News In Brief: November 15-November 19, 2021

November 19, 2021
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British police warn against a growing trend of lottery fraud and Maryland issues delayed sports-betting licenses.

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Fraudsters Scam £1m From UK Lottery Players

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Fraudsters are taking advantage of UK lottery draws to trick people into handing over money and personal information, police have warned.

Victims have lost almost £1m to lottery fraudsters during the past seven months, Action Fraud and City of London Police said.

Criminals contact victims informing them they have won a lottery or prize draw but must pay an "advance fee" to receive their winnings. The winnings are non-existent and criminals attempt to steal the victim's money or personal and financial information.

Detective chief inspector Craig Mullish of City of London Police said: "Criminals are experts at impersonating organisations and will mimic a number of well-known prize draws to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.”

Action Fraud received 629 reports of lottery fraud between April and October 2021, with 89 percent of cases mentioning well-known prize draws. Impersonation of the People's Postcode Lottery accounted for half of all reports.

Seventy percent of victims were aged over 50, with over-65s making up 40 percent of reports.

More than half of victims were contacted by telephone, while one in five received an email and 10 percent received posted letters. Almost half of victims said they were asked to pay the advance fee to release the alleged winnings by purchasing gift cards and relaying codes to the fraudster.

Other victims provided their bank details after being told they would receive a small payment to verify their account.

People's Postcode Lottery managing director Clara Govier said: "People's Postcode Lottery will never ask for any kind of payment to claim a prize, you can't win if you don't play, and we don't offer discount cards.”

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Maryland Approves First Five Retail Sports-Betting Licenses

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After several weeks of deferrals that drew criticism from the state’s governor and gaming regulatory body, Maryland’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) has awarded retail sports-betting licenses to five state casinos.

The commission voted 5-2, with some commissioners visibly voting in favor begrudgingly, to approve licenses Thursday for Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill and Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin.

The SWARC had delayed its decision among concerns from members that granting the casinos licenses and allowing them to launch sooner would give them a head start and immediately disadvantage minority- and women-owned businesses right from the beginning, despite a state law designed to give said businesses an equal playing field.

However, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency already qualified the casinos as suitable to offer sports betting and were effectively named in the state's sports-betting legislation as entitled to a license.

Some commission members argued that even if they continued to delay issuing licenses for an additional month or two, the result would be the same, and that an equal starting point for retail betting would be a significant wait.

“We’re excited to move forward, and we’re coordinating closely with the casinos to make sure they finish everything as quickly as they can,” said Maryland lottery and gaming director John Martin. “Work has been ongoing, and we’re close."

“Our target is to launch within 30-45 days, which means Marylanders will be able to bet on the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl,” he added. “We couldn’t be happier about that.”

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Playtech Gets Third Acquisition Approach

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Playtech said it has received a preliminary approach from JKO Investments, following bids from Aristocrat Leisure and Gopher Investments.

Playtech’s announcement follows a Sky News story which said that JKO co-owner Eddie Jordan is part of a group planning a £3bn bid for the London-listed online gambling software company.

Last month, Australia’s Aristocrat Leisure said it would buy Playtech in a £2.1bn bid, which was followed by a takeover offer from Hong Kong-based Gopher Investments, Playtech’s second-biggest shareholder.

In response to JKO‘s preliminary bid, Aristocrat said in a statement that it continued to work together with Playtech to complete the proposed acquisition, adding that the regulatory approval process was on track.

JKO, controlled by former Formula 1 team owner Jordan and Keith O’Loughlin, an ex-executive at U.S. slot machine maker Scientific Games, is seeking to acquire all of the shares in the company, Playtech said.

There can be no certainty of completion of a deal, Playtech said.

JKO is in talks with New York-based Centerbridge Partners L.P. to provide institutional debt and structured capital funding, Playtech said.

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Indiana Awards Churchill Downs Gaming License

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The Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) has selected Churchill Downs to develop a casino in the city of Terre Haute in Vigo County, a decision that due to ongoing settlement talks with Lucy Luck Gaming did not allow commissioners to award the license Wednesday.

Churchill Downs, which plans to invest $190m in the project, was awarded a certificate of suitability. The gaming company projects its casino will produce $638.9m in gross gaming receipts in the first five years.

Vigo County’s gaming license application was re-opened in June after regulators denied renewal of Lucy Luck’s license for a planned casino in Terre Haute, which has been delayed due to forced ownership changes.

On Monday, the commission rejected a settlement offer from Lucy Luck. The company had been appealing the IGC’s decision not to renew its gaming license for the Terre Haute casino.

In June, the commission rejected Lucy Luck’s renewal saying the company did not have an executive team in place to oversee the project. The commission also said casino operations were not fully funded.

The IGC had four different proposals to choose from to replace Lucy Luck. The four were from Full House Resorts, Hard Rock International, Premier Gaming and Churchill Downs.

During its meeting, the IGC heard 30-minute presentations from each of the four companies, followed by questions from commissioners. Any applicant receiving four or more votes advanced to the final round, according to the IGC.

In the first round of voting, the commission eliminated Hard Rock and Premier Gaming. WTHI-TV reported that Full House and Churchill Downs each received six votes.

The final commission vote was 7-0 for Churchill Downs, which came after a 5-2 vote failed to award Full House the license.

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Evolution Faces Black Market Allegations

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Evolution has denied reported claims by private investigators working for an unnamed commercial rival that they were able to access the supplier’s games from countries on the U.S. sanctions list, such as Iran, Syria and Sudan.

A report by Bloomberg said that lawyers for the clandestine rival had sent a letter to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, where Evolution is licensed, outlining the findings.

In comments to Bloomberg, Evolution denied the allegations, although it said it has yet to see them in full.

“Evolution strictly complies with all applicable laws and regulations,” Carl Linton, head of investor relations, said.

The company said it only sells its games to operators with valid licenses in markets where online gambling is legal.

“We have no direct relationship with the underlying player and no involvement in handling of players’ money,” Linton said.

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India's Top Court, Odisha High Court To Hear Online Skill Gaming Suits

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A gambling-hostile state government’s appeal to India’s Supreme Court and a high court appeal in one of the nation’s most conservative states are poised to expedite legal and regulatory outcomes for online skill gaming.

Bruised by a scathing Madras High Court ruling in July that quashed legislation banning online gaming with stakes, the Tamil Nadu state government has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, the G2G gaming news website reported on Saturday.

The Tamil Nadu move, which has delayed tabling of revised legislation, provides the apex court with the most visible opportunity yet to confirm that the legality of land-based skill gaming extends to the online space.

Separately, the operator of social gaming, fantasy sports and skill gaming platform WinZO Games on Tuesday sued the government and police force of eastern Odisha state over blanket gaming bans deriving from its Prevention of Gambling Act 1955.

The suit by TicTok Skill Games Private Ltd and the company’s co-founders will be first heard on February 14, G2G cited Kalinga TV as saying.

Elsewhere, a battle in the Karnataka High Court between that state government and numerous industry heavyweights is under way after officials responded to court demands for legislative clarity by banning all online gaming with stakes, including skill games.

The latest legal manoeuvres reiterate just how important India’s courts have become for the online gaming industry in a largely hostile or indifferent legislative environment.

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KSA On The Hunt

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The Netherlands Gambling Authority (KSA) has said it will use its beefed-up enforcement powers to go after 25 websites it believes are still offering unlicensed gambling in the Netherlands.

The regulator announced on Monday it had identified 25 websites that were breaking Dutch law, but did not name the culprits.

From November 1, the KSA has been granted extra powers to punish wayward operators, including by issuing greater fines.

Even operators passively allowing Dutch players to gamble on their platforms should have switched off all access from the Netherlands after October 1, when the country’s licensed online gambling market came into being.

The late decision to ban even a passive approach to the Netherlands came as a surprise to those operators that had been following the KSA’s targeting rules, but that are still waiting for a licence due to infractions during the long “cooling-off period”.

The KSA said that under its new enforcement strategy it would focus first on the illegal operators that accepted the most number of Dutch players.

It also warned that advertisers and payment service providers connected to unlicensed operators would also face enforcement action.

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Wynn Terminates SPAC Deal For Online-Betting Subsidiary

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Wynn Resorts and billionaire investor and sports-team owner Bill Foley’s special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) on Friday terminated their $3.2bn deal to take the gaming company’s online wagering subsidiary public.

That agreement between Austerlitz Acquisition Corp.’s Austerlitz I and Wynn Interactive is terminated immediately, according to a Wynn Resorts filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“With our continued rollout of product features and planned new state launches, including New York, we remain excited about WynnBet’s future,” Craig Billings, CEO of Wynn Interactive, said in a statement.

Billings reaffirmed comments first made last week as part of a Wynn Resorts investor call that in light of elevated marketing and promotional spend in the U.S. sports-betting industry, Wynn would be reducing its own customer-acquisition spend in order to a more targeted return on investment.

“In so doing, we expect the capital intensity of the business to decline meaningfully beginning in the first quarter of 2022,” Billings said of Wynn Interactive.

Foley, who also owns the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights, did not comment Friday on Wynn’s decision to terminate the deal or any potential new acquisition targets for Austerlitz.

Austerlitz went public in February, raising $690m. SPACs, also known as blank-check companies, are publicly-traded shell companies to take another company public.

SPACs raise money from public investors in IPOs, but they only have two years to find a company to merge with or they must liquidate and return cash to shareholders. Other U.S. online gambling operators to have gone public via a SPAC include DraftKings, Rush Street Interactive and Golden Nugget Online Gaming.

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Nebraska Gaming Commission Releases Final Casino Rules

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The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission published final draft regulations for casino gaming on Friday, setting the stage for the rollout of slots, table games and sports betting at six established racetracks.

The 67-page set of draft rules are set to be formally approved by regulators on December 17, before undergoing final review by the state governor and attorney general’s offices.

Nebraskans approved a series of ballot measures in November 2020 to authorize casino gaming at racetracks. Lawmakers enacted implementing legislation earlier this year.

The draft regulations set out application criteria and licensing requirements for racetrack owners, casino partners and suppliers, with providers of gaming machines and other technologies required to be licensed as a gaming-related vendor subject to fee of up to $5,000 every three years.

Other subjects addressed by the regulations include approval and shipping of gaming equipment, internal controls, accounting and reporting, and responsible gaming.

The regulations also specify that Nebraska racinos will be subject to state clean-air laws and will have to be smoke-free.

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British police warn against a growing trend of lottery fraud and Maryland issues delayed sports-betting licenses.

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