August 21, 2012

UEFA bans Malta player Kevin Sammut for 10 years over fixed result of Euro 2008 qualifier

UEFA acknowledged Monday that its showpiece international competition had been corrupted, as it confirmed a 10-year ban of Kevin Sammut of Malta for helping to fix a 2008 European Championship qualifying match.

Sammut was found guilty of “breaching UEFA’s principles of integrity and sportsmanship” relating to manipulating results, the governing body of European soccer said in a statement.

The Union of European Football Associations did not specify how Sammut was involved in fixing Malta’s 4-0 loss at Norway in June 2007.

Sammut, who has played 37 matches for Malta since his debut in 2005, has denied any involvement in fixing matches. He is currently under contract with Valletta, which represented Malta in Champions League qualifying last month.

The 31-year-old midfielder and two other players were charged by UEFA using evidence gathered by the Malta Football Association. It investigated an allegation made last year by a Croatian crime syndicate member during a match-fixing criminal trial in Bochum, Germany.

UEFA cleared Sammut’s teammates, Kenneth Scicluna and Stephen Wellman, because “the findings of the disciplinary inspector are insufficient to take any disciplinary action against them.”

At a news conference Monday, Malta FA President Norman Darmanin Demajo said there was “overwhelming evidence” of a fix involving players and an organized crime gang.

“Match-fixing is a clandestine activity organized by criminals — a reality we must also face in Malta,” Darmanin Demajo was quoted as saying by the Malta Today website.

However, the Malta he said his organization would not publish details from its dossier on the case.

Sammut’s ban prohibits him from any soccer-related activity. UEFA will ask FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, to extend the punishment globally.

Sammut can challenge the sanction at UEFA’s appeals panel, and then the Court of Arbitration for Sport — though without the support of his national federation.

“He will decide, it is his case,” MFA general secretary Joe Gauci told The Associated Press by telephone.

The Malta case was based on allegations made by Marijo Cvrtak, a leading member of a Croatian gang headed by convicted match-fixer Ante Sapina.

Cvrtak claimed in the Bochum court that he met three Malta players in their Oslo hotel before the Euro 2008 qualifier who would arrange the fix.

UEFA declined to comment on reports in Malta that Cvrtak attended Sammut’s disciplinary hearing held last Friday in Nyon, Switzerland.

In the match, Sammut was substituted at halftime when Malta trailed 1-0. Norway scored three late goals, boosting payouts on potential wagers placed on how many goals would be scored and the margin of Malta’s defeat.

The MFA also identified Scicluna and Wellman, who both played the full 90 minutes in Oslo, as being involved in the case.

Malta finished last in its Euro 2008 qualifying group. Norway placed third and failed to advance to the tournament.

In court, Sapina and Cvrtak were said to have made millions in profit by bribing referees, players and officials to help manipulate matches and results. Most wagers were placed in Asian betting markets.

The gang claimed to have manipulated a 2010 World Cup qualifier between Liechtenstein and Finland in September 2009. A Bosnian referee was paid 40,000 euros ($52,000) to ensure two goals would be scored in the second half.

The match was scoreless at half time and ended 1-1, with one goal scored from a penalty kick awarded by the referee, who has since been suspended from soccer for life.

Sapina was convicted on 22 counts of fraud and attempted fraud, while Cvrtak was found guilty on 26 counts of fraud and attempted fraud.

Both were sentenced to 5½ years in jail, though their prison terms were reduced because of time served in custody awaiting trial.

Rank purchase of Gala Casinos delayed

The purchase of Gala Casinos by the Rank Group has hit a delay as The Office of Fair Trading has referred the acquisition to the Competition Commission for further investigation. It was believed that the OFT would rubber stamp the deal and the purchase could go ahead in the 4th Quarter of the year.

However the OFT says due to its concerns that the merger will substantially reduce competition in the casino sector it has now referred the deal to the Competitions Commission which is expected to report back in early February.

The OFT’s investigation found that Rank and Gala are two of the three large national casino operators in the UK.

Following the merger, there would be only two large national casino operators, Rank and Genting.

The OFT is concerned that the merger would reduce competition both at a national level and in nine local areas.

A reduction in competition in the casino sector could result in a worse deal for consumers.

Additionally, the OFT found that there are high barriers to entry and expansion in the casino sector due, among other things, to the licensing regime, which would severely limit the ability of third parties to enter or expand to replace the loss of competition caused by the merger.

Given the realistic prospect of this merger resulting in a substantial lessening of competition, the OFT considers it appropriate to refer the merger to the Competition Commission for an in-depth review.

Rank offered to provide undertakings in lieu of reference to the Competition Commission, including the divestment of casinos in a number of local areas.

The OFT welcomes the parties’ willingness to resolve the concerns in local areas, however, the undertakings were not considered sufficiently clear-cut to address all of the concerns raised by this merger.

OFT senior director, and decision maker in this case, Ali Nikpay, said: “Rank and Gala are two of only three large national casino operators in the UK.

“This merger would represent a major consolidation which could be expected to reduce competition, both locally and nationally. The high barriers to entry and expansion in the casino sector mean the loss of competition could potentially be irreversible.

“As such, we believe it is appropriate that the Competition Commission reviews this merger in detail to ensure that the interests of consumers are protected.”

Rank is considering the implications of the Office of Fair Trading’s decision to refer the company’s proposed acquisition of Gala Casinos to the Competition Commission, Rank says a further announcement will be made in due course regarding the decision.

Big Fish goes into real money gambling

Seattle based casual games company, Big Fish Games is going real money, Big Fish says it will offer players in the U.K. the ability to make real bets through their upcoming version of its Big Fish Casino iPhone app.

Sadly for USA players this won’t be available, until the gambling laws change there. But American regulators are moving toward a legal and regulated online gambling system, and setting up a virtual casino now gives Big Fish a new stream of cash while it waits for the U.S. landscape to sort itself out.

Big Fish’s casino app is the result of a purchase the 10-year-old company made last year, buying Oakland, CA’s Self Aware Games. That small company made a virtual gambling game called Card Ace: Casino, which was a Top 10 iPhone app.

Big Fish founder and CEO Paul Thelen said earleir in the year that the Self Aware acquisition made sense even without legal online gambling in the U.S. “What we bought was a stock,” he said. “The call option on that stock is if gambling is legalized in more areas of the country.”

But there’s been some changes to the landscape—specifically, the emergence of Betable, a London-based company that is licensed to provide online gambling in the U.K. Betable, which also has an office in San Francisco, is offering casual game developers the ability to rake in money from legal online gambling across the pond by plugging their game into its system.

Betable CEO Christopher Griffin told a crowd at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle how it all works. Betable handles all of the security, transactions, identity verification, and legal liability—for an undisclosed share of the revenue. Game publishers simply plug their creation into the Betable system and draw the users.

That separation allows U.S. game developers to legally collect money from online gamblers in the U.K., because Betable is the actual entity doing all of the nitty-gritty work of processing the gambling transactions.

In his pitch to game developers, Griffin cited in-house research that showed average monthly revenue per user for a typical casual game was $1. Adding gambling to the picture puts that figure at $100 or more a month, he says.

Big Fish’s entry into the world of online gambling is a huge signal about where the industry is going. Pretty soon, it might not be unusual for your average casual or mobile game developer to have a casino-type product that makes a bunch of money, underwriting any other games they want to produce. Or, as Griffin said, versions of existing games that incorporate gambling into the regular gameplay, rather than just pumping out digital slot machines and blackjack tables.

By jumping into the fray now, Big Fish is also getting ahead of other big names in the casual games business. High on that list is San Francisco-based Zynga, that announced last month that it was getting into online gambling in the first half of 2013.

August 14, 2012

NSW to clamp down on sports match-fixing

Anyone found guilty of match fixing or corrupt betting could spend up to 10 years in jail under new laws to be introduced by the NSW government.

Gaming minister Graham Annesley says NSW will be the first state in Australia to introduce the tough new penalties.

"There is no bigger threat to the integrity of sport than match-fixing," Annesley said in a statement.

"Sport is big business these days and it would be naive of any government to think sport is immune to corrupt conduct."

NSW Hospitality and Racing Minister George Souris said the reforms were necessary if punters were to have any confidence in the sports and racing betting market.

"The NSW government and the racing industry are absolutely committed to making certain the reputation of sport and racing in this state remains intact," he said in a statement.

The proposed laws follow a Law Reform Commission report written in response to a betting scandal involving a 2010 rugby league match between Canterbury and north Queensland.

The report was tabled last year.

August 10, 2012

Former MGM analyst gets prison sentence

A former analyst who worked at MGM Mirage in Las Vegas was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison Monday in an elaborate player’s club scheme on the Strip.

Tony Ahn, 29, who lost his job amid the cheating scandal, pleaded guilty in May to spearheading the conspiracy. He acknowledged betraying the trust of his company, then known as MGM Mirage, to unlawfully win $863,895 from slot machines.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan ordered Ahn on Monday to pay the entire $863,895 in restitution and serve two years of supervised release after he gets out of prison.

“This is an American tragedy to see you here,” Mahan told Ahn. “You have so much potential. I hope you see this as a positive and turn your life around.”

Ahn apologized to the judge and promised never to get in trouble with the law again.

“I definitely made a big mistake,” he said. “There’s no excuse for what I did.”

His lawyer, Thomas Pitaro, told Mahan that Ahn has “all the talent in the world” and hopes to make up for his wrongdoing when he gets out of prison.

In arguing for the 57 months behind bars, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Chu said Ahn had used inside company knowledge to plan the lucrative scheme and recruit members to it.

Ahn used his company position to identify regular customers with unused free play points, then transferred the points to counterfeit players club cards and recruited people to play slot machines with the cards at the company’s casinos along the Strip, Chu previously alleged in court papers.

Free play points earned by thousands of MGM Mirage club members, many of whom lived outside Nevada, were stolen between July 2009 and July 2010, according to prosecutors.

The company under its new name, MGM Resorts International, owns 16 casinos in Nevada, including 10 on the Strip.

Four other indicted members of Ahn’s ring – Joseph Ramirez, David Evans, David Pecor and Ahn’s brother, Danny Ahn – have pleaded guilty and are waiting to be sentenced.

Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Resorts International, said at the time of Ahn’s plea that the company’s internal Fraud Control Group uncovered the scheme and reported it to Nevada gaming regulators and the FBI.

The scheme unraveled in March 2010 after state authorities arrested one of the unindicted members of the group for playing with counterfeit players club cards. Shortly after the arrest, Ahn and the group took measures to cover their tracks.

They buried a computer, card encoder, flash drive and blank player’s club cards used in the scheme in the desert, prosecutors alleged.

Months later, however, with the help of cooperating defendants, FBI agents dug up the items and impounded them as evidence.

August 09, 2012

Mastronardo Brothers Charged in High Tech Sports Betting Ring

A 23-count indictment was unsealed Wednesday charging 16 defendants, including the daughter of former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo, in a conspiracy case involving the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization, a multi-million dollar sports betting operation with bettors throughout the U.S.

At its peak, the alleged organization had more than 1,000 betters and was generating millions of dollars a year, according to the indictment.

Charged are: Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr., and John Mastronardo, the two alleged leaders, Joseph F. Mastronardo, Eric Woehlcke, Harry Murray, Joseph Vitelli, Anna Rose Vitelli, Patrick Tronoski, Edward Feighan, Kenneth Cohen, Schuyler Twaddle, Michael Loftus, Michael Squillante, David Rounick, Ronald Gendrachi, and Joanna Mastronardo, the wife of Joseph Mastronardo, Jr. and the daughter of the late Frank Rizzo. All, with the exception of Twaddle, were arrested Wednesday morning.

At its peak, the alleged organization had more than 1,000 bettors and was generating millions of dollars a year. All but one defendant (Joanna Mastronardo) are charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise and conducting an illegal gambling business. The indictment alleges that between January 1, 2005 and January 1, 2011, the organization utilized internet websites and telephone numbers that allowed bettors to place sports bets on football, baseball, basketball, golf, horse racing, and other sporting events. Residents of Costa Rica staffed the internet and telephone sites. The defendants allegedly hid more than $1 million in and around their homes including in specially-built compartments and in PVC pipes that were buried in a yard.

The indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge George C. Venizelos of the Philadelphia Field Office, Special Agent-in-Charge Eric Hylton of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman.

The indictment alleges that the defendants ran the organization using telephone, Skype, email, text messaging, and in-person communication. They allegedly met bettors in-person, often in public buildings and parking lots, to collect or deliver payments that ranged from $1,000 to more than $100,000. The organization also allegedly used a gas station on Norristown Road in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania as a mailing address and drop-off site to collect gambling payments.

According to the indictment, members of the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization laundered the gambling proceeds using check cashing agencies, private bank accounts, and international bank accounts and provided instructions so that a losing bettor could pay a gambling debt through a charitable donation.

According to the indictment: leader Joseph V. Mastronardo, Jr., supervised the agents, sub-agents, websites, the office employees, laundered some of the betting proceeds, collected debts, and instructed others to collect debts. Mastronardo’s brother, John, also a leader in the organization, supervised agents and sub-agents, laundered proceeds, and collected debts. Joseph’s son, Joseph F. Mastronardo, worked as an office employee, collected debts, and performed other financial duties. Eric Woehlcke was initially a bookmaker and office employee, then worked as an office manager, and eventually became a leader supervising agents and sub-agents and laundering proceeds. Harry Murray was a bookmaker who resided in Florida and laundered proceeds in and outside the U.S. Joseph and Anna Rose Vitelli owned J & A Check Cashing where, in 2006, they allowed the organization to occupy an office for the illegal gambling business and which was also used to aid in the laundering of proceeds. Tronoski, Feighan, Cohen, Twaddle, Loftus, Squillante, Rounick, and Gendrachi were all bookmakers.

The indictment alleges that in March 2010, Joseph V. Mastronardo, Jr., in a conversation with bookmaker Harry Murray, commented “Well times like this I’m happy I’m a bookmaker,” to which Murray responded, “Me too.”

“Technology allowed the defendants to allegedly expand their gambling and money laundering operation far beyond the borders of Pennsylvania,” said Memeger. “Unfortunately for the defendants, however, we have the necessary statutory tools to investigate and prosecute those who openly flout our illegal gambling and financial reporting laws.”

“Illegal gambling and money laundering are the financial engines that help drive criminal enterprises like the one alleged today,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Venizelos. “The type of gambling activity charged here is illegal. These types of extensive and long-term joint investigative efforts, worked with our partners like the IRS and Montgomery County Detectives, are intended to dismantle criminal organizations that profit from illegal activities.”

“This alleged racketeering operation was anchored in Montgomery County, but had tentacles spreading across the U.S. and beyond,” said D.A. Ferman. “Despite our attempt to shut it down in 2006-2007 with a Montgomery County prosecution, my office discovered that the defendants, as is alleged in the indictment, were back in business. We partnered with our federal counterparts to examine the full scope of the alleged illegal gambling operation. Today’s indictment reflects the work of many law enforcement agents across multiple agencies. These defendants tried to ‘game’ the system. Today they crapped out.”

“The indictments announced today are the result of a significant and complex investigation,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Eric Hylton. “With both law enforcement and financial expertise, our agents are uniquely qualified to assist with these types of cases by following the trail of money. Our office will continue to work aggressively to identify and target illegal financial gains.”

Joanna Mastronardo is charged with one count of structuring in which it is alleged that she participated in making approximately 72 deposits in amounts less than $10,000 totaling more than $500,000 in a 12-month period.

Joseph V. Mastronardo, Jr., is charged in all 23 counts of the indictment. The remaining 14 defendants are each charged with the RICO conspiracy and with prohibition of illegal gambling. A complete list of charges is attached. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of more than $6.3 million as alleged proceeds of the illegal enterprise.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the Montgomery County Detective Bureau, and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jason P. Bologna.

State charges were filed against the Mastronardos in 2010, at that time defense attorney Dennis Cogan told NBC10 he expected the case to be moved to federal court given the interstate nature of the alleged crimes.

Joseph Mastronardo, who was convicted in 1987 on federal gambling charges, once ran a gambling operation that grossed $50 million a year, according to a 1990 report by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Both brothers served short jail stints after a 2006 state investigation into sports bets they took through a Web site. They each pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, while also agreeing to forfeit $2.7 million authorities had seized.

August 08, 2012

Naughty Poker, the newest online strip poker site, seeks user feedback for beta version

Whoever coined the phrase "lucky in cards, unlucky in love," didn't reckon on Naughty Poker, a new - and free - online strip poker site ( in which each winning hand shows a beautiful model striking an alluring pose in successive stages of undress.

"It is naughty, but it's a tasteful and classy kind of naughtiness combined with fast-paced game play that makes Naughty Poker a thrilling experience beyond any other online strip poker," says David Shiller, a Toronto-based software engineer who developed the site.

And with the beta version just going live, Shiller and his business partner Wendy Marais, an accomplished online marketer, are giving the public a chance to judge Naughty Poker for themselves.

Just go to and follow the prompts to create your own free account. If you'd prefer not to open an account, you can explore Naughty Poker for free as a guest.

"The beta version is only the beginning," says Shiller, who teamed up with Wendy earlier this year to form the Naughty Network.

"Wendy and I have lots ideas for making the Naughty Poker experience even more exciting, but before taking Naughty Poker to the next level, we want as much user feedback as possible."

To have your voice heard, click on "Beta Feedback" on the Naughty Poker home page. Then fill out and submit the online evaluation form.

"You don't have to be a shark to enjoy Naughty Poker," Marais says." Anyone, regardless of their poker skills can play - and win."

Here's how the game works:
- Once logged in, choose from among an ever-growing selection of models.
- A photo of the chosen model, fully clad, appears on the screen.
- Below the photo is a five-card poker hand.
- Designate the cards you want to exchange; you may keep the hand you have or exchange any number of cards.
- If you get a pair of jacks or better, you win, and a new, more revealing, photo of the model appears. If you draw a losing hand, you'll see a less revealing photo of the model.
- You can play as many hands as you like, and you can pick another model at any time.

Australia saves Sportingbet’s bacon

Sportingbet’s Australian operations are helping to remedy poor economic conditions in the European market. Things are very much as-you-were at the sports betting specialists with Australia continuing to save their bacon – or should we say shrimp? In the final quarter of the year to July 31, net gaming revenue in the country increased 93 percent compared with the previous year. The company said that synergies following the integration of Centrebet were ahead of schedule and that the country still represents a “substantial majority” of the entire group’s EBITDA. If only the same could be said in Europe.

Spain, the firm’s largest European market, was shut for the first 35 days of the quarter and that had a significant impact as European NGR dropped 41 percent. Even once the Spanish market was back open, the press release blamed “challenging economic conditions” and a combination of new regulation and the subsequent taxation for a slow down in Europe.

This is nothing that we haven’t heard before as far as Sportingbet are concerned with Andrew McIver, CEO of the group, telling our own Rebecca Liggero almost a carbon copy back in March. Sportingbet are still likely to “ride out” the downturn with the hope that their product will carry them through the economic strife that is Europe. A lot will depend on how long the economy takes to recover and the future of the firm could very much being in the Southern Hemisphere.

South America has long been an attractive part of the world for the firm that McIver heads and it’s not all because of the chance to snare a bikini-clad Brazilian beauty. The region is growing at a rate that will soon challenge Europe with Brazil and Chile the places to watch.

The other American continent to the North is where you’d imagine they’d love a licence at some point. They won’t be too hasty though as a $33m funding transfer to the DOJ will mean they’re a lot more cautious than some. What’s clear is that Australia is their shining light and if they continue to perform well Down Under any exacerbation of the European woes won’t be as disastrous as it could be. reopens to US traffic, courting danger using a .com?

There is some good news for American sports bettors as the industry ramps up for another football season. With longtime sports betting operator reopening to American gamblers, their affiliate program has sent emails to their former affiliates, encouraging them to reengage their marketing campaigns targeting the US market. US owned has historically always had its primary market in the US and in fact, has never stopped having its primary market in the US. However, for the last year they have stopped taking any new business in their US back yard. But all that changes this week.

The following is an email sent by

“Good news, CommissionAccount and are open to accept US traffic again. Please reactivate your campaigns where possible. Football creative will be updated for the new season within the next 2 weeks. If there are any specific creative requirements please let me know. Looking forward to a successful football season

In two weeks we’ll see what the group has planned for marketing their sports betting operation to the US market.

As we’ve seen far too often in the past couple of years, Americans are having their sports betting options limited; if it isn’t the DOJ chasing away reputable operators, it’s shady operators who steal the players’ deposits and then hide away in Halifax. With’s American market resurrection however, American sports bettors will now have another very large and credible option to bet on football for the upcoming NFL season.

Still, we have to wonder why is continuing to use their .com domain name. Sure, the URL redirects to ‘,’ but by keeping its use of the .com, it’s tempting the US Government to confiscate the domain.

Having the most generic and most searched gambling name no doubt helps them immensely in their Google traffic, but it’s a bit like walking around with the Sword of Damocles hanging over one’s head.

Though there is a distinct SEO advantage of using ‘’ in their marketing, this leg-up may be short lived. Sportsbook operators can use a .com domain extension so long as they refuse to take bets from American players like or After all the domain seizures and the fact that US prosecutors cite the use of a .com as part of the legal justification for jurisdiction over the actions of international gambling companies and other internet businesses the US government deems unworthy of the American public (see Richard O’Dwyer), may be taking unnecessary risks by insisting on keeping the .com and accepting US resident bets who get there from

Bodog withdraws services from 20 countries

Online gaming company Bodog is withdrawing its online gaming services from 20 countries from Eastern Europe and Asia effective August 30, 2012.

Bodog’s decision to drop its poker offering in these countries have led to amusing, but nevertheless, unsubstantiated rumors surrounding the fate of the company itself, particularly .

As for the 20 countries is withdrawing its services from, the list includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

The company is advising players from adjusted jurisdictions to withdraw their balances before August 30, at which point processing of transactions from these areas will cease.

Whereas speculations have run rampant on why Bodog is doing this, the underlying reason appears to be that this is nothing but a business move on the part of the online gaming company.

For starters, none of these countries are considered as high volume epicenters of online gaming and there appears to be concern from Bodog that concentrating on these markets could potentially spread their resources too thin in order to accomodate these markets.

But the more pressing concern looks to be that Bodog is trying to keep its business safe not only for itself, but more importantly, for its players. It’s no coincidence that a lot of the countries on this list aren’t exactly considered bulwarks of virtue when it comes to e-commerce. And as a business that relies on this particular trade, exposing itself to potential duplicitous practices isn’t exactly what you’d call as a good business decision.

A Bodog spokesman stated: “We feel it is better to concentrate on our strengths & where we can offer the best product. The Bodog brand is known for its high level of customer service & spreading ourselves too thinly to try and cover a huge amount of smaller markets was proving logistically difficult. will concentrate on growing existing markets.”

Facebook ventures into online gambling

Facebook is venturing into the world of online gambling with the launch of its first application where punters can stake real money.

Starting on Tuesday, Facebook will offer users in the UK aged 18 and over the opportunity to play online bingo for cash prizes. Slot machine games will be added in the coming weeks.

“Gambling is very popular and well regulated in the UK . . . for millions of bingo users it’s already a social experience [so] it makes sense [for us] to offer that as well,” said Julien Codorniou, Facebook’s head of gaming for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

There has long been speculation among investors as to whether Facebook and other social networking sites would introduce gambling products to boost revenues. Zynga, Facebook’s largest gaming partner, is hoping to introduce real-money gambling versions of its poker, bingo and slot machine games in 2013.

Many markets outside the UK can pose considerable legal risks, however, as regulations vary considerably from country to country. In the US, where the majority of Facebook revenues are generated, the market for real-money social gaming is in effect closed. Regulators only recently began opening the door to certain kinds of online gambling, and only at a state level, presenting significant technical challenges for keeping operations within the law.

Facebook’s move in the UK is a significant development, according to Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of the Remote Gambling Association, a London-based online gambling association.

“Bingo is at the softer end of the gambling spectrum and online bingo often has chat forums alongside, so it’s an obvious match for Facebook,” he said. “A lot of people have said why haven’t they done it before because there’s a difficulty in monetising what they have – this is one way of bringing in revenues.”

Facebook will launch the Bingo Friendzy app in a joint venture with Gamesys, one of the UK’s largest online gambling operators, to target the social network’s large online audience.

“We are a distribution platform for Gamesys – they have the games and we bring the audience,” said Mr Codorniou.

He said Facebook was in discussions with other gambling companies about expanding its offerings which could include casino games such as blackjack and roulette, but he said “nothing concrete” had been agreed.

August 06, 2012

Macau Police raid Casinos

Macau police raided casinos and hotels in an operation with Chinese and Hong Kong authorities after a series of murders and attacks targeting guests, it has been reported.

Police questioned nearly 1,300 people and detained 149 of them for further investigation as part of an operation codenamed “Thunderbolt,” according to a statement from the Unitary Police Service.

The crackdown is a reminder of the deadly gang wars the plagued Macau in the late 1990s, but over the last couple of decades has been totally cleaned up. In the early 90′s criminal groups known as triads fought for control of casino VIP rooms and loan-sharking operations resulting in the deaths of 40 people in shootouts. The jailed leader of the 14K triad, ’Broken Tooth’ Wan Kuok-koi, is near the end of his prison term after being sentenced to 15 years in 1999. His release is not known to be the cause of this recent police activity or whether gangs are positioning themselves for his imminent release.

Macau police arrested 17 people on Aug. 2 for cheating in three of the city’s casinos. Those detained were involved in a scheme where casino dealers took bribes and used tiny cameras to take images of cards on baccarat tables, Macau’s Judiciary Police spokesman Chan Kin-hong said.

The case involved $11.6 million and took place at three casinos in Macau city and Cotai Strip, including those run by U.S. casino operators, Chan said, without specifying the names of the casinos.

Hong Kong police arrested 130 people and seized millions on Hong Kong Dollars in cash and property in anti-triad raids to combat money laundering on Aug. 2, as part of the “Thunderbolt” operation with the Macau and Guangdong law enforcement agencies.

PokerStars aiming for Nevada license next

Now PokerStars deal of $731 million with the US DOJ, PokerStars based in the Isle of Man has DOJ permission to re-enter the American market but only if it can obtain a license under a state or federal regulatory framework.

For years the company continued to operate in the country in the face of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. The legislation convinced some of its competitors to exit U.S. market because of their stock listed standing, but PokerStars, along with Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, stayed in and eventually met their day of reckoning with the feds in April 2011.

Nevada, with its heavy focus on the gaming industry, is leading the charge in the state-by-state legalization model. The Silver State’s gaming regulators have adopted rules for the industry and already licensed three companies to soon begin offering online poker to operators there. The first hand of real-money play under the supervision and taxation of Nevada could be dealt before 2013.

But can PokerStars find a way back to the US?

With its acquisition of former rival Full Tilt, PokerStars has added to its huge database of real-money players, some estimate PokerStars will have over 50% of the total online poker player market. and with that power could be attractive to Nevada, said State Assemblyman William Horne, sponsor of Nevada’s online gaming bill that was passed last summer. Horne is also a member of Nevada’s Gaming Policy Committee, which is headed by the governor.

However, for Horne, who worked extensively with PokerStars before Black Friday, the company has a “credibility issue to overcome.”

Before the federal indictments of the leaders of the major offshore poker sites operating in the U.S. were unsealed, PokerStars had been lobbying hard in Nevada to get real-money online poker authorized. Despite online gaming always being a vital issue for the state, the company was a driving force behind Assembly Bill 258.

An early version of the bill showed how badly PokerStars wanted a foothold in Nevada. The company was willing to pay Nevada four percent of the rake from the rest of the world.

PokerStars’ involvement with Nevada went so far as to land a “strategic partnership” with Wynn Resorts, one of Nevada’s dominant casino companies. The deal disintegrated after PokerStars owner Isai Scheinberg was accused of money laundering, bank fraud and illegal gambling in New York. Scheinberg still has criminal charges against him and could face up to 65 years in jail, if convicted.

According to Tuesday’s DOJ press release, Scheinberg “shall not serve in any management or director role at PokerStars.” However, that could be lifted upon resolution of his criminal case.

Horne said that he doesn’t think PokerStars was “candid” or “forthcoming” during its relationship with state lawmakers. He said that the company probably had an idea that a federal investigation was ongoing at the time.

When asked if PokerStars has burned any bridges in Nevada, Horne said that isn’t the case. He said that he has confidence in Nevada’s gaming regulators to vet each company that applies to do online poker business in the state on a case-by-case basis. PokerStars “might be deserving” of a license, he said.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Tuesday that he wouldn’t comment on prospective applicants. He also told the paper that even though “perfection” can’t be expected out of applicants, he still believes many will fail in attempting to get approval in Nevada.

At a recent Gaming Policy Committee meeting, Lipparelli defended Nevada’s position by saying that some large foreign online gaming companies have looked at the state’s regulatory standards and decided they couldn’t make the cut.

It remains to be seen if online poker giant PokerStars will decide to apply, but also who will PokerStars join forces with to work in the US should they apply. Remember all overseas companies need a US based gaming company to work with.

Reid not getting support for US online poker

Companies hoping for movement in the senate to allow federal law for online poker, seem to be having a losing battle. Sen. Harry Reid, who is one of the champions for the online industry with ihs senate bill to allow online poker has only 40 or so fellow Democrats on board for support and very little interest from Republicans

The bill, yet to be publicly unveiled and said to have been drafted with the collaboration of Sen. Jon Kyl in return for not including online casino gambling, is struggling according to an unidentified Democratic Party source.

Senator Reid was hoping to get support to attach his bill to the lame duck session of the senate, prior to the US Presidential elections, but with barely 40 Democrats interested in supporting the bill & needs significantly more Republican backing than he has yet been able to assemble, it is not looking hopeful for this.

Some weeks ago Reid called on fellow Nevada Sen. Dean Heller to persuade his fellow Republicans to step forward, but there has been little enthusiasm to take it on board.

At the same time the House of Assembly, where Republican Party Rep. Joe Barton appears to be battling with the same lack of interest on his bill proposing the legalisation of online poker where there has been little advance even beyond committee stage. In a US television interview this week Barton virtually admitted that progress was slow, intimating that tribal concerns over the impact of legalised internet poker were the cause, & not opposition from major land gambling companies.

August 01, 2012

PokerStars Will Pay $731 Million To Settle U.S. Government Charges and Buy Full Tilt Poker

PokerStars, the world’s biggest online poker company, has agreed to pay $731 million to settle the U.S. government’s civil charges that the company used fraudulent methods to process payments and evade U.S. restrictions on Internet gambling.

Under the agreement, PokerStars, based in the Isle of Man, will also purchase Full Tilt Poker, a former rival which collapsed following the U.S. government’s move in April 2011 to shut down the U.S. operations of the major online poker operators. The deal calls for PokerStars to forfeit $547 million to the U.S. government and make $184 million available to reimburse non-U.S. customers of Full Tilt within 90 days who had money on deposit at the company.

The deal will end the saga of Full Tilt Poker, a company built by Ray Bitar with the help of poker champions like Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and Howard Lederer that Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, has repeatedly said was a Ponzi scheme. But Bharara’s crackdown on the online poker industry continues, including against Isai Scheinberg, the founder of PokerStars, who has been indicted by Bharara for operating an illegal gambling business. Bitar, who recently returned to the U.S. from Ireland to face the criminal charges Bharara has filed against him, pleaded not guilty and is currently out on bail. Scheinberg is believed to be in the Isle of Man.

“Over the past few days, I signed the papers necessary to complete Full Tilt’s deal with the US Government,” Bitar said in a statement. “I believe that this deal will result in Full Tilt’s customers being repaid.”

U.S. players who had money on deposit at Full Tilt when the company collapsed will be able to apply to the Department of Justice to get reimbursed out of the proceeds from the forfeiture. Bharara is trying to tie up some loose ends from his crusade against online poker, which has been led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown. For years federal agents successfully worked to cut off companies like Full Tilt from the financial system and by 2010 Full Tilt started to credit customer accounts even though the company could no longer withdraw money from their bank accounts. This game, however, came to a close when Bharara shut down Full Tilt’s U.S. operations last year, exposing a large financial shortfall that Bharara claims was exacerbated by the large payments the company continued to make to its owners even after Full Tilt could no longer access the financial system.

While federal prosecutors in Manhattan have taken the position that Full Tilt was well on its way to financial disaster prior to the April 2011 crackdown on online poker, it was clearly important for Bharara to deal with the perception that U.S. citizens had been overwhelmingly left in the lurch because of his intervention in the online poker industry. But in order to pull off a sale of Full Tilt’s assets, Bharara needed to make a deal with PokerStars, a company whose founder is under indictment. Still, the balance sheet for Bharara looks pretty good given the large obstacles he faced when he first launched his online poker crackdown: the U.S. online poker industry has been decimated, six of the 11 individuals indicted have pleaded guilty; Full Tilt CEO Bitar is being monitored in California, and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan has secured lots of money. In addition, Scheinberg has agreed to not serve in any managerial or director role at PokerStars while the criminal case against him remains ongoing.

“We are pleased to announce these settlements by Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, which allow us to quickly get significant compensation into the victim players’ hands,” Bharara said in a statement.

But Scheinberg had some good reasons to ink this deal. While giving up $731 million will hurt, PokerStars can now continue to dominate the international online poker market without the complexity of dealing with a massive civil forfeiture complaint filed against it by the U.S. government. PokerStars will not have to worry about competition from its longtime rival, Full Tilt, and its standing in the online poker community, which was already strong given that it paid all of its customers back and continued operating outside the U.S. after April 2011, will only be helped because it will be seen as coming to the financial rescue of the online poker community.

For PokerStars, the big question is how U.S. gambling regulators will end up viewing the settlement. Las Vegas casino companies like Caesars Entertainment have been working to get Congress to pass a federal law that will green-light online poker while other interests are championing state efforts in places like California. The biggest threat to PokerStars’ dominant market position around the world would be getting locked out of a robust U.S. market. In a statement, PokerStars says that under its agreement with the Department of Justice, the company will not admit to any wrongdoing. PokerStars also said “the agreement explicitly permits PokerStars to apply to relevant U.S. gaming authorities, under both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker brands, to offer real money online poker when State or Federal governments introduce a framework to regulate such activity.”

“We are delighted we have been able to put this matter behind us, and also secured our ability to operate in the United States of America whenever the regulations allow,” said Mark Scheinberg, who is Isai Scheinberg’s son and now chairman of PokerStars. “This outcome demonstrates our continuing global leadership of the online poker industry, and our commitment to working with governments and regulators to ensure the highest standards of protection for players.”