Greece’s draft legislation has already undergone several changes since being introduced in January. Last month the government voted for a 30% gross profit tax (GPT) instead of the 6% turnover levy originally proposed after briefing from lobby group the Remote Gambling Association.

The Greek government also dropped plans last month for a “black period”, requiring applicant operators to cease activity in the market until licensed.

Gigi Levy quits as 888 CEO

UK listed online gaming operator 888 Holdings plc has announced the surprise departure of chief executive Gigi Levy.

Levy’s departure comes at a crucial time for the company, which has been in protracted discussions with UK bookmaker Ladbrokes plc regarding a possible merger or acquisition, and pours doubt on the likelihood of a successful outcome to these discussions.

888 said in a statement Monday morning that Levy is stepping down from his current role to pursue “other interests”.

Levy, 39, has been with 888 since 2006 and took on the role of CEO in 2007, steering the company’s exit from the US market and its subsequent European growth.

Commenting on Levy’s departure, 888 chairman Richard Kilsby, said: “After a difficult first half of 2010, the Company has experienced 3 consecutive quarters of growth. Following very strong trading in Q1 2011, which has continued into Q2, Gigi has decided to step down, leaving the company well positioned for the future.

“The Board would like to thank Gigi for his contribution during his time as CEO. Since the UIGEA ruling changed the industry, Gigi has been central to positioning 888 as one of the world's most popular and leading online gaming companies.”

For the next 6 months, Levy will commit up to 50 per cent of his time to assist in the transition to a new CEO, the company said, adding that he will remain on the Board of 888 during that period and thereafter.

Levy’s decision to continue as a board member of 888 will have been influenced by the recently renegotiated earn out schedule for the acquisition of Wink Bingo, which may have also contributed to his decision to step down as chief executive.

888 entered into an amendment agreement with the Wink Bingo vendors in March to reschedule the earn out payment payable in May of this year. It also agreed not to declare or pay any dividends or make any material acquisitions or disposals prior to payment of the full earn out amount (£24.7m).

The agreement also states that Wink Bingo may require 888 to initiate a sale of the Wink Bingo business to facilitate repayment of the outstanding debt, if Levy ceases to be a member of the 888 board.

888’s Nominations Committee will now lead the search for a new CEO, with senior independent director Brian Mattingley being called in to work closely with management on all aspects of the business until a replacement CEO is found.

April 08, 2011

Gambling Commission voids bets after X Factor probe

In a landmark move, the UK Gambling Commission has issued voiding orders for the first time under the Gambling Act 2005, after concluding an investigation into suspicious betting patterns involving three employees of media channel Virgin Media during last year's series of the popular weekly TV talent show The X Factor.

The Commission has voided bets totalling over £16,000 which were placed on The X Factor, and follows an investigation into a report of suspicious betting activity brought to its attention by Betfair’s Integrity Unit.

The investigation established that three individuals employed by phone line operator Virgin Media were misusing their access to Virgin’s data on voting patterns to place unfair bets on which contestants would be eliminated from The X Factor. The employees have since been sacked by Virgin.

“There is no evidence that the integrity of the public voting or the TV shows involved were compromised,” said the Gambling Commission in statement. “However, the Commission has consulted with Ofcom, which has been working with Virgin Media and other relevant stakeholders, to ensure that firm steps are taken to prevent a repeat of such activity.”

The voiding orders mean that any contract or other arrangement in relation to each bet is void and that any money paid in relation to each bet - whether by way of stake, winnings, commission or otherwise - shall be repaid to the person who paid it, and repayment may be enforced as a debt due to that person.

The voiding orders also indicate that Betfair should, to the extent that it may be in its power to do so, cause affected Betfair customers to be repaid.

“Following a multi-agency investigation led by the Gambling Commission, we are satisfied that the bets placed were substantially unfair as the individuals involved had inside information,” said Nick Tofiluk, director of regulation for the Gambling Commission.

“We have worked closely with all the bodies involved to ensure that those individuals do not profit from their activity and that appropriate action has been taken to prevent a recurrence of such activity in the future.”

German gambling tax proposal receives much criticism

The German government has proposed to collect 16.7 percent gambling tax on sports betting from gambling operators with a national license, starting from next year.

After years of criticism it received over the monopoly on sports betting in Germany, the leaders of the 16 states in Germany determined that starting from 2012, the country will offer seven national gambling licenses to private companies. After a meeting in Berlin the states said that they had agreed to open the gambling market for a trial period of 5 years. Germany came under criticism from the EU about their lottery monopoly that gives the government the exclusive right to offer sports betting, according to the EC this is against the European legislation on free trade in services and goods. The European court said that the gambling laws are not consistently and systematically enough to support the hypothesis that the is law to protect the people against the social risks of gambling, but rather to generate additional revenue for the state.

In Germany, only horse racing and slot machines are legal and, companies with a license can offer these games anywhere. But sports betting and lotteries were until now in the hands of the state monopoly, much to the frustration of betting companies like Bwin. Many providers of online gambling, however, offer their services in Germany because the legislation is not properly enforced. The new legislation, effective starting 2012 will issue seven gambling licenses to companies that will pay 16.7 percent tax on gross bets. The governors said they will only allow betting on the outcome of matches and not on the half-time results or the names of the scorers. Gambling companies are allowed to advertise in the stadiums of football clubs, but not on television.

April 07, 2011

Revenue share deal from Betfair

Online casino and sportsbook operator Betfair is to offer all third-party developers a five percent revenue share for applications that are integrated onto its Sports Exchange mobile betting platform.

Betfair revealed that its Sports Exchange platform has been open to third-party developers since 2005 allowing for the building of applications designed to provide its punters with a personalised interface and specialised operations that would not otherwise be available via Betfair.com.

Undertaken in order to increase the amount of high-quality mobile applications being available to its customers, Betfair stated that this offer will also ‘stimulate and support innovation in the fast-moving mobile betting industry’.

“Betfair is excited about the future potential and growth we've already seen in mobile betting and we're keen to work with our developer community to build more high-quality mobile products for our three million customers to use,” said Tom Johnson from Betfair.

“The combination of the open nature of our Sports Exchange and the strong existing relationships we have with our developers has ensured that Betfair supplies products that not only push the boundaries of quality and innovation but ultimately provide our customers with the betting experience that they want.

“We’re confident that this new revenue share deal will further improve our product offering, our partnerships with our developer community and the experience of our customers.”

April 06, 2011

New sponsorship deal for Bet-At-Home.com

Online sportsbook Bet-At-Home.com has signed a deal to serve as an official sponsor for the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federation’s 2011 World Championship.

Organised by Infront Sports & Media and due to be held in Slovakia from April 29 to May 15, the International Ice Hockey Federation’s 2011 World Championship will see 16 national teams including those from Canada, Sweden and the USA battling it out in Bratislava and Kosice to be crowned the world’s best side.

“The International Ice Hockey Federation’s 2011 World Championship is an excellent platform for boosting our reputation and increasing awareness for our brand in major ice hockey markets particularly in Central and Eastern Europe,” said Jochen Dickinger, Chairman for Bet-At-Home.com.

“Being a part of the international sports business ourselves, we highly recognise the value of a wide-reaching sports sponsorship platform. Our miscellaneous sponsorship commitments in the past have proved highly beneficial and we are excited to see the results of being involved with such a global event as the International Ice Hockey Federation’s 2011 World Championship.”
This year’s World Championship will feature 56 matches set to be watched by up to 740 million people from right across the globe and Bet-At-Home.com’s deal will see its logo displayed on boards located around the rinks along with on the event’s official homepage and in all print materials.

“Bet-At-Home.com completes a strong sponsor line-up for this year’s International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Championship, clearly demonstrating that the popularity of the tournament as an international communication platform continues to soar,” said Bruno Marty, Winter Sports Executive Director for Infront Sports And Media.

“The attraction of new partners on the one hand and the dedication and long-term commitment of existing brands is the very best proof that the joint efforts of the International Ice Hockey Federation and Infront Sports & Media in marketing a highly attractive tournament remain successful.”