Nambling Notes - 14 September 2007

14 September 2007

More ECJ Action -- The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Thursday ruled against the Italian government in a long-standing case regarding the issuance horserace betting licensure in the country. The case dates to 1999, when 329 Italian horse-betting licensees were allowed to renew without subjection to a competitive bidding process. In its ruling, the ECJ noted: " . . . by renewing 329 licenses for horse-race betting operations without inviting any competing bids, the Italian Republic failed to fulfill its obligations under Articles 43 and 49 [of the EC Treaty] and, in particular, infringed on the general principle of transparency and the obligation to ensure a sufficient degree of advertising." The ECJ said moreover that the Italian authorities cannot restrict market access for European operators simply for the purpose of guaranteeing "continuity, financial stability and a proper return on past investments for license holders," and added that the absence of a competitive tendering process did not in any way protect against fraudulent betting.

"In principle, a regulated sports betting market in Italy is to be welcomed. However, such regulation must be made in a way that ensures a level playing field for all participants. This ruling clearly indicates that this is not the case in Italy."

  • From John Whittaker, managing director of Stanleybet International, in a prepared statement issued Wednesday. In March, Stanleybet was the "beneficiary" of the ECJ's Placanica Decision, which dealt with the legality of cross-border betting in the European Union.

"The [ECJ's] decision sends a clear signal to Member States currently offering, or planning to offer, licenses to European gaming and betting operators. The [ECJ] clearly states that the licensing must be undertaken within a set of clear and strict parameters, which are in line with the EC Treaty. The [ECJ's] decision also underlines that these licenses cannot be awarded without a transparent, competitive and fair tendering procedure."

  • From Sigrid Ligné, secretary general of the European Gaming and Betting Association, in a prepared statement issued Wednesday.

" . . . the accusations against Italy of protectionism in the gaming sector are completely without foundation given that we are now one of the most open in the world."

  • From Raffaele Palmieri of SICON, the association representing many of Italy's independent bookmakers as well as new arrivals Eurobet and Intralot, in an interview with Gambling Compliance.

Strong Interims from Lottomatica -- Lottomatica has released half-yearly results, which show revenues up 145 percent to 835.5 million euros, including a sizeable 427.7 million euro contribution from its Rhode Island-based Gtech operation. Operating income for the period totaled 239.4 million euros, up 53 percent against figures from the previous year, while net income was up 113 percent to 68.1 million euros. "We are pleased with the results of our first semester," said Lottomatica Chief Executive W. Bruce Turner. "The fundamentals of our business continue to experience positive growth. The company said it expects full-year revenue to total between 1.665 and 1.765 billion euros, and EBITDA between 700 and 710 million euros.

Arena Says All's Well -- U.K.-based horseracing operator Arena Leisure said initial attendance at the 2007 Ladbrokes St. Leger Festival was in line with expectations. The festival, which commenced Sept. 12, follows a 20 month redevelopment program that included a £34 million investment in Doncaster Racecourse, which hosts the Ladbrokes St. Leger, the world's oldest classic horse race. In April, the company said attendance in the first part of 2007 had remained softer than expected but added that prospects for the summer months looked "encouraging."

Mobile Bingo to Debut in Argentina -- On Sept. 17, the Buenos Aires Instituto de Loteria y Casinos (ILC) in conjunction with telecommunications provider Telinfor will launch Argentina's first mobile bingo product, Bingo Móvil. According to Yogonet, bettors are to send an SMS with the word "bingo" to 8466, choose five different numbers between zero and 50 and, finally, indicate the date of the draw in which they wish to participate. Beginning Sept. 21, each draw will be televised daily on Channel 12 and LT 17. According to the report, bettors must be at least 18 years old and live in the Misiones province, one of 23 in the country.

Momentum Slowing -- According the Las Vegas Review Journal, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., on Tuesday said that his bill, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, has stalled but could be revived by pressure from the European Union via the World Trade Organization. "It's not dead," Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, told the Journal. "It's not very active. It depends on whether or not there's support. I don't think there's support for it yet. It's growing." In June, a hearing on the bill was conducted, but no further action is planned this year.

France May Yield to Pressure from Brussels -- On Tuesday, French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche reported that the French government is set to loosen its restrictions on sports betting. This week, EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy reportedly met with European Affairs Ministers Eric Woerth and Jean-Pierre Jouyet to discuss France's response to the commission's reasoned opinion, the deadline for which was recently extended to Oct. 29. According to the paper, the Sarkozy administration has indicated it will--with certain qualifications--accede to pressure from Brussels to open its sports betting market to bookmakers established in other Member States as well as overseas. Le Journal du Dimanche noted that that government would allow for "ouverture maîtrisée," a controlled opening of the market, but thus far has not hinted at establishing a licensing regime friendly to major U.K. bookmakers as have done Spain and Italy.

Stock Watch -- On the LSE, Neteller was up 5.50p to 97.50, PartyGaming was down 1.75p to 24.50 and 888 was down 2p to 116.