iGB Diary: Hills-888-Rank, Poor jokes and bad taste, NJ betting appeal, Door stopper reports, Blast from the past

12 August 2016

Happy Friday (Olympic) igamers! The GB team's sprint gold medal yesterday evening was a beaut alright. We've got another busy Diary for you this week as we delve into the 888-Rank-Hills triumvirate, wonder whether deeply offensive jokes work in attracting traffic, find the US betting situation (also) wondrous, plus some interesting feedback on a recent iGB report and another classic Blast from the past.

Rank opportunism?
Ok ok (another) rubbish pun, we just can’t help it sorry. The 888-Rank bid for William Hill was given short shrift by the UK bookie this week. It said the joint £3.6bn offer was “opportunistic” and its board had rejected it as it “substantially undervalues” the UK’s largest bookmaker. 888 and Rank responded by pointing to Hills’ recent troubles: a 16% drop in operating profit during the first half of 2016 and the departure of chief executive James Henderson. They also published details of £100m of annual savings to be generated by 2020 from the deal: merging digital platforms, consolidating offices and combining marketing spend. Supposing a deal did go through, in terms of marketing it would still mean three key brands for the new entity: 888 for casino, Rank’s Mecca Bingo and Hills’ sportsbook. But how do you create such major synergies on such distinct verticals? And would merging digital platforms mean Hills’ and Rank’s casino games going onto 888’s. Or vice-versa with the latter two going onto Hills’ Playtech-led platform? What of Bede Gaming and Rank’s relationship? Access to finance for a bigger cash offer from 888-Rank would also have to be addressed, while William Hill shareholders are not enthused at the thought of £2.2bn of debt and 888 and Rank making up shareholder blocks of roughly 26% and 29% of any new structure. The questions are many and of course no one will claim to know how this will play out. 888 and Rank say the merger would create “a significant and transformational force in the global betting and gaming industry, and the UK’s largest multichannel gambling operator by revenue and profit”. That’s true enough, although it does seem difficult to envisage it at the moment. Then again, 888 was odds-on to take over bwin party not that long ago, only to be outfoxed by GVC.

Only joking
Is all publicity good publicity? Donald Trump might reply in the positive, then again he is ‘the Donald’ and lives in his own parallel universe. We raise the subject because an online casino put out a tweet (see picture) this week joking that Manchester United ‘letting (French midfielder Paul) Poga (sic) go on a free, then buying him back @ €100m” was the “worst decision since the McCanns went for dinner”. Dodgy spelling aside, the joke (if we can call it that) is deliberate in its aim to offend as many people as possible, but more to the point, to get them to click on the link. However many do click, some will go on to open an account. Mission accomplished then for the casino. To an extent yes, the end justifying the means and so on. But does it matter if the marketing hook used to get that traffic is crass, insensitive and, in the end, not funny at all? Not even in a cheeky, irreverent kind of way. A few igaming execs discussed it on a Facebook thread. For affiliate expert Tom Galanis, the stunt will get some “PR but will that translate to bottom line? Doubt it very much. It's about the laziest form of marketing possible and precisely the wrong form of differentiation we need and the sort of thing that will stir the UKGC and the ASA in to regulating social media activity”. Paul Reilly, of SEO specialist Media Skunk Works, said the fact that it was being discussed on Facebook showed that it would lead “to links at a rate of knots... Links translate to PageRank... PageRank translates to Search Visibility.... Search Visibility translates to First Time Deposits....” Reilly finished by saying: “Am curious to see a full 360 on this. Search Visibility, link development, brand search increase, twitter follow increase, even derivatives such a Google auto complete variation.” It would indeed be fascinating to see how much business these offensive tweets actually generate for the company concerned. Along with generally rude and insulting social media activity about anyone it can think of, it’s not the first time the operator in question has done this, in March it tweeted a message about England striker “Jamie Vardy looking like an extra from Schindler's List". Some of our industry friends must have found that hilarious no doubt… We emailed the operator for comment but it did not respond, although it had deleted the Pogba tweet.  

NJ sports betting appeal  
Philadelphia’s 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals this week rejected New Jersey’s appeal to get sports betting legalised at casinos and racetracks throughout the Garden State, saying it would violate the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which bans betting in all US states apart from Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. No doubt punters in Montana will be over the moon about the decision. NJ Senator Raymond Lesniak told Reuters: “We were relying on having sports betting to give a big boost to our ailing Atlantic City casinos and our suffering racetracks. It's just wrong for Congress to deny New Jersey what the state of Nevada has." New Jersey will likely take the matter to the US Supreme Court and the American Gaming Association also wants PASPA repealed. The US government and major sports federations (NFL, NHL, MLB etc.) oppose its attempt to get betting legalised, but the US is such a huge black market for betting that it is impossible not to wonder at the irony of those same federations’ stance, especially as some of them have financial stakes in daily fantasy sports companies.

Bring the door stoppers back? 
When is a report not a "report" report; i.e. not like a "real" report? (Yes the Diary is trying to see how often it can repeat the same word in a single sentence). Well, when it's the iGaming Business Social Gaming and Betting Report of course. You may have seen that we published the report this week. It was well received generally, although some readers said they were expecting more granular and detailed content. It is true that it is not a 'door stopper' in the tradition of past iGB reports, but that is deliberate: it’s meant to be an update, albeit a fairly lengthy one, on a chosen subject. Nonetheless, the points about producing longer, more detailed reports is a valid one and we will look at how to respond accordingly through our content. We’re always open to feedback, feel free to drop us a line: info@igamingbusiness.com.

Blast from the past
We've got a bona fide classic for you this week. More understated than others, this advert for an industry conference is reassuring in that it's always good to see topics of discussion haven't changed that much since 2003. Indeed, "How do we regulate internet gambling?" The advert was about the UK market but the question is as relevant today across many markets as it was 13 years ago. The short explainer about Graham White and his role at the Gaming Board of Great Britain (as it was then known) is classic.  

Have a great weekend!