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Industry News

by Roy Brindley |  Published: Dec 01, 2006

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U.S. move a shock to all
News that the U.S. Congress had passed legislation, by a 317-93 vote, making it illegal for banks and credit-card companies to make payments to online gambling sites took industry watchers and investors alike by surprise. Already shaken by the arrest of David Carruthers of BetonSports and Peter Dicks from Sportingbet, many had expected the legislation to fail.

The new law, which at Card Player Europe press time required only the signature of President George W. Bush, is the worst crisis yet faced by the youthful online gambling industry in its short but eventful existence.

Three of the biggest players said they would pull out of the United States in response to the legislation. PartyGaming, which runs the market-leading poker site PartyPoker.com, saw its shares fall 58 percent - one of the biggest declines ever seen on the FTSE100 - while rivals 888 Holdings and Sportingbet fell by 35 percent and 60 percent, respectively.



Dicks comes home
A New York judge cleared Peter Dicks, the former chairman of Sportingbet, to return to the UK after New York's governor declined to sign a warrant extraditing him to Louisiana, where he is charged with illegal online gambling.

Dicks was arrested at Kennedy International Airport on Sept. 6 after customs officials discovered that he was wanted by the Louisiana State Police.

In explaining why he did not sign the warrant, New York Gov. George Pataki said his state's law permitted extradition only if the accused person was physically present where he was accused of breaking the law. The 64-year-old Dicks had not been in Louisiana in decades, and the charges there revolved around his activities in Britain.

Eight U.S. states have laws prohibiting Internet gambling: Washington, Nevada, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, South Dakota, Michigan, and Oregon. It is believed that they have issued the U.S. Immigration Service with a wanted list of up to 300 names, all of which are board members of online gaming sites that have taken bets from their citizens.

The Louisiana warrant issued in May charged Dicks with gambling by computer, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.



Prima no more
Despite considerable marketing,Prima Poker, the South African poker software provider, has re-branded and changed its name to the Microgaming Poker Network.



Sportsman closes
The Sportsman, the first UK national daily newspaper to be launched in two decades when unveiled this spring, has closed after less than seven months of operation.

Unlike rival publication the Racing Post, the Sportsman featured poker heavily, and many poker players will be left disappointed at its closure.



London Clubs buyers bought out?
Harrah's, the world's biggest casino group, which is bidding for London Clubs International, has itself received an audacious $15 billion takeover approach from venture capitalists.

If Apollo Management and Texas Pacific pull off their coup, it will be one of the biggest-ever leveraged buyouts.

News of the bid in Las Vegas came through on the day the Office of Fair Trading approved Harrah's £280 million takeover of LCI, but that deal is still far from settled, with LCI's biggest shareholder, Malaysian gambling giant Genting, undecided about whether to accept.

LCI's flagship venue is the Fifty Casino in St James's, which has become a favoured red-carpet hangout since it reopened last year. Just recently, it hosted a charity poker event attended by celebrities such as Sting and Hugh Grant.



French FA red-card betting sites
Toulouse is the second French football team that has been forced to remove its sponsor's logo from its strip.

Online casino and poker firm 888.com had seen its logo worn by Toulouse players, but that was bizarrely changed to ???.com following the French League's decision to ban its clubs from advertising any form of gambling and online betting.



Who cares about history?

America's anti-poker crusade is being led by prosecutors in Louisiana, one of eight U.S. states that expressly outlaw online gaming.

Louisiana's attempt to prevent people from playing poker is ironic when you consider the game is a direct descendant of a French game called Poque, a name derived from the French verb pocher, to bluff, and it originated on Mississippi steamboats leaving French-speaking New Orleans.



Laddies Poker success to be repeated?
Following the success of its first venture into racehorse ownership, Ladbrokespoker has purchased its second racehorse, whose ownership will be split into shares to be won by its online poker players.

The new purchase is a yearling filly by Australian sprinter Choisir out of Break of Day, and like her predecessor Laddies Poker, who finished fifth in the valuable Goffs Million race at the Curagh in September, she will be sold at the end of the season, with all revenue divided amongst shareholders.



Professional Poker Tour on hold again

The Professional Poker Tour has postponed events planned for Foxwoods (Nov. 7-8) and Bellagio (Nov. 29-30).

A spokesman said: "While we continue to negotiate the broadcast of the second season, we have decided to delay these tournaments for the benefit of players who need to make long-term travel arrangements, as well as the league itself. We expect to resume filming in 2007."

The PPT has been besieged with problems from the outset, with its first season not broadcast in America for more than 16 months after its conclusion, following legal problems, while no PPT events were played in the latter part of 2005 or 2006.



Mac a go
PartyPoker has announced that its software is now compatible and can be used on/with Mac computers.



A Belgian Party after purchase?
PartyGaming has underlined its position as the world's largest online gaming group by purchasing Gamebookers, an Antigua-based, Bulgarian-run sports-betting group, for $102 million in cash, to push further into the European market.

PartyGaming has long wanted to acquire a European sportsbook, and its new Canadian chief executive, Mitch Garber, said: "The acquisition of Gamebookers is an important step forward in diversifying PartyGaming's business from both a product and geographic perspective."

The online poker and casino giant wants to cut its level of American business from 75 percent to around 50 percent, moving away from the lucrative market where the government is cracking down on what it regards as an illegal activity.



Bet and lost?

Legal doubts hanging over the online gambling industry have spread to Europe, with Manfred Bodner and Norbert Teufelberger, senior executives of Bwin (formerly Betandwin), arrested by French authorities whilst preparing for a press conference in Monaco.

The French authorities had threatened the same action against Sportingbet.com some two years ago when the company, like Bwin, started targeting French clients via the Internet.

French laws on gambling are clear - no outsiders are allowed to target French clients via the Internet or advertising - so the arrests during a press conference to announce the company's sponsorship of the principality's football team could have been predicted.

Bwin is threatening legal action against the French authorities, claiming the European freedom of access to a market. This is very dodgy ground, as by European law, any country has the right to prevent outside gambling from entering its markets under the control of public law and order.



£2 billion from work
A survey by odds-comparison site Betrescue has found that British people gamble more than £2 billion online a year from the workplace. Nearly 3 million adults admitted to using work computers for betting online, spending an average of £1,200 per year.



$1 million tournament for India
Title sponsor MaharajahClub.com is bringing the first major poker tournament to India with the $1 million-guaranteed Asian Poker Classic (APC), to be held in Goa, March 1-4, 2007, at the breathtaking InterContinental Grand Resort Goa.

The APC tournament director will be Thomas Kremser, who said: "There's been nothing like this before in India; it's going to be absolutely
amazing. With the stunning beauty of Goa, superb hotel, and the totally unique nature of the tournament itself as a backdrop, this will be the poker tournament of the year!"



Gaming Conference for Ireland
The International Gaming Conference & Expo (IGCE) will take place Nov. 5-7 at the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel in Dublin, Ireland. It is set to feature an unprecedented lineup of legal experts, who will discuss the current state of the interactive gaming industry both in the U.S. and internationally.

A standing-room-only audience is expected in the wake of recent arrests by authorities of high-ranking gaming executives.

"The recent arrests of Sportingbet Chairman Peter Dicks and Betonsports CEO David Carruthers have thrown the interactive gaming industry into a state of panic," said Christopher Dauer, director of conferences for The Sports Network, the developer of the IGCE.

"This conference will feature the top legal minds in the industry in one venue to discuss what has taken place and what they anticipate will occur next, to both the detriment and continuance of the industry and those involved with it, from public companies to the ones that serve them in the areas of technology, marketing, financing, payment solutions, and more. Some of the answers will surprise those in attendance."



World Poker Tour in court
Former World Poker Tour presenter Shana Hiatt and her attorney Paul Sorrell have filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Santa Monica against WPT Enterprises and its principal, Steve Lipscomb for "intentional interference with prospective economic advantage."

It is believed the move has been prompted by the former WPT hostess being blocked from accepting a reporting job with NBC's National Heads-Up Poker Championship by her former employer.

Hiatt is seeking monetary damages for the WPT's conduct, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief that will prohibit the WPT from "engaging in any conduct seeking to prevent or prohibit [Hiatt] from seeking employment with a third party other than WPT."



All In up and running again
Irish-based poker site allinpoker.com has reopened with an announcement that it has "entered into an agreement with a great new Scandinavian partner who has joined the All In Poker team. We are very excited about this and look forward to expanding our business, not only in Scandinavia, but worldwide, too."



Men "The Master" Nguyen joins Doyle
Six-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Men "The Master" Nguyen has signed on to endorse poker legend Doyle Brunson's DoylesRoom.com.

A four-time Card Player magazine Player of the Year, Men "The Master" was born in Vietnam and later moved to Malaysia before becoming a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1986.

Already a poker player, Men won his first poker tournament in 1987 and captured his first WSOP bracelet in a seven-card stud event in 1992. He has won almost $5 million in his career as a professional tournament poker player.

As part of his new deal, Men recently produced an instructional DVD that will be distributed by DoylesRoom.com later this year.



The Ritz hits the fritz
The Ritz Club Online has become the latest casualty of the U.S. crackdown on Internet gambling, unexpectedly closing its site to new members.

A short statement published on its site said only: "In light of the current confusion and inconsistency in online gaming legislation worldwide, the owners of The Ritz Club London Online have, regretfully, decided to close the site to new customers with immediate effect."

The website, which is a subsidiary of the Ritz Hotel in London, was launched in September 2002. The Ritz is owned by the billionaire Barclay brothers, whose assets include the Telegraph newspaper.



Stanley gets new ownership
Malaysian-based Genting has agreed to buy UK casino operator Stanley Leisure in a deal that values the company at £639 million.



888 - £23,000,000

Online gaming firm 888 almost doubled its profits, as gamblers raised the stakes on its casino and poker tables.

888 posted pretax profits of £23.35 million for the first six months of the year, compared with £13.56 million 12 months ago.

Chief Executive John Anderson, who has led the company since 2000, and took it to the stock market last year, described the results as "excellent" as he announced plans to quit the top job on Dec. 31, clearly wishing to maintain an ability to freely enter the United States.



Swede joins Ultimatebet's ranks

Leading online poker site Ultimatebet.com has expanded its team of poker professionals with the signing of Sweden's 35-year-old Johan Storakers. Storakers boasts more than $1.37 million in career tournament earnings, and has 41 cash finishes and more than a dozen final-table appearances in World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour events.

He joins the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Annie Duke, and Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari on the UltimateBet roster.



Poker meets the playground

A new family film that's set in the world of poker is scheduled to begin shooting in Los Angeles and Las Vegas in the spring.
Scott Marshall will direct the movie, which tells the story of a talented 15-year-old who qualifies for a $10 million poker tournament at a major Las Vegas hotel.

The 15-year-old convinces his mother to play in his place, and through a series of extraordinary circumstances, is allowed to play at the final table against many of the superstars of poker.



Hill shuts out the States

William Hill has stopped accepting casino and poker bets from online customers in the United States, amid increasing uncertainty over whether U.S. authorities would effectively outlaw online gambling.

"Given the debate in the Senate about changes to Internet gambling, we just decided this was the most prudent course of action," Chief Executive David Harding said.

The duration of William Hill's suspension is uncertain, with the firm saying it would wait until the "scope and enforceability" of U.S. state and federal gaming laws had been made clear.

American bets represent only about 0.1 percent of William Hill's total business.



Tickled Pink by Purple Story
According to the Scottish Sunday Mail, tycoon Chris Gorman is poised to sell his online poker company for £40 million - less than a year after its launch.

The story read: "The Scots-based multimillionaire entrepreneur is in talks with a mystery buyer for poker and casino website Purple Lounge."

Gorman said, "We have been approached by someone wanting to buy Purple Lounge. I am willing to listen to the offer if it's a good one, because I'd like to take the money and invest in new things."

Purple Lounge was set up with the aim of taking high-stakes poker players away from the big sites, such as PartyPoker.

Since its launch last November, the site has built up a massive following in Scandinavia.
Gorman said, "It would be good to sell it before the first year is in, but we will have to wait and see.

"The company is growing at 10 percent a week at the moment, so if we don't get the money we are looking for, we will keep it. It is a terrific success story."



The Online Verdict

A new website has been launched for the poker community in the UK and Europe by James Hipwell, a former journalist for the Daily Mirror, and poker players Warren Wooldridge and David Gross.

The site, www.pokerverdict.com, features poker news, videos of poker "showdowns," blogs by well-known poker players, and a tournament search engine to locate online poker tournaments.



Aspinall Poker a Goer?

Casino owner Damian Aspinall is holding talks with the gambling commission about launching a chain of upmarket poker clubs.

The multimillionaire part-time conservationist, who is married to TV presenter Donna Air, is in partnership with James Packer, the son of the late Australian media tycoon and famed gambler Kerry Packer.

The pair plan to develop venues with between 40 and 50 poker tables at each.



Card Player Media signs deals

Card Player Media recently announced new content-licensing agreements with several foreign-language poker magazines and websites. Recognized as the global leader in poker content, Card Player continues to expand around the globe.

Building on the success of Card Player Europe, which is now distributed in more than 40 countries, Card Player Media has licensed its poker content to the following media partners: Card Player Dansk (Denmark), Card Player Italia (Italy), Lehti Poker (Finland and Estonia), Card Player France/Poker (France), Das Casino and Poker Magazin (Germany), Poker Magazine (Sweden), Card Player South Africa (South Africa), and CardPlayerNorge.com (Norway website).

"As poker grows internationally, Card Player Media continues to meet the demands of the marketplace with a superior product," said Card Player Media Chairman Barry Shulman. "We are thrilled that our reputation as 'The Poker Authority' continues to grow outside of the U.S., and we look forward to continuing the expansion of our international licensing agreements." spade