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Monday, September 19, 2005

move to aquire empire online

LONDON (Reuters) - Recently-listed Internet gaming services firm Empire Online Ltd (EOL.L: Quote, Profile, Research) is thought to be the target of online betting group, Sportingbet (SBT.L: Quote, Profile, Research), British media reported on Saturday.

On Friday Empire said it had received a 790 million pound bid approach, but declined to name its suitor.

Initial market speculation suggested firms such as PartyGaming (PRTY.L: Quote, Profile, Research) or 888.com might be the mystery bidder, but on Saturday the British business press said AIM-listed Sportingbet was the company in the frame.

Saturday's Financial Times, along with other newspapers, said in an unsourced story Sportingbet was in talks with Empire which has said the bid approach was 270p a share in cash and shares.

Empire Online floated at 175p a share in June and stock in the firm, which provides marketing and drives traffic to sites run by gaming companies, closed on Friday at 265p.

The interest in Empire, founded by Israeli businessman Noam Lanir in 1998, underlines the growth potential investors see in online casino games such as poker and roulette.

The amount Britons gamble over the Internet increased by more than six times in 2004, according to survey released earlier this year by casino 888.com.

The findings showed a 566 percent increase in the amount of money Britons staked online since the end of 2003.

casino empire

LONDON (Reuters) - Recently-listed Internet gaming services firm Empire Online Ltd (EOL.L: Quote, Profile, Research) is thought to be the target of online betting group, Sportingbet (SBT.L: Quote, Profile, Research), British media reported on Saturday.

On Friday Empire said it had received a 790 million pound bid approach, but declined to name its suitor.

Initial market speculation suggested firms such as PartyGaming (PRTY.L: Quote, Profile, Research) or 888.com might be the mystery bidder, but on Saturday the British business press said AIM-listed Sportingbet was the company in the frame.

Saturday's Financial Times, along with other newspapers, said in an unsourced story Sportingbet was in talks with Empire which has said the bid approach was 270p a share in cash and shares.

Empire Online floated at 175p a share in June and stock in the firm, which provides marketing and drives traffic to sites run by gaming companies, closed on Friday at 265p.

The interest in Empire, founded by Israeli businessman Noam Lanir in 1998, underlines the growth potential investors see in online casino games such as poker and roulette.

The amount Britons gamble over the Internet increased by more than six times in 2004, according to survey released earlier this year by casino 888.com.

The findings showed a 566 percent increase in the amount of money Britons staked online since the end of 2003.

The gambling lawsuit

888 Holdings Plc, the world's largest Internet casino operator by number of visitors, is proceeding with its plan to sell stock in an initial public offering even as shares of rival PartyGaming Plc plunged Tuesday.

888 hasn't changed its plan to sell shares, said a spokesman for the Gibraltar-based company, who declined to be identified, in a telephone interview. The company has had "very positive feedback" from investors ahead of this month's sale, he said.

Shares of PartyGaming Plc, the online operator which competes with 888 in poker gaming, fell as much as 37 percent today after the company said revenue growth is slowing, wiping about 2.4 billion pounds ($4.4 billion) from the company's market value. As of Monday, PartyGaming shares had risen 35 percent since its IPO in June, while the shares are now trading below the offering price.

PartyGaming's valuation is being used as a benchmark for 888's business, bankers said. Shareholders of 888, who plan to sell $500 million of stock in an IPO that would value the company at about $1.5 billion, may raise less now in the offering, bankers added.

Gibraltar-based PartyGaming, which makes 87 percent of its revenue in the U.S., said revenue gains are slowing as competition mounts because more operators are seeking to enter the market.

Founded in 1997, 888 operates the Casino-on-Net and PacificPoker Web sites. Casino business accounts for about two- thirds of 888's sales.

gambling stock market

WASHINGTON, Sept 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday turned aside an attempt to restrict Internet gambling in a procedural move, but Sen. Jon Kyl vowed he would try again and said he expected the legislation would become law eventually.

The Arizona Republican tried to attach language restricting Internet gambling to an annual spending bill that must be passed this year, but an unnamed Democrat objected to attaching an unrelated matter to the spending measure under consideration.

Kyl said his legislation would require banks and credit card companies to block payments to online Internet gambling sites. He said some firms were already voluntarily blocking money transfers.

"We will proceed with this, it will become law at some point at some time," the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor. "There should be no reason why we can't move forward on this."

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said that a member of her party had objected to attaching Kyl's language to the spending bill but she was not sure who. Kyl urged the lawmaker to come forward so the concerns could be addressed.

The U.S. Justice Department has said the laws that prohibit interstate gambling apply to the Internet. But Americans have turned to offshore gambling Internet sites as an alternative.

The Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have passed similar legislation in the past but have been unable to reach agreement on a single, identical bill, Kyl said.

casino poker party

The military axiom is "he who imposes the terms of the battle imposes the terms of the peace." The gambling equivalent is: "Don't call unless you could raise"; that is, to merely match one's opponent's bet is effective only if it makes the opponent question the caller's motives. And that can only occur if the caller has acted aggressively enough in the past to cause his opponents to wonder if the mere call is a ruse de guerre.

If you are branded as passive, the table will roll right over you — your opponents will steal antes without fear. Why? Because the addicted caller has never exhibited what, in the wider world, is known as courage.

In poker, one must have courage: the courage to bet, to back one's convictions, one's intuitions, one's understanding. There can be no victory without courage. The successful player must be willing to wager on likelihoods. Should he wait for absolutely risk-free certainty, he will win nothing, regardless of the cards he is dealt.

For example, take a player who has never acted with initiative — he has never raised, merely called. Now, at the end of the evening, he is dealt a royal flush. The hand, per se, is unbeatable, but the passive player has never acted aggressively; his current bet (on the sure thing) will signal to the other players that his hand is unbeatable, and they will fold.

His patient, passive quest for certainty has won nothing.

The Democrats, similarly, in their quest for a strategy that would alienate no voters, have given away the store, and they have given away the country.

Committed Democrats watched while Al Gore frittered away the sure-thing election of 2000. They watched, passively, while the Bush administration concocted a phony war; they, in the main, voted for the war knowing it was purposeless, out of fear of being thought weak. They then ran a candidate who refused to stand up to accusations of lack of patriotism.

The Republicans, like the perpetual raiser at the poker table, became increasingly bold as the Democrats signaled their absolute reluctance to seize the initiative.

John Kerry lost the 2004 election combating an indictment of his Vietnam War record. A decorated war hero muddled himself in merely "calling" the attacks of a man with, curiously, a vanishing record of military attendance. Even if the Democrats and Kerry had prevailed (that is, succeeded in nullifying the Republicans arguably absurd accusations), they would have been back only where they started before the accusations began.

Control of the initiative is control of the battle. In the alley, at the poker table or in politics. One must raise. The American public chose Bush over Kerry in 2004. How, the undecided electorate rightly wondered, could one believe that Kerry would stand up for America when he could not stand up to Bush? A possible response to the Swift boat veterans would have been: "I served. He didn't. I didn't bring up the subject, but, if all George Bush has to show for his time in the Guard is a scrap of paper with some doodling on it, I say the man was a deserter."

This would have been a raise. Here the initiative has been seized, and the opponent must now fume and bluster and scream unfair. In combat, in politics, in poker, there is no certainty; there is only likelihood, and the likelihood is that aggression will prevail.

The press, quiescent during five years of aggressive behavior by the White House, has, perhaps, begun to recover its pride. In speaking of Karl Rove, Scott McClellan and the White House's Valerie Plame disgrace, they have begun to use words such as "other than true," "fabricated." The word that they circle, still, is "lie." The word the Democratic constituency, heartsick over the behavior of its party leaders, has been forced to consider applying to them is "coward."

One may sit at the poker table all night and never bet and still go home broke, having anted away one's stake.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

marketvalue 888

Online casino operator 888.com set a price range of 162-212 pence per share on Thursday for its flotation, implying stock market value of no more than 714.6 million pounds for the business.

The company had been hoping for 750 million pounds, while its brokers wanted up to 875 million pounds. The valuation was hit by Internet poker group PartyGaming''s warning last week of slow growth in the sector.

888 is over 90 percent controlled by two Israeli families and run by Gibraltar-based Cassava, which also operates fellow online casinos Pacific Poker and Reef Club Casino.

Investment bank HSBC has been appointed as sole bookrunner, global co-ordinator and sponsor for the 888 float while Bridgewell, Panmure and Numis are co-lead managers.

HSBC Holdings Plc is managing the sale.

Order-taking runs through September 28 and the shares begin trading in London September 29.

888 said its annual dividend will represent about 50 percent of net profit. The company earned $41.1 million last year.

btdino leading news

Speaking at the Global Gaming Expo 2005, Terry Lanni, chairman and CEO of MGM MIRAGE, and Gary Loveman, president and CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment said their companies remain committed to the Gulf Coast and predicted the region would prosper again despite the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina.

At the keynote session, Lanni and Loveman indicated rebuilding efforts in Mississippi may in fact result in new gaming facilities that are more luxurious and boast a wider range of first-class non-gaming amenities than previously existed.

Loveman said: “When we rebuild our properties in the area, we expect to provide a wider range of entertainment options for our customers.”

Lanni noted that MGM MIRAGE’s Biloxi property, the Beau Rivage, already was considered a state-of-the-art property before the storm, and he indicated the company intends to rebuild using the same high standard.

One issue both executives will be closely watching in the coming weeks is the state legislature’s decision about whether to allow the Gulf Coast casinos to rebuild on land instead of water. Loveman said: “Absolutely nothing has been gained by having the casinos on water. These are regular businesses and should be on land like any other business.”

raw deals

The fact that its maiden interim results had met market predictions was shunted firmly to one side as investors digested the statement by Party Gaming chief executive Richard Segal that growth prospects were “continuing to moderate”.

What caused the greatest dismay were Segal’s comments about retention rates and yield per player — how long customers remain active and how much money they are spending on the site. In July and August these key measures “continued to decline, albeit at rates that are greater than anticipated, as more casual players are attracted to the player pool”, Segal told the market.

As if that were not bad enough, the company also cited statistics for the online poker market as a whole, which showed growth from the second quarter to the third was up by a mere 4%, compared with a 26% rise in the same period last year.

Given that the third quarter began on July 1, seven days after the firm’s shares began trading, the timing of the float looks fortuitous, to say the least.

In response to the company’s statement, house broker Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein cut its forecast for next year’s earnings by 12%.

The market’s reaction was swift and brutal. About £2 billion was wiped off the company’s value on the day of the announcement, with the shares dropping 51Çp to end the day at 105p — a 33% fall. That left the stock well adrift of the 116p float price. Over the week, it did not recover much ground, closing on Friday at 113Äp, valuing the company at £4.5 billion. Investors were livid.

One shareholder said: “For me, the collapse of this stock has been the most shocking thing that’s happened to a stock in the past decade. We went into this with our eyes wide open about the regulatory risks. But never did we think about a revenue risk. I am angry. There were a lot of smashed telephones on Tuesday, put it that way.”

Perhaps the angry shareholders would have done well to read a research note published on July 6 by boutique stockbroker Arbuthnot — the only house to have a sell recommendation on Party Gaming’s shares. The report, headlined “Too late to join the party”, set a target price of 125p. That barrier, unhappily for investors, has been comfortably smashed.

THE news raises a number of serious questions, not least whether the summer slowdown identified by Party Gaming represents a blip or the start of a longer-term trend. Either way, the feeling gnawing away at investors is that they have been cheated. One said: “You should never be vulnerable to a 35% fall in your share price in one day. This shouldn’t ever happen, let alone after 10 weeks.”

opportunilty for all

This week the Global Gaming Expo ("G2E") is taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada, with more than 25,000 industry professionals slated to attend. The annual G2E is a week-long event dedicated to bringing together the entire gaming industry. As this year's G2E takes shape, the United States gaming industry is also focused on how to rebuild the Gulf Coast casino market that was so badly impacted by Hurricane Katrina. In this regard, the American Gaming Association and many casino operators and vendors to the region have established relief funds to assist Hurricane Katrina victims. Individuals interested in contributing to the American Gaming Association Relief Fund can do so by visiting its website at www.americangaming.org.

This is the 5th anniversary of the G2E, which is organized by the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions. In five short years the G2E has become the preeminent tradeshow and conference for the gaming-entertainment industry. Last year's G2E saw a 10 percent increase in conference participants over the 2003 figures. International attendance at the 2004 G2E experienced a jump of 29 percent over 2003 with representatives attending from 107 different countries.

The 2005 G2E began on Monday, September 12 with the Training and Development Institute. This Institute was developed to increase the number of educational programs offered in connection with the G2E. There were 35 one-hour programs that included a wide variety of topics such as: slot machine development, trends in guest service, developing jurisdictions, managing healthcare costs, and many others.

On Tuesday, the G2E officially started with additional conferences and the opening of the Exhibit Hall which included 700 leading gaming industry vendors taking up 283,000 square feet of exhibit space. The exhibitors at the conference showcase the latest in table games and slot machines, but also include industry-service vendors such as: carpet suppliers, accounting firms, colleges, and security providers. Gaming industry vendors are thus given the opportunity to showcase their products and services to casino executives, and to each other.

On Wednesday the conference will hold over 50 additional educational programs and the exhibitors will continue to network with potential customers. Also on Wednesday, the G2E will hold a Signature Series panel entitled "State of the States: Good News and How to Use It." This program will include a presentation by Peter Hart, director of Peter D. Hart Research Associates. Mr. Hart will discuss the findings of the American Gaming Association's annual "State of the States" survey, explain the "facts behind the facts," and share his predictions for the future. This survey will certainly be the subject of a future column.

The conference and exhibit hall conclude on Thursday. One of the anticipated programs will include leading gaming industry suppliers who will explore how they can gain competitive advantages and reward their shareholders in a panel entitled "Manufacturers CEO Roundtable." The moderator for this panel is Frank Fantini, editor and publisher of Gaming Morning Report, with panelists T. J. Matthews, COO of IGT, and Mark Yoseloff, chairman and CEO of Shuffle Master Gaming.

For people interested in expanding their knowledge of the gaming industry, the G2E is a must-attend event. The conference organizers have once again pulled out all the stops and made the 2005 G2E a truly spectacular show. It is exciting to listen to industry experts discuss the trends of the ever changing and evolving gaming industry. While it is heartbreaking to hear of the disruption and damage experienced in the Gulf Coast Region, the support that the casino operators and suppliers to the region have committed is truly amazing and sets a bench mark for other industries in the affected area to seek to achieve.

Online poker

World Series of Poker Champion Doyle Brunson's reputation as a player and author (Super System, Super System 2) was established in the 1970s and continues today. His Online Poker (183 pages, paperbound (with bonus CD) $14.95) joins a new wave of books advising the novice on what to expect in the world of online play; including more than two dozen poker strategies and identifying online "tells." In a dozen concise, but well-illustrated chapters he discusses the impact of televised poker and how online poker now ushers in a new era.

One chapter offers a list of places to play with information on where you may learn to play or discuss the game and the benefits of online learning.

Brunson, ever the teacher, recommends how to download software, fund your account, and how to get a taste by playing small money before advancing to bigger.

The meatiest chapter focuses on the basic rules of play and procedures including how hold 'em, Omaha and seven-stud and other games are played followed by an interesting discussion on why online play is worse than live play.

Eight pages later, Brunson re-focuses with two dozen reasons online poker is better (including the practice factor, more hands per hour, no tipping required, playing for smaller limits).

Brunson advises avoiding doing anything fancy in a game filled with weak players. "Online, you'll find that opponents are treating poker a little more than bingo, paying attention to their own hands mostly and paying attention to you only a little or not at all ... make obvious, strong decisions. Don't try to be too fancy...."

This book might be subtitled Concise Online Poker. Brunson writes to the point -- short sentences, common sense, direct -- with examples and a world of experience to draw from. I highly recommend it to those motivated to try online poker and who have many a question about how to go about it properly.

Midwest gaming

Little by little, every year, slot machines change. The rise of bonus rounds, the introduction of ticket printers for payoffs, the disappearance of handles on the machines --- there are new wrinkles all the time.

When Bonus Books asked me for a revised edition of my Slot Machine Answer Book, I knew some things had changed. I had, after all, been writing about slots all this time since the book was published in 1999. I thought I'd have to freshen the book a little, update a little information, but that it would more or less hold up.

But as I started going through the original book, I realized this was going to take a little more work. So the second edition of The Slot Machine Answer Book, now in bookstores, online at Amazon.com and at my CasinoAnswerMan.com site, has gone through considerable revision. I estimate I rewrote about 60 percent of the book. In fact, so much has changed, I found I couldn't get everything within the targeted page count. So while The Slot Machine Answer Book touches on video slots, a companion book, The Video Slot Machine Answer Book, will be out as soon as Bonus Books gets it back from the printer.

As in all the Answer Books in my series, it's set up in question and answer format. So let's focus on the slots this week with a few excerpts from the book.

Q. The largest slot jackpot ever hit in the United States is:
A. $9 million.
B. $19 million.
C. $29 million.
D. $39 million.

A. D. A record jackpot of $39,713,982.25 has hit on a Megabucks machine at Excalibur on the Las Vegas Strip in March 2003. The winner was a 25-year-old software engineer from California who was visiting family in Las Vegas and playing Megabucks at his uncle's suggestion. The jackpot broke the record of $34.9 million at the Desert Inn on the Strip in 2000.

How rapidly things change. When the first edition of this book was published, the record was $27,582,539.48, set in 1998 at Palace Station, west of the Las Vegas Strip. At that time, it nearly doubled the record of $14.4 million set in 1998 at Harrah's in Reno, Nev. The new record is nearly three times that amount. And the Desert Inn, where the 2000 record was set, is no longer open.

Q. True or False: An individual is more likely to hit a jackpot if the casino is crowded.

A. False. I once read a book in which the author advised slot players to play at peak times in busy casinos, because that's when the most jackpots are hit. And it's true. More jackpots are hit at peak times in busy casinos than when the casinos aren't so busy.

Why? Because slot machines are played more often at peak times. How does that affect my chances of winning? Not at all.

Let's say I'm in a casino with 1,000 slot machines, each programmed to pay off the top jackpot about once per 20,000 pulls. It's Saturday night, so every machine is busy, all with steady players spinning the reels at about 500 pulls per hour. In two hours the reels spin a collective 1 million times, and, if the machines hit right on the average, 50 jackpots are paid. One in every 20 players has a big payday. If I'm not one of them, I've at least seen a few jackpots paid.

Now let's say I return early Wednesday morning. Only 100 slot players are in the casino, playing the same 500 pulls per hour as those on the busier night. In two hours, the reels spin only 100,000 times, only 10 percent as much as on the busy night. If the machines hit right on the average, only five jackpots are paid.

Fifty jackpots on the busy night. Five on the slow day.

But with only 100 players in the casino, those five jackpots mean one in every 20 players has a big payday --- the same as on the busy night. My chances of being one of those to hit the jackpot are the same on the calm day as on the busy night.

Q. A reel-spinning game that adds an element of skill is: A. Wheel of Fortune. B. Jeopardy! C. Family Feud. D. Yahtzee.

A. D. A reel-spinning game that adds an element of skill is Yahtzee. There are both reel-spinning and video versions of Yahtzee with a roll-the-deice bonus round. On the video version, the round is played out on the screen. Reel-spinning games come with oversided dice in the top box, along with a lighted display showing bonus payoffs for Yahtzee rolls such as straights, three of a kind and four of a kind, wit the big payoff being for a Yahtzee --- five of a kind. First, all five dice roll. Then the player selects dice to hold and re-rolls the others, the does it once more --- three rolls, just as in the regular Yahtzee. Players who know which dice to hold and which to roll will get larger bonuses in the long run.

NOTE: I am currently having some minor Web troubles, and the link to my e-mail address is not working properly. For readers who wish to e-mail me, please use grochowski_j@yahoo.com.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com

Lay in craps

Before I Deal: The Biloxi Sun Herald was one of the first newspapers to give this writer his fledgling break and carry Deal Me In. Any writer who syndicates a column will tell you that they forever feel a special kinship to the community where their column first appears. But even if you have never been to the Mississippi Gulf Coast region, few can view the staggering blow dealt the area and not feel a need to pitch in.

The least I can do is suspend monthly billing the Biloxi Sun Herald, indefinitely, and ask instead that the Sun Herald disburse that money to an appropriate relief fund to help those in need. Yet, I suspect my column might not even be carried for some time as the dozen gaming establishments were severely damaged by Katrina -- costing the state coffers a half-million dollars per day in lost, desperately needed tax revenues, not to mention the effect on the 14,000 people who work in the 12 casinos along the Mississippi coastline. Why would anyone want to publish the insignificant until the crippled gambling industry gets back on its feet, which could take months, potentially even years.

So how can you and I lend a helping hand? By raiding that jar of quarters stashed in a cupboard above the refrigerator; quarters designated for some anonymous one-armed bandit, now become quarters needed to ease the misery. The American Red Cross is a good place to start inserting that loose change. Their hotline number is (800) 435-7669, (http://www.redcross.org). Donations will provide clean water, food, and shelter for the surviving disaster victims. For your donation to go specifically to Hurricane Katrina relief, write Katrina on the check.

Other relief agencies that have set up dedicated websites and phone lines for donations to help with rescue and rebuilding are the United Methodist Committee on Relief: (800) 554-8583 (http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/emergency/hurricanes/2005), The Salvation Army: (800) 725-2769 (http://www.salvationarmyusa.org), Catholic Charities: (800) 919-9338 (http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org), Feed the Children: (800) 525-7575 (http://www.feeddthechildren.com) and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, (703) 339.5596 (http://www.nvoad.org).

I hope the residents of Biloxi and Gulfport will accept my sincere words of sympathy in connection with the natural disaster that has struck their area. I am incredibly aware that Hurricane Katrina has caused immeasurable grief and significant economic losses to hundreds of thousands of citizens, but I will await with great anticipation for that southern charmed "come on down" call, so I can personally open my wallet again and pump some much needed dollars into their economy. Hopefully you all will do likewise.

Online casino BTDino (2)

Arnold, one of the stars of Fox's 'The Best Damn Sports Show Ever,' will combine his vast experience as a household name to front two of the premier brands in online entertainment.

BetonSports.com has not only been ranked the number one sports book by several leading industry organizations, but has built a strong reputation with a loyal customer base in the online entertainment industry.

Given the company's success on placing first-class bets -- BETonSPORTS PLC felt Tom Arnold would be the ideal fit for their spokesperson. 'We are thrilled to have Tom Arnold as our spokesperson,' said Clive Archer, director of operations and marketing for BETonSPORTS PLC. 'Mr. Arnold is approachable, friendly, humorous and intelligent ... he's the guy you want at your poker table and on your team. We are looking forward to an exciting year with Tom Arnold.”

Online casino pays 540.000

Sportsbook.com awarded the largest jackpot in its history this month with a cheque for $540,656. Steve A., a retired family man from Illinois, won the jackpot with a $1 progressive wager on Free Ride, a 5-card Caribbean Poker game.

“When I saw the Queen of Clubs come up, I was in total disbelief,” says Steve. “I called my wife in to look at the screen and together we determined we were half a million dollars richer.”

The self-proclaimed “moderate” player joined Sportsbook.com two years ago and wagers primarily on the NFL and casino games.

“My experience with Sportsbook.com has been amazing,” says Steve. “The customer service is great, the payouts are quick and the games are always fair. They are truly a professional organization.”

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casinos help katrina victims

Online casinos generate a lot of money, but not all of it is revenue and payouts. Recently with the humanitarian disaster caused in the US by the hurricane Katrina, one online casino is pitching in to help victims of this natural disaster. Bodog online casino is putting on five benefit poker tournaments for the victims of the disaster and has volunteered to donate all the money earned from the online casino tournaments to relief agencies such as the Red Cross.