iGB Diary: Corcoran's departure, FOBTs, Premier League rights, GOT betting, Microgaming's pad

11 August 2017

Happy Friday igamers! Welcome to this week's packed Diary as the industry reels from Breon Corcoran's shock departure, the Mail changes its mind again, EPL rights heading Sky high, fair bets for GOT fans and Microgaming's plush new pad.

Out on top
The announcement that Paddy Power Betfair boss Breon Corcoran was to depart following the completion of the merger integration between the two igaming behemoths wrong footed just about everyone on Monday. This was “the right decision for me and my family” said Corcoran, understandable given the 16 years he’s devoted to the industry despite only being 46. While some naysayers have argued that he’s departed before it’s possible to assess the PPB merger as an unqualified success and with casino growth stagnant, the majority view is that he’s a man who went on to deliver on the talk of him being the most promising CEO prospect in the business while still Patrick Kennedy’s right-hand man at Paddy Power, quietly going about his job of growing the businesses under his watch and delivering value for shareholders. Indeed, the Diary hasn’t actually spoke to him since 2011, when we phoned him to try and get him to confirm he was taking the Betfair job, to which he kept repeating the statement: “I am not in London. I am sitting here in my office in Dublin”. He was so bloody decent about it, we couldn’t bring ourselves to run the story, much to the anger of our boss at the time. Indeed, as the share price dived on Monday, even ex-Hills boss and now seemingly full-time LinkedIn industry commentator Ralph Topping came out as a fan. “The industry will be poorer for his going and those perhaps cheering his slip sliding away and its impact on PPB should think on”, he said. “They need premier league opponents like Breon Corcoran to test themselves against. Without him the game is somewhat devalued. Good luck to him. The boxer fought a skilful fight”. Ex-888 boss Brian Mattingley was similarly glowing, calling him “another real industry star”. Having achieved what he has in the industry over the last five years since taking over at Betfair and culminating in the £5bn FTSE behemoth of Paddy Power Betfair, Breon returning to the industry seems unlikely, so the Diary would like to take this opportunity to bid adieu and wish him well in whatever he decides to do next.

Thanks for the memories
After last week’s brief hiatus, the Daily Mail returned to its default position on the gambling industry with a story headlined, “Playing roulette with people’s lives: Hammond scraps a review on 'crack cocaine' betting machines... because they make millions for the taxman". Apparently a Whitehall source told the Mail that UK chancellor Philip Hammond had shelved the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s plans to cut maximum stakes on fixed odds betting terminals to £2. He was apparently worried it would drastically reduce the £400m the Treasury receives in taxes from FOBTs every year. Unsurprisingly, the news prompted a furious backlash from those supporting the maximum stakes cut, including opposition MPs and amusement industry body Bacta. The latter, as well as the minister for sport, Tracey Crouch, both branded the story ‘fake news’, but we’re not convinced. The UK government has always been one of the savviest when it comes to recognising the potential to boost its coffers by taking a slice of the gambling pie. While other governments have imposed unworkable taxes and done little to bring those betting with offshore operators into the regulated market, the UK government has done the opposite and reaped the rewards in the process. Rumours about whether or not the FOBT review was going to be as harsh as initially feared have been circulating since earlier this year when the government pushed back the planned review until October, with reports in July also citing conflicts among Conservatives over tax receipts. And it’s worth remembering while the Labour Party’s manifesto pledged to take action on FOBTs, the Conservative Party manifesto was silent on the issue. We wonder if this might be the only time the bookies are hoping the information in one of the Mail’s ‘crack cocaine’ stories turns out to be true?

Anyone seen my wings?
Having recently paid double what it did last time retain live broadcast rights to the Football League, Sky is set to lock horns with BT and possibly Amazon, Facebook and Twitter later this year for the Premier League live broadcast rights. The bidding going the California giants’ way could see live EPL live coverage shifting to online streaming platforms away from the subs-driven TV models of Sky and BT. Good for the punter’s pockets in these austere post-Brexit times, but potentially catastrophic for Sky, which not only relies on charging a hefty whack for subscription fees but recently switched from numbered to sports-specific channels. Indeed, Amazon fired a warning shot across its bows recently by poaching the rights to the ATP men’s tennis tour, and one assumes that Sky Bet CEO Richard Flint will be crossing everything come the announcement of the winning bidder towards the back end of 2017. Sky Bet, which sponsors the lower three tiers of the English professional league, has of course grown strongly on the back of the casual punters drawn in by the association with the Sky football brand and Super 6, an audience that Richard Flint and his team have found that if targeted with the right product remains loyal and doesn’t go searching for the better value found on other betting sites (see Oddschecker’s Guy Harding’s recent piece on punters and pricing). Sky Bet will likely be looking to repeat the same trick in Italy, where Sky recently landed the Champions League broadcast rights from 2018, and where Italians bet huge volumes on their own teams in the Champions League. Meanwhile, in the UK, given the massive hole it would leave in its schedule and UK business, Sky will doubtless be going all out to retain the EPL rights, making it long odds that Sky Bet will have to rely on the standalone power of its own brand as early as next year.

A game of hacking
Game of Thrones (GOT), like other popular TV shows such as Love Island and X Factor, has attracted a large volume of wagers with bookies recently. Not too dissimilarly, betting activity tends to focus on which characters will survive or be sitting on the Iron Throne by the finale of series 7 (ruling over the realm’s kingdoms for non-watchers). However, although initially seeming like harmless fun, hackers put a spanner in the works recently by threatening to release unseen footage and spoilers stolen from GOT broadcaster HBO. The hackers reportedly leaked a script for an upcoming episode of the fantasy show, and a probe is now underway to find the perpetrators before they can release any more spoilers that could result in a major headache for bookies accepting wagers on future plot developments. In July, following a flurry of bets, Betway suspended wagers on a particular character in its ‘who will sit on the Iron Throne at end of series 7’ market. Should any further damaging leaks occur, other bookies may also be forced to suspend certain GOT betting options. Personally the Diary thinks it knows who will be sat on the Iron Throne at the end of the current series of GOT, but don’t worry, our lips will remain well and truly sealed ;-)

Up periscope
Fresh from taking the iGaming Super Show by storm with its emoji ice cream flavours, casino developer Microgaming this week unveiled a brand new 45,000 sq ft, five-storey HQ in the Isle of Man, joined to the old one by a sky bridge, “a must for me”, according to CEO of 16-years standing Roger Raatgever. Among the impressive roll call of facilities in the state-of-art building with environmental credentials that would make Sting weep (yes please) is even a periscope showing a 360-degree view of island capital Douglas (see pic right). Hm. Not sure about that one, but it’s still great to see an igaming company placing their employees' wellbeing at the centre of the design, with the entire fourth floor given over to communal facilities from a gym and treatment room to a coffee shop (with an exclusive Microgaming blend natch). Not that we’re dropping any hints about the state of our office or anything…

In defence of the Donald
The Donald may be receiving a bit of a battering in the press of late (that would be all that fake news you’re reading – Ed) but fear not, here comes a gallant defender from the ranks of the igaming industry, in the form of leading affiliate consultant and Affiliate Management Academy trainer, Tom Galanis. In an interview given to iGB Affiliate magazine, Tom concurs that Donald hasn’t got a lot right of late, “but if I can transport you back to 1987 for a moment, to a time when deploying a pompadour to mask pattern baldness was more acceptable, you can begin to appreciate the points that Trump (or his ghost writer) puts forward in The Art of the Deal.” According to Tom the values set out by this legendary tome still hold true in 2017, who then skilfully weaves his argument into a shameless plug for the forthcoming Affiliate Management Academy taking place in Malta on 19-20 October. Oops, we just did it too ;-)

Have a great weekend, everyone!