News In Brief: November 29-December 3, 2021

December 3, 2021
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Lawmaker says consensus reached on Ohio sports betting, Maryland awarding two more off-track betting licenses and Cambodian online operations spreading.

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Interpol Says Police Thwarted $27m in International Online Fraud

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Interpol has said it helped coordinate a multi-jurisdictional crackdown on online fraud, including romance scams, investment fraud, and money laundering associated with illegal online gambling.

The four-month investigation across 20 countries resulted in the arrest of more than 1,000 people and in the interception of almost $27m in illegal funding, the international police organisation said this week.

Interpol officials said they tested a new tool, a stop-payment mechanism that it calls the anti-money laundering rapid response protocol, which helped enable the international investigations.

The system streamlines police communication in potential money laundering cases, the agency said.

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Agreement Reached On Ohio Sports-Betting Bill

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Members of the Ohio Senate and House have reached a consensus on legislation to authorize retail and online sports betting, according to a key lawmaker involved in negotiations.

A conference committee of representatives and senators has spent the past few weeks deliberating over the final version of a House bill that was passed by the Senate in June, with a key sticking point being whether to allow Ohio casinos, racinos and pro sports teams one or two skins each for mobile betting.

A final bill could be approved by the joint committee as soon as next week, Cincinnati state Representative Bill Seitz told the Ohio Statehouse News Service.

The measure would then need to be approved by the full House and Senate, both of which are scheduled to meet next Wednesday and potentially again on December 15.

Seitz said the legislation should be passed this month and would oblige the Ohio Casino Control Commission to issue licenses for sports wagering by the end of 2022 at the latest.

“We want to be sure to give the Casino Control Commission adequate time to do all of the vetting that they are charged with doing under this bill, and we want to make sure also that everyone starts at the same starting point,” said Seitz, a Republican. “We’re not going to have some people get to market quicker than other people, that’s not fair. We’re all going to start at the same starting point.”

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Two More Sports-Betting Locations Recommended For Maryland Licenses

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Two off-track betting (OTBs) locations have been found qualified for licenses for retail sports betting by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.

Riverboat on the Potomac and Long Shot’s are two of 17 entities expressly named as eligible for a license for retail sports wagering in a state law enacted earlier this year.

Having been found suitable, the two OTBs now must be formally awarded a license by Maryland’s Sports Wagering Application Commission (SWARC), which operates independently of the state gaming authority.

Five of Maryland’s six land-based casinos have already received a license from the SWARC and will be able to launch once gaming regulators complete mandatory on-site testing of their sportsbook operations.

“Everything is on pace for the first public openings to happen in December,” Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency director John Martin said in a statement on Thursday. “The facilities and the public are eager to get started, and so are we.”

Maryland’s convoluted sports-wagering law allows for up to 30 additional retail licenses to be awarded to venues beyond the 17 named locations. Up to 60 standalone licenses for online betting will also be available from the SWARC, although Martin told a VIXIO GamblingCompliance webinar last month that those are unlikely to be awarded until deep into 2022.

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Smaller Online Operations Spreading Across Cambodia

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Cambodia’s underground online gambling industry, notorious for abusing, enslaving and trading in foreign workers, is proliferating as syndicates reduce visibility and move into new regions, police said.

A police spokesperson quoted by the pro-government Khmer Times on Friday said online gambling syndicates are re-distributing operations and adopting new strategies to avoid detection.

The spokesperson said “syndicates have now moved to smaller premises and lease several units, instead of whole floors or buildings” as in Sihanoukville, compounding challenges for law enforcement.

“It takes weeks to establish the veracity of the complaints [from victim family members] as the complexes are well protected with countless CCTVs and physical lookouts who also have their own sources to tip them off [to] any possible raid.

“We are cracking down as fast as we can once concrete evidence has been gathered,” the police spokesperson said.

“There still are many in gated communities or entire buildings in isolated locations to enable easy detection of any raiding party, but generally they have scattered to avoid detection.”

Police have freed hundreds of victims in recent months, largely from Thailand, but “many Thais and other nationals are continuing to be duped into slave-like working conditions where torture, beatings, assault, cramped living conditions, and even sexual assault are frequent”, the daily quoted police as saying.

Cambodia criminalised online gambling operations at the beginning of 2000, but the ban appears to have driven China-facing operators further underground amid a massive increase in reports of abuse, violence and detention of staff from China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

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Wisconsin Welcomes Legal Sports Betting

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Wisconsin on Tuesday became the 31st U.S. state with legal sports betting, after the Oneida Nation opened a sportsbook at its eponymous tribal casino near Green Bay.

The Oneida Nation and Governor Tony Evers on July 1 announced an amendment to the tribe’s gaming compact to include wagering on professional and collegiate sports and other events, with Wisconsin joining the cluster of states where sports betting is being permitted exclusively via tribal casinos.

The launch in Wisconsin means tribes in 17 of the 29 states with Class III tribal gaming now offer sports betting, according to VIXIO GamblingCompliance research.

Sports betting is currently available via kiosks at the Oneida Nation’s main casino but will soon be expanded to additional properties and locations. An on-premises mobile sports betting solution is also coming soon, according to Oneida Casino’s website.

The tribe in August inked a partnership for IGT to power its sports-betting operations.

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Spanish Industry Report Shows 45,000 Jobs Lost In 2020

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The Spanish gambling industry lost around 45,000 jobs in 2020 as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector, resulting in a huge decrease in revenues.

The figures were revealed in the tenth edition of Spain’s annual gambling industry report, which was presented at trade union UGT’s headquarters in Madrid at the end of November.

In 2020, the size of the Spanish market decreased year-on-year by 33.2 percent to €6.77bn. This was despite online gambling growing by €107m last year.

Alejandro Landaluce, CEO of trade association Cejuegos, said these job losses are due to the gambling sector dealing with some of the strictest restrictions in Spain compared with other industries.

“We were one of the first sectors to close, and the last to open, and our employees have had to remain on ERTE (Spain’s furlough scheme) due to the impossibility of carrying out their work. Currently, in fact, 10 percent of the gaming halls are still closed or have serious difficulties reopening,” Landaluce said.

More than 130,000 people are still employed indirectly by the sector, according to the report.

UGT joined the presentation of this year’s annual report to bolster its support of gambling employees, following a collaboration agreement with Cejuegos it signed in June.

Omar Rodríguez, FeSMC-UGT’s federal secretary of hospitality, social restoration and tourism, said it is important to ensure gambling activities are all up and running as soon as possible “complying with all prevention and public health regulations because this sector and its professionals cannot be left behind”.

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888 Reports Progress On Purchase of William Hill European Business

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888 Holdings said it has received all mandatory antitrust and gambling regulatory clearances for its planned £2.2bn acquisition of the European business of William Hill.

Completion of the deal is expected in the first quarter of next year, the Gibraltar-based online gambling company said today. The deal includes the company’s 1,400 retail shops.

Integration planning is progressing well and Guy Cohen has been appointed senior vice president in charge of integration preparations, the company said.

A shareholder meeting and issuance of a prospectus will come early in the quarter, 888 said.

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Alvin Chau Refused Bail As Suncity Shares Plunge

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Shares in the Hong Kong-listed company affiliated with junket behemoth Suncity and an associated casino company have nosedived after the Macau arrest and remanding into custody of Suncity boss Alvin Chau.

The stocks collapsed as Chau, now in a holding cell in Macau’s jail, announced his intention to resign as chairman and executive director of both Suncity Group Holdings and Summit Ascent, operator of the Tigre de Cristal casino hotel near Vladivostok.

Suncity Group Holdings — a major part of Alvin Chau’s Suncity empire, but one that does not cover Macau junket operations — was down 42.4 percent to HK$0.15 at 3pm today.

Summit Ascent, a single asset-listed company whose casino staff have reportedly been targeted in a separate mainland Chinese criminal probe, was down 59.8 percent to HK$0.20 at 3pm.

The two stocks suspended trading before the market opened on Monday as the shock from the detention of Chau and ten others reverberated through the industry.

Trading in the shares resumed Tuesday morning, and investors moved immediately to dump them.

Macau prosecutors announced late Monday that Chau and four others were considered a flight risk and placed in pre-trial detention, whereas the remaining six suspects are out on bail.

The statement alleged Chau and others established a live online betting platform in the Philippines that was run out of Macau, targeting mainland China-based customers in breach of various laws, and using underground banks to settle accounts.

It alleged the suspects were also involved in money laundering.

The Macau prosecution is apparently separate to a probe by police in Wenzhou City in mainland China’s Zhejiang Province, which issued an arrest warrant for Chau on Friday.

Macau police detained Chau and the other ten unidentified suspects the next day, triggering arguably the worst crisis for Macau’s junket segment in its history.

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Gambling Commission Prosecution Leads to Jail, Fine

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In a case prosecuted by the Gambling Commission, a man has been jailed for three months and ordered to pay Sheffield Hospitals Charity £1,000 within 18 months of leaving prison.

Simon Rydings admitted he failed to pass on £285,000 of lottery proceeds to the charity between January 1, 2018 and March 31, 2020 while he was CEO of Capen Limited and held an external lottery manager licence.

The court was told Rydings could not pay back the money as he already spent it on other costs running the business.

Helen Venn, Gambling Commission executive director, said Ryding “completely failed as the CEO of a company with a Gambling Commission licence (ELM) and is now paying the price”.

“Consumers in this country deserve to know that when they enter a lottery they are helping support their chosen cause — and we will not hesitate to take action against individuals who misuse funds in the way Rydings did,” Venn said.

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Brazil Gambling Bill Taking Shape

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The lawmaker charged with crafting gambling legislation on behalf of a special committee in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies presented a preliminary version of his bill last week.

The 30-page draft by Deputy Felipe Carreras would legalize casino, bingo and traditional jogo do bicho games, plus fixed-odds betting, horseracing and games of skill, and bring them under the authority of a new national regulator.

All games could be offered either in a "physical or virtual establishment", subject to regulatory approval.

However, more specific details on each vertical are among several sections of the bill that remain blank and are set to be fleshed out by the committee in the coming days.

The gambling working group was created in a September by Speaker Arthur Lira and is set to report on a bill by December 9 so that it can be voted on by the full chamber and potentially the Senate.

The legislative effort is separate to an ongoing process to regulate fixed-odds sports betting as permitted under a 2018 federal lottery law.

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Lawmaker says consensus reached on Ohio sports betting, Maryland awarding two more off-track betting licenses and Cambodian online operations spreading.

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