November 26, 2015

Punters’ forum to tackle bookies on restricting and closing accounts

The newly created body that represents racing’s punters is to tackle bookmakers over the way firms close and restrict the accounts of successful gamblers. The issue has been a hot topic in racing’s corner of the social media world for months on end and concern that it may be undermining the sport’s appeal has spread as far as the corridors of the British Horseracing Authority.

“That’s certainly far and away the thing that’s been brought up most with us,” said Simon Rowlands, a Timeform veteran who chairs the Horserace Bettors Forum (HBF) and has been gathering the views and concerns of punters since the summer. As the Forum’s second meeting drew to a close this week, he said: “We’re not imagining that people will dance to our tune but we’ve got a few recommendations. We will be contacting bookmakers and running those ideas past them.

“Punters should know in advance what sort of activity is likely to get them restricted or closed and ideally should have a right of review if action is taken against them. The individual suddenly being knocked back is an existing or potential customer of horse racing, not just of the bookmaker in question, after all.”

Rowlands and his colleagues are concerned bookmakers are putting too much faith in “rigid trading algorithms” designed to highlight “arbitrageurs”, whose business is seen as unprofitable and unattractive by the betting industry. The fear is many of what may be termed “innocent punters” are being denied a bet for no good reason.

A “more nuanced approach” is called for by Rowlands, who added: “Should anyone be prevented from betting £100 on the Grand National just because they successfully arbed a bet on football? Racing needs that turnover and that engaged customer.

“We would also like to establish the magnitude of the problem of restrictions and closures, which would require assistance from within betting. Judged by HBF’s mail bag, it is a major concern for many punters of many different kinds but that is not sure to be representative.”

Officials at the British Horseracing Authority acknowledge account closures and restrictions as a matter of concern but feel there is little chance of a positive response, should they try to tell bookmakers how to handle their business, particularly in the present climate of tension between racing and betting over funding. So it will be up to the HBF to press racing’s case.

The Forum was set up in August as the result of a determination by the BHA’s new chief executive, Nick Rust, that punters should be given a public voice. Its first two meetings have been at the BHA’s London office but they will be elsewhere from this point as the HBF moves to assert its independence, which will also involve the creation of its own website.

“There are certain things we would want to make statements on that may not necessarily represent BHA policy,” said the HBF’s Jason Brautigam, the chief executive of British Dressage in his day job. “If it appears on their website, there’s implicit endorsement, so we’ve got to try to make sure the two are seen as slightly separate.”

The Forum’s nine members, all unpaid, still seemed enthused about the project of advancing the interests of racing punters as their lengthy discussion ended on Monday, more than one voice insisting this will not be “just another talking shop” and that they hope to have real influence over time.

“It’s not going to happen in five minutes but we all knew that in the first place,” said Steven Tilley, a local councillor. “The amazing thing is, you’ve got a whole group of people who bet, all who are opinionated and all of whom actually seem to get along together and seem to be coming up with a consensus view a lot of the time, which I think is amazing. We’re a group of contrarians here and yet we’ve managed to get a consensus.”

November 24, 2015

Teddy Sagi’s Playtech Losing Two Major Acquisitions In One Day

Major London listed gambling software company Playtech may have suffered a double reverse as it has been forced to cancel one major acquisition, with a second also, seemingly, headed for the rocks. The two deals were intended to help diversify the company away from its existing business which, while still profitable, may be facing pressures in the future if its gambling company customers start to develop their own software for their casinos.

The UK’s financial regulator is the FCA, or Financial Conduct Authority, which has to this point refused to permit Playtech’s previously announced deal to acquire Plus500, a junior London listed company, for about $700 million to go through citing certain concerns, according to a press release put out by Playtech earlier today. Cyprus financial regulators, who also have jurisdiction, have earlier already approved the transaction.

Plus500 are in the business of enabling trading for contracts for difference, or CFDs, which is a form of speculation on movements in the prices of equities without owning the underlying security. With substantial leverage available the prices of CFDs can fluctuate widely, and carry significant risk therefor and these are products generally suitable for sophisticated investors as a result. In addition to covering equity CFDs, the company trades CFDs for other financial markets including commodities and foreign exchange.

As a company engaged in such financial products, within the UK Plus500 is regulated by the FCA who, it is said by a number of news media today, may indeed be worried by the background of Playtech’s founder, and major shareholder, Teddy Sagi. Though he no longer sits on its board of directors Sagi, who still owns around 30 percent of Playtech, was apparently convicted of fraud in Israel some twenty years ago.

In addition, some analysts have noted, the FCA may have been legitimately nervous of Playtech’s lack of knowledge and experience in the CFD business itself, which occupies a fairly esoteric and specialized corner of the financial marketplace.

Israeli financial newspaper Globes reports that, after extensive representations to the FCA over the last few months, the deal finally may have cratered over demands by the FCA to significantly reduce Sagi’s personal financial holding in Playtech as a condition for approval, though this is unconfirmed.

Since it never rains but it pours, another currently pending Playtech acquisition, to buy a second, smaller, broker of CFDs, the Dublin based trader Ava Trade, for $105 million also appeared near to collapse today after, Playtech said in the same press release, concerns stated by the Central Bank of Ireland back in October.

Playtech has stated it will not incur any penalties relating to these set-backs, except to have to give up a $5 million non-refundable deposit it has made for the second, Ava Trade, deal in the event it also collapses as well.

Clearly regulators are very sensitive these days to which entities can play in the financial services game and have raised the bar, it seems, in this case to block an entity controlled currently by a complete outsider to the industry, and someone who clearly has something of a checkered past moreover.

November 19, 2015

mybet to raise €5m to fund sports betting expansion plans

German gaming operator mybet Holding intends to raise €5m through the issue of a new convertible bond, with proceeds to be used for the expansion of the company’s marketing and technology platform.

mybet will issue a bond with conversion right in the maximum total nominal value of up to €5m. The measure is still subject to a final management board resolution, which will also specify the details of the issuance and the terms of the bond.

It will also need the consent of the company’s supervisory board later this month.

The operator said that it will use the proceeds for the expansion of its marketing and technology platform, including expanding the betting range, acquiring new customers through increased marketing activities, and for advertising of games in the wider context of the UEFA European Championship in 2016.

The convertible bond is expected to be issued in December and have a term of five years.

During the term the bondholders have the irrevocable right, within certain conversion periods, to convert debentures into no par value shares of mybet, each representing a notional share of the capital stock of €1.00. The convertible bond is to attract interest at a rate of 6.25 per cent per annum on its nominal value.

The issue amount, taking into account the present share price, will represent 100 per cent of the nominal amount and will be €100.00 per debenture. The convertible bond is to be collateralised by the pledging of shares of, which is owned by mybet.

November 18, 2015

Billionaire investor opposes £2bn Ladbrokes merger with Coral

Dermot Desmond, the Irish billionaire and an investor in Ladbrokes, has urged shareholders in the troubled bookmaker to oppose its £2bn merger with rival Coral less than a week before they are due to vote on the deal.

Mr Desmond, who is thought to own at least 1pc of the bookie, has written an open letter to other shareholders in which he described the deal as “the death of Ladbrokes as an independent company”. He said that investors should vote against the merger at Tuesday’s general meeting and should call on Ladbrokes to hire an independent investment bank to help it “review all strategic options” open to it in “a very active M&A market”.

The tie-up, which the two companies agreed in July, will create Britain’s biggest bookie by betting shops with the combined business potentially owning about 4,000 sites. As well as giving Ladbrokes, which has fallen behind its competitors in recent years, much-needed scale, it also gives the bookie access to privately-owned Coral’s well-regarded online business.

However, because the combined company would own so many shops the deal faces intense scrutiny from the competition regulator, which is likely to demand disposals. Investors have been unimpressed by the deal, with Ladbrokes’s shares initially jumping in June when it emerged the two bookies were in talks, but then slumping by 22pc. The stock was unchanged at 109.3p today.

“The real winners in this transaction are the Coral shareholders,” said Mr Desmond, who sold the Betdaq exchange to Ladbrokes for €30m in 2013. “Make no mistake – this is a zero premium acquisition of Ladbrokes by Coral.”

He said that the company could be forced by the Competition and Markets Authority to sell as many as 1,000 sites and that “the lost profits from any such disposed shops may outweigh the unspecified synergies which the proposed transaction is hoped to yield”.

A Ladbrokes shareholder said the bookie had been aware of Mr Desmond’s views but was confident the merger would receive enough shareholder support.
"We have had significant dealings with Mr Desmond as both a shareholder and a commercial partner over recent times,” he said.

“We note his views and are not surprised by them as he has been in extensive dialogue with the management team and not been afraid to talk of undertaking such action. As a shareholder he has a right to express his view and to vote accordingly at the EGM next week.

“We remain confident that shareholders see the attraction of the proposed deal and continue to work towards a successful conclusion to the deal."

The British gambling industry has been gripped by a wave of deal-making, with Paddy Power merging with Betfair and online gambling group GVC buying rival Bwin.Party. William Hill has been left on the sidelines.

Nick Batram, an analyst at Peel Hunt, said Mr Desmond’s intervention could encourage a bidder for Ladbrokes.

“It is contradictory in places and doesn’t really put forward much of an alternative plan, other than putting the group up for sale,” the analyst said of the letter. “However, it could just act as a catalyst to encourage others to join the fray, and a competitive situation should be good news for shareholders.”

November 09, 2015

The Godfathers of Sports Betting

On Super Bowl Sunday of 1985, the FBI raided 43 locations across 16 states in an attempt to take down the Computer Group, maybe the most successful gambling syndicate of all-time. A round of follow-up indictments based on some off-kilter assumptions was all it took for the bane of sportsbooks everywhere to close up shop.

Anyone with any money tied to the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry—especially the people implicated in its most recent scandal, wherein Draftkings employees won hundreds of thousands of dollars on FanDuel using proprietary, inside info—would do well remembering the lesson of the Computer Group’s demise.

Gaming the system is one thing, getting away with it forever is quite another.

By now, it’s become obvious that the unregulated multibillion-dollar DFS industry is headed for a reckoning. Reports of employees at the two major DFS sites—DraftKings and FanDuel—using insider information to line their own pockets has led to increased state and federal scrutiny of not just the industry’s unregulated status, but also DFS’ iffy self-interpretation as a game of skill rather than gambling per the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

All good cons come to an end. The brain behind the Computer Group can likely relate.
Before becoming the secret king of sports gambling, Michael Kent spent most of the 70’s in Pittsburgh working to build a better nuclear submarine with Westinghouse, a Pentagon contractor. He also played center field for the company softball team and began using company resources to analyze the team’s statistics.

However, the data Kent compiled wasn’t comprehensive enough to pump out the results he wanted, so he started digging into college football statistics and point spreads instead. By 1979, Kent had developed a predictive program built on seven years' worth of data. That same year, he quit his job with Westinghouse and moved to Las Vegas where he would put his program up against the sharpest bookmakers in America.

They never stood a chance.

While the most successful modern sports gamblers and DFS players rely on a style of gambling that is high-volume and data-first, Kent was a pioneer in his own time and bookmakers were unprepared for his strategy. Despite some occasional losses in the tens of thousands during his first year as a full-time gambler, Kent diligently continued updating his model and was soon turning a profit on both college football and college basketball wagers.

The only problem was the raging paranoia Kent felt whenever he had to carry around duffel bags full of money. This was 1980, after all, and cash-in-hand was the only currency known to gambling.
Ivan Mindlin, an orthopedic surgeon and heavy gambler, whom Kent had met through a mutual friend, became the solution. Kent proposed to Mindlin a 50/50 split of profits in exchange for Mindlin posting and collecting on bets while Kent remained the sole party entrusted with access to the program that informed the bets. And just like that, the Computer Group was born.

Kent was all too happy to focus on his program and Mindlin was all too happy to use his gambling world contacts to expand the scope of the operation beyond anything Kent had ever imagined. During the 1983 college football season alone, Kent claims that $23 million in wagers netted a profit of $3 million. But Kent was mostly kept in the dark on the Computer Group’s true scale by Mindlin, who surreptitiously opened offices in New York and Las Vegas, staffed by dozens of employees who used Kent’s data to make their own bets.

Rumors of profit in the tens of millions soon spread and those rumors eventually reached the ears of FBI agents. Those agents became convinced that the Computer Group was an illegal bookmaking operation working in concert with the Italian mafia to manipulate betting lines.

While the Computer Group’s high-volume betting style did rely in part on manipulating betting lines, the FBI’s suspicions were wrong. Still, the Super Bowl Sunday raids uncovered a far more easily proven bit of illegality: the Computer Group wasn’t paying any taxes on its winnings.

The raids also revealed that the operation was much bigger than Kent had assumed. He was under the false impression that the Computer Group was made up of himself, family, Mindlin, and a few others who helped Mindlin place bets. However, Mindlin, who kept Kent far away from the day-to-day operations, had built the Computer Group into something much bigger and he wasn’t cutting in his partner on those profits.

Kent’s desire to remain focused entirely on his gambling program even allowed Mindlin to con Sports Illustrated, which ran a credulous piece on the Computer Group in 1986 that claimed Mindlin had designed the Computer Group’s program himself. Nowhere in the story is Kent’s name even mentioned.

By then, Mindlin’s exploitation of Kent’s genius had left their relationship beyond repair. Kent secured his own legal representation, brought a civil lawsuit against Mindlin, and chose to cooperate with the FBI’s investigation in exchange for immunity.

With the information provided by Kent, the FBI soon realized that instead of busting the world’s biggest mafia-run illegal bookmaking operation, it had simply caught a few dozen gamblers using off-shore bank accounts to shield their winnings from taxation. Still, the Computer Group folded in 1987.

Kent went on to form a three-man gambling group with his brother and a friend that actually bothered to report its winnings to the IRS. He eventually left the gambling world altogether in the mid-’90s and now lives in seclusion. Mindlin still lives in Las Vegas and recently spoke at a sports betting conference. He claims he uses Kent’s program to this day and earns a good living as a full-time sports gambler.
In this case, the FBI made a fool of itself by pursuing a glorified conspiracy theory, but it did put an end to the tax-evading Computer Group. The syndicate had simply grown too big, too fast, and too reckless to avoid scrutiny.

The DFS industry—now the largest advertiser on TV and a multibillion dollar industry—might be no different.