News In Brief: November 8-November 12, 2021

November 12, 2021
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Curaçao-licensed companies are barred from Dutch online trade group and a politically active online skill company is raided by tax officials in India.

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Lax Curaçao Regime Irks Dutch Industry, Executive Says

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Having a Curaçao licence is a “red flag” and the lack of supervision of licensees by the Caribbean country is “a big thunder cloud over our heads”, the head of the Dutch Online Gambling Association has said.

Operators with a Curaçao licence are not allowed to join the Netherlands-focused trade group, said its managing director, Peter-Paul de Goeij, at Thursday’s Betting on Sports Europe conference in London.

“There is no control, there is no responsible gambling, there is no oversight, there is no consumer protection," he said.

The Dutch government is pressing the island, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, to pass regulations, and the Dutch industry hopes for a resolution, he said.

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India Tax Officials Raid Online Gaming Company Gameskraft

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India’s national tax enforcement agency has raided online skill gaming company Gameskraft Technologies in the Karnataka state capital Bengaluru (Bangalore) over suspected tax evasion.

The finance ministry’s Directorate General of GST Intelligence raided the owner of the Rummyculture, Rummytime, Pocket52 and other brands in ten locations in the city on Thursday, India Ahead News reported.

The report said 36 officers were investigating “irregularities” at the sites and seized computer equipment but did not elaborate on their findings or the volume of allegedly unpaid tax.

Gameskraft Technologies is a regular appellant in regional high courts against state government attempts to curtail or ban online skill gaming, including in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

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Casinos Austria Awarded €30m Damages After Argentina Investment Dispute

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The government of Argentina must pay damages totaling more than €30m to Casinos Austria International after the province of Salta cancelled the license of a subsidiary of the casino operator.

Salta lottery authority Enreja revoked the license of the Casinos Austria affiliate in August 2013, citing systematic anti-money laundering deficiencies and other alleged compliance failings.

However, two of three arbitrators from the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled last week that the revocation “did not constitute a lawful exercise of the host State’s regulatory and supervisory powers, but was arbitrary and disproportionate.”

The license cancellation amounted to an “unlawful expropriation” that violated a bilateral investment treaty between Argentina and Austria, the panel wrote in a 213-page ruling published on Tuesday.

Arbitrators said Casinos Austria should be entitled to damages of €21.66m plus interest, with the Argentine Republic also required to pay more than €5m in legal costs.

The Salta case is one of two major investment disputes pending at the World Bank tribunal that relate to Latin America’s gambling market.

A group of U.S. investors launched an action before the body in 2016 after Mexican authorities revoked the license of Entretenimiento de México and shuttered gaming halls operated by Exciting Games in April 2014.

Investors are seeking damages of up to $100m based on breaches of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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Penn Pays Penalty For Online Gambling Self-Exclusion Error

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Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Casino in Pennsylvania has been fined $57,500 for self-exclusion shortcomings on its eponymous online casino and affiliated Barstool Sportsbook online platform.

A consent order, which also added $2,500 in investigations costs, was approved on Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

According to the 12-page order, Hollywood Casino self-reported nine separate incidents of self-excluded players being able to create accounts or make deposits totaling almost $14,000 on its online casino and sportsbook between June and November 2020, owing to an internal error responding to a software update and an issue involving platform provider White Hat Gaming.

In addition to paying the fine, the casino has agreed to introduce new policies and procedures to prevent future occurrences.

Online betting and gaming operators have previously been fined over similar compliance breaches on various occasions in other states including neighboring New Jersey and Indiana, but the order against Hollywood Casino is one of the first published enforcement actions related to online gambling operations in Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, Parx Casino was fined $5,000 for launching certain online casino games that were still awaiting certification.

On Wednesday, the board also approved a second fine of $25,000 against Hollywood Casino for allowing two minors to enter the physical casino floor with one of them being able to gamble at a slot machine.

Churchill Downs’ Presque Isle Downs was fined $45,000 for serving alcohol without an accompanying meal in violation of local COVID-19 restrictions, while Caesars Entertainment’s Harrah’s Philadelphia was fined $22,500 for “failure to protect assets” after two players were able to steal chips or cash from the property.

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Seminole Compact Legal, Says Federal Government Filing

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The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has met a court-imposed deadline to file additional legal briefs defending the agency’s decision not to reject the historic compact giving the Seminole Tribe control over retail and mobile sports betting in Florida.

DOI attorneys filed a 33-page brief late Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C. disputing the argument that the state-tribal compact violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich held a hearing on Friday in the lawsuits filed by two pari-mutuel operators and a Florida anti-gambling coalition challenging the compact signed in May by the tribe and Governor Ron DeSantis.

In the filing, federal attorneys acknowledged that online wagers would be placed off reservation lands but argued they would still be lawful.

“If a bet is placed within Florida, but outside the confines of the tribe’s Indian lands, the bet occurs outside of Indian lands and must be authorized by state law, rather than IGRA,” the federal attorneys wrote.

“Federal defendants contend that for federal law purposes, and consistent with federal law, the online sports betting provisions in the compact reflect a permissible hybrid approach wherein gaming activity that occurs off of the tribe’s Indian lands is authorized under state law, and gaming activity that occurs on Indian lands is authorized by IGRA pursuant to the compact.”

The DOI attorneys also wrote that “nothing in IGRA or other federal law prohibits such a hybrid approach as to the authorizing of Class III gaming consistent with IGRA.”

Friedrich has said she plans to release her decision on the two lawsuits by Monday.

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German State Turns Gambling Self-Exclusion Programme Over To Hesse

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Lower Saxony’s state cabinet said it is planning to turn over its gambling self-exclusion programme to the state of Hesse.

The self-exclusion system will be run by Hesse, which has developed the technical infrastructure to operate the player protection programme, the Lower Saxony government said this week.

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Fake 888 Countdown Breached UK Ad Rules

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888 has been censured by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for a misleading mobile gambling app.

An ad for its 777.com brand featured a countdown clock that appeared to indicate the end of a “free spins” bonus period, but which would simply reset if the web page was reloaded.

The ad also featured copy such as “Casinos are trying to shut down a free Android App” and that it was “allowing everyday people, like Simona Moron, to win huge progressive jackpots using nothing but free spins”.

The marketing regulator said no evidence to support either claim had been proffered, meaning it considers both claims misleading.

888 said that the advertising copy had been written by a third-party agency, in violation of an agreement that should see all marketing approved by the gambling operator.

It told the ASA it spotted the ad itself on July 2 and had it removed that day.

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Craig Billings To Replace Matt Maddox As Wynn CEO

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Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox has announced he will resign in late January, to be replaced by CFO Craig Billings.

After four years in the top job and 20 years with the company, Maddox will stand down as Wynn Resorts and Wynn Macau CEO on January 31.

After agreeing to a “unanimous request” by Wynn directors, Maddox will remain a director of Wynn Macau until December 31 next year to “ensure stability and to assist with the [casino] concession renewal process there”, he told an earnings call on Tuesday.

Maddox will remain on the Wynn Interactive board for the same duration “to make sure that we create lots of value for … shareholders”, he said.

Maddox will also provide advice to Billings “on an as needed basis”, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Tuesday.

Maddox’s replacement as Wynn Macau CEO will be named before the end of this year, Wynn Macau said in a Hong Kong bourse filing on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Billings noted that Wynn on Monday secured platform provider and operator licences for sports betting in New York state.

The New York Gaming Commission approved a total of eight platform providers and nine operators, including Betfair Interactive, Bally Bet, BetMGM, DraftKings, PointsBet, Rush Street Interactive, Empire Resorts and Caesars Sportsbook.

Billings also told the conference call that Wynn Interactive will reduce unsustainable marketing spend amid a bull environment for brand spend, marketing budgets and customer bonuses.

“In light of this dynamic, we are intentionally pivoting our approach to scaling,” he said.

In a solid third quarter driven by record adjusted property EBITDA at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Boston, Wynn reported $995m in consolidated operating revenues, up from $371m in the third quarter of 2020.

Adjusted property EBITDA came to $155m, reversing a $66m EBITDA loss, while the company's Macau-driven net loss eased from $758m to $166m in the third quarter year-on-year.

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Serbians Require COVID-19 Pass For Casinos, Bookmakers

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Serbians looking to enter either a bookmaker or casino must have a COVID-19 pass showing they have received a vaccine dose.

The new rules came into effect on Monday, November 8, and will also apply to all catering facilities.

The government’s COVID-19 crisis response team and Darija Tepavcevic, the minister of labour, employment, veteran and social affairs, announced the change on November 4.

Tepavcevic said 56 percent of adults are already vaccinated but one in four people between the ages of 18 and 30 are not.

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Puerto Rico Sports Betting Edges Closer

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The Gaming Commission of Puerto Rico published licensing application forms on Monday for sports-betting operators and suppliers, bringing the island one step closer to its targeted launch date of Super Bowl weekend.

Three separate forms are available for operators of either sports-betting facilities, satellite sports-betting locations or fantasy sports contests, for industry service suppliers, and for sports-betting employees.

Puerto Rico passed a law to legalize sports betting in 2019, authorizing both online and retail sports wagering at casinos and racetracks, as well as at satellite facilities at hotels and off-track betting outlets.

The commission published a notice on Friday to confirm that final regulations for sports betting and fantasy sports were presented on October 20 to Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State and will become effective on November 20.

License applications can be submitted as soon as Monday, November 22, the commission said.

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Playtech Confirms Due Diligence From Rival Suitor

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Gaming supplier Aristocrat Leisure may face a rival bidder as it seeks to acquire online gambling provider Playtech, after the London-listed company confirmed a report of interest from minority shareholder Gopher Investments.

Sky News reported on Sunday that Gopher Investments was weighing a £3bn bid that would counter the £2.1bn plus debt offer made by Aristocrat and accepted by Playtech’s board last month.

Gopher is already in the process of acquiring Playtech’s Finalto financial trading division, completion of which is a precondition of Aristocrat’s offer for the firm.

Any new offer for Playtech would have to be at least 10 percent higher than that of Aristocrat, Sky News noted.

In a statement on Sunday evening, Playtech acknowledged that on October 21 the company “received a preliminary approach from Gopher Investments … seeking access to certain due diligence information, in order to explore terms on which a possible offer for all of the issued and to be issued share capital of Playtech might be made”.

Playtech’s statement added that “discussions with Gopher are at an early stage and ongoing. As such, there can be no certainty that Gopher’s approach will result in an offer for the company, nor as to the terms on which any offer might be made.”

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California Cardroom Pays $500,000 To Settle Money Laundering Charges

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A southern California cardroom will pay $500,000 to settle allegations that it violated federal anti-money laundering laws by failing to file reports about a “high-roller” Chinese national who gambled millions in cash, federal authorities announced on Friday.

The Bicycle Hotel & Casino in Bell Gardens agreed to pay the revenue it made from the player’s gambling and to accept increased review and reporting requirements, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

In return, federal prosecutors will not file any criminal charges against the cardroom or its owner for alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires reporting of high-value or suspicious currency transactions to prevent money laundering.

Under the agreement, the Bicycle Casino acknowledged that it failed to properly file currency transaction reports (CTRs) and suspicious activity reports for casinos (SARCs) about the Chinese national who gambled at the cardroom about 100 times over an eight-month period in 2016.

Federal prosecutors claim the man played high-limit baccarat in a VIP room “with huge sums of cash that on some occasions he transported to and from the casino in duffle bags.”

The player once gambled with about $2m over a ten-hour period, and he used an assistant to conduct more than $100m in transactions, authorities said.

In a related action, California attorney general Rob Bonta on Friday filed a 17-page administrative accusation with the California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC) asking state regulators fine the cardroom, owner Leo Chu and parent company Thousand Palms Enterprises.

Bonta also urged the commission to take “such other and further action the commission may deem appropriate.”

“Our gaming laws are about protecting the public and ensuring money from illicit activity isn’t funneled through cardrooms and casinos,” Bonta said. “The federal government has taken action against Bicycle, and now it’s time to hold the casino accountable for alleged violations of our state laws.”

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Hard Rock’s Jim Allen Named AGA Board Chairman

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The American Gaming Association (AGA) has elected Hard Rock International chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen as its next chairman. Allen is the organization’s first board chairman from a tribal gaming enterprise.

He succeeds Aristocrat Technologies CEO Trevor Croker, who has served as AGA chairman since January 2020. Allen’s two-year term begins in January. Allen has served on the AGA’s board of directors since 2015.

“Jim brings decades of experience in commercial casino operations and tribal gaming, a perspective that will be invaluable as we work to set our industry’s agenda, accelerate gaming’s comeback and strengthen our value to communities across the country,” said AGA president and CEO Bill Miller.

The AGA’s executive committee also extended Miller’s contract to remain the association’s president and CEO for an additional three years.

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Curaçao-licensed companies are barred from Dutch online trade group and a politically active online skill company is raided by tax officials in India.

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