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Archive for September 6th, 2018

PokerStars Owner Removes iDEAL for Dutch Players, Fears Regulatory Action

Another major online gambling operator might have landed in hot water in the Netherlands, following the late-August announcement that the local gambling regulator, Kansspelautoriteit, has slapped a €300,000 fine on a Betsson subsidiary for targeting Dutch players.

News emerged earlier today that The Stars Group, owner of online poker room PokerStars, informed late last month its Dutch customers that locally popular payment provider iDEAL would no longer be available to use. In a message sent to local players, the online gambling giant has explained that the use of iDEAL has become “a key trigger” for the launch of an investigation by Kansspelautoriteit. The company’s message further reads that the Dutch gambling regulator has made it clear that any online gambling operators previously sanctioned by it would not be granted a license, once the local market is regulated. As a result, The Stars Group “was left with no choice” but to remove iDEAL.

The company recommended other payment methods working on the same principle to its customers from the Netherlands, with SOFORT and Trustly being two such payment methods. Generally speaking, they all provide their customers with the opportunity to make Internet purchases/online casino deposits by transferring funds directly from their bank accounts.

The Stars Group’s latest move raises certain questions as to whether the company has been scolded by Kansspelautoriteit and over the exact nature of the probe that was said to have been triggered by the availability of iDEAL.

Dutch Parliament Reconvenes after Summer Recess

The latest rounds of news from the Netherlands raise one more more important question – whether actions will be taken regarding the regulation of the country’s online gambling market. The so-called Remote Gambling Bill, allowing for interested international operators to apply for a license from the local regulator and operate in a regulated environment, was approved in the Dutch lower house more than two years ago, but has seen little progress since then.

The Dutch Parliament held on Tuesday its first public session after the summer recess. Lawmakers have a number of important matters on the table, with the country’s 2019 budget being the most pressing one.

The Remote Gambling Bill needs to be approved in the Senate. According to previous reports, lawmakers were expected to attempt to pass the bill and enforce it by early 2019. However, given the fact that there still seems to be a certain level of disagreement between politicians on key aspects of the gambling market re-regulation process, that goal might not be reached.

There was a certain development in the process earlier this year, with MPs finally reaching an accord on a particular provision in the Remote Gambling Bill. It became known that the country’s new gambling regulations, when eventually implemented, would not require operators to establish physical presence in the country in order to be able to operate there as long as they are headquartered within the EU/EEA.

Allowing operators previously sanctioned by Kansspelautoriteit to enter the Dutch market when it finally gets reorganized has been another important point in the gambling re-regulation debate. In July, Dutch Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker urged the government to introduce a regulatory framework that would allow such companies to apply for a license. However, Kansspelautoriteit has remained firm on its stance that it would not issue licenses to companies that were previously fined or warned against targeting Dutch customers.

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Failed Lucky Dragon Casino to Be Sold at September 10 Auction amid Investor Unrest

Lucky Dragon Hotel and Casino was billed as a property of many firsts. Most notably, it was the first hotel and casino resort to be built from the very ground up in post-Recession Las Vegas. In addition, it was the first Vegas casino to specifically target customers from Asia. However, despite the initial euphoria that accompanied its launch, the property was pushed into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a little over a year after its grand opening and is now expected to be sold at a September 10 bankruptcy auction.

The property opened doors in December 2016 as a boutique Asian-themed hotel and casino resort. It was built on a portion of vacant land in the northern end of the Strip, an area that previously remained underdeveloped, but on which more and more developers have been setting their sights over the past several years.

Early in 2018, Lucky Dragon owners signaled that the property was embroiled in heavy financial troubles and that certain portions of it would be shuttered until the issues were sorted out. The resort’s casino floor as well as its dining facilities were among those to close down. Staff members were laid off, and the resort’s management announced that the property was reorganizing and was facing foreclosure.

In February, just days before the previously announced foreclosure, the property’s management pushed it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to protect jobs, pay creditors, and provide certainty to the market, court papers read. At the time, Lucky Dragon employed 98 people.

The Asian-themed casino resort failed to draw crowds, especially from the Asia-Pacific region. According to analysts, its location was among its biggest issues. Others claimed that Asian customers would not necessarily take a trip all the way to Las Vegas to visit an Asian-themed resort. In addition, the property’s particular focus on customers from Asia was deemed a mistake by industry experts.

Interest from a Number of Potential Buyers

As mentioned above, Lucky Dragon is expected to be sold at a bankruptcy auction on September 10. Developers have previously said that a number of prospective buyers had shown interest in the property.

However, according to court papers, Lucky Dragon creditors have pointed out that owners of the troubled property have been offering assets to the market for over a year, but apparently no viable buyers have been found. Lucky Dragon’s management was even advised to “abandon the property” and thus avoid the potential racking up of additional costs that a failed sale could create.

In previous comments about Lucky Dragon, Las Vegas casino owner Derek Stevens (the D Las Vegas and the Golden Gate) told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the property was really nice but its location was “pretty tough” and that there was little pedestrian traffic in the surrounding area.

Lucky Dragon sits on a site just west of Las Vegas Boulevard. The property includes a nine-story hotel tower and a separate 27,500-square-foot casino building.

The hotel and casino resort was valued at $143 million late last year. It is important to note that nearly $90 million of the total investment into the property came from foreign backers each of whom invested $550,000 into the project in hopes to obtain a green card. Under the EB-5 visa program, foreign citizens could be granted a permanent visa if they create jobs in the United States.

Bloomberg wrote in an article from earlier today, citing bankruptcy court filings from investors, that they could lose their investment and their chance to obtain a green card. As a result, Lucky Dragon’s backers are asking for a buyer that would allow them to retain at least some of their interest.

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William Hill Extends US Betting Footprint with Eldorado Partnership

William Hill announced today that it has reached an agreement to sell a 20% stake in its US business to Nevada-based gaming operator Eldorado Resorts and to become the latter company’s exclusive sports betting operator.

The deal will provide William Hill US with the opportunity to distribute its sports betting offering across Eldorado’s 21 properties in 11 US states. The Nevada-based gambling operator’s pending deal for the acquisition of Tropicana Entertainment will further extend its and its new partner’s presence across 26 casinos in 13 states. The acquisition deal is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of the year.

The announcement about William Hill US and Eldorado joining forces comes as multiple US states are looking to legalize sports betting following the US Supreme Court’s ruling from May 14 that struck down a federal ban on wagering on professional and amateur sports. Four states have already launched sports betting following the SCOTUS move and at least ten more are expected to follow suit in the near future.

Commenting on the newly formed partnership between William Hill US and Eldorado, William Hill CEO Philip Bowcock said:

Partnering with Eldorado gives William Hill access to one of the largest and most attractive casino footprints with 23 million customers across multiple states. This partnership provides extensive cross sell and profit growth opportunities to both parties. Together, we are positioned to capture the evolving US opportunity – starting with land-based sports betting and extending to digital sports betting and, in some states, online gaming.

William Hill has been operating in Nevada, the only state where sports betting remained legal after the enforcement of the federal ban on wagering in 1992, for the past six years. The company said recently that it holds a 31% share of the Nevada betting market.

Terms of the Newly Penned Deal

Under the terms of the deal, William Hill US will become the exclusive sports betting partner for Eldorado. The betting operator will operate physical sports betting facilities across the gaming company’s properties and will run an online operation, as well.

The deal will also see Eldorado acquire a 20% stake in William Hill’s US business. The Nevada-based gaming company will additionally receive $50 million of stock in William Hill PLC, subject to a 3- to 5-year lock up.

William Hill US will retain 80% of the newly enhanced business. The agreement also includes an option for the launch of an online casino. The deal has an initial term of 25 years.

Aside from Nevada, William Hill US currently operates sportsbooks at Monmouth Park Racetrack and Ocean Resort Casino in New Jersey, has agreed to provide sports betting services to 13 casinos in Mississippi, and began accepting bets in West Virginia on August 30. Parent company William Hill said today that it expects it to launch a sportsbook in Pennsylvania in the coming weeks.

According to media reports, Eldorado has not been the only US gaming company William Hill has been in talks with over the formation of a joint venture since the liberalization of the US sports betting market earlier this year. It is believed the British bookmaker has discussed the possibility with Penn National Gaming, but discussions were terminated at a very early stage.

William Hill is looking to extend its US footprint as much as possible at a time when its domestic business is underperforming and a looming crackdown on the controversial fixed-odds betting terminals is threatening the company’s domestic retail business which has been producing the largest portion of its revenue for years now.

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