News In Brief: October 3-October 7, 2022

October 7, 2022
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GambleAware seeks treatment partner, 888 makes good on promise on pan-African launch and evidence of Malaysian slave labour surfaces in Laos casinos.

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GambleAware Launches Search For Aftercare Provider

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UK-based charity GambleAware has begun the search for a new partner to take the lead with its “Aftercare Funding Programme”.

The programme will provide a budget of up to £300,000 for aftercare initiatives designed for people that have received treatment for gambling-related issues.

Submissions to run the programme close at 5pm on October 28, 2022. An application form is available on the charity’s website.

An evaluation of the bidders for the aftercare programme is expected to commence in early February 2023 and be completed by 2026.

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888AFRICA Launches In Four Nations

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Online operator 888’s joint venture with five high-profile gambling industry executives, 888AFRICA, has delivered on its promise to launch in four markets before the end of 2022.

888AFRICA, which was only founded in March 2022, has received local licences in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia.

Christopher Coyne, CEO of 888AFRICA, called the launches an “important milestone” that will provide the operator with “opportunities for further expansion in the future”.

Similarly, Itai Pazner, the CEO of 888 Holdings, called Africa “a region with significant potential”, adding he is excited to watch “888AFRICA continue to develop its offer and launch new and exciting products for players over the coming years and months”.

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Laos Gaming, Scamming Hub Enslaving 700 Malaysians

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Some 700 Malaysians are serving as slave labour in a Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ) casino resort in Laos, according to Radio Free Asia, offering further evidence of westward expansion of Cambodia-style captive labour practices.

Radio Free Asia’s Lao service reported on Monday (October 3) that the migrant employees are largely working as online scammers, while being subject to physical abuse, torture, trafficking, ransom demands for their release and even execution.

The report did not identify the resort in the SEZ, whose US-blacklisted Kings Romans Casino flagship is a headquarters for alleged drug trafficking and other criminal activity controlled by Chinese crime lord Zhao Wei.

The report quoted a Laotian worker as saying the SEZ has large numbers of workers from Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia, while a Laotian zone escapee said Chinese employers “confiscate their passports and cellphones, and most of the workers are confined to their buildings”.

Anger in Malaysia over the SEZ captives is growing, with human rights groups protesting outside Laos’ embassy in Kuala Lumpur on September 26. The Malaysian government has also communicated with Vientiane and Interpol to secure the workers’ release, the report said.

In late September, the Thai government said it was preparing a complaint to the Laotian authorities over a decision of the Laos Casino Control Commission to outsource licence granting powers to the private sector for offshore-facing online gambling.

Thai police have identified a property, which they have not named, that is allegedly trafficking in Thai labour, and they fear the licensing arrangement will escalate risk to Thai nationals.

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Ohio Regulator Approves Sports-Betting Rules, First Licenses

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Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) executive director Matt Schuler has taken exception to the repeated calls his staff has been receiving from applicants asking questions about the paperwork needed to apply for a license or asking for an update on their application.

“They seem to believe that their application and their circumstances are more important than every other application we have,” Schuler said Wednesday (October 5) during a commission meeting.

Schuler said the calls are taking up time that staff members should be working on processing applications and are taking away from their other duties within the gaming agency.

Wednesday was the deadline for companies to submit key employee applications and holding company information to the OCCC to be approved by January 1, 2020, the universal start date for legal retail and mobile wagering in the Buckeye State.

The OCCC also approved the first batch of mobile management services provider (MMSP) licenses, which were conditionally granted to SuperBook Sports, PointsBet, Caesars Entertainment, Betfred, and bet365.

There are still 20 MMSP licenses that need to be approved or denied by regulators.

Caesars and SuperBook Sports, which is owned by the Westgate Casino in Las Vegas, were approved for retail provider licenses as well. An updated list released by the OCCC Wednesday showed that PointsBet has withdrawn its application to operate a retail sportsbook.

The commission also approved more rules for sports betting, including those that will govern advertising and customer complaints.

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Paf Halves Loss Limit For Young Players

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Operator Paf has introduced a lower loss limit for its customers aged 18-24 as it claims research indicates them to be an “at-risk” group of developing gambling problems.

The Aland-based gambling company that raises funds for non-profit groups in the semi-autonomous region of Finland set the new limit at €10,000 a year, while other players above this age range can spend €20,000 a year.

Paf responsible gaming manager Jenna Ekström said “the facts and research about gambling problems that we have seen point out that young people are a more vulnerable group”.

“On the one hand, young people have a tendency to take more risks and on the other hand they don’t have the same financial possibilities to play monetary games,” Ekström said.

Paf deputy CEO and chief responsibility officer Daniela Johansson added that the company is convinced mandatory loss limits “are among the most decisive and responsible actions a gaming company can take”.

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Activist Investor Urges SciPlay Sale To Parent Light & Wonder

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Activist investor Engine Capital LP, one of the largest shareholders of mobile-game maker SciPlay, has urged the company to consider a sale of itself to parent company Light & Wonder, a move that has garnered support from at least one Wall Street analyst.

Engine Capital has a 5.7 percent stake in SciPlay and a small stake in Light & Wonder, formerly known as Scientific Games Corp. The New York-based investment firm wants Light & Wonder to buy the 19 percent of SciPlay it does not currently own, if it is still core to the company’s multi-platform digital-led content strategy.

If SciPlay is no longer core to the company’s strategy, Engine Capital urges the company to seek strategic alternatives for the game maker.

Matthew Thornton, an analyst with Truist Securities, expressed his support for the potential acquisition in a research note on Tuesday (October 4), noting that keeping SciPlay separate “makes no sense to us.”

Engine Capital wants the company to consider selling itself to Light & Wonder for $15 to $16 a share. Thornton wrote that the firm points out that the current ownership structure creates an overhang on the valuation of both companies and creates conflicts of internet in the case of IP licensing.

Engine Capital also believes the current ownership structure prevents Light & Wonder from accessing SciPlay’s free cash flow and “thus making optimal capital allocation decisions,” as well as resulting in $5m to $10m of duplicate costs.

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U.S. Gaming CEOs Optimistic About Future Business Climate

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As the industry prepares to descend on Las Vegas on Monday (October 10) for Global Gaming Expo (G2E), gaming industry CEOs remain positive about the industry’s current business climate, according to the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) Gaming Industry Outlook.

The survey, done in partnership with Fitch Ratings, released Tuesday (October 4) also found many gaming executives expressed confidence about future conditions despite persistent concerns about the current economic environment.

Almost all executives surveyed indicated that the present business situation is good (68 percent) or satisfactory (28 percent), and most (92 percent) expect these conditions to continue or improve over the next three to six months.

More than one third (38 percent) indicated they expect future conditions to be better, compared with 8 percent that thought conditions would worsen.

“Our industry remains cautiously optimistic and has weathered this volatile economy because of resilient consumer demand,” said Bill Miller, AGA’s president and CEO.

Although concerns have eased from earlier this year, the survey found that two-thirds of gaming CEOs said supply chain issues are limiting operations (65 percent), followed by inflation and interest rate concerns (62 percent).

Half of the executives also identified the uncertainty of the economic environment (50 percent) and shortage of labor (50 percent) as impediments to business growth.

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Michigan Regulators Seize Illegal Gambling Machines

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For the fourth time this year, Michigan gaming regulators have taken part in joint investigations that have led to the seizure of alleged illegal gambling machines.

State investigators seized 56 machines and more than $12,700 in illegal profits during raids September 28 and September 29 at three gas stations and one convenience store in communities near Detroit and Flint.

“We’ve seen an increasing number of complaints about illegal gambling,” Henry Williams, executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB), said Tuesday (October 4) in announcing the seizures.

“The MGCB works closely with local law enforcement agencies to investigate alleged illegal gambling locations, which do not provide the protections associated with legal, regulated gaming and can bring unwanted crime to neighborhoods,” Williams said in a statement.

In August, the MGCB confiscated 67 gambling devices from two alleged store front casinos in Flint. State regulators also confiscated 100 machines in May from two additional stores in Flint, while in March regulators seized 62 machines from two locations in Lansing.

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Kazuo Okada, Colleagues Indicted Over Casino Grab

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Philippine prosecutors have indicted former pachinko tycoon Kazuo Okada and three others over the forcible takeover of the Okada Manila integrated resort in May.

The August 25 indictment, which was released on Monday (October 3), found probable cause to charge the Japanese national and his Filipino corporate colleagues — Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, Dindo Espeleta and Fiorentino Herrera III — with grave coercion over the takeover, which saw Okada Manila management physically removed from the premises.

The indictment consolidated five complaints against Okada, his three colleagues, 17 named individuals and other unnamed individuals that were filed after the Okada group expelled Tiger Resort, Leisure & Entertainment Inc (TRLEI) staff.

Citing a Supreme Court ruling on Okada’s role in the company, the Okada group made the move on the property in the presence of police, a sheriff and a representative of gambling regulator PAGCOR on May 31, but TRLEI regained physical control of the property on September 2, this time with PAGCOR’s formal support.

Prosecutors also recommended dismissal of complaints involving all other defendants and dismissal of complaints of kidnapping and assault, among other accusations, against the four indictees.

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Ireland Budgeting £1m To Progress Gambling Regulator

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Ireland's Department of Justice has pledged €1m to help progress the establishment of its long-awaited independent gambling regulator.

Minister of state for law reform James Browne said he is “delighted” that the establishment of the Gambling Regulatory Authority is advancing, and reiterated claims that it is a “key” commitment of the government.

The additional €1m allocation for 2023 will support the new designated CEO of the regulator, Anne Marie Caulfield, as they prepare to ensure work can begin as soon as it is established.

“We are much closer now to ensuring that modern and effective licensing and regulatory measures are in place for the industry to reduce the significant harm caused by problem gambling,” Browne said.

Drafting of the Gambling Regulation Bill, which outlines the framework and legislative basis for the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland, is “well underway”, according to the Department of Justice, and its contents should be published in Autumn 2022.

The regulator is also expected to become operational in Autumn 2023.

The funding follows the country’s decision to allocate more than €3.3bn to the justice sector in 2023.

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UK Advertising Watchdog Publishes New Gambling Ad Guidance

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The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published new guidance aimed at protecting people under the age of 18 from gambling and lottery advertising by ensuring adverts do not appeal directly to them.

The new guidance covers both broadcast and non-broadcast adverts. It includes a “checklist” that outlines the steps marketers should take to reduce the chances of their ads from the possibility of appealing "strongly" to under-18s.

“Principally, it helps to support compliance with CAP and BCAP rules prohibiting content of ‘strong’ appeal to under-18s,” according to the guidance.

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Dafabet-Linked Indian Company Directors Detained

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India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has detained two directors of a Delhi company who allegedly did business with Philippine-based gambling websites dafabet.com and in.dafasports.com.

The CBI is investigating directors Yogesh Kumar and Rakesh Prasad Gupta over transactions that their company, Betrue Ecom Solutions, made during an Indian Premier League cricket tournament between March 2019 and May 2019.

“There were several transactions with the description as Dafabet, Dafa Sports, Dafabetupd, etc, and several UPI [United Payments Interface]-based transactions,” the CBI said on Monday (October 3) in a statement.

“People from many states of India are using Dafabet website for online betting and gambling, and as concerned to Betrue Ecom Solutions Private Limited, the maximum depositors/betters were from Andhra Pradesh [state].”

Betrue Ecom Solutions was involved in two-way transactions of more than 230m rupees ($2.8m) “under the guise of online trading of footwear”, the CBI said.

Dafabet and variations of that name are registered under the company Bayview Technologies, which moved its licence from the private First Cagayan Leisure and Resort Corp to national regulator PAGCOR when the latter co-opted oversight of most of the segment.

Bayview Technologies is not currently registered by PAGCOR as a foreign-facing online operator (POGO), but as a service provider to POGOs.

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Major Chilean Radio Station Refuses To Allow Gambling Ads

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A Chilean radio station has declared that it will no longer accept advertisements from online gambling operators until it is regulated, as part of a duty as “responsible social actors”.

The ban was instituted on October 1 by Radio Cooperativa and includes casinos, bookmakers and games of chance that “are not expressly authorised to operate in the country”.

Radio Cooperativa’s history goes back nearly 80 years. The manager, Luis Ajenjo Isasi, turned the station into one of the most influential media outlets that opposed the dictatorship in the 1980s. For the past few decades it has aligned itself with the views of the Christian Democratic Party.

In a published statement, Radio Cooperativa said that this step is in line with its editorial guidelines, and explained that “as a media group, we have the conviction that activities of the nature described require express regulation and that no form of online commerce can be exempt from it”.

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GambleAware seeks treatment partner, 888 makes good on promise on pan-African launch and evidence of Malaysian slave labour surfaces in Laos casinos.

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