News In Brief: June 17-June 21, 2024

June 21, 2024
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Another UK Conservative politician is embroiled in a growing betting scandal, Boyd makes a bid for Penn, Bovada blocks Michigan residents and Zimbabwe's home affairs minister warns against illegal gambling.
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UK Conservative Gambling Blunders Mount
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A second prospective member of parliament for the UK’s Conservative Party is under investigation for placing bets on the timing of the country’s general election, according to a report by the BBC.

Laura Saunders, who is the Conservative candidate in Bristol North West, joins fellow candidate and former aide to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Craig Williams, in the spotlight.

Both are reportedly under investigation by the Gambling Commission over fears they may have placed bets on when the election would be called based on insider information.

A third individual, who is a member of Sunak’s close protection team, has also been arrested for allegedly placing bets on when the election would be called.

The revelations come in the same week that the Conservatives ran a now-deleted social media ad that parodied charity GambleAware.

An image of a roulette wheel featured a warning to “Be Labour Aware”, in the same style as the “Be GambleAware” warning that is included on many gambling ads in the UK.

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Report: Boyd Gaming Makes Acquisition Approach To Penn Entertainment
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Boyd Gaming has approached Penn Entertainment to acquire the gaming company, according to a report by Reuters on Thursday (June 20).

Shares of Penn gained $1.8, or 9.93 percent, to close at $20.04 after Reuters reported the potential acquisition. Boyd’s shares closed down $1.07, or 1.99 percent, to $52.68. 

Last week, Truist Securities analyst Barry Jonas wrote in a research note that Penn was unlikely to abandon its operational plan and explore a sale.

“Despite the activist letter (from Donerail), we don’t think any sort of formal strategic review at Penn is likely in the near term,” Jonas wrote. “We also not Penn is one of the most efficient land-based operators in our coverage, which limits any low hanging operational synergies.”

Jonas cited several reasons for Penn not pursuing a takeover by Boyd, including a clear ESPN BET product roadmap and higher/volatile interest rates still having an impact over merger and acquisition activity for now.

Boyd would also need approval of any deal from Walt Disney, which through its sports network has a betting partnership with Penn.

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Bovada Blocked In Michigan
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About three weeks after the Michigan Gaming Control Board issued a cease-and-desist letter, offshore sportsbook and casino Bovada added Michigan to the list of states that cannot access the website.

Michigan is the seventh state to be added to Bovada’s blocked list. The other states are Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York. 

Curaçao-based Harp Media B.V. operates Bovada.com and Bovada.lv.

Connecticut on Thursday (June 20) confirmed its state's Department of Consumer Protection sent a cease-and-desist letter dated June 14 to Bovada. 

The two-page letter, authored by Kristofer Gilman, director of the Gaming Division, cited Bovada for violating several statutes by operating in the state without a license. 

“The department, therefore, orders Bovada to cease and desist advertising and offering its games and services to Connecticut customers,” Gilman wrote. “Bovada must also continue to allow all Connecticut customers to withdraw any fund currently held by Bovada.” 

Gilman noted that failure to comply may result in additional action including, but not limited to, civil penalties or criminal penalties. 

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Zimbabwe Illegal Gambling Poses 'Serious Risk'
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Zimbabwe’s home affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe has warned that the country will take enforcement action against illegal gambling after his office noted several casinos in the country operating without a licence. 

Kazembe told local media that illegal gambling poses a “serious risk” to society, adding that the country will use the full effect of the law, including possible jail sentences, as he urged the public to report any suspected illegal activity. 

“Working with key enforcement agencies in the country, the Lotteries and Gaming Board will take the most robust enforcement action against any illegal operations. This will result in the immediate shutting down of any illegal casinos, gaming shops, or other betting facilities, as well as the prosecution of those responsible,” Kazembe said.

 

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Missing Poker Pro Ordered To Pay $3m To Ponzi Scheme Victims
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The Queensland Supreme Court has ordered a professional poker player to pay more than $3m to victims of an apparent betting syndicate Ponzi scheme that mostly targeted members of Australia’s poker community.

In a default judgment, the court ordered Marley Wynter to pay A$4.8m ($3.2m) to 11 plaintiffs for losses incurred after investing in Marley’s House of Sport, a financial investment platform purportedly targeting sports betting and horseracing, PokerMedia Australia reported on Tuesday (June 18).

Wynter remains unaccounted for after disappearing late last year, the A Current Affair television programme reported in April.

Unable to serve papers on Wynter, counsel for the plaintiffs applied for a default judgment, and it is not clear if or how they can secure their compensation.

Marley’s House of Sport closed down and left many more investors adrift in January 2023, seven months after leading poker industry figure Craig Abernethy set up a Facebook group warning the poker community against Wynter’s unregistered operation.

Marley won almost A$431,000 in a World Poker Tour Australia event in September 2022,  four months after the Facebook group was established.

Criminal investigations into Wynter's operation are underway in Queensland and at least one other Australian state.

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Caesars Closes WynnBET Michigan Deal
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Caesars Entertainment confirmed Tuesday (June 18) that it has closed its previously announced deal to acquire WynnBET’s internet gaming market access rights in Michigan. 

The deal also includes a long-term extension of iGaming market access rights with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The tribe own and operate Kewadin Casinos, which consist of five land-based casinos in the state.

Caesars will assume the existing platform under the WynnBET brand with no anticipated interruption to the customer experience. The Las Vegas-based gaming company expects to announce a new online casino brand and transition WynnBET to its Michigan iGaming platform in the second half of the year, pending regulatory approvals.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Wynn Resorts announced in August 2023 that it would be shutting down its WynnBET online sports betting and iGaming businesses. The company sold its New York mobile sports-betting license to Penn Entertainment for $25m less than a week before announcing the Caesars deal in Michigan in February.

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New Jersey Creates Responsible Gaming Task Force
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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed Executive Order No. 360 on Tuesday (June 18) to create a Responsible Gaming Task Force for the state.

The decision to create the task force followed a 2023 report from the Rutgers University Center for Gambling Studies that estimated 6 percent of New Jersey residents were at high risk for problem gambling, which was significantly higher than the national average of 1 to 2 percent. 

“This task force will see to it that we maintain our global leadership in gaming by ensuring that we have the tools needed to address problem gaming for our residents,” Murphy said in a statement. 

Murphy supported the task force’s creation to review multiple areas of problem gambling, including the effect on vulnerable communities in the state. A final report is scheduled to be submitted to the governor’s office on March 31, 2025. 

The governor expects to use the report’s recommendations for policy changes to address the issue of problem gambling in the state. New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin will serve as chair of the seven-member task force, which will also include the director of the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement.

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India's GST Council To Consider Quashing Back Taxes
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India’s Goods and Services Tax Council (GST Council) law committee has recommended cancelling retrospective claims for unpaid or under-paid tax, a move that would slash up to $12bn owed by online gaming companies.  

The proposed amendment, if taken up by the GST Council at its meeting on Saturday (June 22) and passed by the legislature, would disallow retrospective claims by governments and taxpayers, the Economic Times reported on Wednesday.

Unnamed sources familiar with the proposed amendment of the Central Goods and Services Tax Act 2017 told the newspaper that the government would “not recover the GST not levied or short-levied as result of general practice” of official tax assessors.

Online gaming companies have been slugged with extraordinary, ruinous back claims in excess of a combined 1trn rupees ($12bn) after the government imposed a 28 percent GST on the volume of initial customer deposits instead of gross gaming revenue.

The Directorate-General of GST Intelligence (DGGI) has since issued numerous delinquent tax notices across the gaming industry, including a combined $2.8bn notice to listed land-based and online casino company Delta Corp.

This application of the GST on gaming companies, including online gaming, land-based casinos and horseracing, is being examined by the Supreme Court of India, which could overturn the tax regime.

The case is on appeal from the Karnataka High Court, which ruled against the DGGI in favour of online gaming company Gameskraft Technologies in May 2023 after the DGGI slapped the company with a $2.6bn delinquent tax bill.

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Singapore Jails Tenth Felon In Huge Money Laundering Case
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The last of ten defendants in a massive online gambling-linked case of money laundering in Singapore has been sentenced to 17 months in jail after pleading guilty.

Su Jianfeng, a Vanuatu national of Chinese origin, was sentenced on June 10 over possessing more than S$550,000 ($406,000) in funds derived from criminal activity, as well as forgery, fraud and several other charges.

He was ordered to forfeit some S$179m in assets, including luxury goods and vehicles, real estate and cash.

Su’s sentence was the last and heaviest among the ten felons, the remainder of whom received jail terms of 13 to 16 months after pleading guilty to involvement in the S$3bn case. All were Chinese nationals or former Chinese nationals.

However, police are pursuing at least another 17 suspects, and may further question family members and partners of the defendants, as well as corporate connections linked to their money laundering operations, the state-controlled CNA news website reported on Sunday (June 16).

As with other defendants, Su Jianfeng testified to running online gambling operations out of Malaysia and the Philippines before basing himself with the other associates in upmarket parts of Singapore.

Two of the other defendants — Zhang Ruijin and Lin Baoying — have emerged as persons of interest in an ongoing Philippine investigation into an online gambling and cyber-scamming operation relying on forced labour that was raided in March.

Zhang and Lin were business partners in the company that owned the precinct in Tarlac Province, north of Manila, along with local mayor Alice Guo, who is set to be criminally charged by the Philippine Presidential Anti-Organised Crime Commission for links to illegal online gambling.

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DC Lottery Director Resigns
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Frank Suarez has resigned to take a job as president and CEO of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation (CLC), a spokeswoman confirmed Friday (June 14).

Suarez’s resignation as executive director of the District of Columbia Office of Lottery and Gaming (OLG) comes after the DC Council voted 9-4 on June 12 to uphold proposed budget language to create a competitive mobile sports-betting market in place of the current monopoly model run via the lottery.

“Frank Suarez has provided excellent leadership as the executive director of the Office of Lottery and Gaming over the last three years,” said spokeswoman Natalie Wilson.

His last day with OLG is July 31, she said. The CLC confirmed Suarez’s appointment following an extensive nationwide search that started nearly a year ago.

Suarez will replace Greg Smith on August 1. Smith will assume the position of special consultant to assist with the transition before officially retiring at the end of September. 

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Another UK Conservative politician is embroiled in a growing betting scandal, Boyd makes a bid for Penn, Bovada blocks Michigan residents and Zimbabwe's home affairs minister warns against illegal gambling.

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