Novibet makes senior management hires ahead of SPAC merger

In March, it was revealed that special purpose acquisition company Artemis had agreed a business combination with Novibet, in an arrangement that would allow the latter to list on the Nasdaq exchange.

The merger has already been approved by the boards of both businesses and its expected to complete during the second half of 2022, subject to approval by Artemis shareholders and other customary closing conditions.

In anticipation of the deal completing, Novibet has appointed Christoforos Bozatzidis to the newly created role of chief marketing officer for international markets. Bozatzidis join from Greek telco Wind Hellas and have oversight of Novibet’s global expansion into markets such as Europe, North America and Latin America.

In addition, Thomas Granite, who currently serves as chief financial officer, treasurer and secretary of Artemis, has been appointed as CFO and treasurer of Novibet, effective upon completion of the merger.

Granite will oversee all financial aspects of Novibet including internal and external financial reporting, internal audit, compliance and controls, investor relations, and treasury and capital markets functions, and also take a prominent role in strategic planning, business development, and mergers and acquisitions. 

He will take on the role having previously served as CFO of Maverick Gaming and managing director for the Real Estate, Gaming and Lodging Investment Banking group at Jefferies Financial Group. 

“We are at the beginning of a very exciting time for Novibet with the ongoing business momentum in markets where we currently operate soon to be complemented by our entry into additional regulated igaming and OSB markets in Europe, North America and Latin America,” Novibet chief executive George Athanasopoulos said.

“Continuing to enhance our senior management leadership and capabilities will prove vital to our ability to achieve consistent progress on our business expansion initiatives.”

Meanwhile, Novibet also announced the expected composition of its board of directors in advance of the merger.

Rodolfo Odoni, the owner of Komisium and beneficial owner of Novibet, will serve as the executive chairman of Novibet’s board, while Athanasopoulos will be a director.

Samy David, who has been a managing partner of Grifon Partners since 2013, will also serve as a director, as will Holly Gagnon, currently co-chief executive and chairperson of Artemis.

Philip Kaplan, the co-chief executive and president of Artemis, will take the final director role on the board.

“Our proposed board of directors will be world class as it will include senior executives who possess significant gaming and/or technology industry and capital markets experience that we believe will prove valuable in helping the company continue to execute at a high level and achieve consistent progress on its growth initiatives,” Odoni said.

“We’re looking forward to working collaboratively with George and the entire Novibet team as they embark on this exciting time in the company’s history and work to create value for all shareholders.”

Sportech confirms latest executive exit as CFO Rowlands steps down

Rowlands will exit the business to become deputy CFO of digital marketing services group Dept.

Sportech said its board will consider its appropriate composition going forward and will seek to appoint a replacement, with Rowlands to remain with the business until after the release of its interim results in September.

Rowlands joined Sportech in November 2010 as group financial controller, serving in the role for just under 11 years before becoming CFO in September last year.

Prior to this, Rowlands was the group financial controller at Parkwood Holdings, as well as finance director at Glendale Countryside and group finance manager at Parkwood Holdings.

In addition, Rowlands had a spell as an executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“I have been with Sportech for nearly 12 years and have thoroughly enjoyed my time at the company and am proud of what has been achieved by its management and employees,” Rowlands said. “However, I believe it is time to move to the next stage of my career with Dept. 

“I am confident that Sportech will continue to deliver value for shareholders and customers alike and I wish the board and the team all the very best for the future.”

Sportech’s executive chairman Richard McGuire added: “We are grateful to Nicola for her dedication, professionalism and support to the group, specifically during the recent years when she played a pivotal role in the transactions and restructuring the business, resulting in the elimination of debt and returning significant capital to shareholders. 

“She will leave here with our best wishes for her future career.”

Rowlands is the latest departure from Sportech in recent months. In May chief executive Andrew Lindley announced he would step down from his post and Ben Warn stepped down as a non-executive director. Meanwhile Giles Vardey left his role as independent non-executive chairman in April.

Zeal rolls out AI identification technology to protect minors

Under the arrangement, Zeal has begun using Nect Ident, a fully automated identification based on AI for customers gambling with Zeal online.

Players can identify themselves independently via an app using an ID document and a selfie video, with Nect Ident able to compare faces and check documents, as well as detect any attempts at digital manipulation.

Zeal said this will ensure users attempting to access its online gambling services are of legal age, while it will also prevent players from using false identities to create an account.

“As a provider of online lotteries, youth protection is central and omnipresent for us,” Zeal chief executive Helmut Becker said. “That’s why we place the highest value on using innovative technologies that make the registration process secure and transparent for both sides. 

“By using Nect Ident, we will be able to even better ensure that the players who register for our online offers really do meet the regulatory requirements for playing the lottery.”

Nect chief executive Benny Bennet Jürgens added: “Youth control should be as simple and at the same time as safe as somehow possible. Both sides benefit from AI-based identification; users can identify themselves independently and within a very short time and companies can be sure that their new customers are really the people they claim to be. 

“We are delighted to partner with Zeal to modernise new customer registration for lottery play.”

iGB op-ed: the Premier League should jump before it’s pushed

This Tuesday, the barons of English football met in an undisclosed location for one of their once-in-a-while shareholders meetings – which according to reports included some rather striking ideas for “a new deal for football”. 

Apparently this is some sort of grand bargain between the Premier and lower leagues, as well as more importantly a big old bash at new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly’s house.

Great stuff, but wasn’t there supposed to be something in there about a voluntary betting shirt sponsorship ban? Last week, it was reported that there was enough support for such a ban, subject to a transition period and certain conditions, to pass the necessary 14-vote threshold.

Kicking the can down the road

While the machinations of the big clubs are a bit of a black box, it’s probably the case that, as speculated in the press, the clubs delayed the vote until the autumn to see what the political landscape looked like.

Indeed, with the race for Tory leader narrowing to just the more pro-industry Rishi Sunak vs the more sceptical Liz Truss, the fate of the Gambling Act review has never been less certain.

While the anti-industry lobby seems to believe that a delay means a more watered down white paper, you can’t be too sure – right now the political betting markets seems to think Truss is the easy favourite.

But the upshot is that with the league unsure of who will be prime minister this time next year, the industry is once again in the familiar position of waiting to see what happens next.

Half-time break

This may turn out to be a mistake. Entities such as the Premier League are not passive actors in the great cosmic drama of gambling reform – they are active participants who have and will shape the nature of regulation in the UK.

In a few months when the white paper is released, what has for too long been a parochial intra-industry discussion will become the centre of a robust national conversation that will happen at pubs and at the dinner table.

The more that the industry can demonstrate now that it is willing to make concessions, that it can self-regulate, that it doesn’t need the state to use its power to enforce a degree of social responsibility – the louder it will be able to make its case when it will need to.

And it is better to make small concessions than big ones.

Small potatoes

Because it’s not Bet365, or Paddy Power or any other large household names on the front of Premier League shirts – it’s usually brands targeting unregulated markets in Asia.

Football shirt sponsorships are one of the most visible manifestations of gambling in the UK so it is not surprising that it is often the aspect of gambling reform which garners the most media and public attention – but by any measure it is small potatoes compared to genuinely damaging reforms that have been proposed.

Even in the Premier League, the sums being talked about are measured in the mere millions, compared to an online gambling industry in the UK which is fast approaching a GGY of £7bn.

Other side of the coin

If the government and public are in an unforgiving mood in a year or so once this is starting to turn into legislation, they have the tools at their disposal to cut deep grooves into the sector. What will happen to recreational bettors who face hard affordability checks, like invasive uploads of bank statements and proof of income?

Or what about even more comprehensive advertising controls, as in the Italian, Spanish or Belgian markets? The state could even use its purse strings to strangle the industry, by introducing unworkable taxes as in markets like Romania.

The fact of the matter is that eventually in the UK some kind of gambling reform is going to take place, and the industry has an enormous degree of agency in what it eventually looks like.

To put it into its own language – the sector should not be averse to putting up a small stake to win the pot.

FDJ to pursues new investment opportunities following H1 growth

Lottery growth was apparent during both the first and second quarters, with FDJ saying the positive trend it noted during the early part of the first half continued into the most recent three-month period.

The operator also said this trend was present within the wider business and that although it noted a decline in sports betting revenue, stakes were higher across both online and offline channels across the group.

As such, FDJ said it would continue to pursue new investment opportunities, with the latest coming in the acquisition of L’Addition, which specialises in payment management, point-of-sale systems and management services for the café, hotel and restaurant sector.

This followed the news earlier this month that it had also entered exclusive negotiations with Aleda, a point-of-sale and payment provider, with intent to buy.

“Given the deterioration in the global economic environment, the group remains cautious but confident in its outlook, based on its extensive and responsible gaming model,” FDJ chief executive and chairwoman Stéphane Pallez said. 

“We continue to invest to back the development of our activities, including those of payment and services, with the two acquisitions of Aleda and L’Addition.”

Looking at FDJ’s financial performance in the six months to 30 June, net gaming revenue amounted to €1.21bn (£1.01bn/$1.24bn), up 12.1% from €1.08bn in the previous year.

Lottery was the main contributor to this, with revenue rising by 17.1% year-on-year to €946m. FDJ said that this was mainly due to the relaxation of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions on lottery point of sale in the first half of last year, with these measures having now been removed.

However, despite lottery growth, sports betting revenue slipped 4.9% to €232m, with FDJ saying this was primarily the result of a weaker sports calendar. Last year, the latter part of H1 included the Uefa European Championship, with this drawing higher spending among customers. 

On the subject of spending, stakes across the business were 9.7% higher at €10.0bn, with lottery stakes rising 16.6% to €8.02bn, though sports betting stakes fell 10.9% to €2.02bn for the same reason as the revenue decline in this segment.

After accounting for €977.9m in total operating expenses, this left a group operating profit of €239.2m, up 21.4% year-on-year, while when also including financial spending of €22.4m, pre-tax profit also climbed 7.5% to €217.7m.

FDJ paid €58.2m in income tax during the half, resulting in net profit of €159.5m, up 9.5% on last year. In addition, the operator noted that earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation increased by 18.0% year-on-year to €308.0m.

“The second quarter confirmed the positive trend at the start of the year, notably for the lottery,” Pallez said. “Our business grew over the half year, both at points of sale and in digital.

“The group is pursuing its sustainable and profitable growth strategy for the benefit of all its stakeholders.”

Churchill Downs considers turning TwinSpires into B2B product

CDI chief executive officer William Carstanjen made the announcement in the company’s Q2 earnings call to investors where he outlined the TwinSpires B2B horse racing strategy.

“We intend to be a leading distributor of horse racing content, either directly to convert to customers of TwinSpires or under a B2B model that enables the online distribution of horse racing content to millions of new customers who have opened online sports wagering accounts.”

Carstanjen pointed to the retail horse racing operator’s extensive institutional knowledge of pari-mutuel wagering as a key USP for the business:

“Given our expertise and extensive knowledge of pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, we have the technical expertise, access to racing content and technology to seamlessly integrate pari-mutuel wagering into existing third-party online sports wagering platforms,” he said.  

“We will also provide user interfaces and ancillary services that may be necessary or desired by online sports wagering platforms.”

Carstanjen additionally argued the synergistic effects that the offering would have for the Kentucky Derby, which is held at Churchill Downs, as well as its wider portfolio of racetracks.

“The strategy will also enable us to offer sports wagering sponsorships for the Kentucky Derby and to generate incremental content fees for Churchill Downs Racetrack as well as our other racetracks.”

Carstanjen’s comments came with CDI posting record Q2 profits as Covid-era restrictions were dropped, as well as buoyed by a one-time $291m (£239.4m/€285m) land sale.

The strategy comes in the wake of the failure of CDI’s wider sports betting and igaming offerings, leading to the decision to exit the vertical the previous quarter. In the previous quarter earnings call, Carstanjen cited the competitiveness of the sector to explain why the new division had not performed as expected.

“When the US Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports betting in May of 2018, we had high hopes for the potential to build a profitable business in this space,” said Carstanjen.

“However, the online sports betting and online casino space is highly competitive with an ever-increasing number of participants that the states have licensed.”

“Because we do not see for us a path in which this business model delivers predictable and acceptable margins for at least several years, if ever, we have decided to exit the B2C online sports betting and igaming space over the next six months.”

Playtech abandons plans for Caliplay SPAC deal

Earlier in the year, Playtech had revealed that it planned to spin off its Caliplay joint venture with Caliente. The business would then merge with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC), allowing it to go public. The SPAC would also partner with a leading media business, focused on reaching Latin American customers in the US market.

However, Playtech noted that “capital market conditions have deteriorated significantly since the transaction was initially contemplated,” with the S&P 500 down more than 17% since its peaks at the start of the year.

“Accordingly, this transaction is no longer being pursued in the same manner,” the Playtech board said. 

While the Caliplay SPAC deal will not occur, Playtech said that it is still working on creating a business targeting Hispanic customers in the US using the Caliente brand which is a market leader in Mexico.

“However, the company continues to explore alternative opportunities with Caliplay management to build a standalone US gaming business under the Caliente brand focused on the Hispanic community in the US,” the board said. “Both parties also continue to have discussions with the SPAC and its associates regarding this alternative opportunity. Discussions are at an early stage and further updates will be made if appropriate.”

As well as the Caliente update, the Playtech board also noted that the overall business is trading ahead of expectations so far this year.

“In particular, the company has seen B2B performance driven by very strong momentum from the Americas including Caliente and other structured agreements, in addition to a strong performance across the wider B2B operations,” the board said. “Snaitech has seen excellent results driven by its online business, retail recovery and favourable sports results. 

“This momentum across the business gives the Board great confidence in the company’s prospects for FY 2022 and beyond, as well as the company’s ability to deliver material value to its shareholders.”

The announcement comes soon after prospective buyer TTB Partners announced it would not submit a bid to acquire Playtech, despite initial interest. The TTB bid was supported by Playtech chief executive Mor Weizer, and had emerged after Playtech shareholders voted down an offer from land-based gaming machine giant Aristocrat.

Ontario launch contributes minimal revenue for PointsBet in Q4

Q4 included PointsBet’s launch in Ontario, a market that opened on 4 April.

This was also the first quarter since PointsBet launched online in Pennsylvania. It soft launched in February but was officially rolled out in April.

Of the total turnover, AU$598.6m of this came from Australia. This was 20.9% more than Q4 2021. Its US operations generated turnover of AU$687.9m, up by 40%.

Overall net win – which is B2C revenue after deducting the costs of promotional bets – for the quarter came to AU$85.8m, a rise of 41.1%. Sports betting accounted for the majority of this, at AU$78.5m, while igaming made up the remaining AU$7.3m.

In Canada, sports betting turnover came to AU$16m. However, the sports betting net win was negative AU$500,000. With online gaming net win of AU$700,000, the total net win in Canada was AU$200,000.

During the quarter, PointsBet was issued a penalty in Ontario by the province’s regulator, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

PointsBet received a fine of CA$30,000 for allegedly breaching advertising standards.

Receipts from customers for the quarter – including B2B operations – added up to AU$87.4m. Following a number of costs – including sales, staff and administration expenses – the business made an operating loss of AU$60.8m.

For the full year, turnover was AU$5bn, 32.3% higher than in FY21. Turnover was split almost exactly evenly across Australia and the US, with Australia contributing AU$2.53bn and the US contributing AU$2.45bn.

Out of the total net win – which amounted to AU$309.4m – AU$289.1m came from sports betting, while the remaining Au$20.3m came from igaming.

Net win in Australia was AU$215.4m, making up the majority, while the AU$74.1m in net win from the US accounted for the remainder.

BGC hails “positive progress” as GB problem gambling rates remain at 0.2%

This week, the Commission published the results of a quarterly survey of 4,018 respondents, showing levels of problem gambling in the UK remained relatively stable at 0.2% of the population.

For the population as a whole, the level of problem gambling was 0.2% for the six months ended 30 June. This was stable compared to the level recorded for the year to date in June 2021, which was 0.4%.

The survey also showed that the rate of problem gambling among women was steady at 0.1%.

The BGC said these rates were low by international standards and urged caution against making changes that would inadvertently drive regular punters, who do not suffer from harm, away from gambling.

However, BFC chief executive Michael Dugher called for efforts to continue to reduce the rate, saying “one problem gambler is one too many”.

“These newly released figures are yet again further evidence of the positive progress we have made on problem gambling, which is low by international standards and has fallen in recent times, thanks to the many initiatives we have taken including using advertising to promote safer gambling tools like deposit limits and time-outs, as well as other changes we have made to further raise standards,” Dugher said.

“Around 22.5 million adults in the UK bet each month and it is clear once again that the overwhelming majority do so perfectly safely and responsibly. However, one problem gambler is one too many and there is no room for complacency. That’s why our work continues to raise standards across the regulated industry, in marked contrast to dangers posed by the unsafe, unregulated and growing online black market.

“The latest problem gambling figures will come as a blow to anti-gambling prohibitionists who like to vastly overstate the issues to suit their efforts to treat gambling like tobacco, not like alcohol, but it also provides food for thought for new ministers considering a white paper this autumn. 

“We look forward to the white paper as an opportunity to drive further changes, but the new government should be guided by evidence and seek to carefully target future measures on problem gamblers and those at risk – not intrude on the perfectly safe enjoyment of millions of punters whose choice of leisure does so much to support jobs and the economy, as well as providing a lifeline for sports like racing.”

Entain takes 1.5 million online bets on Women’s Euro 2022

Of the bets placed across Entain’s brands, 46% have been from punters in the UK, ahead of 22% by German customers and 16% Brazil.

In the UK specifically, Ladbrokes and Coral have experienced a five-fold increase in the total number of bets placed on the tournament, up to and including the semi-final, compared to the Women’s Euro 2017. Entain also noted a six-fold increase in bets placed by women.

Almost 60% of outright bets from the UK have been on host England to win the tournament, with this figure being the same for outright bets from Germany.

England will face Germany in the final at Wembley Stadium on 31 July, with 72% of bets placed with Ladbrokes Digital UK being for England to win the match in 90 minutes.

Entain said the increase in betting rates on the Women’s Euro 2022 comes amid an increase in wagering on women’s football, with the number of online bets on the 2021-22 Women’s Uefa Champions League 61% higher than the equivalent figure for the 2019-20 tournament.

The 2021-22 Women’s FA Cup drew 130% more online bets than the 2019-20 event, while the two tournaments also experienced increases in bets from women of 79% and 212%, respectively, over the same timeframe.

“Women’s football has seen a phenomenal rise in popularity in recent years, generating an incredible buzz for the sport,” Entain’s managing director for digital in the UK and Ireland Julie Doleman said. “This has also been reflected in betting activity on women’s football matches, which has grown at similarly seismic rates – particularly among female customers. 

“At Entain, we are perfectly placed with our bench strength of global sporting brands to offer our fans exciting experiences and get them close to the action. With the Fifa Women’s World Cup taking place next year, we’re really excited to see what lies ahead for the sport.”

Earlier this month, Entain was named as one of a number of leading industry groups and businesses that joined forces to carry out long-term research exploring the growth in women’s sports

Entain, together with Stats Perform, the International Betting Integrity Association and the All-In Diversity Project, will collaborate with the German Sports University of Cologne to conduct the research. 

The initiative will focus on the links between the popularity of women’s sports, betting on women’s sports and rising numbers of female sports bettors.