Virginia Advances Casino Gambling, Sports Betting Bill

The Virginia General Assembly has made a historic move by supporting the legalization of sports betting and casino gambling by passing Senate Bill 1126 which seeks to have casinos established in certain cities around the state. The gambling expansion bill is also the very first one in the recent past that has survived the Senate which has a reputation for dispelling any and all forms of gambling-related bills.

The Terms

Now that the hardest part of the process is complete, all that remains is for the state’s governor to sign the bill into law – while seemingly simple, this part of the process is just as crucial as every other part of the process. In Michigan, a gaming bill made it through the lawmakers but the governor chose to veto it. Fortunately, there is very little likelihood that this will happen in Virginia primarily because Gov. Ralph Northam says that he will support the gaming bill if it is beneficial for the state. So far, a gaming industry in the state seems to be a very promising idea not just for the operators and the residents but also for the state authorities and regulators who are going to rake in millions in tax revenue.

Senate Bill 1126 has some rather strict stipulations that will determine whether a state qualifies to host a casino. These include requirements that:

  • 40 percent of the land area of the city must be exempt from local real property taxation, or 24 percent provided that a Virginia Indian Tribe conducts such casino gaming.
  • the unemployment rate was at least 5 percent in November 2017 (or 4 percent if located adjacent to a state that has adopted a Border Region Retail Tourism Development District Act), a poverty rate of at least 20 percent in 2016, and a population decrease of at least 4 percent from 1990 to 2016.
  • the city has a population of more than 200,000 according to the 2017 population estimates.

In addition to that, the local authorities and the residents of the qualifying cities will have to be consulted extensively before the grant of a License to any casino – the Virginia Lottery Board will be responsible for the licensing.

Sports Betting and Online Gambling

While the major focus is currently on the land-based casinos, the bill further contains mechanisms that will see the launch of sports betting and online betting in the state. According to the bill, online gaming will be under the umbrella of “casino gaming”. The Virginia Lottery Board will, therefore, still be responsible for awarding licenses for these verticals – it will also be required to craft rules and regulation for the state’s gambling industry.

888 Purchases Remaining Stake in All American Poker Network

Renowned online gambling operator, 888 Holdings has recently announced its acquisition of the remaining 53 percent shares in All American Poker Network (AAPN) as part of its plans to cement its business in the United States’ gambling market. The $28 million acquisition will give 888 Holdings the right footing as well as independent control of its growth strategy in the country from here on out. Some of the strategies that the operator’s management has in mind include the inking of new partnership agreements and expansion to other states by deploying its proprietary products and technology.

888 Holdings set up the All American Poker Network in 2013 as part of a joint venture with Avenue OLG Entertainment LLC – this joint venture was intended to help 888 to launch its online gambling brands in New Jersey’s interactive gaming market which was just beginning to launch at the time. The venture did pay off with the operator being able to launch its 888poker and 888casino brands later that year. As such, it is safe to say that the AAPN venture has been a pretty successful endeavor in the for both Avenue OLG Entertainment LLG and 888 Holdings – it afforded the latter the flexibility and financial capability required to build its position in the regulated United States market over the last five years. If further allowed 888 to invest in other global regulated markets.

888 currently has robust online poker presences in all the three US states where the activity is currently fully regulated, that is, Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey. As it stands, the operator is expecting to also go live with its operation in Pennsylvania in the first quarter of 2019 under its partnership with Mount Airy Casino. The Pennsylvanian gaming market is one of the largest in the country and the launch of a regulated gaming market in the state will certainly play a monumental role in various endeavors that are meant to take advantage of the new and expanding gambling landscape in the country.

Sights Set on Sports Betting

Online poker aside, 888 Holdings has also been very keen on expanding and cementing itself in the United States sports betting market which has been rapidly taking shape since the mid-May Supreme Court ruling that abolished PASPA and struck down the federal ban on sports betting. Already, eight states have launched their sports betting industries since the ruling and this a great opportunity for the operator. 888 Holdings’ first ever venture into the sports betting market came in the form of the launch of its sports gambling brand in New Jersey in September 2018.

In addition to this, the company also recently signed a sponsorship agreement with the New York Jets – this is the very first partnership between an online gambling company and an NFL franchise.

FanDuel, William Hill Launch Mobile Sports Betting in NJ

The football season is getting closer and the New Jersey mobile sports betting market has gotten big enough for more offerings to take advantage it. Some of the biggest developments in this regard include moves by fantasy sports titan FanDuel and American affiliate of British bookmaker, William Hill to begin offering mobile sports betting last Saturday, marking yet another milestone for the state’s rapidly growing gambling industry.

The entry of the two operators into the sports betting market brings the number of companies offering similar betting products in New Jersey to five. Others operators who have already established offerings for the sports betting market include Draft Kings, Borgata Casino and PlaySugarHouse.com. Borgata was the first casino in New Jersey to offer sports betting in June and it has since been joined by the Bally’s Resorts, Ocean Resort, Golden Nugget and Harrah’s.

William Hill’s Subtle Entry

While FanDuel’s mobile sports betting offering in New Jersey was expected William Hill’s sports betting app was snuck into the New Jersey sports betting market at about the same time. The announcement itself was quite subtle – an email was sent to a rather small group of customers for this soft-launch period. At the moment, the sports product can only be accessed on Android online with the iOS app set to follow soon.

FanDuel’s Sportsbook

At first glance, the Fanduel Sportsbook is a polished and market-ready product that will certainly have no problem competing in New Jersey’s gambling space. The platform was developed entirely in-house but the operator has also gone further to borrow resources from Paddy Power Betfair, its new owner – Paddy Power Betfair acquired FanDuel last summer for a nine-figure amount.

“We’re partnered with one of the most respected brands in Europe, if not the most respected. That gives us a lot of operational [advantages] — whether it is efficient pricing, whether it is the breadth of markets, it gives us more credibility in the space,” Head of Product Nik Bonaddio commented. “Paddy Power has a world-class trading team behind it. If you look at the margins that Paddy Power has, the revenue they do on a lesser scale means that their trading department is as good as it gets. All of this runs off the same platforms that Paddy Power itself runs off of. You will see us having, if not the most efficient lines, among them.”

FanDuel has adopted a more conservative approach to the sports and contents that it books online and on mobile.

“If there’s even any chance of someone thinking an event might be fixed,” Bonaddio said, “we’re probably going to stay away from it. We’ll sacrifice some volume to ensure the consumer protections are there.”

Three Pennsylvanian Casinos Win Online Gambling Licenses

Last Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), announced that it had approved the online gambling licenses to three of the casinos that had applied for them a short while back. The three operators that were awarded Interactive Gaming Certificates by the PGCB are Chester Downs and Marina LLC, operator of Harrah’s Philadelphia, as well as Parx Casino operator Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc. and Mount Airy #1 LLC, operator of the Mount Airy Resort Casino.

All three casinos will now be able to offer online poker, online slot machines, as well as online table games and they are already preparing for these. Mount Airy, for instance, has already partnered with PokerStars in a bid to strengthen its poker presence in the state – the casino also happens to have a deal that dates back to 2015 with 888 still in place.

Parx, on the other hand, has inked a partnership deal with GAN, while Harrah’s is anticipated to forge a partnership deal with 888 since Caesars, its parent company, has deals with 888 in New Jersey – where it also recently launched sports betting –  and Nevada with WSOP.com. Both 888 and Caesar will certainly be looking to grow their interstate poker network and their best shot at doing this is by keeping the ball rolling as they venture into the Keystone State’s online gambling market.

“Once it’s up and running, anyone can establish an account online,” PGCB spokesman Doug Harbach commented. “They can do it in the casino, but they can also establish an account online and they can participate in any casino game – table games, slots and even peer-to-peer poker.”

Once the games go live, the services will only be available to those 21 years or older residing within the state’s boundaries. Still, no official date has been set for the launch of online gambling in Pennsylvania. Hopefully, this will be addressed during the next PGCB meetings.

Penn National Becomes the First to Apply for Sports Betting License

Pennsylvania’s gaming community also received some more exciting news after Penn National, the owners of Hollywood Casino announced that they had applied for the $10 million sports betting license and would be partnering with William Hill US for the venture.

“Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course today formally applied for a license to conduct sports wagering at our facility. We believe this will provide us another attractive amenity at Hollywood Casino, in addition to our full suite of the latest slot machines, table games, multiple dining outlets, exciting live racing and soon to be online gaming offerings. Our plan is to locate our sports book in a newly renovated simulcast theater area at Hollywood Casino and the operations will be managed by William Hill US, the largest sports betting operator in the United States. Operations are expected to begin later this Fall upon final approval by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board,” Penn National Vice President Fred Lipkin elaborated.

More of the state’s casinos are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks or even days.

Italian Parliament Approves Law to Ban Gambling Ads

On August 7, the Italian Senate approved the “Dignity Decree”, a wide-ranging bill that is meant to address issues surrounding temporary work contracts, compensation for unfair dismissal, businesses relocating overseas as well as problem gambling. In other words, the bill, in essence, will ban nearly all gambling-related advertising in the country – officially, it bans all forms of advertising relating to gambling products that allow players win money with the exception of the state lottery. However, existing contracts and sponsorships have been grandfathered in until June 30, 2019.

Previously passed by Italy’s Council of Ministers at the beginning of July 2018, the bill made its way to the Chamber of Deputies earlier this month before it was eventually passed last Tuesday. Its presumable main focus is to deal with problem gambling through a rather surgical manner which begins with banning all forms of gambling advertising on all media outlets in the country.

The ban will also include brand exposure for any gambling-related service providers at sporting, artistic or cultural events. This will particularly hurt soccer teams in Italy’s series A since about half of them have shirt sponsorship deals with gambling operators. Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, the teams and gambling operators have been given a grace period that will come to an end on June 30 next year.

“The disease of the game is an obstacle and my job is to eliminate it and we have identified the prohibition of advertising for the game as an instrument,” said Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio. “We will not surrender.”

The Implications

Even though the Italian government’s intentions might genuinely be to deal with problem gambling, many experts believe that the rather strict measures may turn out to be counteractive since illegal gambling operations may take advantage of the ban on regulated advertisements and target the country’s gambling market.

“Blocking every type of advertising does nothing to reduce such things, which are often accessed by teenagers…. It just blocks advertising. And physical slots in bars don’t need any advertising to earn money and to destroy people’s lives,” casino2k.com, an Italian website that provides information on responsible gambling on regulated gambling wrote in a recent blog post. “Without online advertising, it will be very difficult to recognize legal and reliable sites, while the illegal ones will take advantage and gambling addiction will flourish.”

Also, Italy has had a rather sluggish online poker market and this is one of the factors that motivated its gaming regulator to agree to the shared liquidity poker agreement with Spain, France, and Portugal. While the three countries have already started participating in their shared liquidity agreement, Italy has not joined the party.

The ban on gambling advertisements could potentially cripple the online poker industry since player acquisition will become a huge problem as most of the operators rely heavily on the adverts to generate traffic and attract new poker players to their platforms.

Things Looking Up for Atlantic City Online Sports Betting

Sports betting in the United States is beginning to gain momentum as more states try to tap into the multi-million dollar industry that was just recently legitimized countrywide after the May 14 Supreme Court ruling that repealed PASPA. Atlantic City, one of the country’s gambling havens, is one of the places that are in line for significant perks that will come with online sports betting.

A number of gaming experts have expressed their belief that the nascent online sports betting industry will go a long way in boosting revenue for both the operators and the state governments. However, this is not all. The experts also believe that the industry is certainly bound to bring in more visits to the city.

One of the experts, Rummy Pandit, the executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality, and Tourism at Stockton University, points out that sports betting is in essence more of a social event. He expects that people will be interested in participating in the overall experience that the Atlantic City sports books will have to offer.

“Sports betting is definitely going to drive additional traffic into the city… and online sports betting will not just drive sports betting revenue, it’s going to drive revenue to brick-and-mortars through rooms, food and beverage, entertainment and shows,” Pundit said. “The way I see the market segment, it is more brick-and-mortar oriented, at least initially. But convenience is going to be the driver online.”

Merging Online and Land-Based Offerings

As with most developments, not everyone is on board, but the general consensus is that there needs to be a set of guidelines to guide the process. Steve Ruddock, a lead analyst for online advocacy group PlayNj.com says that Atlantic City casino properties have a learned a valuable lesson from New Jersey’s rollout of online gambling back in 2013. As such, instead of pushing the online sports betting product as standalone options, the casino operators in Atlantic City have opted to link their online gambling rewards to complementary offerings in the land-based properties.

“There’s a symbiotic relationship between the two,” Ruddock said. “If you asked most operators, they would tell you they’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well they’ve interacted and how beneficial online has been. Sports betting will have the same type of impact. If you can link your online sportsbook to your land-based sports books, then you can possibly bring in these newer, younger customers.”

Pandit echoed Ruddock’s sentiments saying that it is very important for the city’s casinos to connect their online sports betting to their land-based offerings. He further pointed out that such a move would develop brand loyalty for both the operators and their properties.

“If you can merge the loyalty programs and the rewards, it’s an additional driver to either bring them to the property or keep them engaged with the brand.”

MGM Partners with GVC for $200M Sports Betting Venture

United Kingdom-based betting group GVC on July 30 announced that it has struck a groundbreaking $200 million deal with MGM Resorts International, a move that will help both companies to expand their brands and offerings in the United States as they try to take advantage of the repeal of PASPA by the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to a press release that accompanied the announcement, MGM and GVC ventures will be a 50:50 one and will see them try to “create world-class sports betting and online gaming platform” in the US. GVC has grown rapidly in the recent past thanks to the many acquisitions it has conducted and with this partnership, the company is looking to get an even greater footing in the nascent but rapidly growing sports betting industry.

“MGM Resorts is a world-leading entertainment business and the most trusted name in gaming, with the highest quality brands and management, and strong sports connectivity. This combined with GVC’s technology and experience in successfully building online gaming businesses across multiple markets presents a truly exciting opportunity for U.S. players and our respective shareholders. To be able to team up with a partner with such pedigree and knowledge, particularly in the U.S., is a real opportunity for GVC,” Kenneth Alexander, Chief Executive of GVC, said.

On Monday, amid speculation about the partnership, GVC’s shares rose by as much as 7.5 percent to a record high of 1,178 pence – it has however retreated slightly to around 5 percent. Still, the new venture will certainly be a gold mine for the company as it will now have access to 15 states in the United States and their cumulative 90 million population.

Both companies have confirmed that each will raise $100 million for the joint venture which will be headquartered in the United States. They also mentioned that the venture will have access to all the United States-based land-based and online sports betting platforms all of which will feature both GVC’s and MGM ’s customer loyalty programs.

With proven track records, the two companies will bring together a plethora of market-leading assets, technologies as well as extensive industry expertise that will shake up the sports betting and online gaming scene in the United States. Furthermore, the venture will significantly increase the speed to market for both of them while ensuring that risk is lowered and they are treated to a couple of other meaningful early mover advantages.

“We are proud to join forces with GVC, the largest and most dynamic global online betting operator, with existing reputable and trusted operations in the U.S. With MGM Resorts’ expertise and leading position in key markets across the U.S., this historic partnership will be positioned to become the instant leader in technology, market access, sports relationships, and brands,” said Jim Murren, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of MGM Resorts. “We are excited to benefit from GVC’s proprietary, best-in-class technology, digital customer acquisition expertise, and experience with adapting to new operating environments. GVC is unusually qualified due to their existing operations in the U.S. Together, we are creating a one-of-a-kind platform that we expect will dominate the U.S. sports betting market.”

Casinos Finally File Petitions for Pa. iGaming Licenses

A decent number of Pennsylvania-based casinos have finally forwarded applications for the state’s online gaming licenses. This was reported by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) last Monday shortly before the window for the first phase of the licenses application process came to an end.

Each of the 9 casinos that have applied for the online gaming licenses had to part with a whopping $10 million for a comprehensive gaming license that included online poker, online table games, and online slots. The last-minute submissions have effectively put an end to the wild speculations that the Keystone State’s casinos would forego online gambling due to the uninviting landscape of high fees and taxes that the state will be imposing on the online gaming revenue as well as the restrictions on skins and on-property wagering.

The casinos that have applied are:

  1. Parx
  2. Stadium Casino
  3. Mount Airy
  4. Sands Bethlehem
  5. Hollywood Casino
  6. Valley Forge
  7. Harrah’s Philadelphia
  8. Rivers Casino
  9. SugarHouse Casino

The Monday, July 16 rush to file the license petitions saw the number of casinos that sent applications rose from three at the end of last week to nine. As it stands, only four casinos – Mohegan Sun, Presque Isle Downs, Meadows Casino and Lady Luck Casino – did not apply for the discounted licenses but the next phase of the licensing period is already on. The four casinos, therefore, have the option of applying for the individual non-discounted licenses at a fee of $ million per category, an option that will only be available until August 14.

Phase three of the online gaming process may or may not occur as it is dependent on whether all the available licenses are sold out or not. In case, there are some left after August 14, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said that it “may set a time for when it would begin accepting petitions from qualified gaming entities to conduct interactive games in all or some of the categories.”

A Significant Gamble

The licenses were clearly a huge gamble for the Keystone State’s lawmakers and gambling regulator particular because the casinos had already declared their opposition to the accompanying tax rates – 16 percent on the casinos’ wins for online poker and online table games, and 54 percent for online slots. These rates are, by far, the highest in any state and four times higher than the rates in New Jersey, where online gambling has been a thing for a while.

“While we remain disappointed with the state’s exorbitantly high tax rate, we have decided to proceed with the hope that we can continue to work to bring the tax in line with what other gaming jurisdictions around the world have instituted. Simply put, we’ve chosen to have a seat at the table in which we can share with the state our results and continue to educate them on why a competitive tax rate is ultimately a win-win for the state and the operator,” Eric Schippers, the Penn International Gaming spokesman said.

Ocean Resort Moves Forward with Online Casino Offering

The past month has been a very busy one for Atlantic City. About a fortnight ago, Hard Rock and Ocean Resorts opened their doors to customers and this was followed shortly by an online offering from Hard Rock. The tremendous expansion of gambling options in the Garden State does not seem to have ended though as now Ocean Resorts has also joined the online gambling operator bandwagon with its new OceanOnlineCasino.com platform. This was officially confirmed when the former Revel Casino decided to finally remove the “under construction” banner that had been resting in the place of the operator’s much anticipated online gaming offering.

All New Jersey online casinos usually undergo a soft launch phase prior to being launched officially and Ocean Resort is no exception. The casino’s soft launch phase will have restricted gameplay hours but this is a measure that has been put in place simply to ensure that the final product will be something that customers would love and appreciate.

Huge Gain for GAN

The Ocean Resort online casino offering is being launched with GAN, a B2B internet gaming software developer, and provider. GAN has been quite up and about in the United States striking deals and integrating with various services and while this makes its partnership with Ocean Resorts less of a surprise it certainly is a welcomed development. Ocean Resorts casino also happens to be the first brick-and-mortar casino in New Jersey to partner with GAN.

Among the benefits that the software developer and provider will be bringing to the table are its impressive turnkey managed services that comprise of software development, regulated consultancy, payments management as well as customer services. In addition to this, GAN’s Ocean Resort Casino-licensed patent will also enable the operator’s clients that are part of the Ocean Premier (Ocean Resort Casino’s loyalty program) to sign up online and link their rewards card to their OceanOnlineCasino.com accounts.

“Ocean Resort Casino is a fabulous casino property, unarguably offering the best quality gaming & hotel in Atlantic City, which has now been optimized for success by the new ownership and leadership. We’re privileged to bring this immense property to life online, just as it relaunches in the traditional retail casino market. We’re excited to deliver not just another ‘me too’ Internet casino, but to also bring online for the first time the capabilities unlocked only by GAN’s convergence Patent which may give casino patrons in New Jersey a compelling economic rationale to play online with Ocean Resort Casino rather than established incumbent casino operators already online in this fast-growing market. Ocean Resort Casino is anticipated to be material to GAN’s revenue and earnings in H2 2018,” GAN chief executive officer, Dermot Smurfit said about the partnership.

At launch, the online gambling site will offer over 50 slots, table games like blackjack and roulette as well as eight different versions of video poker.

Hard Rock Casino Debuts Online Casino Days After Reopening

New Jersey’s gambling industry is just starting to get back on track especially with the reopening of two new casinos in the last week. Hard Rock and Ocean Resorts casinos both went live in massive grand openings a little over a week ago and while they have certainly begun to return Atlantic City to its former glory, both operators are already planning their next ventures. In fact, one of them, Hard Rock Casino, has already taken the step forward by launching an online gambling website which is now a pretty significant addition to the state’s already thriving online gambling industry.

Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s real money online gambling platform officially and subtly went live last Tuesday (July 3) becoming the state’s 26th legal online gambling site. After its launch, the director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, David Rebuck, confirmed that Hard Rock had passed all the necessary equipment and systems tests before they were cleared for launch and operation on Tuesday.

Hard Rock joins six other New Jersey online gambling licensees, who include Borgata, Golden Nugget, Hard Rock, Resorts and Tropicana, and Caesars Interactive-NJ, which includes Caesars and Harrah’s. the state regulator has also approved other gambling companies that are known partner of Atlantic City casinos.

“Our online gaming team has done an amazing job launching one of the most dynamic online gaming experiences in the industry,” Hard Rock’s Atlantic City president, Matt Harkness said. “We’re excited to extend the Hard Rock brand beyond the Boardwalk and let casino players (play) across the Garden State.”

The number of online casino licensees in the state is also expected to grow further with one not being far behind – Ocean Resort Casino is reportedly preparing to offer online casino services. According to Rebuck, the operator’s gambling operation is still in its testing phase with the state regulators.

Tiding GiG Over

Hard Rock’s online gambling operation was in conjunction with Gaming Innovation Group (GiG) which was also recently awarded a provisional license by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. GiG will be using this license until it is awarded its first full-fledged US operating license.

GiG and Hard Rock Atlantic City made their partnership public earlier this year with both operators making it clear that they were going at a piece of the online gambling pie.

“We are delighted to now be going live with Hard Rock in New Jersey, a first step in our mutually ambitious plans to take market share in the regulated online gambling market in the US,” GiG CEO Robin Reed said in a press release. “Hard Rock has ambitious plans to become a global leader in iGaming, and we are proud to have been selected to help them. We get to partner with one of the world’s best-known brands to make a standout new online casino. It is really an exciting time at GiG.”

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