News In Brief: December 6-December 10, 2021

December 10, 2021
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Bet-at-Home Austria enters administration, Buenos Aires launches online gambling and NagaCorp wins social award despite firings.

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Bet-at-Home To Restructure Austrian Subsidiary

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CORRECTION 12:20 - Updated to reflect that the Austrian unit is being restructured, not put into administration.

Bet-at-Home said it is restructuring its Austrian subsidiary, in an apparent response to legal claims for reimbursement for player losses.

The Frankfurt-listed online gambling company said it was cutting 65 jobs as part of a plan to “adjust the group's cost structure to the lower revenues”.

In October, the Frankfurt-listed online gambling company said it was withdrawing from the Austrian market in response to an Austrian Supreme Court ruling that held that online casino companies are illegal and player contracts are invalid.

The company set aside €24.6m to settle player lawsuits, steps that will push the company into EBITDA losses for the year. It had operated in Austria since 1999.

The announcement gave few details, but the overall company, part of France’s Betclic Everest Group, said it is still “very well positioned for positive economic development”.

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Online Gambling Begins In Buenos Aires

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Legal online gambling began in Argentina’s capital city of Buenos Aires on Thursday (December 9) as several operators, including Codere and Betsson, launched online casino and sports-betting operations.

Boldt’s Bplay and BetWarrior partnered with Intralot also launched local websites in the city, according to reports by local gaming industry news service Yogonet.

In a statement, Nasdaq-listed Codere Online said the launch in the City of Buenos Aires was a “fundamental milestone” in its strategy to expand its operations beyond Colombia, Mexico, Spain and Panama to other markets.

The Betsson.com.ar website has been launched through a partnership with local land-based casino operator Casino de Victoria.

Thursday’s launch in Buenos Aires followed a recent report in Argentina’s prominent La Nacion newspaper that authorities in both the capital city and neighbouring province of the same name agreed to delay the debut of legal online gambling until after October’s mid-term elections.

Both the city and province of Buenos Aires approved bills to regulate online gambling in late 2018, but with significant differences in their laws. Unlike the city, the number of licences in the province is capped at seven, with partnerships of Boldt and 888, Betsson and Casino de Victoria, and others involving Flutter and bet365 all selected late last year.

The provinces of Mendoza, Corrientes and Santa Fe have also approved laws or decrees for online gambling, while Cordoba is currently considering legislation.

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Brazil Senate Debates Casinos As Lower House Works On Broader Bill

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The Brazilian Senate’s committee on economic development held a public hearing on Thursday (December 9) on a measure to legalize casinos exclusively within integrated-resort complexes.

As introduced by Senator Irajá of Tocantins state, Senate Bill 4495/2020 would authorize Brazil’s federal government to license a single casino-resort in each of Brazil’s 26 states and federal capital district of Brasilia.

Casinos have been banned in Brazil since the 1940s, with bingo halls briefly legalized during the 1990s but most other forms of gambling currently remaining unregulated.

“From the models that we have studied across the world which work and which bring positive results, the integrated-resort model is unquestionably the successful model,” Irajá said, adding he hoped the Senate would approve a casino-only bill early in 2022.

Thursday’s hearing came on the same day a special committee in the lower house of Brazil’s Congress was supposed to advance a much broader bill to regulate various gambling verticals.

That committee was established by Chamber of Deputies Speaker Arthur Lira in September with a 90-day window to develop legislation to regulate gambling in Brazil.

A rough draft of the legislation was published in late November, with committee members understood to still be discussing the final details of the proposal.

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NagaCorp Receives ;Social Caring' Gongs After Sacking 1,300 Staff

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Casino operator NagaCorp’s Cambodian flagship NagaWorld received two “social caring” awards from a UN-linked Hong Kong NGO, despite sacking more than 1,300 staff over pandemic losses.

NagaWorld received the “Outstanding Social Caring Organisation Award” and the “Social Caring Award for Green Excellence” from the Social Enterprise Research Academy (SERA), a “high-value networking platform that fosters social responsibility and sustainable development in Asian communities”, according to the SERA website.

NagaCorp CFO Sean Tan accepted the awards during SERA’s Social Caring Pledge Awards ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on November 22.

The ceremony came just two months after NagaCorp’s retrenchment program that removed all union officials and most unionised workers, triggering protests outside the NagaWorld precinct and scrutiny from the International Labor Organization.

More than 370 involuntarily retrenched workers are planning another protest for December 18 and are urging company staff to strike, independent Cambodian media outlet VOD reported on November 24.

Established in 2014, SERA is a signatory to the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) scheme, whose principles include awareness of corporate social impacts, and whose website promotes the protection of “workers’ rights through the COVID-19 crisis”.

SERA’s active management team is dominated by political, corporate and educational heavyweights in Hong Kong, but its honorary office holders include former UN Global Compact (Mexico) chairman Gustavo Berlanga and former World Trade Organization deputy director Jésus Seade.

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Odds Ad Censured In Netherlands

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The Netherlands Gambling Authority (KSA) has issued a warning about misleading advertising, after spotting what it viewed as infringing marketing practices in the newly-opened online market.

Specifically, on a website listing football odds, clicking a link caused a consumer to “unsuspectingly” end up on the website of a licensed betting operator.

“This form of advertising is prohibited,” said the KSA, citing a legal requirement for gambling marketing to be “careful and not mislead”.

The regulator did not name the website or the licensee involved, but said it had ordered it to remove the ad.

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New Name For Sazka

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International lottery operator Sazka Group has renamed itself Allwyn.

The company said its various sub-brands would remain unchanged, including its lottery operations in Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus and Italy.

Allywn, owned by Czech billionaire Karel Komárek's firm KKCG, is among the companies bidding for the next UK National Lottery concession.

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Mexican Operators Facing Further State Tax Squeeze

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At least two Mexican states are proposing to create or increase taxes on gambling operations as part of their annual budget laws for 2022.

The state government of Nuevo Leon, which includes the city of Monterrey, has proposed a new levy of approximately $3,000 for every gaming machine in the state’s network of gambling halls, while also increasing a current tax on players’ gambling expenditures from 10 percent to 15 percent.

Meanwhile, the governor of Chihuahua is also proposing a new tax on casinos in her budget proposal, reportedly increasing an existing tax on player expenditures from 3 to 10 percent.

Additional gambling taxes could also be considered in the state of Tamaulipas, according to reports.

At least ten states plus the federal capital district of Mexico City have applied some layer of local taxation to federally-regulated gambling halls through their budget laws of years past.

The latest proposal in Nuevo Leon is being met by protests from operators of upscale gaming halls that offer slot machines, table games, sportsbooks and bingo.

A spokesman for a local association of gambling operators in the state warned that the higher taxes would not actually equate to greater revenue for the government, as they would partly be paid by players who would likely gravitate to unregulated gaming venues instead.

“The risks of the clandestine market outside of the law are underage players, security conditions and outside of the law they don’t pay taxes or abide by hygiene regulations,” the spokesman for the operator association told local media outlets including Milenio during a press conference this week.

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Esports Gambling Ad Rebuked

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The Advertising Standards Authority has deemed a UK ad for esports betting irresponsible.

Dribble Media, which trades as Midnite, was censured for an ad encouraging players to bet on the video game CS:GO.

The ad included a screenshot of a tweet which read: “I’m so hooked on CS:GO bets rn I’ve been making the craaaaaziest [sic] calls.”

The use of the term “hooked”, in particular, was viewed by the watchdog as encouraging harmful play.

Dribble Media said that the marketing was created by a third-party agency that had not followed its social media policy and that it had ended its business relationship with the agency over the breach.

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Colombia Gambling Group Calls For Investigation Into Goal Gone Viral

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Colombian gambling association Fecoljuegos has called for an investigation after soccer players of one team in the country’s second division apparently allowed their opponents to score a goal that resulted in their promotion to the Dimayor premier league.

In stoppage time of their match on Saturday, various players for Llaneros appeared to make no effort to stop Unión Magdalena from scoring a crucial second goal to win the game 2-1 and secure promotion to the top flight after a rival team lost.

Colombian international and Juventus star winger Juan Cuadrado was among those who tweeted a video of the goal, bringing it to instant international attention.

Fecoljuegos, which represents both land-based and regulated online gambling operators in Colombia, noted Colombian sports-betting operators two years ago reached an integrity agreement with Dimayor and called on “corresponding authorities” to set a precedent by taking action against those involved in the “presumed irregularities”.

“This situation damages the reputation and good name of an important sector that involves the league, the football teams, the professional players, sponsoring companies and thus sports-betting operators,” it said.

Both the Dimayor and its second division are sponsored by leading online sports-betting operator BetPlay, while Unión Magdalena is sponsored by WPlay.

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Macau Regulator Orders Junkets To Cease Credit For VIPs

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Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) has reportedly instructed the city’s junket operators to stop issuing credit to gamblers, a move that would spell doom for the junket segment in its current guise.

Bernstein analysts led by Vitaly Umansky on Monday wrote in a client note that the “regulator had instructed junkets to stop offering credit to customers (and only allow cash play)”, citing “local sources”.

If confirmed, the order would come closest to a fatal blow for a junket segment already reeling from Saturday’s arrest of Alvin Chau, owner of the once-dominant junket Suncity, and a top court ruling that found Wynn Macau liable for half of a junket’s debts in the wake of the latter’s misconduct.

Credit services are an essential component of VIP segment business. Junket credit allows mainland Chinese gamblers to avoid breaching the law by carrying large sums of cash across the border or transferring cash by electronic means in excess of mainland China’s tight limits.

The DICJ was not available for comment, but instructions of such gravity are often released by the regulator without public notice or confirmation.

The Bernstein note reiterated earlier reports that Wynn Macau is closing down junkets at its two casinos, and that “others are in process of shuttering junket operations”.

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Colombia Consults On New Responsible Gambling Requirements

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Colombian gambling authority Coljuegos has opened a consultation on a draft resolution to impose formal “minimum guidelines” on responsible gambling for both online and land-based gaming operators.

Among other things, Colombia’s 17 concession-holders for online gambling would be obliged to appoint a responsible gambling officer and publish a formal responsible gambling policy on their websites.

Within six months of the resolution's adoption, online operators would have to offer a self-assessment test to all players, maintain a self-exclusion register to be shared with Coljuegos, and provide tools allowing players to set their own time, spend, deposit and loss limits.

Operators would also have to implement training policies and abide by new guidelines on advertising similar to those of various international markets, including restricting the use of celebrities or influencers unless they promote responsible gambling.

In its draft resolution, which was published on Friday but had been anticipated for several months, Coljuegos said the minimum standards were necessary to promote gambling as an “entertainment alternative” and “guarantee the sustainability of the games of chance sector and its perception within society, recognising that the community needs to understand the actions taken to promote responsible gambling”.

Comments on the 12-page draft resolution can be submitted until December 10.

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Ghana Budget 2022 Includes Mobile Payment Levy

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Ghanaian lawmakers have approved the country’s budget for 2022, introducing a new Electronic Transaction Levy that will cover all mobile money payments, bank transfers, merchant payments and inward remittances.

The new 1.75 percent is aimed at widening the “tax net” and roping in the “informal sector”, according to the 2022 Budget which was approved by parliament on November 30.

The sender of the payment will be responsible for the new cost, which means it will affect people using these services to gamble.

Ghana’s new tax will come into force on February 1, 2022. Transactions that add up to GH¢100 (€14.57) or less per day will be exempt from this levy.

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Wynn Macau To Lock Out Junkets, Shutter Direct VIP: Report

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Wynn Macau may be the first of Macau’s six main casino operators to end VIP gambling operations following the arrest of Suncity junket supremo Alvin Chau last weekend.

The Chinese-language gaming news website allinmedia.com.hk reported on Monday that Wynn Macau will close all junket and self-operated (direct) VIP gaming rooms, and cease agreements with junket operators, on or before December 20.

The report did not name its source or sources, or confirm reasons for the decision.

Company vice chairman and COO Linda Chen declined to comment on possible VIP room closures when journalists asked her about the matter on Monday.

In late November, Wynn Macau was ordered by Macau’s top court to compensate a VIP gambler whose funds with the now-shuttered Dore junket could not be redeemed following a $90m heist at the hands of a senior junket employee in 2015.

Suncity has shuttered all of its Macau VIP rooms in the wake of Chau’s arrest, though it is not clear if the measure is temporary or permanent.

The court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Wynn Macau should pay back half of the HK$6m ($770,000) in funds claimed by the gambler, along with splitting costs and interest amounting to HK$3.65m.

The arrest of Suncity’s Chau and ten other suspects, together with a court ruling that magnifies operator exposure to junket malfeasance, have imposed a likely unbearable burden for the operator-junket relationship ahead of a tender for new casino concessions.

Wynn Macau did not respond to a VIXIO GamblingCompliance request for comment at publication time.

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Bet-at-Home Austria restructures, Buenos Aires launches online gambling and NagaCorp wins social award despite firings.

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