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Robert Simmons

Robert Simmons

News | Press Releases
26th April
Caesars continues its non-gaming expansion into Mexico

Worldwide casino and resort developer Caesars Entertainment Corporation, fresh from announcing its first two non-gaming resort partnerships in Dubai, has announced the development of a third non-gaming resort, this time in Mexico.

The Caesars Palace Luxury Resort in Puerto Los Cabos, Baja, Mexico will cost an estimated $200m and will feature 500 hotel rooms and suites, restaurants, an entertainment venue, a gym, spa, tennis courts, and golf courses as well as a 40,000-square-foot convention centre.

Justifying its selection, the company stated a 40% rise in airline passengers visiting the region from the US and Canada over the last three years as the chief reason for its decision to expand.

Construction on the property will commence during the first half of 2019, with local property development company Grupo Questro handling the construction phase.

Upon completion of the property development, Caesars Entertainment Corporation will take over management of the property, receiving a licensing and management fee.

Speaking about the company’s newest investment, Caesars Entertainment President and Chief Executive Officer, Mark Frissora said: "Bringing Caesars Palace to Puerto Los Cabos will represent further progress on our strategy to expand the company's non-gaming businesses into premiere resort and gateway destinations.

"This resort will represent our first investment in Mexico, and it speaks to the global strength of the Caesars brand.”

Sentiments were echoed by Eduardo Sanchez Navarro Rivera Torres, Executive President of Grupo Questro who added: "We are very excited to work with our new partners to help bring the Caesars brand to Puerto Los Cabos. Caesars is known around the world, and we are confident that this luxury resort will be an incredible asset for global visitors."

If reports are to be believed, Caesars may also add another new market to its casino offering, with Australian media sources reporting the company’s Head of International Development, Steven Tight, has been wining and dining officials from Queensland’s Gold Coast tourism department in an effort to give Caesars integrated resorts plans there a leg-up.

24th April
National Indian Gaming Association outlines its support for sports betting

The executive and membership of tribal gaming’s governing body, the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) have adopted a resolution which supports the introduction of legalised sports betting in the US, subject to certain conditions being met.

At a time when every gambling industry stakeholder is jockeying for position in the potential post PASPA world, NIGA have outlined nine points which they contend would need to form any potential sports betting legalisation, in any state in which tribal interests are represented.

Among the points raised by the resolution, are provisos that tribal governments possess the inherent right to opt-in to any proposed federal sports betting regulatory scheme as a way of ensuring their access to the potential market.

In addition conditions state that tribes must be acknowledged as governments, with authority to regulate gaming in the same way that states do and any federal sports betting legalisation must include a guaranteed positive economic benefit for the tribes.

Any potential customers wishing to access tribal government sports betting sites can do so, as long as sports’ betting is legal where the customer is located.

NIGA also asserts that revenues accrued by tribes in respect of sports betting operations be exempt from taxation in the same way that their other revenue streams are currently exempted from taxation.

In a move which may placate some of the sports associations so active in lobbying efforts across the US, the tribal governments ‘acknowledge the integrity and protection of the game and patron protections for responsible gaming are of the utmost importance.’

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), so long the central pillar of tribal gaming in the US forms the final provisions of the resolution in which NIGA members assert that existing tribal compacts & rights under IGRA be protected and that IGRA itself should not be opened up for amendments.

This move comes amid speculation that the Trump administration is considering changing the way that tribes across the US conduct gaming business, opening them up to making revenue contributions to states as a way of boosting state taxation revenues.

24th April
Connecticut tribal casino row rumbles on

The Inspector General of the US Department of the Interior has announced an investigation into the agency’s handling of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes application to build a third tribal casino in the US state of Connecticut.

A probe has been launched into the department's failure to ratify the revised tribal compact signed by both tribes and the state in June 2017. The revised compact called for the development of a casino in East Windsor and for that casino to be operated by a joint venture between the two tribes. 

23rd April
Malta Gaming Authority appoints new CEO

The Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) has confirmed the appointment of Heathcliff Farrugia as its new CEO, replacing outgoing MGA head, Joseph Cuschieri.

Joseph Cuschieri announced that he would be taking up the role of CEO of the Malta Financial Services Authority earlier this month and the MGA have wasted no time in appointing his successor, who will take up the role with effect from 24 April.

Farrugia first joined the MGA in 2014, being appointed to the role of COO before taking up the post of Chief Regulatory Officer in 2016. In the CRO role he was responsible for all the regulatory activities of the Authority with specific focus on Regulatory Supervision, Authorisations, Compliance and Player Support.

Prior to joining the MGA, Farrugia occupied a number of roles in the telecoms industry, working for telecommunications giant Vodafone in its Maltese and Italian businesses.

Heathcliff Farrugia also served as a member of the MGA’s Supervisory Council and co-chaired the MGA’s Fit & Proper Committee, which was responsible for assessing those individuals and companies applying for Maltese gaming licences.

He has also been a board member of the Gaming Regulators European Forum (GREF), where he is now a member and is also a member of the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR) and the International Association of Gaming Advisors (IAGA).

23rd April
The Stars Group buys Sky Betting & Gaming for $4.7bn

Worldwide online gaming business, The Stars Group, has announced what could be one of 2018s biggest corporate acquisitions, agreeing a $4.7bn cash and stock deal to purchase Sky Betting & Gaming (SBG) from CVC Capital Partners and Sky plc.

If approved, the transaction will create the world’s largest publicly listed online gaming company.

Speaking about the acquisition, Rafi Ashkenazi, the Stars Group CEO said: “The acquisition of Sky Betting & Gaming is a landmark moment in The Stars Group’s history.

“SBG operates one of the world’s fastest growing sportsbooks and is one of the United Kingdom’s leading gaming providers. SBG’s premier sports betting product is the ideal complement to our industry-leading poker platform.”

The multi-billion dollar deal gives Stars Group a larger presence in the UK and a ready-made sports betting business that it could easily expand into the US, should legislatory conditions become more favourable. It also gives Stars Group access to a business with a significant mobile gaming arm.

Ashkenazi added: “Following this transaction, The Stars Group will have significantly enhanced scale and a highly-regarded global brand portfolio. As a result, we are well positioned to realize our vision of becoming the world’s favourite iGaming destination.”

2018 has been a busy one for The Stars Group which concluded a $117.7m deal to acquire a majority stake in Australian sports betting operator CrownBet in February.

Stars Group has confirmed that the deal is expected to create cost synergies of $70m per year.

Releasing an accompanying statement following the deal, Richard Flint, Sky Betting & Gaming’s Chief Executive Officer said: “We have had a fantastic last few years and would like to thank CVC and Sky for supporting us in becoming a leading online operator in the UK. This transaction allows us to offer our best-in-class products to a truly global audience. We’re excited about our future together.”

20th April
UK football leagues stand with US sporting associations

Representatives from Football DataCo, the company which holds the rights for the English Premier League and all professional soccer leagues in England and Scotland, have voiced their agreement with the NBA and MLB efforts to introduce an ‘integrity fee’ into any US sports betting roll out.

In an interview with ESPN Adrian Ford, General Manager for Football DataCo, said: “Broadly, we don't think what the leagues are asking for is fundamentally wrong, if you're trying to come up with a framework that works for both parties."

First set up in 2001, by English and Scottish professional leagues, Football DataCo uses an official data supplier in RunningBall, which in turn licenses the data to bookmakers and charges media for its feed through distributor Opta Sports.

Ford added: "We'd echo some of the high-level statements the NBA has made. If someone is making money off us, there's no reason why we shouldn't be interested in that and why we shouldn't have some level of involvement in the commercial return."

The NBA, MLB and latterly the PGA have advocated the payment of an integrity fee by sports betting companies wishing to operate in any states which decide to legalise sports betting, with the fee ranging from between 0.25-1% of the amount bet on league events.

At present, sports betting companies operating in the UK, do not pay any sort of integrity fee back to either the leagues or their respective data providers, however a successful implementation of such a scheme across the Atlantic could prompt a review of this convention.

A key weapon in this debate is the use of data by sports betting companies, which the associations contend should come directly from official league sources only. The contention is that any provider not using official league data should be barred from offering sports betting in any target US state.

Ford concluded: "When it comes to customers and integrity and really trying to provide the best experience, official data, backed by the leagues, is fact.

“Ultimately, the common goal -- and it is easier said than done -- must be to have a functioning, regulated, safe betting market that brings all the offshore money onshore for the good of the sport, for the protection of the players and presumably for the good of the states that are going to get tax revenues."

19th April
Global Gaming CEO steps down

Swedish-based gambling firm Global Gaming have announced that their CEO, Steffan Olsson will step down after ten years in the role.

Olsson, who stepped down at his own request will take on a new role within the business, taking responsibilities for what Global Gaming have called an ‘innovation team’, which will be internally called Global Gaming Labs.

Following the decision, current Global Gaming COO, Joacim Möller, will take over the role of acting President and CEO from the 1 May until a new person can be appointed. Global Gaming has confirmed that a recruitment process to fill this role is currently underway.

Möller is a relative newcomer to the Global Gaming business, having only been appointed as COO in the last 18 months, so the decision to appoint him to the top job is a bold one, however Global Gaming Chairman Peter Eidensjö stood by his decision, releasing a statement saying  it was “is a consequence of our long-term efforts to build a sustainable and sustainable organisation. We want to take advantage of the company's amazing growth, and we do this with the attitude that we will do our best.”

Speaking about the decision to step down, Olsson said: “It has been a fantastic trip both for me personally and for Global Gaming during all these years. I'm basically a developer, problem solver and entrepreneur, which I can do less and less now when the company has reached a new level.

"I want to devote my days to cutting-edge innovation work, and I therefore look forward to the new role, while others in the organization can focus on the ability to take care of our growth in several countries and a large number of new shareholders. "

Interim Global Gaming CEO, Joacim Möller, added: “I feel proud, excited and humble about the task of being part of the reorganisation and continued work on creating value for our owners.”

18th April
Cherry AB reports 104% revenue growth during FY2017

Nordic-focused online gaming provider, Cherry AB, has revealed year-on-year revenue growth of 104% during 2017.

In its full financial report for the year, the gaming company reported revenues of $267,668 during 2017, more than doubling the $130,981 reported during the full-year 2016.

Company EBITDA also registered triple digit growth, rising by 146% from a 2016 high of $20,681 to a 2017 record of $50,990.

A key contributor to this impressive growth was the amount of active customers and deposits, which rose to over 929,900 active customers who deposited a record $653,956 during 2017.

Cherry reported strong revenue growth in all business areas during 2017, revealing  double digit year-on-year rises in the areas of game development, online marketing and gaming technology but it was online gaming revenues which led the way in 2017.

Online gaming revenues reported a triple digit rise of 118%, rising from $99,008 in 2016 to a 2017 high of $216,678.

It was a busy 2017 for CherryAB, who acquired fellow gaming firm ComeOn Malta Ltd during Q2, then following this up with a 12.5% acquisition of shares in Highlight Games in Q4.

Shares in the business were also made available for trading on the Nasdaq Stockholm Mid Cap stock exchange during Q4.

17th April
DraftKings heads down under with Australian expansion

American daily fantasy sports company DraftKings has announced that it will begin offering daily fantasy sports (DFS) contests to Australian punters in Q2 2018.

The company confirmed that it has been granted a government licence by the Northern Territory Racing Commission, under which it is permitted to offer DFS contests in Australia.

Announcing the licence award, DraftKings CEO, Jason Robins said: “Australia is an important market for DraftKings, as it combines devoted sports fans with sophisticated, tech-savvy consumers – exactly the kind of people who love competing on DraftKings.”

Australia is the first country outside of North America and Europe where DraftKings has expanded operations, with DFS games available to consumers in seven other countries.

Expansion seems to be the name of the game for DraftKings, which has been heavily linked with expansion into US sports betting over recent months, following the creation of a US-facing sportbook department, the appointment of Sean Hurley as Head of Sportsbook and the opening of a new office in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Robins added: “Within the last few years, Australia’s burgeoning fantasy sports market has dramatically evolved, adding a variety of daily fantasy sports platforms, feeding the appetite of the many passionate sports fans who love getting closer to the teams, athletes and sports they love.”

17th April
Caesars signs agreement with Buena Vista Rancheria

Las Vegas stalwart Caesars Entertainment Corporation has announced the signing of a casino development agreement with the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians of California.

Under the terms of the agreement, Caesars will provide brand licensing and consulting services for the casino currently being developed, owned and operated by the Buena Vista Gaming Authority, near Sacramento, California.

Construction of the 71,000-square-foot property began with a groundbreaking ceremony, with the final casino set to open in 2019. The resort will include 950 state-of-the-art slots, 20 table games, one full-service restaurant and three fast-food outlets.

In a statement confirming the agreement, Caesars President and CEO Mark Frissora said: "This agreement with the Buena Vista Gaming Authority advances our growth strategy to expand the reach of our brands into new markets and reinforces our over 20-year history working with tribal partners."

Upon completion, the property will be branded Harrah's Northern California Casino with Caesars signing a management agreement with the authority to manage, operate and maintain the property on its behalf.

Rhonda L. Morningstar Pope-Flores, Chairwoman of the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians added: "We're excited to partner with Caesars Entertainment to bring the Harrah's brand to our gaming project.

"Harrah's is a world-class brand that is known for offering a fun gaming atmosphere with unparalleled customer service. We're confident that it will attract more people to our destination."

17th April
Tri- State online poker network launches 1 May

Online poker players in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware will be able to take advantage of the US’s first multi-state online poker network from 1 May.

Nevada and Delaware first entered into a shared liquidity agreement in 2014, which was designed to enlarge their respective online poker markets by increasing the size of player pools and offering bigger prizes to players across both states.

New Jersey joined the agreement in October 2017, with then Governor Chris Christie quoted as saying: “This agreement marks the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for online gaming, and we look forward to working with our partners in Nevada and Delaware in this endeavour.” 

These sentiments were echoed by New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement head David Rebuck, who told Associated Press: "This will raise jackpots and provide even greater opportunities for play.

"It also paves the way for additional states to join and grow the regulated, legal online poker market."

Indeed, one of the first potential candidates to join this agreement may be New Jersey’s neighbour Pennsylvania, which legalised online poker and casino gaming in October 2017.

A cornerstone of this shared roll out is an online gaming platform that has been vetted and approved by each jurisdiction.

Under the terms of the agreement, accrued revenues are taxed based on the jurisdiction where the player resides, with gaming regulators from all states included in the agreement able to access and regulate the mutually-used servers housing the platforms. 

Nevada Gaming Control Board chairwoman Becky Harris said that Nevada "is pleased to be part of this collaborative effort between regulators, operators, and the platform manufacturer to achieve the common goal of providing a sound gaming experience for patrons across multiple jurisdictions while still meeting our individual jurisdictional requirements."

Commercial poker sites WSOP.com & 888Poker.com, both operated by Caesars Interactive Entertainment, are reportedly planning to go live with tri-state operations from this initial launch date, with regulatory approval from all three states expected over the next few weeks.

Speaking about the roll-out, Bill Rini, WSOP.com's head of online poker said: "This has been a huge collaborative effort from all involved and it is important to thank the elected leadership and regulatory authorities in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey for their dedication and diligence to help move online poker forward."

17th April
SG Digital gets foot in the door in New Jersey

Scientific Games Corporation has announced that its SG Digital subsidiary has commenced “sportsbook product review sessions” with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE), in preparation for any potential legalisation of sports betting in the US State of New Jersey.

SG Digital is currently heavily involved in sportsbook operations in Nevada, one of four states where sports betting is allowed under the Professional and Amateur Sports Participation Act (PASPA), using its OpenBet platform.

New Jersey is one of almost 20 states where sports betting legislation has been advanced and it has been the chief advocate for the repeal of PASPA.

Indeed, the nexus of legalisation efforts revolves around a Supreme Court review of a US Circuit Court decision which barred New Jersey from allowing sports betting in the first place.

Speaking about the discussions, Matt Davey, Group Chief Executive, SG Digital, said: “We work closely with the DGE to ensure responsible gaming experiences and congratulate the effort of the DGE and the state of New Jersey for taking progressive action to help create a safer sports betting market for the public.

"We are setting the foundations well in advance to help our partners establish themselves early in the emerging territory."

SG Digital have confirmed that there will be a number of enhancements to its platform, while at the same time the company is undertaking a recruitment drive to prepare for any US legalisation, should this occur.

Keith O'Loughlin, Senior Vice President, Sportsbook and Platforms at SG Digital, added: "Legalised sports betting in the US is an exciting prospect for us, and we're taking every step possible to ensure our product offering is fully compliant to hit the ground running when the marketplace eventually opens up beyond the current regulated states.

“We have spent time considering US customer needs and are focused on ensuring that the user experience is of high standard and can be delivered with speed."

16th April
Caesars announce non-gaming themed Dubai expansion plans

Global casino resort developer, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, have announced plans to operate two hotels and a beach club in Dubai, which will be the first Caesars operated and branded properties not to offer gambling related services.

Caesars have entered into a non-binding letter of intent with Dubai-based holdings firm Meraas, which owns the Bluewaters Island development, located in the United Arab Emirates. Due to the fact that gambling is banned throughout the mainly Muslim country, the two resorts will not feature casinos as gambling.

Under the terms of this letter, the two luxury hotels and beach club operated by Meraas will become the Caesars Palace Bluewaters Dubai and Caesars Bluewaters Dubai. The launch of the rebranded resorts will occur later this year.

In a statement announcing the partnership, Mark Frissora, President and Chief Executive Officer of Caesars Entertainment said: "Through our collaboration with Meraas, we anticipate Bluewaters Island will evolve into the region's top hospitality, dining and entertainment destination.

 "This project represents Caesars' ability to focus on our strengths in hospitality as well as reinforce our commitment and capacity to establish brands in new global markets." 

The 178 hotel room Caesars Palace Bluewaters Dubai hotel features two outdoor and one indoor swimming pools, a spa and a health centre, an event centre, a business centre, and six restaurants. The property will also include facilities for meeting and conference activity.

Its counterpart, the Caesars Bluewaters Dubai includes 301 hotel rooms, two swimming pools, 9,000-square-foot event hall, and food and beverage facilities. Both hotels will provide their guests with access to a nearly 5,000-square-foot private beach.

Abdulla Al Habbai, Group Chairman of Meraas, added: "We are creating unique experiences and leveraging strategic partnerships to showcase the best of what Dubai can offer to its visitors.

“The landmark arrangement with Caesars Entertainment, which aims to establish Bluewaters as a world-class tourist attraction with exclusive international entertainment opportunities, is a significant achievement for the emirate's thriving hospitality and entertainment sectors."

The arrangements between Caesars Entertainment and Meraas are subject to final documentation.

16th April
Crystal Palace launches initiative with GambleAware

English Premier League club, Crystal Palace FC, have announced that they will take part in a GambleAware initiative designed to address gambling-related harm within football, becoming the first Premier League club to do so.

Under the initiative, which will take place over the final three games of the Premier League season, the club and the charity will produce advertisements and promotional materials intending to raise awareness of the risks of gambling.

In addition GambleAware related messages will appear on advertising hoardings around the pitch and on screens throughout the clubs 26,000 capacity Selhurst Park stadium.

Speaking about the initiative on the clubs website, Crystal Palace Chairman, Steve Parish, said: “As a Premier League club, we recognise our responsibility of helping promote safe and responsible gambling. 

“I’m pleased that Crystal Palace is the first club to form a partnership with GambleAware, and I hope we can play a part in raising awareness about their service and help those individuals who need support.”

Marc Etches, Chief Executive of GambleAware, added: “This is an important first step towards a deeper and broader action plan to address the ever-closer relationship between gambling and football.

“As the first professional football club to make this commitment, Crystal Palace is setting a great example to other clubs, and not only those with gambling sponsors because all benefit from the income that flows from television deals funded by the ever-growing amount of gambling advertising around live sport.”

Crystal Palace are one of nine Premier League clubs that are currently sponsored by gambling related businesses, concluding a multi-year, record breaking sponsorship deal with ManBetX in June 2017.

Jon Collins, Director of ManBetX, added: “ManBetX are committed to helping people gamble responsibly and welcome the club’s involvement with GambleAware. As the official shirt sponsor of Crystal Palace FC, we have an added degree of responsibility to support those who offer help and free advice to ensure people gamble responsibly, both within football and the wider community.”

16th April
Players associations weigh in on US sports betting debate

Representatives of the four biggest professional sports players associations have issued a joint statement outlining their stance on sports betting legalisation in the US.

Players associations from leagues including NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL have been largely silent since the start of the Supreme Court review in December 2017, instead leaving it to the leagues, who have been actively lobbying in states across the US.

The joint release states that: “Given the pending Supreme Court decision regarding the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), representatives of the MLBPA, NBPA, NFLPA and NHLPA have been working together on the legal, commercial, practical, and human consequences of allowing sports betting to become mainstream.”

Among the chief concerns voiced by the player associations are the implications of using player names and likenesses in promotional materials for sports betting sites and how those players whose images are used would be compensated.

The associations have joined the leagues in calling for measures which deal with maintaining the integrity of sports betting, but while representatives from the NBA and MLB have called for a 1% integrity fee to be paid by sports betting operators, the players associations concerns are more likely focussed on ensuring that its members do not become easy targets for corrupt individuals operating in the black market.

One possible avenue in ensuring integrity and staving off corruption of players would be to bar all collegiate and professional athletes from participating in sports betting, in the same way that they are currently barred from participating in daily fantasy sports contests.

However, if the English Premier League's experiences of player-related sports betting are anything to go by, the associations may face an uphill battle to keep their members from betting.

The statement concludes: “Betting on sports may become widely legal, but we cannot allow those who have lobbied the hardest for sports gambling to be the only ones controlling how it would be ushered into our businesses. The athletes must also have a seat at the table to ensure that players’ rights and the integrity of our games are protected.”

13th April
Catena Media targeting European domination with latest acquisition

It has been a busy week of affiliate acquisitions for Catena Media, who have announced their second big acquisition in as many days, this time purchasing French affiliate ParisSportifs.com.

The initial upfront cost of the acquisition will be €8.2m, of which €6.2m will be paid in cash, with the remaining €2m paid in newly issued shares in Catena Media.

These shares will be issued at a subscription price of SEK 120.97 per share on the Nasdaq Stockholm stock exchange.

As with many of Catena’s acquisitions there is also an earn-out  which is based on revenue performance of the acquired assets over one year, subject to a maximum of €5.7m.

ParisSportifs.com is one of the leading sports betting sites in France, generating traffic numbers, primarily from search engines and its Twitter and Youtube channels. Its sites currently generate quarterly sales of about EUR 500.000.

In a statement announcing the deal, Henrik Persson Ekdahl, acting CEO of Catena Media said:”I am very proud that we are now entering the regulated French market through this strategic acquisition of ParisSportifs.”

On Thursday, the company announced a €3.6m deal to acquire German affiliate site BrokerDeal.de, a deal which signalled the company’s entry into the German affiliate market.

Ekdahl added: This is in line with our growth strategy and strengthens our leading position in Europe. It’s also a strategic move for us, bringing growth in sports betting with the FIFA World Cup just around the corner.” 

 

 

 

13th April
Wynn Resorts to sell Wynn Boston Harbour to MGM?

Embattled casino developer Wynn Resorts is reportedly in discussions relating to a possible sale of its $2.5bn casino development under construction in Boston Harbour to MGM Resorts International according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.

Reports in the journal say that talks between the two are at an early stage and may not result in a deal. However, Wynn Resorts is still dealing with the aftermath of the departure of its former CEO Steve Wynn following allegations of sexual misconduct, which first surfaced in February.

Massachusetts regulators are still investing the allegations against Wynn, with a meeting taking place on Thursday to discuss his attorney’s convention that “Steve Wynn no longer be considered a qualifier for Wynn Boston Harbour based on his resignation and divestiture from Wynn Resorts.”

There is a lot on the line for Wynn Resorts, if Massachusetts regulators find that Wynn’s misconduct makes Wynn Resorts an unsuitable business to hold gaming licence in Massachusetts, then it could place the businesses current casinos in Macau and Nevada in jeopardy, to say nothing of its Japanese integrated resort ambitions, which would be severely curtailed by any licence issues.

At the same time, any potential deal between the two would place MGM in a tight spot. Under Massachusetts state gaming laws, which were instituted in 2011, operators are limited to one casino each and since there is already a $950m MGM casino development in nearby Springfield, the operator would first have to sell its interest in MGM Springfield before any acquisition could take place.

Debra DeShong, a spokeswoman for MGM dismissed the reports, stating: “We do not comment on rumours or speculations around transactions. We remain fully committed to the opening and success of MGM Springfield.”

A deal between the two has the potential to start a domino effect: if MGM purchases Wynn Boston Harbour, the sale of MGM Springfield becomes a virtual certainty.

Indeed if the deal does go through, the biggest beneficiaries could be the long time opponents of MGM: the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, who are currently trying to get a joint casino project in Connecticut underway in the face of stiff opposition from MGM and perceptibly, the US Department of the Interior, which has delayed the ratification of a new tribal compact authorising the development.

Given the hurdles that the tribes have had to overcome to get this far, they may decide to cut their losses and instead buy an out of state casino which is almost ready to open rather than face years of litigation and development hell.

11th April
Caesars CEO compensation package tops $29.4m

Less than a year after exiting Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, global casino heavyweight Caesars Entertainment Corporation has announced that it will compensate its CEO, Mark Frissora to the tune of $29.4m.

Detailing its senior level compensation packages for 2017, Caesars confirmed payments to Frissora that included a $2m salary, $4.5m in cash bonuses and $16.5m in retention restricted stock (which can only be redeemed subject to certain conditions).

Frissora has also been paid a long-term cash award of $6m and finally $400,000 in compensation for repriced stock options.

In order to retain its senior level executives during the company’s recent financial issues and meet the requirement of corporate restructuring, Caesars has been repricing stock options awarded as part of remuneration packages for senior level individuals, without first seeking the approval of company investors.

This allows the business to offer equity-based remuneration in lieu of new financial awards, which were prohibited under the terms of its agreed corporate restructuring.

Caesars compensation committee, which approves all salary and remuneration packages, reduced the strike price on the shares (the price at which an option can be exercised) to $9.45 a share.

Executives including Caesars CEO Mark Frissora, CFO Eric Hession and C-level executives Thomas Jenkin and Timothy Donovan held a total of 1.2 million stock options with a reported 2016 strike price of between $11.51 and $21.18.

Caesars Entertainment Operating Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2015 after being reportedly over $24bn in debt. Under Chapter 11 rules a business which files for bankruptcy can voluntarily restructure its businesses to reduce its debts, an action which the company undertook throughout 2016 and into 2017.

The corporate restructuring received its final required regulatory approval in September 2017 prior to the company exiting formal bankruptcy in October.

Since then it has concluded a $1.7bn deal to acquire two Indiana casinos from Centaur Gaming, funds which were partially offset by the sale and lease back of Harrah's Las Vegas' real estate for a fee of $1.14bn.

10th April
Tribal casino efforts derailed in Maine

Attempts to allow the development of tribal gaming properties in the US State of Maine have once again fallen flat following a vote in the states' House of Representatives.

Representative Henry John Bear, himself a member of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and a non-voting member of the states legislature, attempted to refer the matter to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court but was roundly defeated in a 73-67 House vote.

Under the State’s constitution, the House of Representatives, Senate or the Governor has the power to ask the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to pass judgment on “important questions of law”, but in order to do so the motion must pass a vote.

During the debate in the House, Bear claimed that the revenue generated from tribal casino developments would aid the state's economy and improve tribal infrastructure and public health.

Addressing the House, Bear said: “We need jobs. We want to pay our own way. That’s the simple response to the question to us of ‘why do you want to do it? Why do you want gaming?”

This latest defeat will be a bitter pill to swallow for advocates of tribal gaming in the state and follows the voting down of Legislative bill 1201, which would have authorised tribal gaming within the state.

The bill was voted down by a 21-13 margin in the Maine Senate house last week and is essentially null and void, but if individuals like Henry John Bear have their way this will not be the end of the debate in the Pine Tree state.

10th April
Wynn Resorts appoints new Culture and Community head

Attempting to rebuild its tarnished public image following the allegations of sexual misconduct against its former CEO, Steve Wynn, Wynn Resorts have announced the creation of a Culture and Community Department.

Corinne Clement has been appointed as Vice President of the new department which aims to support diversity and inclusion, gender equality and fair treatment in the workplace.

The new department will also support employee charitable efforts in communities in which Wynn Resorts casinos and hotels are located.

Clement has been with Wynn Resorts since 2014, serving as Executive Director of Human Resources for Wynn Palace and most recently as Executive Director of Innovation and Creative Development at Wynn Las Vegas.

In her new role, Clement will oversee the company's diversity and inclusion efforts, as well as bolster leadership development, employee education experiences, and community relations.

Announcing her appointment on the company’s website, Wynn Resorts CEO, Matt Maddox said: "Now more than ever we are committed to ensuring equality, creating leaders, and giving back to the communities in which we operate. The launch of our Culture and Community Department speaks to this promise, and will help us continue to be the industry employer of choice."

One of the most significant initiatives launched by this fledgling department will be the Women’s Leadership Forum, which the company confirmed is “designed to further close the gender gap in management, provide career growth opportunities for female employees at all levels, create pay and title equity, and ensure a safe workplace”.

This may be the first of many changes for the Las-Vegas resorts developer as it looks to rehabilitate its public image and draw a line under the alleged actions of its former CEO.

10th April
Aspire Global revenues up 18% in FY2017

Swedish based online gaming software provider Aspire Global has reported an 18% increase in its revenues during the full-year 2017.

Announcing its full set of financial results for the year, the company reported revenues of €71.9m, beating the €61m revenue figure reported during 2016.

Company EBITDA rebounded from a poor 2016, growing by 25% during 2017 to €14.3m from a 2016 low of €11.4m. Aspire attributed this rise to the strong performance of its B2C brands, which accounted for 48% of revenue and 45% of company EBITDA.

Distribution, gaming duties and administrative expenses also rose during 2017 by 16%, 15% and 14% respectively, reflecting increased regulation and exportation costs.

During 2017, Aspire Global successfully completed its first initial public offering of shares on the Nasdaq First North Premier stock exchange in Stockholm and also began moves to open its first sportsbook offering in partnership with SBTech.

Aspire’s Chairman of the Board Carl  Klingberg commented: “Aspire Global has a unique position in the iGaming market as the first provider of a full turnkey solution for operators of sportsbooks and casinos, let alone one with operations in six regulated markets.

"We are looking forward to realising the grand agenda for the coming year, aiming at continued strong growth on a yearly basis.”

9th April
Nektan gaming revenues up 44.8% in Q3 FY2018

White label gaming software provider Nektan has announced a 44.8% year-on-year rise in its net gaming revenues for Q3 FY2018.

In its latest financial report, the company revealed net gaming revenues of £5.1m, beating the £3.5m reported during the same period of 2017 and up 8.2% on the previous quarter’s figures.

The amount of cash wagered by players using the company increased year-on-year by 43.8%, rising from £99m in Q3 FY17 to £142.4m during Q3 FY2018.

However the number of first time depositors dropped from a Q3 FY2017 high of 38,424 to a Q3 FY2018 figure of 36,359.

Drilling down into individual divisions, Nektan’s Managed Gaming Solutions department launched 73 new games, 18 new sites and signed deals with five new partners in Q3 FY18, with plans to launch up to 20 new sites from both existing and new partners over the next few months.

Revenues from its B2B businesses almost doubled during Q3 FY2018, rising to £83,000 from a previous Q2 FY2018 total of £47,000, while the division also went live with its first global platform deal, signed with Tyche Digital.

In a statement accompanying the results, Gary Shaw, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Nektan, said: “Our results clearly demonstrate Nektan’s growing commercial and operational strength throughout international markets.

“The significant increase in net gaming revenues and cash wagering from our European white label business represents continuing growth momentum. This growth, at the same time as launching into new markets, underlines Nektan’s strength of management and technical capabilities.”

Shaw added: “We remain confident about our growth strategy and look forward to announcing further encouraging updates over the coming months.”

6th April
New Jersey going all in for sports betting

Putting all of its chips on the table, the US state of New Jersey has accrued an estimated $7.2m in legal costs in its fight to legalise sports betting in the US.

According to reports on the US-based Observer website, which conducted a freedom of information request with the New Jersey Division of Law, legal firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher billed the state over $5.6m in order to represent former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the states dealings over a period between October 2012 and August 2017.

A separate information request made by the Observer to the Senate Majority Office has also revealed a second legal firm, Gibbons P.C. has invoiced the New Jersey state legislature fees to the tune of $1.5m for a period encompassing December 2012 to February 2018.

At the same time Gibbons P.C has also issued invoices totalling $77,000 to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority for legal work undertaken during November 2014 -January 2015.

US Supreme Court Justices announced their intention to review an earlier Philadelphia-based 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a 2014 New Jersey statute permitting sports betting at casinos and racetracks violated PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act 1992). 

During oral arguments in December, New Jersey stated its case for the legalisation of sports betting within its borders, arguing that PASPA commandeers states rights to impose laws and therefore contravenes the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution.

At the time of the arguments, Justices seemed to indicate that they would side with New Jersey, with Governor Christie indicating that New Jersey could be ready to move on sports betting within as little as “two weeks” of any decision on PASPA.

However, flash forward four months and no decision has been made, despite fevered speculation that one could occur within the next few weeks.

The mounting cost of these legal bills is seemingly at odds with the states rising budget deficit, which Wall Street ratings agency Moody’s recently claimed could rise to as much as $3.6bn by 2023.

However it may be a case of speculating to accumulate for New Jersey, as it attempts to get its claws into a potential $150bn American sports betting pot.

6th April
MGM Growth Properties acquires Hard Rock property for $1.06bn

Gaming real estate investment company,  MGM Growth Properties LLC has announced the agreement of a deal to purchase the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park, Ohio for $1.06bn.

Under the terms of the deal, the company will acquire 100% of Northfield Park Associates LLC, the company which owns and operates the Rocksino from Milstein Entertainment LLC.

In a statement announcing the deal, James Stewart, MGM Growth Properties CEO said: "MGP is proud to announce the acquisition of the Hard Rock Rocksino, the best performing gaming asset in Ohio.

“We are thrilled to join the Northeast Ohio community and look forward to continuing to work with the management team to consummate the transaction and identify a third-party tenant to operate the asset going forward."

Located in Northfield, Ohio just southeast of Cleveland the Rocksino encompasses a 110 acre property consisting of a 200,000-square foot gaming facility which features over 2,300 video lottery terminals, a variety of retail and food and beverage outlets, as well as entertainment venues, including a 1,900-seat music venue and a 250-seat event space.

Detailing the particulars of the deal, MGM Growth Properties confirmed that it plans to fund the purchase price with a combination of cash on hand and debt.

The company have also stated that it expects to ultimately sell the entities holding the licenses and operating assets to a third-party operator, but at the same time retaining ownership of the real estate.

 MGM Growth Properties have estimated a figure of between $50-60m of annual rent, which would represent approximately 1.8x rental coverage.

Brock Milstein, Chairman of the Board at Hard Rock Rocksino added: "MGM Growth Properties has many options and opportunities to invest all over the country, so we are especially proud and grateful that they have chosen to make such a meaningful investment in Ohio."

The acquisition is expected to close in the second half of 2018, subject to receiving shareholder and regulatory approval.

5th April
Pennsylvania awards fifth mini-casino licence

Regulators from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) have awarded the state’s fifth mini-casino licence to the Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association following the latest in ten state run licence auctions.

Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, which operates the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Dauphin County, submitted a winning bid of $7.5m to the PGCG in the auction.

Its winning bid secures the location for the placement of a category four casino within a 15-mile radius area of West Cocalico Township in Lancaster County.  Under current Pennsylvania gaming regulations a category four slot machine licence permits the licensed entity to “operate between 300 and 750 slot machines”.

Winning licensees also have the option to seek permission to initially operate up to 30 table games for an additional fee of $2.5m, with the further option of adding an additional 10 table games after its first year of operation.

Earlier this year Mountainview won the state’s first mini-casino licence auction, submitting a $50.1m winning bid  to build a category four casino within a 15-mile radius of the borough of Yoe in York County.

Mini-casino auctions have proved to be very lucrative for the state of Pennsylvania, netting it almost $120m in successful bids, although the project has not been without its hiccups, most notably with the fourth licence award, which was initially awarded to Las Vegas Sands Corporation but later awarded to Greenwood Gaming.

The Las Vegas Sands bid, submitted through its Sands Bethworks Gaming LLC subsidiary  was rejected by the PGCB following the discovery that  it infringed on the 15 mile buffer zone surrounding the third proposed mini-casino, won by the Mount Airy Group.

A further five mini-casino licences are up for grabs, with auctions scheduled every two weeks. The next mini-casino licence auction takes place on 18 April. If some of the licences are unsold within the initial round of auctions, the PGCB have confirmed that a subsequent round of auctions will take place for the remaining unsold licences.

4th April
Kambi Group enjoys 11% revenue growth during FY2017

Sports betting business Kambi Group has revealed an 11% year-on-year rise in its total revenues during the full-year 2017.

Publishing its financial report for the year, Kambi revealed total 2017 revenues of €62.1m, beating the previous 2016 total revenue figure of €56m.

Company EBITDA for the full-year 2017 grew to €16m from a previous 2016 figure of €15.6m, while profits from operations fell from a 2016 high of €8.8m to a full-year 2017 figure of €7.7m.

In addition profits after tax fell 21% to €5.9m from a previous 2016 high of €7.5m.

Speaking about Kambi’s 2017, group CEO, Kristian Nylén, commented: "With four new customers added, four key accounts retained and a prestigious sports betting supplier award won, 2017 will long be remembered as a very successful year for Kambi. It is certainly one I look back on with pride.

“The addition of these new customers means Kambi has won new business in eight consecutive quarters. This is an impressive run and one that I’m glad to say we have kept going into 2018.”

4th April
Rhode Island looking for sports betting partners

Officials from the US state of Rhode Island have invited sports betting companies to submit tenders to run athletics betting at the states casinos, pending a Supreme Court decision on sports betting.

Issuing a request to tender, the Rhode Island Lottery said that it wanted to award an “exclusive contract to provide initial sports betting services” at the states Twin River casinos, potentially with a view to getting it in place by October.

According to reports in the Providence Journal  legalised sports gambling at the Twin River casino in Lincoln and the planned second Twin River casino, which is due to open later this year, could contribute up to $23.5m to the state’s coffers, at least if Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s latest budget proposal is to be believed.

Hedging its bets against a potential full legalisation of sports betting by the Supreme Court the Rhode Island invitation to tender also includes provisos to expand this offering which state “their capability to readily adapt to any future additions to authorised sports betting operations in the state including, but not limited to, remote sports betting”.

Not limiting itself to just athletics related betting, the RIL tender document "includes multiple options to implement other types of sports betting in Rhode Island, if later authorised by the state including innovative and cutting edge options available as sports betting technology grows”.

However, in the first General Assembly hearing on the proposals, members of the House Finance Committee questioned the risk involved in placing such a high proportion of the states forthcoming budget on something which had not been legalised as yet.

Department of Revenue Director Mark Furcolo dismissed these concerns saying: “If the Supreme Court overturns, we have to have sports gambling to remain competitive.”

Furcolo added: “Massachusetts has big gambling entities to run their casinos. They will be able to offer sports betting very quickly.”

3rd April
Virgin buys iconic Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas

UK billionaire and boss of Virgin, Sir Richard Branson has signed a deal to purchase the iconic Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for an undisclosed fee.

The sale which was concluded by Toronto-based commercial property developers Brookfield Asset Management closed on Friday. No disclosure on the financials was made.

Virgin founder Branson will be partnered in this deal by hotel investment firm Bosworth Hospitality Partners, Juniper Capital Partners and Toronto property management firm Fengate Capital Management.

Branson wasted no time in announcing his plans for the site, confirming that he plans to turn it into a fully Virgin branded property by the end of 2019.

Bosworth Hospitality Partners founder Richard Bosworth will become the hotels new CEO, with the property being renamed Virgin Las Vegas.

Speaking about the deal at a lavish press conference on Friday, Branson said: "Virgin Atlantic has had a lot of fun flying tons of people to Las Vegas from Britain for many years. Virgin America has done the same, and we wouldn't have just come to Las Vegas unless we could've found the property that was very Virgin, and I think that's what we've achieved."

The 1,500 room Hard Rock Hotel and Casino first opened in 1995, but in 2006 casino developer Peter Morton sold the property to Morgans Hotel Group Co for $770m.

In the wake of the global financial crash, Brookfield Asset Management assumed control of the property in 2011, following the signing of a settlement agreement with the owners.

Renovations to the property will take place in multiple phases, with Virgin confirming that it will invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” to transform the property.

The first casualty of the Virgin takeover may be the Hotel’s famous neon guitar with Branson claiming that it “may not survive” and that "we have a giant 'v', which is sort of guitar-shaped, which may take over".

29th March
Big Fish Gaming loses court appeal in Washington

Social gaming developer Big Fish Games’s Big Fish Casino has fallen foul of Federal appeals court justices in the US  state of Washington, who have ruled that the social casino constitutes illegal online gambling.

The crux of the ruling centres on the use of virtual chips in casino games such as blackjack, roulette and slots. While the chips have no direct monetary value, players can only continue to play casino games on the site as long as they have virtual chips.  Players can only re-enter the game if they have received free chips or choose to purchase more.

In 2015, Cheryl Kater filed a lawsuit against Big Fish Games previous owners, land based casino operator Churchill Downs, after spending more than $1,000 on Big Fish Casino virtual chips. In her lawsuit Kater argued that the chips represented “something of value” and as such their presence within the game was a direct contravention of a number of Washington state statutes, including the Recovery of Money Lost at Gambling Act (RMLGA) and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

Later in 2016, a judge in Seattle’s US District Court dismissed this assertion prompting an appeal process which culminated in a stunning reversal.

Delivering his ruling Judge Milan D. Smith of the Ninth Circuit US Court of appeals said that “Without virtual chips, a user is unable to play Big Fish Casino’s various games.

 “Thus, if a user runs out of virtual chips and wants to continue playing Big Fish Casino, she must buy more chips to have ‘the privilege of playing the game.’ Likewise, if a user wins chips, the user wins the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino without charge. In sum, these virtual chips extend the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino.”

Summing up, Judge Smith added: “We therefore reverse the district court and hold that because Big Fish Casino’s virtual chips are a ‘thing of value,’ Big Fish Casino constitutes illegal gambling under Washington law.”

At the same time, the court dismissed a secondary assertion that Big Fish Casino players are able to “cash out” on their virtual chips by agreeing to sell them for real money on a secondary market and then transferring them to other users. Judge Smith noted that these sorts of transactions are expressly prohibited by Big Fish Games.

No comment on the ruling has been made by either Big Fish Games or Churchill Downs, which could choose to again appeal this decision and try its luck in the courts.

27th March
GVC/ Ladbrokes Coral deal clears final hurdle in High Court

The multi-billion pound takeover of Ladbrokes Coral by global gaming firm GVC Holdings cleared its final potential obstacle late last night when the UK High Court approved the deal.

Justices in the High Court unanimously voted to approve the £4bn deal, greenlighting the scheme of arrangement between the two companies.

This latest approval follows positive decisions from the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) and shareholders in both firms, who met earlier this month.

Under the terms of the takeover process, Ladbrokes Coral will delist its shares from the London Stock Exchange tomorrow morning, with a concurrent application submitted for 273 million new shares in GVC for trading on Thursday, at a price of €0.01 per share.

Existing Ladbrokes Coral shareholders will receive 32.7p per share and 0.141 in new GVC shares, making the deal worth around £3.2bn.

However shareholders could receive an additional entitlement of 42.8p, which is contingent on the UK governments decision on fixed odds betting terminals. This additional entitlement will push the final acquisition cost past the £4bn barrier.

Should the government decide to proceed with the proposed restrictions on maximum stakes payable, Ladbrokes Coral’s asset value could potentially be reduced, at a cost of almost 1,500 jobs and hitting the profits of the groups 3,500 UK betting shops.

27th March
Kindred wins Belgian VAT case

Belgium’s Constitutional Court has annulled a 2016 constitutional amendment under which online gambling operators would have been required to pay VAT of 21% on their Belgian operations.

Maltese based online gambling operator Kindred Group were among the first to respond to the ruling, saying that “The ruling also points out the inherent incompatibility between consumer protection and tax revenue objectives, especially when products (lotteries vs other products) and channels (retail vs online) are treated differently.”

The Belgian online gambling sector has been regulated since 2010 and in 2016 Belgium’s Finance Ministry successfully passed a bill putting online gambling services under the purview of Belgian VAT laws as a way of increasing economic income. The new taxation regime came into force in August 2016.

Kindred launched a legal challenge against the new legislation, claiming that it was “unfair, undermining policy objectives and lowering channelisation with lower consumer protection as a result.”

Kindred added: “For any gambling policy to succeed and with the “better offer one click away”, locally regulated online operators must be able to provide services of equivalent value to end consumers as services provided by competitors in the global digital world.”

26th March
UEFA and ESSA team up to stop match-fixing in football

European football’s governing body UEFA has announced the signing of an information-sharing agreement with international betting integrity body ESSA (Sports Betting Integrity), a move which it hopes will strengthen UEFA’s campaign to rid football of match-fixing.

Under the agreement, ESSA and its membership of 25 leading sports betting operators will support UEFA’s efforts to identify attempted match manipulation by using the ESSA alert platform, which is dedicated to monitoring, reporting and tracking suspicious betting activity around the globe. 

UEFA has a zero tolerance policy towards match-fixing and current UEFA President, Aleksander Čeferin, has made the fight against match-fixing a major priority. UEFA has developed, and financed, a number of initiatives designed to protect the integrity of the European game.

Among these is the operation of a betting fraud detection system (BFDS), which monitors and analyses betting activities on about 32,000 matches in Europe each year, in both UEFA and domestic football competitions.

UEFA has created a network of integrity officers within the body's national associations, who are liaising with local law enforcement agencies. In addition, UEFA is working together with the European law enforcement agency EUROPOL, as well as other national crime and gambling authorities and also directly with police forces and prosecutors, and runs education programmes for players, referees and coaches to inform and educate them about the dangers of match-fixing. Anyone committing a match-fixing offence can expect to be banned for life from the sport by UEFA’s disciplinary authorities.  

ESSA holds positions on match-fixing and betting policy forums at the European Commission, Council of Europe and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It is driving a number of important initiatives aimed at addressing match-fixing, and is currently involved in a series of anti-match-fixing projects.

UEFA’s Managing Director of Integrity, Emilio Garcia welcomed the signing of the agreement saying: “We are delighted that ESSA will be teaming up with UEFA in our mission to eradicate the manipulation of matches from football, and the exchange of information between trusted partners is a key milestone in this fight.

 “Match-fixing is a disease that threatens football’s soul, and the game must be safeguarded from those who seek to profit from it by criminal means. “

ESSA Secretary General  Khalid Ali added: “ESSA has played a key role in coordinating and focusing the licensed, regulated betting industry’s zero-tolerance approach to the threat of betting-related match-fixing in sport.

“This agreement is further proof of our ongoing commitment to helping all sports authorities maintain the highest levels of integrity.”

26th March
UK Gambling Commission to make online gambling “safer”

The UK Gambling Commission has announced its new action plan to introduce additional regulations, in order to strengthen pre-existing controls and further improve the safeguarding of children online. The announcement, made on Monday, also outlines the commission’s points of review and discussion for the upcoming year.

Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission Chief Executive, explained the need for the new action plan: “Britain has the largest regulated online gambling market in the world and we are continually looking for ways to make it even fairer and safer for consumers”.

The new  proposed changes and actions include: banning operators from providing free-to-play demo games until a consumer’s age has been determined,improving the speed and effectiveness of age verification processes and ensuring that  operators set limits on consumers’ spending until affordability checks have been conducted.

Additional measures proposed include tackling unacceptable marketing and advertising and unfair terms, and improving complaints and disputes procedures while also strengthening requirements to interact with consumers who may be experiencing, or are at risk of developing, problems with their gambling.

The UK Gambling sector has increased its profits by 10% in the last year, reaching a staggering £4.7bn. This is in part thanks to an increase in online gambling participation which now stands at 18.3% of the population, up from 15.5% in 2014.

McArthur added: “The proposals we have announced today are intended to protect children better, reduce the risks to vulnerable consumers and build on the measures we already impose on operators to know their customers and intervene at an earlier stage before consumers experience harm.”

Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport said: "We are committed to ensuring the gambling industry is safe and sustainable. These proposals for additional regulations will strengthen the controls already in place and further safeguard children and vulnerable people from the risks of online gambling."

Its been a busy period for the UKGC, who provided the UK Government with its recommendations on highly controversial fixed odds betting terminals, recommending that the maximum stake on these machines be cut to £2 on slots based games, while also recommending a cut to £30 in the maximum stake on non slots fixed odds betting terminals.  The commission has today also published it long term strategy for the coming year.

Focal points for the commission during 2018, include:  assessing the effectiveness of the current tools available to consumers to manage their gambling, reviewing gambling product characteristics to identify whether particular features pose greater risk of harm than others, reviewing requirements on the protection of customer funds and consider whether there are sufficient protections around dormant accounts.

The UKGC have also confirmed that it is considering whether gambling on credit should continue to be permitted or prohibited.

 

26th March
Per Eriksson departs as CEO of NetEnt

The board of directors of global gaming company NetEnt have announced the departure of its CEO and President Per Eriksson, effective immediately.

In a statement, the company confirmed it called for Eriksson’s resignation “in order to increase focus on long-term growth for the company”.

NetEnt has confirmed that recruitment of a new CEO will commence immediately, however in the interim period, NetEnt’s Chief financial officer, Therese Hillman has been appointed to the additional position of acting CEO.

Responding to the announcement, NetEnt’s Chairman of the Board, Vigo Carlund, said:”NetEnt has developed well over many years and several parts of the business are still developing well, for example in regulated markets, but the overall performance of the Group has not been as it should. The Board believes that NetEnt needs a new driving force to reverse the trend and increase the focus on growth.”

Per Eriksson has been with NetEnt for six years, overseeing a strong period of growth, however in recent months the company has seen more modest financial results. In February, the company announced revenue growth of 4.7% during the fourth quarter of 2017 but also reported a 3.9% downturn in its operating profits, which fell to SEK150m. This, it seems was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the NetEnt board.

Carlund added: “The value creation potential in NetEnt remains significant. The online gaming market has structural growth driven by the migration from offline to online gaming. The Company has a solid balance sheet and a strong brand name in its segment of the market. The Board would also like to extend its gratitude to Per Eriksson for his time as CEO for NetEnt.”

23rd March
Pyrrhic victory for leagues in Kansas sports betting bill

Calls by the NBA and Major League Baseball for an integrity fee to be paid in any legalisation of sports betting by states haven’t fallen on deaf ears in Kansas.

However, although legislators in Kansas have proposed a bill that includes an integrity fee in any possible legalisation package, the fee has been reduced from the 1% that the two sporting associations had been lobbying for to a more modest 0.25% of handle.

Senate Bill 455 authorises the Kansas Lottery organisation to undertake sports betting, giving it licence to do so via lottery retailers, online sites and operating in conjunction with existing state gaming and horseracing facilities.

Under the bill, the leagues may ask for betting on certain types of games and sporting events to be restricted, but they do not have the final say on whether these will take place. This rests with the Kansas Gaming Commission.

In another move which is sure to provoke debate, S455 allows sports betting operators to use any source of data for basic betting, but data used on things like in-play betting can be dictated by the leagues.

Earlier this month, the Kansas state committees for Federal and State Affairs held hearings to discuss the prospect of sports betting.

 At these hearings, representatives from the states two main commercial casinos (Hollywood Casino & Kansas Star) and officials representing the two state owned casinos (Boot Hill & Kansas Crossing) unanimously opposed the leagues proposals to include an integrity fee or any sort of royalty in legislation.

Another two bills concerning the legalisation of sports betting in Kansas are working their way through both houses at the moment, including one which better favours the leagues so it may be a case of pushing for this bill over its more modest cousin.

23rd March
The Meruelo Group receives approval for SLS acquisition

A multi-million dollar acquisition of the ailing SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino by gaming and media company The Meruelo Group has been approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission.

During hearings late on Thursday, Meruelo Group Principal Alex Meruelo unveiled his plans to revitalise and promote the SLS hotel as a must stay destination on the north end of the main Las Vegas strip.

The renovation work would include the addition of new slot machines on the casino floor, enhancements to the existing hotel rooms and a complete redesign of the hotel pool.  

Meruelo Group spokesperson Christopher Abraham said that “The initial idea of what will be invested is up to $100 million over the next couple of years”.

The ultimate aim of these investments will be to revive the fortunes of the former Sahara hotel, which has been on the site since 1947.

Meruelo also confirmed that he may seek to rebrand the SLS following completion of the acquisition from its current owners, Stockbridge Capital Group, however the final purchase price still remains undisclosed at this time.

Abraham added: “We will be using the SLS name for another year and will evaluate our options with the brand moving forward.”

The Stockbridge Capital Group bought the Sahara for $400m in 2007, later closing it for renovations in 2011. Stockbridge has invested $415 million over the last five years to turn the property into a destination for younger visitors, but this has not ultimately panned out for the group.

In November 2017, a group of Chinese lenders sued the SLS over non payment of its portion of the businesses debts, which were later revealed to be approximately $400m of the reported $585m worth of debts.

During the hearings Meruelo confirmed that he plans to pay the Chinese financiers an amount representing the SLS’ equity value over a period of five years, while at the same time agreeing to cover over $140m in debts owed to private portfolio lender Mesa West Capital.

23rd March
Galaxy Entertainment Group buys in to Wynn Resorts

Asia focussed integrated resorts developer Galaxy Entertainment Group has announced the completion of a deal to purchase 5.3 million shares in Wynn Resorts Limited.

The company has agreed to purchase the shares at a price of $175 per share, resulting in a total share spend of over $975m.

In a statement confirming the investment, Galaxy Entertainment Group Vice Chairman Francis Lui said that “This is a unique opportunity to acquire an investment in a globally recognized entertainment corporation with exceptionally high quality assets and a significant development pipeline.”

Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox added: “It is an honour to have such a distinguished company as Galaxy Entertainment as a shareholder which shares many of the same core operating philosophies and values.”

With this acquisition, Galaxy Entertainment Group is now well positioned to launch a push into the upcoming Japanese integrated resort market, which is currently attracting interest from casino developers from around the world.

Wynn Resorts is already a brand name in Macau, where it operates three hotels and the business could use this market exposure as a springboard to enter Japan.

At the same time Wynn Resorts announced that two long term institutional investors in the business have agreed to purchase former CEO Steve Wynn’s remaining 8 million shares in Wynn Resorts also at $175 per share.

The news comes just a day after Wynn agreed to sell 4.1 million of his shares in the business that he ran for over sixteen years, at a purchase price of $716m.

Yesterday’s deal reduced his stake in the business to 7.8%, while today’s deal effectively ends Steve Wynn’s long standing involvement in the company which bears his name.

23rd March
Third time unlucky for Ladbrokes in tax avoidance case

UK bookmaker Ladbrokes has lost its third case at the Court of Appeal over a £71m tax rebate from HMRC, after justices rejected its appeal.

Ladbrokes first fell afoul of HMRC in 2008, when it partnered with accountancy firm Deloitte in a financial scheme which exploited a loophole in existing UK tax laws, hoping to minimise its corporation tax bill.

The move was necessitated by the consolidation of several businesses within the Ladbrokes group into one corporate entity, which would have made the firm liable to pay corporation tax on the consolidated businesses.

Later on in 2008, the loophole in taxation legislation was closed following a governmental review, with all schemes being branded as tax avoidance measures.

HMRC launched a legal case against the group, claiming that it had entered into a purposefully designed arrangement to create the conditions necessarily to generate a fall in the value of the company’s shares.  This move gave the impression that one of the companies in the group had generated a loss, when in reality the business suffered no loss at all.

Following the commencement of this case, Ladbrokes was forced to admit in court that the scheme was designed in such a way to avoid tax, paying a settlement of £71m.

Despite this the company stuck to the belief that it was still operating within the parameters of anti-avoidance guidelines and launched the first of three unsuccessful appeal attempts.

Speaking after the ruling a spokesperson for HMRC told City A.M that “We are pleased that the Court of Appeal supports HMRC’s view that Ladbrokes were attempting to avoid corporation tax. Avoidance schemes like this just don’t work and HMRC will always take firm action against them. HMRC wins nine out ten avoidance cases we take to court.”

Ladbrokes were dismissive of this latest setback, saying that “This was a case regarding taxes already paid and accounted for, so while the case may have been given against us, it has no bearing on our numbers."

22nd March
Wynn reduces stake in Wynn Resorts

Embattled former Wynn Resorts CEO and founder Steve Wynn, who was forced to resign from his role as the companies CEO last month amid sexual misconduct allegations has lowered his shareholding in the casino resort developer.

Wynn sold 4.1 million shares of the company according to a regulatory filing submitted to the securities and exchanges commission. 

This sale reduced Wynn’s stake in the business from 11.78% to 7.8% ending his tenure as the largest shareholder in the company dropping him down to third place. Wynn’s ex-wife Elaine Wynn now holds that title, holding a 9.26% stake in her former husband’s business.

On Wednesday shares in Wynn Resorts Ltd. closed at about $179, making Wynn’s proceeds from the sale worth approximately $716 million.

Due to a prior agreement with Wynn Resorts, Wynn was not allowed to dispose more than one-third of the shares he holds in the company in a given quarter.  

Scattered reports speculate that Wynn Resorts may be taken over by a rival business following Wynn’s departure.

Wynn himself is still facing investigation over the allegations by gaming regulators in three separate areas:  the US states of Nevada & Massachussetts and internationally in Macau, where Wynn Resorts operates a number of hotels.

22nd March
Double thumbs up for Penn National Gaming following approval from regulators

US casino operator, Penn National Gaming has confirmed that it has received approval from both the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the West Virginia Lottery Commission to complete its $2.8bn acquisition of Pinnacle Entertainment.

The transaction, which was first announced in December, will see Penn National Gaming take over Pinnacle’s 16 gaming and entertainment facilities in 11 jurisdictions across the US.

To address any potential concerns about violating US anti-trust laws, Pinnacle agreed to sell four of its Ameristar properties to Boyd Gaming Corp. for $575 million. Concurrent to this deal, Boyd Gaming will enter into a lease agreement with Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc., the landlord for Penn National and Pinnacle.

Upon the completion of the deal Penn National Gaming will own approximately 78% of the combined entity, with Pinnacle owning the rest. As a result of the deal, Penn National will operate a combined 41 properties with about 53,500 slots, 1,300 tables and 8,300 hotel rooms. 

However further regulatory approvals are required before the transaction can be fully completed.

The merger is currently being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, who recently requested a second batch of documents and business information from the two companies.

In a filing with the securities and exchanges commission, both said that they would “continue to cooperate fully with the FTC in its review of the merger” and that “Receipt of the Second Request was factored into the parties’ previously disclosed anticipated timetable for completing the Merger, which the parties continue to expect will occur in the second half of 2018.”

Despite still needing approvals from both regulators and the Federal Trade Commission, Timothy J. Wilmott, Chief Executive Officer of Penn National Gaming remained upbeat: “We are grateful for the prompt review by the PGCB and WVLC of the proposed transaction and are very pleased to have cleared the first regulatory hurdles on the path towards completing our proposed acquisition of Pinnacle Entertainment.

“We look forward to securing additional regulatory approvals in the near term, with our goal remaining to complete the transaction in the second half of 2018.”

Shareholders of both Penn National Gaming and Pinnacle are due to meet on 29 March to vote on matters related to the acquisition.

Wilmott added: “In the meantime, our transition team is making good progress formulating a new organizational structure, which will include a blend of proven and talented team members from both companies, while ensuring we meet or exceed our revenue and cost synergy targets.”

22nd March
ARC acquires majority stake in Vermantia

Arena Racing Company, the largest racecourse group in the UK has acquired a majority stake in multi-channel content solutions provider Vermantia.

The deal sees ARC expand its international distribution capacity through Vermantia’s partnerships 31 countries and agreements with more than 20 major gaming operators. ARC has confirmed that Vermantia Founder and Chief Executive, Filippos Antonopoulos, remains as a shareholder in the business and shall carry on in his executive role.  

Under the terms of the deal Vermantia will continue to be the exclusive supplier of ARC’s portfolio of established greyhound content in a wide range of international markets, including most of South and Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.  In addition, Vermantia will produce and deliver bespoke channels to retail operators as well as distributing additional content controlled by ARC.

Announcing the acquisition ARC Chief Executive, Martin Cruddace, said: “The acquisition of Vermantia fits perfectly with our existing rights portfolio of traditional trusted BAGS greyhound content and premium international content.

“Technological advancements mean that rights’ holders now have the opportunity to work together on both sale and delivery, making the old business model which relied on unconnected third parties, outdated. In our view rights’ holders no longer need to give away value to those third parties and our deals with horseracing and greyhounds in the US, Australia and South Africa demonstrate that proposition.”

Vermantia Founder & Chief Executive, Filippos Antonopoulos, added: “We are excited to have done this deal with the ARC team and look forward to leveraging the great chemistry between our teams to ensure a strong platform for our business.

 “We are looking forward to boosting Vermantia’s product line, enter new markets or expand our presence in existing ones, maintain our focus on our customers’ needs, and take our business to the next phase of a competitive and dynamic presence in the global gaming industry.”

21st March
James Packer steps down as Crown Resorts Director

Billionaire casino mogul, James Packer has announced he will step down as the director of Crown Resorts, citing mental health reasons.

In an emailed statement to Reuters, a spokesman for Packer said: “Mr Packer is suffering from mental health issues. At this time he intends to step back from all commitments.”

Packer had initially resigned from his role as director of the business in December 2015, before returning in January 2017 to replace Robert Rankin, who stepped down. Scattered reports claim that he is currently in the US receiving treatment for anxiety and depression.

It has been a tumultuous period for James Packer, who was most recently questioned by Israeli authorities in his native Australia over a corruption investigation into gifts made by Packer to wealthy supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On the business front, Packer’s Crown Resorts empire has been forced to reduce in size, consolidating its business and entering a period of divestment, which most recently saw the sale of its sports betting business CrownBet, to a consortium led by CrownBet CEO Matthew Tripp.

The company was forced to end its decade long expansion into Asia following the arrest and detention of 18 of its employees by Chinese authorities in 2016.

All employees were later released; however Packer divested his stake in the Melco-Crown joint venture to Melco CEO Lawrence Ho and later on in 2017 was also forced to abandon plans to develop a casino property in Las Vegas, selling the land in a $300m deal to Wynn Resorts.

In a statement confirming the move, Crown Resorts Executive Chairman, John Alexander, said: “We have appreciated James’ contribution to the Board and respect his decision to step down from his role as a director at this time.”

21st March
GVC takeover of Ladbrokes Coral approved by CMA

The multi-billion pound takeover of bookmaker Ladbrokes Coral by rival gambling firm GVC Holdings has been approved by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

It follows a lengthy investigation by the CMA over concerns that there would be ‘a substantial lessening of competition’ in the UK gambling market if the merger was allowed to take place.

Both Ladbrokes Coral and GVC Holdings shareholders approved the £4bn merger last month which GVC CEO Kenneth Alexander called “an exciting opportunity, bringing together industry leading online and retail brands.” However, the final approval for the merger rested with the CMA.

Addressing the competition concerns, the CMA said that: “GVC has a small presence in the UK and only offers services online. The CMA has found that GVC and Ladbrokes are not close rivals and there are many other providers of betting and gaming services online.

“The CMA looked closely at betting services for individual sports and individual games but found that, in all cases, there will be enough rivals to the merged entity to prevent price increases or a reduced quality of service as a result of the merger.”

A key constituent of the merger negotiations was the UK Governments expected clampdown on fixed odds betting terminals, which are currently form a large part of the income from Ladbrokes retail premises.

On Monday the Gambling Commission released the results of its twelve week consultation, calling for a cut in the maximum stake to £2 on slots style fixed odds betting terminals while also cutting the maximum stake in non slots fixed odds betting terminals to £30.

These recommendations have not been adopted by the Government, but could be seen as a happy medium between more stringent measures which adversely harm the gambling industry and being seen to be addressing the damaging effects of these controversial terminals.

Provisional estimates state that Ladbrokes Coral could lose over 3,000 shops in the UK at a cost of 1,500 jobs with any cuts. GVC Holdings factored these rumoured cuts into their offer for the business, with its final purchase price expected to fluctuate as a result.

20th March
888 Holdings reports 4% group revenue growth in FY2017

Gaming and online casino operator 888 Holdings has revealed a 4% year-on-year rise in its group revenues for the full-year 2017.

Announcing its full set of financial results for 2017, the company reported group revenues of $541.8m, surpassing the $520.8m reported during the full-year 2016.

Drilling down into individual business areas, revenue from B2C operations increased by 6% year-on-year from $460.2m in 2016, to a figure of $486.6m in 2017.

Revenues from the companies sports based operations grew by a whopping 45% year-on-year during 2017, rising to $75.5m in 2017 from a 2016 figure of $51.9m.

Casino revenues also grew by 4% during 2017, rising from a 2016 high of $282.1m to a figure of $293.9m.

888 Holdings revenues were hit by over $50.8m in exceptional charges during 2017, $45.3m of which was related to prior VAT matters while a further $5.5m was paid to the UK Gambling Commission in connection with fines relating to its business practices.

Adjusted EBITDA jumped 12% year-on-year to $100.7m during 2017 from a figure of $90.2m during 2016, while adjusted EBITDA margin increased to 18.6% during 2017.

Despite the hit taken by the groups revenues, 888 CEO Itai Frieberger remained upbeat, releasing a statement saying: “888 has delivered another year of progress achieving record revenues of US$541.8 million and a 12 per cent increase in Adjusted EBITDA. The Group’s growth was driven by further expansion in Casino, Sport and across regulated markets.

“This very robust outcome was achieved despite the Group’s withdrawal from certain markets during the year and demonstrates 888’s resilience and agility that is underpinned by first-class technology and an outstanding team.”

In January 888 Holdings announced the launch of its debut Italian poker site, 888poker.it, to supplement its existing casino and sports betting offerings, while its operations in Spain contributed over 12% of the groups revenue, which was primarily driven by growth in casino and sports brands.

Frieberger added: “The Group continues to gain momentum in Sport where revenue increased an impressive 45%. Current trading since the start of the year is in line with our expectations with average daily revenue 6% above the previous year, representing an 8% increase when adjusted for the withdrawn markets.

“888 is a resilient and diversified operator with scalable proprietary technology. The Group has a number of significant growth opportunities ahead and the Board is confident of another year of operational progress.”

 

 

20th March
Jackpotjoy gaming revenue up 14% during FY2017

Online lottery betting and gaming company Jackpotjoy has revealed its gaming revenue rose by 14% year-on-year during 2017.

Announcing its results for the full- year, the company reported 2017 gaming revenues of £304.6m, surpassing the £266.9m generated during 2016.

The company has confirmed that this rise in gaming revenues was primarily down to 12% growth in the Jackpotjoy segment of the business and 28% growth in the Vera&John segment.

Adjusted EBITDA increased by 6% during the year, however adjusted net income decreased 9% year-on-year due to higher net interest costs.

Jackpotjoy generated a record £101m of operating cash flow in 2017, which equates to 22% growth year on year, while its adjusted debts reduced from the £408.1m reported in 2016 to a healthy £387.3m in 2017.

In terms of individual business areas, Jackpotjoy accounted for 69% of group revenue while it’s Vera&John and Mandalay brands accounted for 24% and 7% of group revenue respectively.

Accompanying the results was a statement from Jackpotjoy Executive Chairman Neil Goulden, commented: “The record financial results we achieved in 2017 reflect the dedication, ambition and work ethic present in employees across the business.

“As an organisation, we are committed to delivering the best customer experience across all our gaming verticals. We also strive to represent the highest standards of consumer best practice in our industry. This is underpinned by wholehearted support for the ethos of responsible gambling and proactive monitoring of player behaviour.

“We are confident of our prospects for growth against a healthy market backdrop in global online gaming and determined to ensure we present an entertaining, fun and responsible environment for our customers to enjoy."

15th March
Google to ban cryptocurrency advertising

In a move which is sure to provoke controversy, web giant Google has announced that advertising of cryptocurrencies will be banned on its platforms from June 2018.

Announcing its new restricted financial products policy, the company has moved to institute a ban on “cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice)", in addition to banning advertising on binary options and synonymous products.

No reason for the ban was given with the new codes, however reports on the BBC website claim that Google “decided to act because it felt there was a lack of appropriate consumer protections for highly speculative and complex trades.”

The decision by Google comes almost two weeks after Bank of England Governor Mark Carney called for cryptocurrencies to be brought onto the same “level regulatory playing field” as the rest of the financial services industry.

On Tuesday, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde authored a blog which stated that "The rapid growth of crypto-assets, the extreme volatility in their traded prices, and their ill-defined connections to the traditional financial world could easily create new vulnerabilities.

"We must welcome their potential but also recognise their risks."

In addition, affiliates and advertisers offering contracts for difference, rolling spot forex, and financial spread betting will be required to be certified by Google before they can advertise through AdWords, with certification only being available in certain countries.

To be certified, advertisers will need to be licensed by the relevant financial services authority in the country or countries they are targeting, ensure their ads and landing pages comply with all AdWords policies and comply with relevant legal requirements, including those related to complex speculative financial products.




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