News In Brief: November 28-December 2, 2022

December 2, 2022
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Blackstone selling its stake in two Las Vegas casinos for a huge profit, New York bill to make regulator consider amending racing gambling rules, Ontario bans UFC betting over integrity concerns and Maryland grants initial approval for two online sports-betting operators.

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Blackstone Sells Stake In Las Vegas Casinos

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Blackstone Inc. has agreed to sell its 49.9 percent stake in two Las Vegas casinos less than three years after acquiring the properties in a complicated transaction with MGM Resorts International, which allowed the gaming company to retain ownership of the casino business.

The New York investment firm will sell its stake in the MGM Grand Las Vegas and Mandalay Bay to VICI Properties, which owns the other 50.1 percent stake in the properties. Blackstone will receive $1.27bn in cash, and VICI assumes Blackstone’s share of $3bn in debt that matures in 2032, the firm said in a statement Thursday (December 1).

“We like this deal as it simplifies VICI’s structure and highlights VICI’s multiple paths for growth despite the company’s larger base and a rising interest rate environment,” Barry Jonas, a gaming analyst with Truist Securities, said in a research note Thursday.

The MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay will have a total cash rent of $310m upon the next escalation in March 2023 and has a remaining lease term to 2050 with two ten-year renewal options. VICI will see an additional $155m of rent post-transaction close, which is expected early in the first quarter.

Blackstone has found Las Vegas to be profitable in recent years.

The firm purchased the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in 2014 for $1.73bn and then sold it earlier this year for $5.65bn, while The Wall Street Journal reported the latest sale would bring a profit of more than $700m for Blackstone in less than three years of ownership.

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WynnBet, Bally’s Gain Initial Approval In Maryland

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State gaming regulators in Maryland granted initial approval to two more applicants for mobile sports betting licenses on Thursday (December 1).

The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission approved Bally’s Corp. and WynnBet, a subsidiary of Wynn Resorts, for mobile licenses.

The next step for the companies is approval from the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), which is expected on December 14.

Seven mobile sports betting apps began taking wagers on November 23. Three additional sportsbooks — Betfred, Parx, and Fanatics — have received licenses, but have still not launched in Maryland.

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Ontario Bans UFC Betting Over Integrity Concerns

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Betting on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has been banned at Ontario sportsbooks due to integrity concerns.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) on issued its decision Thursday (December 1) ordering registered entities to stop offering and accepting wagers on the UFC “due to non-compliance with AGCO’s betting integrity requirements.”

“This is not a decision we take lightly, knowing the popularity of UFC events in Ontario’s sports books,” said AGCO CEO Tom Mungham. “However, the risks of insider betting on event and wagering integrity should be highly concerning to all. certainly, is to us.”

The AGCO’s standards include rules to safeguard against odds manipulation, match-fixing and other sports betting integrity issues, including events being efficiently supervised by a sport governing body.

In announcing its decision, the agency said that the “UFC does not prohibit all insiders from betting on UFC events, which could include an athlete’s coaches, managers, handlers, athletic trainers, medical professionals, or other persons with access to non-public information.”

In recent weeks., the AGCO said it has learned of publicized alleged incidents, including possible betting by UFC insiders, as well as reports of suspicious betting patterns in other jurisdictions.

VIXIO GamblingCompliance has reached out to the UFC for comment.

The AGCO’s decision comes about three weeks after a suspicious betting movement forced the UFC to issue a statement denying anyone involved in the fight between Darrick Minner and Shayilan Nuerdanbieke, or anyone associated with their teams behaved in an unethical or irresponsible manner.

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New York Bill Targets Sportsbook Bonuses

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A one-page bill was filed in the New York state Senate on Thursday (December 1) that directs gaming regulators to “promulgate rules and regulations regarding predatory sportsbook bonuses in mobile sports betting.”

Senate Bill 9605 seeks to have the New York State Gaming Commission consider amending the racing, pari-mutual wagering and breeding law to implement regulations for deposit matching, risk-free betting, free money, free bets, site credits and profit boosts.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Pete Harckham, a Democrat, sites recent reporting by The New York Times that analyzed the impacts of mobile sports betting across the country and the common practices used to lure in new customers.

New York launched mobile sports betting on January 8, 2022. Harckman’s bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Rules.

“New gamblers are often drawn in with marketing campaigns citing ‘free bets’ or even ‘free money,’” according to a summary of the bill. “Sportsbooks often give away free bets, not just upon signing up for the site, but sometimes as a trigger response as a reward for betting many times or as an incentive to return.”

Harckham noted that other countries such as the United Kingdom have limitations upon when advertisements for “free betting” or other predatory sports betting tactics can be aired, and Canada has prohibited them all together.

“Across the country, the enforcement of mobile sports betting rules and regulations has been haphazard, with punishments often light or non-existent, according to a New York Times survey of dozens of state gambling regulators.”

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UK Penalises Aspire Global for AML Failures

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The UK Gambling Commission has penalised and officially warned AG Communications, trading as Aspire Global, £237,600 for failures in anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing policies.

In addition, the regulator attached conditions to the licence of AG Communications, which is based in Malta, the Gambling Commission said.

The commission said that Aspire was “unable to demonstrate that it had carried out appropriate due diligence checks on six third-party businesses it had entered into white-label partnerships with”.

Aspire runs 66 websites under a “white label” arrangement, including atlanticspins.com, billioncasino.com, casinoluck.com, generationvip.com, kingcasino.com, mrmega.com and slotzo.com, the commission said.

In a white-label arrangement, a licensed operator runs a gambling business using the branding of another business.

The conditions on Aspire’s licence include due diligence checks on the businesses it has partnered with, the regulator said.

In June, NeoGames acquired Aspire Global for 4.3bn Swedish krona (€393m) in a cash and shares deal.

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DraftKings, Churchill Downs Form Horseracing Partnership

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DraftKings is launching a new betting vertical, DK Horse, utilising odds and technology from Churchill Downs (CDI), the companies announced Tuesday (November 29).

The multi-year partnership will allow DraftKings to offer advance deposit wagering (ADW) through CDI’s subsidiary, TwinSpires.

DK Horse will launch as a separate app, with a wallet distinct from DraftKings sportsbooks, internet gaming, and fantasy product. The company plans to merge them at a later date.

Financial details were not disclosed.

“Due to the structure of the agreement, we expect this new product offering to be immediately profitable,” Jason Robins, CEO and chairman of DraftKings, said in a statement.

DK Horse is expected to be available initially in 21 states, pending all necessary licensing and regulatory approvals, and is scheduled to launch ahead of the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby in May 2023.

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U.S. Tennis Coaches Sanctioned For Betting Sponsorships

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U.S. Davis Cup team coaches Mardy Fish and Bob Bryan were fined $10,000 apiece and handed four-month bans after promoting a gambling operator on social media, the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) announced Monday (November 29).

Both Fish and Bryan co-operated fully with the investigation and removed the posts immediately.

The ITIA said the bans will be enforced only if there is another breach by Fish or Bryan during the fourth-month probationary period that began on November 11.

Fish told the Associated Press on Tuesday that they did a DraftKings promotion during the U.S. Open this year that “we were unaware we weren’t allowed to do.”

Under the tennis anti-corruption program, anyone covered by the sport’s rules is not allowed to directly or indirectly, facilitate, encourage and/or promote tennis betting.

Fish and Bryan have also agreed to work with the ITIA to assist with education and prevention initiatives to highlight the importance of integrity in the game, the agency said.

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ASA Report Reveals Underage Social Media Gambling Ad Exposure

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The UK advertising watchdog has found gambling ads were seen more than any other type of age-restricted ad during its age monitoring sweep of 11- to 17 year-olds personal devices across websites and on four social media platforms.

The Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) "Children’s exposure to age-restricted ads online" report is based on its panel comprising 97 11- to 17 year-olds, as well as 1,000 survey respondents from the same age group.

The social media platforms monitored were Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

In total, the ASA looked at 11,424 ad impressions and found 435 ad impressions for alcohol, gambling and other age-restricted ads from 91 different advertisers that were served to 46 children. This accounted for 3.8 percent of all impressions.

Of these age-restricted ads, 269 gambling ones were served by 24 advertisers to 41 children.

This compared with 86 ad impressions served by 44 alcohol advertisers to 19 children, the second worst offending category.

Of particular concern to the ASA is the fact that 73 impressions for age-restricted ads from 30 advertisers were served to ten children with a self-reported registered age as under-18 on social media platforms or websites likely to attract a large under-18 audience.

Of the 73 impressions: 31 were served by 16 alcohol advertisers to five children. Some 37 gambling ad impressions were served by ten advertisers to nine children.

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Ukraine Shuts Down Another 1xBet Website

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Ukraine’s gambling regulator, KRAIL, has shut down another 1xBet brand with a Ukrainian IP address.

KRAIL said the website ceased operating after it sent a request to “stop the illegal activity”.

Following requests from KRAIL, five websites operating under the 1xBet brand have already been blocked.

The regulator will continue to monitor compliance with its current blocking requirement.

Earlier this year, the Russia-backed company was allowed to operate in the Ukrainian market despite the ongoing invasion.

After this was reported in local media, the public demanded the regulator take action.

Initially, KRAIL said it did not have enough evidence to prove Russian links to 1xBet, but later decided to cancel the bookmaker’s Ukrainian licence.

Following the controversy, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, called for the closure of KRAIL.

Fedorov wants gambling licences to be awarded to local operators through an automated electronic system instead of by officials at the regulator.

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Dutch Regulator Warns Over Cashback Bonuses

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The Netherlands Gambling Authority (KSA) has told its licensees to stop offering cashback bonuses, a kind of marketing that is banned in the Netherlands.

Cashback bonuses, in which a player gets back part of their losses, can contribute to taking more risks, such as betting higher amounts or playing more often, the regulator said.

Advertising or marketing is forbidden to “encourage immoderate gambling”, the regulator said.

In a letter sent to licensees but not mentioned in the KSA press release on November 29, but seen by CasinoNieuws, licensees were reportedly told to remove such promotions by December 5 or face enforcement action.

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New Jersey Assembly Approves Online Casino Co-Branding Bill

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New Jersey’s Assembly has unanimously passed a bill that would require online casino skins to “prominently display” the name of their affiliated Atlantic City land-based casino on their websites as well as in any advertising.

Bill A.402, which was approved by the lower house of the state legislature in a 74-0 vote on November 21, would require the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to adopt formal regulations to enforce the restriction.

To become law, the bill also must be approved by the New Jersey Senate and be signed by Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat.

If approved, the measure would appear to align New Jersey with co-branding provisions already required for online casinos in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and West Virginia.

New Jersey state policy allows each Atlantic City casino to partner with up to five individual platforms, or skins, for internet gaming.

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Nevada Governor-Elect Taps Gaming Regulator As Chief Of Staff

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Ben Kieckhefer, a former Republican state senator and Nevada gaming gommissioner, has been chosen to be Republican Governor-elect Joe Lombardo’s chief of staff.

“Ben has dedicated his life and career to the service of Nevadans, and there is no one more qualified or better prepared for this role,” Lombardo said in a statement on Monday (November 28).

Kieckhefer served as a member of the Nevada State Senate for three terms. He was first elected in 2010 but resigned shortly before he termed out to take a seat on the commission in October 2021.

During his time in office, Kieckhefer advocated for regulatory reform and supported gaming regulations, including introducing legislation creating the Esports Technical Advisory Committee to the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB).

“I’m honored to join governor-elect Lombardo’s administration,” Kieckhefer said in a statement. “I’m confident this administration will deliver innovative solutions and historic victories for our great state.”

Kieckhefer will resign from the commission when Lombardo takes office in January. Besides replacing Kieckhefer, Lombardo will also need to replace Brin Gibson who stepped down as chairman prior to his term expiring in January.

NGCB member Philip Katsaros’ term also expires at the end of January. He has not announced whether he will seek reappointment to another term on the control board.

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Paraguay Awards Daruma Sam SA Sports-Betting Licence

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Paraguay’s regulator (Conajzar) has extended its exclusive licence to operate sports betting for the next five years with operator Daruma Sam SA.

According to Conajzar, Daruma Sam was awarded the contract “because it meets the criteria of experience, economic solvency, and infrastructure”.

The competition for the contract included B-Gaming Sucursal Paraguay, together with Gambling SA, and businessman Luis Carlos Alder Benítez.

Daruma Sam SA tried to have Gambling SA disqualified for having a presence in Argentina; however, Gambling SA appealed on the grounds that it also has a branch that operates locally.

In its decision, Conajzar wrote that both of the failed offers did not meet the specifications and requirements of the tender, although both of them offered a higher cut of revenue (at 23 and 27 percent) than Daruma Sam (22 percent).

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Macau Grants Casino Concessions To Current Operators, Rejects Genting

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Macau’s government has granted provisional ten-year casino concessions to all six existing concessionaires while rejecting dark horse applicant Genting Group.

Concession tender committee chairman Andre Cheong told a press conference on Saturday (November 26) that the committee engaged in five rounds of talks with the applicants before arriving at the decision to maintain the status quo.

Cheong did not elaborate on the details of the bids, the evaluation process and the weighting of criteria, nor on media reports that bidders were pressured into committing to more non-gaming investments.

But he confirmed that MGM China ranked first in the committee’s evaluation, followed by Galaxy Entertainment Group, Sands China, Melco Resorts and Entertainment, Wynn Macau, and lastly SJM Holdings.

Company bourse filings over the weekend confirmed that the new concessions begin on January 1, 2023, ensuring a smooth transition from the current concession period, although final details are pending and contracts have yet to be signed.

Equity analysts have speculated that Genting Group may yet inject significant investment in one of the six concessionaires.

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Blackstone selling its stake in two Las Vegas casinos for a huge profit, New York bill to make regulator consider amending racing gambling rules, Ontario bans UFC betting over integrity concerns and Maryland grants initial approval for two online sports-betting operators.

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