News In Brief: December 13-December 17, 2021

December 17, 2021
Industry's good works trumpeted in UK trade group report and Maryland scraps official league data plan.


BGC Backs Industry CSR Credentials


The Betting and Gambling Council (BGC) has published a report outlining what it says are the large financial contributions its members make to charities and the wider economy.

Alongside work to promote diversity and tackle problem gambling, the BGC says its members contribute £7.7bn to the economy on top of a £4.5bn tax bill.

“Across the board, we see examples where members and their employees are making a real difference to the lives of others, through their support for the post-pandemic recovery, their backing for local communities, charities and grassroots sports clubs hit hard by the pandemic, their commitment to inclusion and diversity and their determination to tackle climate change,” said Michael Dugher, the group’s chief executive.

Donations highlighted in the report include £10m given by the foundation of bet365 boss Denise Coates to University Hospital of Northern Midlands and the Entain Foundation’s pledge to invest £100m worldwide on grassroots sport, responsible gambling, health and community projects.


Maryland Removes Official Data Requirement From Sports-Betting Rules


The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission on Thursday approved amended emergency regulations for sports wagering, removing a proposed requirement for operators to use official league data to settle all bets.

Proposed sports-betting rules were adopted on an emergency basis in July but the requirement to use only official league data for all types of bets received fierce criticism from prospective operators during a subsequent consultation basis.

The new amendments will allow operators to use any data sources approved by the commission.

Other amendments to the regulations approved on Thursday include banning so-called “runners” from placing in-person bets on behalf of other people, allowing access to Maryland sports-wagering accounts from out-of-state provided bets cannot actually be placed, and setting new guidelines around software change management.

The emergency regulations are currently in effect but will expire in late January, by which time regulators expect to adopt the rules on a permanent basis.

Legal sports betting launched in Maryland last week at three land-based casinos, with two additional sportsbooks set to open at Churchill Downs’ Ocean Downs Casino later today and at Penn National’s Hollywood Casino Perryville next week.

Also on Thursday, the commission found the Greenmount Station off-track betting venue in northern Maryland to be qualified to receive a sports wagering license. Greenmount Station is the third OTB to receive a licensing recommendation and is one of 17 named entities eligible to receive a retail sport wagering license under Maryland’s legislation enacted earlier this year.

Competitive licensing processes for 30 additional retail and 60 mobile licenses are expected to be staged in 2022.


Chicago Approves Retail Sportsbooks At Sports Venues


Five of Chicago’s professional sports franchises will be allowed to offer sports betting at their home stadiums under a measure approved Wednesday (December 15) by the city council that lifts the city’s wagering ban.

The Sports Wagering Ordinance will allow each venue to apply for a sports-betting license and imposes a 2 percent tax on gross revenues from sports betting in Chicago. Those revenues are already subject to a 15 percent state tax and a 2 percent Cook County tax.

The measure had support from owners of the city’s professional sports franchises and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Tom Ricketts, chairman of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs, spoke during public comments Wednesday in support of the ordinance. He reminded councilmembers that these sportsbooks were not “mini casinos.”

“They will not have slot machines, cards games, roulette or table games,” Ricketts said. “These sportsbooks will, however, have a large and positive impact on the city.”

Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, has already announced a partnership with DraftKings and could open a retail sportsbook by the end of 2022.

Ricketts reminded the council that this ordinance would generate significant tax revenue.

“As you know this ordinance will unlock [millions] in tax revenue to rebuild Illinois, much of which will go to benefit the city of Chicago,” Ricketts said. “Other taxes generated at the local level will go to benefitting our city as well.”

Chicago’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department estimates sports betting will generate $400,000 to $500,000 in tax revenue annually on revenue of between $20m and $25m per year.

“As shown by the experience in other jurisdictions, this will not have an economic impact on any potential future Chicago casino … nor will this ordinance impact the city from having discussions about finding the best long-term strategy for gaming,” Ricketts said.


888 To Sell Bingo Operations to Broadway Gaming


888 Holdings said it has agreed to sell its B2B and B2C bingo business to Saphalata Holdings, part of Broadway Gaming, to focus on its consumer-facing and American businesses.

888 said it will receive $50m, plus a potential $4m in earnout over six months.

The mostly UK-facing bingo unit generated $65m in revenue in 2020 and EBITDA of $7.4m, the Gibraltar-based online gambling company said today (December 15).

Pre-tax loss in 2020 was $76.4m, with a goodwill impairment charge of $79.5m, the company said.

888 chief executive Itai Pazner said the company decided to sell its bingo business after a strategic review.

“This strategic transaction will enable 888 to further increase its focus on its core platform and unified, scalable and proprietary technology, and grow our key product verticals of casino, sport and poker,” he said.

Dublin-based Broadway’s brands include Butler Bingo and Dotty Bingo, and it has an office and a gambling licence in Malta.

The deal closing is dependent on the restructured bingo business receiving a UK Gambling Commission licence, which is expected in the second quarter of 2022, 888 said.


Malta-Based Operators Lose Swiss Gambling Challenge


Four foreign online gambling operators have lost a challenge to the Swiss online gambling licensing system and the Federal Gaming Board, according to Reuters news service.

The Swiss Federal Administrative Court ruled against Malta-based Interwetten International, Videoslots, Bet-at-Home and Lopoca Gaming, who were challenging the country’s 2019 licensing system and seeking to gain access to Switzerland’s online gambling market, the news agency said.

"It goes without saying that the restriction of access to online gaming services that are not licensed in Switzerland is in the public interest and can be enforced with strict measures," the court said, according to Reuters.

The court ruled that website blocking is compatible with Swiss law, according to the Volksblatt website.

The rulings could be appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.

The Swiss system requires online gambling websites to be tied to land-based casinos.


Dutch Regulator Asks Licensees To Check Self-Exclusion Listings


The Netherlands Gambling Authority (KSA) is asking all gambling licensees to check registration of players who signed up between October 2 and October 20, looking to see if their listings with the CRUKS self-exclusion programme have been properly registered.

The KSA said it is getting reports that players still have access to gambling websites although they registered with the nationwide central database.

Before the 20th, mistakes in entering data were not automatically flagged by cross-checking built into the system, the regulator said.

Snags in the CRUKS system delayed some operators from launching from October 1 and minister Sander Dekker has said that the system was not fully implemented until October 20.


Codere Completing Restructuring Plan


Spain’s stock exchange regulator has granted a request to suspend trading in the shares of gambling operator Codere from the end of this week, as the company completes a complex restructuring process.

Madrid-listed Codere S.A. is being dissolved after an emergency general meeting on Friday saw approval of an agreement that will see the operating company transferred to a new entity in Luxembourg 95 percent controlled by Codere bondholders.

As part of restructuring, bondholders have agreed to inject €225m into the operator of bingo halls, casinos and gaming machines in Spain, Italy, Argentina, Mexico and various other Latin American markets. Company debt will be reduced by €397m.

Codere’s interactive division was previously spun off in a separate transaction and taken public on Nasdaq last month following its merger with a Mexico City-based special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

Codere Online could also soon be joined on the Nasdaq by chief Spanish rival Cirsa.

Private equity owner Blackstone is preparing for an initial public offering of shares in the Catalonia-based gambling operator, which competes with Codere in Spain, Italy and Latin America, as soon as April 2022, according to a report last week in Spain’s Cinco Dias business newspaper.

Blackstone values Cirsa at approximately €3bn and has hired investment bank Lazard to advise on the transaction, Cinco Dias reported.


Betway Fined In Sweden For Unauthorised Bonus Offers


The Swedish Gambling Authority (Spelinspektionen) has fined and reprimanded Betway for unauthorised bonus offers in response to its marketing campaign offering a 200 percent matching bonus.

In Sweden, operators are only allowed to offer bonuses at registration.

Betway was fined 100,000 kronor (€9,737) with the authority weighing mitigating factors, including that the violation was only over a short period of time and Betway took corrective steps as soon as it learned of the problem, the authority said.

The violation is considered "less serious" and a "remark" could be considered sufficient punishment, the Swedish regulator said.


Unibet Financial Failure In Denmark


Kindred-owned Unibet has been reprimanded by the Danish Gambling Authority over a series of large deposits accepted without proper due diligence, the regulator said on Monday (December 13).

The authority said the company had violated the terms of the Danish Money Laundering Act after a player deposited DKK1.4m (€188,000) between 2016 and 2018 without Unibet having a full understanding of their source of funds.

It was not until December 2018 that the operator asked for proof of the origin of funds, discovering that the player was wagering more than they could afford, the regulator said.

However, the same player was then allowed to despite another DKK1.8m (€242,000) between 2019 and April 2020, when his account was closed.

Unibet has been ordered to “notify the Money Laundering Secretariat” of the situation, but has otherwise received no penalty, according to the authority’s statement.


MGM Selling Mirage Operations To Hard Rock International


MGM Resorts International has reached an agreement to sell the operations of The Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to Hard Rock International for $1.075bn in cash, the company announced Monday (December 13).

“This transaction is a significant milestone for MGM Resorts, and for Las Vegas,” Bill Hornbuckle, president and CEO, said in a statement. “As a part of the team that opened The Mirage in 1989, I know first-hand how special it is, and what a great opportunity it presents to the Hard Rock team.”

In their own statement, Hard Rock officials said the acquisition of the Mirage operations will allow the company to build an “iconic guitar-shaped hotel which will be located on the famous Las Vegas Strip.”

Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, said Hard Rock plans to build a full integrated resort on the 80-acre center Strip location.

Prior to 2020, Hard Rock had no previous involvement with the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The company, which is owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, purchased the licensing and naming rights for Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in May 2020.

Under terms of the deal, MGM will retain The Mirage name and brand, licensing it to Hard Rock royalty-free for a maximum period of three years while it finalizes its plans to rebrand the property.

The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2022, subject to regulatory approvals.

At the close of the transaction, MGM Resorts’ master lease will be amended to reduce the annual rent by $90m. VICI Properties is The Mirage’s property owner.

MGM expects net cash proceeds after taxes and estimated fees to be approximately $815m.

Built by former casino executive Steve Wynn, The Mirage opened in 1989 on the site formerly occupied by the Castaways, which closed in 1987 to make room for the resort. MGM acquired the property in 2000.


Chicago City Council To Vote On Sports Betting


A Chicago committee on Monday approved a measure to allow Chicago’s five major sports stadiums to open up sports betting in and around their facilities, setting up a vote by the full council as soon as later this week.

The ordinance was approved by a 19-7 vote of the Committee on Zoning and License. The full City Council is now expected to vote on the measure on Wednesday.

Should the council approve the measure, Illinois will join Arizona and Washington, D.C. among the jurisdictions with legal in-stadium betting.

Wrigley Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs, has already announced a partnership with DraftKings and could open a retail sportsbook by the end of 2022.

Sportsbooks would be limited under the ordinance to 15 betting windows per location, and the city would collect a 2 percent tax on gross revenues from sports betting. That is in addition to the 15 percent state tax and 2 percent Cook County tax.

Chicago officials expect sports betting to generate $400,000 to $500,000 in tax revenue annually on revenue of between $20m and $25m per year. Operators would pay an initial licensing fee of $50,000 and an annual fee of $25,000.


Iowa Off The Legislative List For Online Gaming In 2022


Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, said state lawmakers may debate legalizing online gaming but not during the 2022 legislative session that begins next month.

“I would say … it’s now in the embryonic stages,” Ehrecke said of any discussion about online gaming.

Currently, there are six states — Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia — that have legalized online casino games. Nevada only approved online poker in 2013.

“We are going to watch that with interest,” Ehrecke said. “We don’t envision any legislation coming forward, but if it is, we’re going to be neutral. We have some of our members that support looking at it, there are others that are opposed.”

Ehrecke said the issue of online gaming is going to need to evolve over the “next year or two before any serious legislation or consideration would happen.”

Iowa approved mobile sports betting in August 2019. Ehrecke said legalizing online gaming would not lead to the end of brick-and-mortar casinos in the state.

“It's not just gaming,” Ehrecke said. “It's the dining, the hotels, the golf courses, the comedy clubs, a variety of things that are within a casino, plus the concerts and conventions. We have really created premier entertainment destinations in 19 places.”

Ehrecke discussed the issue on Friday during an appearance on Iowa Press on Iowa PBS.

When asked what the pros and cons are to online gaming, Ehrecke said the local casino industry has not really “gotten into a lot of that because we didn’t envision that there would be legislation coming forward this year.”

But Ehrecke said there would be questions from lawmakers on whether online gaming affects brick-and-mortar revenue. For the 2020-2021 fiscal year that ended on June 30, the 19 state-licensed casinos had revenue topping $1.5bn.

“Is it going to be something worthwhile like when we're having our blizzards in the wintertime and things like that?” he said of other policy questions likely to arise. “So there's just a variety of things and how to structure it properly. And just where is the appetite of Iowans and the legislators and everyone to want to have this as an option?”


Gambling Interests Spending Millions On Florida Petition Drives


Two political action committees (PACs) trying to get gambling expansion initiatives onto the November 2022 ballot spent more than $10m apiece last month trying to collect signatures, according to filings with the Florida Department of State.

Florida Voters in Charge, the Las Vegas Sands-supported PAC seeking voter approval to build a casino in the northern part of the state, spent $11.44m in November. Since June 1, the PAC has collected more than $28.06m and spent $27.44m, according to campaign finance reports.

So far, Las Vegas Sands has contributed $27.06m to the campaign, while the Poarch Creek Band of Indians in Alabama donated $1m.

A second proposal, supported by DraftKings and FanDuel, would allow for state-wide mobile sports betting. Their PAC, known as Florida Education Champions, spent $10.54m last month for a total of $26.76m, while raising $37.19m since June 1.

Florida finance data show DraftKings has contributed $22.71m and FanDuel $14.48m to the campaign, with the rest of the $37.19m raised from individuals and businesses in the state.

As of Monday, the secretary of state’s office reported that Florida Voters in Charge had 175 valid signatures, while supporters of Florida Education Champions have garnered 172,837 valid signatures. Each campaign needs 891,589 verified signatures to qualify for the November 2022 state-wide ballot.

Both of the initiatives are opposed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates the majority of the state’s gaming industry. The tribe halted its own sports-betting operations after a three-judge panel voted 2-1 to reject the tribe’s appeal to continue operating pending further appeals.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. last month tossed out the entire gaming compact negotiated by the tribe and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that included state-wide mobile wagering with the servers based on tribal land.


Finland Problem Gambling Figures Drop


Rates of gambling harm have fallen in Finland to 1.8 percent of the adult population, according to data collected by monopoly operator Veikkaus.

A survey conducted between October and November this year suggests that rates had fallen from 2.6 percent a year ago.

“The number of people experiencing problems with the self-control of gambling seems to have gone down in the survey carried out in autumn 2021, with the margin of error accounted for,” said Tuomo Turja, research director at Taloustutkimus, the firm contracted to carry out the survey.

“Slot machine gambling has decreased according to our survey, and that, in particular, seems to be directly connected to the reduction of problem gambling,” said Turja.

This marks the first time that the figure has fallen below 2 percent since 2017.

Veikkaus said it will be adding a mandatory annual loss limit of €15,000 to all of its accounts from the start of 2022, in addition to the current voluntary loss limit system.

However, it noted that “professional bettors” can apply for an exception.

“To obtain an exemption, the bettors must show a winning balance for an observation period of the three previous years and their betting turnover must exceed 500,000 euros,” the operator said in a statement.

Reforms to Finland’s gambling laws, including the introduction of payment blocking, have stalled after a scathing report by a government committee.


Dutch Gambling Operators Must Adopt New Addiction Warning


The Netherlands Gambling Authority (KSA) said gambling operators must have a new mandatory warning in place by April 1.

The new warning, “Wat kost gokken jou? Stop op tijd. 18+”, or “What does gambling cost you? Stop in time. 18+”, replaces an earlier warning, “Play consciously. 18+”.

The slogan, mandated in the Online Gambling Act, is aimed at preventing gambling addiction and was produced under the direction of the Trimbos Institute, the regulator said.

The KSA said it will monitor compliance with the requirement.


Fertitta Ends $8.6bn SPAC Deal To Take Golden Nugget Casinos Public


Tilman Fertitta’s Fertitta Entertainment has reached a settlement to pull out of an $8.6bn deal with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) FAST Acquisition that would have allowed the owner of Golden Nugget casinos to become a publicly traded company.

Fertitta Entertainment, the parent company of the Golden Nugget casinos and the Landry’s restaurant group, agreed to pay as much as $33m to end the planned merger with the SPAC that was formed last year, the companies announced Friday.

“At the end of the say, we ultimately determined that the right decision for my company was to remain private at this time, and I look forward to continuing to grow our business both organically and in-organically,” Fertitta said in a statement.

SPACs raise money from investors in initial public offerings, but they only have two years to find a company to merge with or they must liquidate and return cash to shareholders. FAST Acquisition went public in August 2020.

The company said it will continue to pursue merger partners.

“Through this settlement we ensured that we are sufficiently capitalized to seek new a new target and we continue to maximise value for our shareholders,” said Doug Jacob, founder of FAST.

Fertitta’s Golden Nugget Online Gaming business was acquired by DraftKings in August in a deal that valued the company at approximately $1.56bn. The merger with DraftKings happened less than a year after Golden Nugget Online Gaming was itself taken public through a merger with Landcadia Holdings II, another SPAC.

The termination of the Fertitta merger with FAST is not the first SPAC deal involving a gaming company to fall apart. Wynn Resorts and blank-check company Austerlitz Acquisition Corporation called off their $3.2bn deal last month to take the company’s online betting subsidiary public.


Suncity Terminates Junket Operations


Former leading Macau junket Suncity has closed for good, according to a company letter released late last week.

In an unsigned letter to staff on Friday, the Suncity junket said operations terminated that day and that it would work with the Macau authorities to ensure an orderly transition for staff and on other matters.

The letter cited suspension of its operating agreements by unnamed casinos and legal proceedings after Macau’s arrest of company boss Alvin Chau as reasons for the closure.

At its peak, Suncity was far and away the most powerful and globally influential junket in the industry, generating enough volume in its ubiquitous VIP rooms to match Macau’s smaller casino concessions.

Suncity Group Holdings, the junket’s affiliated listco on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, continues to operate, although its prospects are bleak after the fall of Chau and the collapse of his Macau cash cow.


Industry's good works trumpeted in UK trade group report and Maryland scraps official league data plan.

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