Here’s a look back at the European and Asian gambling stories that most piqued our interest in 2015…
There were a lot of major stories in the UK market this year but they all shared a common theme: terrified operators realizing that the government was bent on bleeding them dry. leading operators to conclude that banding together was the only way to survive.
Throughout the year, the major public companies’ quarterly earnings reports expressed how deeply the new 15% online point of consumption tax – plus increased tax on fixed-odds betting terminals for companies with retail operations – was cutting into the bottom line.
The bookies’ solution was the age-old belief that two can live as cheaply as one. Consolidation became the order of the day, with Ladbrokes marching down the aisle with Gala Coral, Paddy Power knocking up Betfair and GVC picking up Bwin.party at a car boot sale
Investors licked their lips at the thought of these companies realizing tens of millions of pounds of ‘synergies’, which has a much nicer ring to it than ‘hundreds of redundancies’.
The companies that were already underperforming will welcome the distraction the merger process will provide. Analysts will be forced to compare apples to oranges, giving the companies a year or two’s grace before their true performance can be accurately measured.
Companies that hadn’t yet found a dance partner started looking like drunk guys when the club lights come on after last call and they haven’t yet pulled. All except William Hill, who kept insisting that they could go toe-to-toe with any of the new behemoths, and 888, who rejected Hills’ advances only to have their own pickup line rejected by Bwin.party.
666BET GOES TO HELL
Online betting operator 666Bet’s arrival on the UK scene was audacious enough that it made this site’s list of the top gambling stories of 2014. But like Icarus, this impressive debut morphed into a cautionary tale.
In March, the UK Gambling Commission announced it had suspended the operating licenses of MetroPlay Ltd, which operated the 666Bet and MetroPlay sites, due to their owners being “unsuitable to carry on” their licensed activities. Within a week, word filtered out that Paul Bell, a director of the Isle of Man-based 666Bet, had been arrested in connection with a money laundering and tax fraud ring.
Months went by and it became clear that the sites wouldn’t be back online anytime soon. Worse, 666Bet and MetroPlay customers went public with complaints that the sites wouldn’t let them withdraw their account balances. MetroPlay management claimed all was well and eventually some payouts were permitted, but these stopped after MetroPlay’s chairman admitted there wasn’t enough money to make all customers whole.
By July, the Court of Alderney ordered MetroPlay to be placed in compulsory liquidation, leaving customers wondering if they’d ever be reunited with their deposits. The numerous sports franchises that had entered into betting partnerships with 666Bet were left scrubbing any trace of this association from the public record.
Anti-gambling campaigners like to claim that the highway to hell is paved with wagering slips. In 666Bet’s case, they proved to be right.
Technology trumped law in Australia, where William Hill’s local offshoot came up with an ingenious workaround for the country’s longstanding but inane prohibition of online in-play sports betting. The Click To Call app (since rechristened In-Play) utilized smartphone voice recognition technology to allow bettors to confirm wagers placed via the app, which the company said was the same as legally permissible telephone in-play wagers.
The gambit was an immediate hit, as Hills’ in-play wagering turnover tripled following the app’s introduction. Not wanting to get left behind, local rivals Bet365 and Ladbrokes quickly released me-too apps and there was much rejoicing by punters and online gambling execs.
However, local authorities slammed the apps as an illegal according to the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act and Ladbrokes – which had only recently entered the Aussie market – was suitably scared into disabling its app. Hills and Bet365 were made of sterner stuff and decided to brave it out based on their belief that they were following the letter of the law (if running roughshod over the spirit of that law).
Fortune favored the brave as the federal police eventually declared they had better things to do than investigate whether or not Hills’ legal hair-splitting was kosher. But Hills’ victory could be short-lived, as the brouhaha prompted Australia’s government to accelerate plans to review the IGA, and domestic operators are pressing for a more ironclad prohibition that includes such technological tweaks.
MACAU CAN’T FIND BOTTOM