Eye on Europe - 29 May 2007

29 May 2007

Appointed -- At Friday's AGM for Casinos Austria AG, in Vienna, it was confirmed that director general Leo Wallner has taken up his new role as vice president of the supervisory board. Karl Stoss will succeed him as director general, retroactive May 8, 2007. Wallner has helmed the company since 1968, turning it from a local casino operation into a very successful international gaming group with the founding of Austrian Lotteries; the launch of Internet gaming; the introduction of VLT outlets in Austria; and a far-reaching international expansion strategy.

New Norwegian Gambling Survey -- In 2005, every Norwegian over the age of 15 gambled almost $2,000 on registered Norwegian games of chance. Now, SINTEF--the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research at the Norwegian Institute of Technology--has said it will execute a new survey. For the first time in Norway, the researchers will also be asking gamblers’ families and friends what they think. The study will also be the first to demonstrate whether there is a relationship in the Norwegian population between being dependent on Internet computer games and problems with playing for money. Accordingly, a random sample of 10,000 Norwegian citizens between the ages of 16 and 74 will receive the SINTEF questionnaire. The main focus of the survey is cash gambling, covering scratch cards, lotto, slots and Internet poker. SINTEF said that the Norwegian Gaming Board (NGB) will once again finance the study. In 2002, the study came to the conclusion that 49,000 persons aged between 15 and 74 either evinced, or previously demonstrated, a serious gambling problem. “Since then, the gross turnover of the Norwegian gambling market has risen by 25 percent," said NGB director Alte Hamar. "There is also Internet gambling, which is not subject to controls. The authorities wish to see how this affects gambling addiction at population level." In 2002, the gross turnover of Norway’s regulated gaming industry was more than $3.3 billion. The board does not have all the figures for 2006 ready yet, but in 2005, gross turnover totaled $7 billion. Norwegian residents also gambled at least $665 million on unregulated Internet gaming in 2005, a figure that has roughly doubled since 2003.

Optimism -- On May 21, IGN reported that the Bavarian Administrative Court (BayVGH) decided in a provisional procedure that, in the federal state of Bavaria, Internet sports betting may be offered. Martin Arendts, a lawyer specializing in gambling, clarified that the decision was only a preliminary proceeding, and that the main proceeding could take years to iron out. Arendts' opinion was somewhat less enthusiastic than what bwin's investor relations spokesperson later relayed: “Well, [bwin was] very happy with the confirmation of a ruling by a low court in December last year by the highest Bavarian court. The court confirms a reasonable view to 'new' distribution channels like the Internet, which has no borders. We have grounds for optimism (ECJ and EC rulings) that a regulated opening of the European gaming market is inevitable.”

Happy Homecoming -- bwin received more good news last week when, during its legal fight with Omni Communications-Centers GmbH, it heard from the court that it could resume its operations in Austria, its home market.

Rob van der Gaast has a background in sports journalism. He worked for over seven years as the head of sports for Dutch National Radio and has developed new concepts for the TV and the gambling industry. Now he operates from Istanbul as an independent gambling research analyst. He specializes in European gambling matters and in privatizations of gambling operators. Rob has contributed to IGN since Jul 09, 2001.