iGB Diary: 100-1 JT bet, GAME, Tabcorp-Tatts lawyers, Casumo neon, U-17 sponsorship, RGA on BBC

26 May 2017

The sun is shining, the weather is sweet! That's right igamers, it's a sunny bumper iGB Diary - this week: PPBF closes Gib office, FA rethink on betting sponsors, we love those US acronyms, Tabcorp-Tatts merger: what a picnic, Casumo goes full neon, U-17 AFCON sponsor, BBC Money Box on problem gambling.

PPBF Gib office closure
News that Paddy Power Betfair is closing its Gibraltar office is big news. There is scant detail as to the exact reasons behind the decision other than "centralising operations", "post-M&A restructure", "synergies" etc. But of course the shadow of Brexit looms large over it all. Many observers believe Gib wll be fine, but of course if a few more operators were to leave the tone will no doubt change.    

FA in Damascene betting conversion shocker! 
Neither newly-crowned Premier League champions Chelsea or relegated Sunderland had anything to play for in the weekend's final game of the season last Sunday. So when Sunderland kicked out the ball in the 26th minute so retiring Chelsea legend and wearer of the number 26 shirt John Terry could be substituted to receive a guard of honour off the pitch for his 718th and final game for the club, it seemed like an innocuous, if cringe-inducing, gesture. Then we heard that the FA was investigating three bets placed with Paddy Power on the exact minute of the substitution at 100-1. The odds on the substitution had only been offered following a specific enquiry by a punter who, it is fair to assume, was either very lucky or had some inside knowledge. No other suspicious betting patterns indicating prior knowledge of the substitution have since come to light. So, is it a case of sledgehammer-meets-nut? It also begs the question of whether the FA's overzealousness towards betting companies is being overly influenced by hard-to-ignore negative perceptions of the industry circulating in the media and political circles. Following the 18-month, career-ending ban it recently handed out to Joey Barton for breaking betting rules, which prompted him to brand them hypocrites given the FA's own commercial ties to betting companies, it suddenly announced it was considering severing these ties. Quite how the 10 of the English Premier League’s 20 clubs currently adroning betting brands as shirt sponsors will respond to this and how viable this commercial repositioning will be in the face of the huge sums gambling companies pour into the game (Sky Bet also sponsors the three Football League divisions below the EPL) remains to be seen. The Diary (for what it's worth) reckons steady stewardship of those issues is always better that knee-jerk reaction.  

Who's got GAME? 
Is the push for US sports betting regulation gathering enough momentum to eventually make it over the line? Early days still, but the tide may be slowly turning, as demonstrated by the news yesterday that the House Energy and Commerce Committee released the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement (GAME) Act (we want more acronyms!), which would effectively repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), the nationwide prohibition on state-sponsored sports betting. Increasing numbers of executives have joined the calls for betting to be regulated and there is widespread recognition that the unlicensed betting market is benefiting massively from the lack of regulated options. ESPN produced a legnthy piece on the topic in early May and as Dan Spillane, NBA senior vice president and assistant general counsel, told the network: "One of the goals is to give people who are interested in betting on sports an incentive to switch from illegal markets to legal markets."  

Tabcorp-Tatts merger tribunal: who does best out of it? 
Betting companies in Australia have often argued that the country’s politicians should follow the UK’s example when it comes to igaming regulation, but it seems they aren’t so keen to follow the mother country’s lead when it comes to racing. One racing industry boss — Richard Burt, chief executive of Racing and Wagering Western Australia (RWWA) — told a tribunal hearing into the proposed merger between Tabcorp and Tatts that if the merger was blocked, racing prize money would fall to UK levels, where “corporates” dominate and funding for the sport is on life support. Given the difficult state of racing in the UK, he might have a point. Still, the racing fraternity Down Under isn’t unanimous in its opposition, with Victorian racing bodies arguing against the merger. Unsurprisingly, the “corporates” are lining up to oppose the merger, with Sportsbet and CrownBet also making submissions to the Australian Competition Tribunal. With Tabcorp also owning broadcaster Sky Racing, it’s likely to be media rights many are worried about – indeed despite being clearly in the ‘Team Merger’ camp, in an April submission to the tribunal even RWWA expressed concerns over whether or not it would be able to access broadcast slots on Sky on “reasonable commercial terms” in a post-merger landscape. Which side will make the best case to the tribunal? It’s not yet clear but Financial Review’s headline took a wild stab at who the real winners might be: “Racing lawyers' picnic continues at Tatts, Tabcorp hearing”. Plus ça change eh... 

Casumo’s neon nod
Malta-licensed online casino Casumo is embracing local enterprise in its new careers video featuring Neonglow, a Maltese neon signage company spanning three generations. Neonglow founder John Farrugia started using neon tubing in 1952, producing handmade signs from it and turning his company one of the leaders of the craft over the last 60 years. Casumo, by linking itself with a family-run business, is cleverly levergaing the artisan vibe that is so popular at the moment, as well as referring to casino’s neon-lit past. Although as we’re cynical hacks, we were expecting some kind of brash interruption ridiculing the whole thing to call on people to make loooaaaadsamoney… shame on us and fair play to Casumo. Land-based casinos have as many neon lights as possible adorning their fronts, so the video is obviously the online casino’s way of saying it remembers its roots, as well as celebrating local Maltese companies.

Betting sponsorship - again 
An industry contact brought up the issue of betting sponsorship during the Under-17 African Cup of Nations tournament currently taking place in Gabon. He noticed that the operator Guinnée Games (pictutre, right) had its name  on some of the pitchside banners and wondered whether it was right that an under-18s football event should have an betting brand as one of the sponsors. It's a fair question when one thinks of the flak the industry gets across much of the media and many markets worldwide and it's not hard to imagine eagle-eyed critics looking on disapprovingly at the operator having brand marketing during such an event. Of course there will be adults watching these games who would want to place bets on them, but there will also be many youngsters tuning in, while the players taking part are not legally entitled to bet. 

BBC Money Box on problem gambling
Speaking of taking flak (we’re joking), did anyone listen to the BBC Radio 4’s Money Box special on problem gambling? It featured a number of academics, addiction experts, Gamcare and Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of the Remote Gambling Association. Colleagues who had already listened to the programme were quite downbeat about how the industry was portrayed, but the Diary felt it came out ok, or at least ‘reputation neutral’, to use a voguish expression. Most participants were objective on the whole and Hawkswood put the industry's point across in a constructive manner. The more pessimistic among us might have expected him and the sector to be on a hiding to nothing, but many of the arguments were coherent and well made on the whole. One of the key points emphasised by some of the academics was that the current levels of problem gambling are just the tip of the iceberg. One of them said that a 2012 UK health survey revealed that 17% of young men reported some levels of problem gambling, which was “alarming because the current gambling environment has only been around since 2007, it’s the first generation exposed to this, where it’s so available and normalised”. Asked whether gambling was creating lots of problems in wider society, Hawkswood said: “We’re in a transitional phase where we’re not talking about problem gambling and we’re now talking about harm minimisation. In a society where we have legalised gambling there will always be a level of problem gamblers, we won’t be able to eradicate it so it’s about managing that and the effect on others. Of course if gambling didn’t exist, problem gambling wouldn’t be there so to that extent we accept that responsibility but that’s the real world, gambling is not going to go away (and) is a harmless pastime for most people. It’s about focusing on that small but very important group of people who can’t manage their gambling and perhaps other behaviours.” Well said Clive.

Have a great weekend!