February 25, 2016

Playtech unit Markets.com sees mass layoffs in restructuring of sales, retention and customer service operations

Retail Forex and CFD broker Markets.com, a unit of Playtech PLC (LON:PTEC), has issued pink slips to a large number of its sales, retention and customer service employees in both Israel and Bulgaria, as part of a major restructuring. More than a hundred employees in Israel, and several dozen in Sofia, Bulgaria have been affected.

The move affects many of the employees of TradeFXL, the Playtech unit which served the group’s online brokerage brands including Markets.com and binary options broker TopOption.

Apparently many top-level decisions at Markets.com are being made nowadays by Playtech management. One of those decisions was to automate the operations of Markets.com and the group’s other online trading brands. And, to remove incentive compensation (i.e. commissions) for most of those employees who remained.

The layoffs and departures have occurred in stages since last October, but apparently accelerated over the past few weeks since the company’s planned acquisitions of rivals AvaTrade and Plus500 were called off (more on that below).

Apparently a large number of sales and retention staff were summarily laid off, while another group was offered to stay but on new terms – fixed salaries instead of salary-plus-commission. Not surprisingly, many of that second group of employees have also left, especially the higher-performing sales people who could no longer earn large commissions.

The move to automate is not a new one in the industry, but seems to be a big gamble at a broker such as Markets.com, which as far as we can tell was performing very well of late before implementing the changes.

The reasons behind the move?

Other than the obvious benefits of automation (less people to manage, lower costs), a major driver was avoiding future potential regulatory problems.

Apparently the new bosses at Playtech were concerned with all the telephone contact commission-hungry sales and retention people were having with clients – a feature at many Forex brokers – and made a strategic decision to automate (virtually) all sales and retention operations, and eliminate commissions.

Internally, the company has been referring to operating ‘more like a bank’, meaning a more conservative approach to the business.

Playtech Plus500 deal cancelledThe restructuring is in part an outcome of Playtech’s inability to close on the acquisition of rival Plus500 Ltd (LON:PLUS), and adopt Plus500’s ‘automated’ approach to customer acquisition and retention. Playtech had offered to buy Plus500 mid last year for $700 million. The deal was approved by the boards and shareholders of both companies, but was cancelled in November after the UK financial regulator The FCA indicated that it was not going to approve the transaction.

As we wrote at the time, beyond pure growth and the desire of Playtech’s controlling shareholder Teddy Sagi to build Markets.com into the world’s leading retail FX broker, the key behind the planned deal was acquiring Plus500’s technology and processes. Plus500 has grown to be one of the world’s largest retail Forex and CFD brokers (2015 revenues of $276 million) with a bare minimum of staff, focusing its efforts on onboarding and serving clients in as automated a way as possible.

Without Plus500, Markets.com is instead going it alone in trying to automate a lot of internal processes and operations. And that means a lot fewer employees.

As we wrote above, most affected are employees at Markets.com / TradeFXL in the company’s Tel Aviv, Israel offices. The company is also shutting down its operations in Bulgaria, engaged mainly in customer service and documentation processing, shifting some of those jobs to Cyprus where Markets.com operating company Safecap is based.

Markets.com parent company Playtech is set to release Full Year 2015 results tomorrow, Thursday, February 25. We would expect the announcement will include some mention of the restructuring at Markets.com.

We have seen automating broker operations becoming a key competitive point lately among leading platform providers as well, such as at Leverate and SpotOption with its Spot+ system.

Paddy Power Betfair selects SafeCharge’s Personalised Cashier

The largest Internet betting exchange; Paddy Power Betfair selected SafeCharge to provide a comprehensive technology based solution for alternative payment method deposits and withdrawals.

SafeCharge today announced that Paddy Power Betfair, provider of a full range of sports betting and gaming products and one of the largest online gaming operators in the world has selected SafeCharge’s Personalised Cashier to facilitate the checkout journey of its players globally. SafeCharge’s Personalised Cashier is a unique technology-based solution for deposits, withdrawals and diverse alternative payment methods that optimises all aspects of the payment funnel.

The solution includes multiple approaches to assist players at home or on the go complete their deposits simpler and faster. For winnings the solution allows for a fully transparent initiation and management of withdrawal requests.

Stephen Moffat, Head of Payments, Paddy Power Betfair stated:

“We selected SafeCharge due to their proven and extensive experience in the online gaming industry and the superiority of their technology. They were able to provide us with a simple integration, a superior front-end Cashier solution and a quick and easy method to add multiple alternative payment methods.”

David Avgi, CEO, SafeCharge commented:

“We are proud to be selected by Paddy Power Betfair to facilitate the globalisation and diversification of their online payments which demonstrates their trust in the robustness, feature richness and the absolute availability of our services. Both Paddy Power Betfair and SafeCharge management teams are committed to achieve the vision of a more secure and effective journey for players during the sensitive processes of deposit and withdrawal.”

February 17, 2016

Macau Legend breaks ground on casino in Cape Verde

Macau Legend Development has begun construction of a US$ 272m casino complex in Praia, capital of the picturesque islands of Cape Verde. Local government seeks to increase the number of tourists visiting the country from 600,000 per year to more than 2 million and believes the new resort will help boost tourism figures.

Cape Verde PraiaThe island located in Western Africa is set to feature a 152,700 square-meter integrated resort and casino along with facilities such as function areas, a marina, a convention center, retail outlets, and an array of restaurants once the complex is complete. The entire task is thought to take up to three years to complete.

David Chow, Macau Legend Co-Chariman, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, laid the first stone during a ceremony to start the construction process. Chow spoke highly of Cape Verde and explained why his company has chosen this location to invest.

“Cape Verde is a Portuguese-speaking country that enjoys political stability, beautiful scenery and pleasant climate with convenient transportation network,” Chow said. “Tourism is the country’s core industry. In 2014, the tourism industry accounted for 22pc of its local GDP and is growing steadily. Cape Verde currently has four international airports; the largest one is in the capital city, Praia, which is also where our project is located.

First casino was built in the island in May 2013, when new gaming laws came into force that allowed casinos to be built on the islands of Boa Vista, Maoi, Sal, Santiago, and Sao Vicente. A US$ 5,45m Casino Royal opened on the premises of the Hilton in Santa Maria on Sal island.

This new complex is set to receive 15 years of tax relief and concessions, and a deal struck gives Macau Legend exclusive nationwide rights to online gaming, online sports betting, and physical sports betting for 10 years.

Chow believes that thank to its location the project will be able to attract tourists from North Africa, West Africa, Europe, South America, Central America and the Caribbean, creating a new market.

“Especially with the trend that more and more Chinese are emigrating and investing in these places and this saves them from flying long to Asia,” added Chow. “The project is also a first choice for short-term vacation, which will be comparable with Bali and Phuket and other world class tourist destinations.”

Match fixing evidence uncovered in Dutch football's top league

Dutch football association KNVB confirmed that match fixing took place in at least two Willem II matches in the top league. Both cases involve former Willem II player Ibrahim Kargbo and match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal.

The first match fixing case involves the Willem II match against FC Utrecht on August 9th, 2009. Email conversations between Kargbo and match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal show that the two agreed that Willem II will lose the game. In the emails Kargbo indicates that “the captain”, then Michael Aerts, and a third player will cooperate. In return for deliberately losing this match, each of these three players would receive 25 thousand euros from Perumal.

Perumal later claimed that the match fixing failed – the agreement was that FC Utrecht one by more than one goal, which did not happen. Nevertheless, it is clear that match fixing took place, according to the KNVB’s integrity unit. There is not enough legal evidence to prove that Aerts was involved and the identity of the third person is unclear.

The investigation also showed that Perumal and Kargbo arranged a charity match between Willem II and Sierra Leone on November 14th, 2009 with the aim to manipulate the results for gambling purposes. Despite the lack of legal proof that the game was actually manipulated, the integrity unit believes that Kargbo and Perumal organized the match with the intent to manipulate it. The integrity unit also found evidence that Kargbo and Perumal had contact with each other about manipulating Sierra Leone’s national team’s matches for some time.

“The Dutch football has as one of the last in Europe officially lost its innocence in this area”, KNVB operational director Gijs de Jong said in reaction. “We know match fixing does not stop at national borders and the KNVB said long ago that it can happen in Dutch competitions. Yet now it was officially established. At the same time we hope that something good will come out of this. Namely that it contributes to the urgency in the Netherlands to combat this scourge in the sport.”

The KNVB shared the results of this investigation with UEFA, FIFA and the Dutch Public Prosecutor. As Kargbo is no longer a member of the KNVB, the professional football prosecutor can not act against him. The Public Prosecutor will carry out a criminal investigation into this matter.

Coral head of trading resigns

Head of Trading Sam Foulkes has quit Coral. He left earlier this month having tendered his resignation in December, and is now seeing out a period of gardening leave.

Sam FoulkesNews of Foulkes’ departure comes just five months after he had been promoted to the head of trading role, which saw him relocate from Coral’s Stratford headquarters to the operator’s Gibraltar offices.

The move was part of a wider restructuring of the sportsbook trading division, which also saw Danny Greer become head of in-play and the trading division split to form separate in-play and pre-match pricing teams.

Foulkes joined Coral in 2012 after having previously spent eight years at rival William Hill, where he had held various roles including senior trader and head of in-play football. Speaking to eGaming Review, he said it was the right time to move on:

“I am immensely proud of my achievements at Coral and after four years, I felt it was the right time for a new challenge. I’ve had a number of exciting work offers already and I’m expecting to take up a new role within the next few months.”

A spokesperson for the operator confirmed: “Sam recently left Coral and we wish him the very best for the future. No decision been made on how to replace him but we have a strong team so we are not in any hurry to decide.”

Sweden’s regulated online market growing faster than international operators

Sweden’s regulated online gambling market grew faster than international Swedish-facing operators last year, according to the country’s gambling regulator.

Preliminary stats for 2015 released by Sweden’s Lotteriinspektionen gaming overseer said the regulated market boasted turnover of SEK 45.6b ($5.3b), up 1.5% from 2014’s total. Total gaming revenue was also up 1.5% to SEK 16.7b.

Total online gambling revenue last year came to around SEK 8b, up around 7% from 2014. Lotteriinspektionen estimates that international operators serving the market without a Swedish license – mainly because Sweden doesn’t currently issue licenses to bloody foreigners – claimed around SEK 4.4b of this sum.

The international operators’ share eclipsed the SEK 3.6b collected by the state-owned betting monopoly Svenska Spel, but the monopoly’s share was up 8% year-on-year while the international sites grew only 6%.

Gambling advertising expenditure came to around SEK 3.3b, with roughly 70% of this being spent by those pesky international operators, despite the government’s vocal protestations. The total advertising spend is actually down from 2014, which the regulator attributes to last year’s lack of a marquee football competition.

On average, Swedish households spent around 2.4% of their disposable income on regulated gambling products last year, a sum equal to about SEK5,822 ($685) per person. The average Swedish adult lost around SEK 2,133 to the regulated market, while the average loss to international online gambling operators was a mere SEK 447 per adult.

Sweden is in the process of revising its online gambling market, prompted by years of public scolding and threats of legal action by European Commission watchdogs. New draft legislation is expected early next year, followed by a period of stakeholder comment and a final draft presented to legislators for consideration by the end of 2017.

The new regime is expected to call for the privatization of Svenska Spel, the issuing of licenses to international operators and more aggressive steps to prevent online operators not holding a Swedish license from accessing the market. Last month, a leading Swedish internet service provider went public with government plans to compel ISPs to block Swedes from accessing unauthorized sites.

February 12, 2016

Tennis under the scanner again: Two umpires banned for gambling, but ITF kept it secret, reveals report

Controversy seems to be stalking tennis like a shadow. In a latest blow to the beleaguered sport still grappling with allegations of widespread match-fixing, a report on Tuesday in Guardian newspaper claimed two international tennis umpires have been secretly banned while four others may be thrown out of the sport for life on charges of serious corruption.

According to the report, betting syndicates allegedly bribed umpires from Kazakhstan, Turkey and Ukraine in exchange for manipulating live scores on ITF’s Futures Tour which then allowed gamblers to place neat little bets since they were already sure of the outcome of the next point.

Kazakhstan’s Kirill Parfenov was banned for life in February last year while Croatia’s Denis Pitner was slapped with a one-year ban last August but both cases were kept under wraps.

Parfenov, the Kazakh official, reportedly tried to manipulate the scoring of matches by getting in touch with contacts through Facebook while the Croatian frequently logged on to a betting account from which bets were placed on tennis matches, according to the report.

Details of the probe and the resultant penal action were never released in public domain. The tennis authorities preferred to alert only a small number of tournament directors and national federations, said the report.

The development brings renewed focus about the extent of corruption in tennis and raises fresh concerns about lack of transparency in the governing body.

The sport was thrown into turmoil during the Australian Open this year when world No.1 Novak Djokovic made a stunning revelation that he was approached to fix a match earlier in his career.

Talking to reporters in Melbourne on 19 January, Djokovic said: “I was not approached directly. I was approached through people that were working with me at that time… Of course, we threw it away right away. It didn’t even get to me, the guy that was trying to talk to me, didn't even get to me directly. There was nothing out of it.

“Unfortunately in those times (there were) rumours, some talks, some people were going around. They were dealt with.

“In the last six, seven years, I haven’t heard anything similar. I personally was never approached directly, so I have nothing more to say about that.”

Djokovic’s comments came after the BBC and BuzzFeed cited “leaked files” to claim that players who had reached top 50 had been repeatedly suspected of fixing matches but had never faced action.

It led to all tennis authorities — the ATP, WTA, ITF and the heads of all four Grand Slams —announcing an independent probe into cases of alleged corruption.

February 05, 2016

PartyPoker to return to 21 online gambling markets under GVC

PartyPoker returns to 21 new online gambling markets including jurisdictions it exited as part of its “volume to value” strategy.

PartyPoker has begun operating in a number of new national markets after GVC Holdings completed its deal to buy bwin.party.

Bwin’s online poker room has written to affiliates asking them to estimate the number of first time depositors they anticipate in each market.

New sign-ups from 18 countries in EU and South America served by bwin.Party were blocked in April 2013. The decision was likely a mix of regulatory concern and simple cost analysis. The remaining countries may represent markets either too small or simply unprofitable for bwin.party to maintain operations in.

Many EU countries on the list curbed or prohibited online poker such as Greece, Poland, Romania, Cyprus and Hungary. Finland and Serbia, on the other hand, had a small regulated online poker markets.

South American countries — Argentina, Brazil and Colombia — were also blocked same with three former Soviet Republics Armenia, Belarus and the Ukraine.

Many of the markets that PartyPoker is re-entering are expected to introduce online poker licensing systems such as Colombia, which opened a consultation on launching a regulated online gambling market. Brazil has approved a legislative attempt to legalize online sports betting, casino and bingo games last year.

Bwin.party group head of partypoker and Cashcade Tom Waters confirmed the news to EGR, saying that it had re-opened in a “limited number of regulated territories” following a “thorough review” of PartyPoker’s operations.

“Along with other operators in the industry, we do accept gameplay from customers based in yet to be regulated territories where customers are not prevented from accessing online gaming products,” said Waters. “We have re-opened registration for a number of markets and could potentially look to do more if the commercials support it.”