The Best and Worst of 2003

2 January 2004
See Also:

A Look Back at 2003

Top Stories of 2003

A Glance at 2004

With the arrival of the New Year, we take a moment to hand out awards for 2003. We tried the "Best of" feature in 2001 and gave it a rest in '02. And now back by no demand whatsoever, the biannual honors...

Region on the Rise: the Caribbean Basin

This is simply because no one else can get their act together. Most European member states are limited to gambling within their borders, the United Kingdom still hasn't updated its gaming laws, Australia isn't welcoming new operators and Europe's offshore jurisdictions are too restrictive. That leaves Caribbean and Central American jurisdictions once again in the driver's seat.

2001's Winner: Europe

Region on the Decline - Isle of Man

It was a miserable year for I-gaming in the Isle of Man. MGM, Kerzner, Rank. . . Gone! Operators bailed because the regulations were too restrictive. They say they've learned their lesson, however, and are making the necessary changes to get back on track.

2001's Winner: The Caribbean

Best Marketing Campaign: Golden Palace

For those who've seen the Golden Palace streakers over and over, the routine got a little boring, but there's no denying the campaign's effectiveness. Having its name tattooed on the chests and backs of streakers at major sporting events has helped GP remain one of the most recognizable online gaming brands in the world. You can't argue with that.

2001's Winner: Golden Palace

Worst Marketing Campaign: Ladbrokes

Taking a page from GP's books, Ladbrokes paid a Finnish ski jumper to display the Ladbrokes URL on his skis. Aside from the fact that the Finnish Ski Association predictably nixed the promo, who the heck can decipher what's written on skis?

2001's Winner: Bentley Communications

Worst Policy: Greece

Greek legislators apparently didn't put much thought into a new law that bans all computerized games (including gambling) in public places. The law is unrealistic and has already been challenged in court.

2001's Winner: U.S. Congress

Most Resilient: Youbet

Youbet pioneered online race betting in the United States in 1998 and proceeded to struggle for the next four years. A revolving-door policy of management, a raid by LA police and a NASDAQ de-listing spelled doom, but they hung on and have thrived since California legalized account wagering. The company finally became profitable in 2003.

2001's Winner: World Gaming/Starnet

Best Acquisition: Centrebet

SportOdds, hands down, has been Australia's most aggressive independent bookmaker in terms of expansion, both domestically and internationally, so when Jupiters shed its online sports betting facility, Centrebet, SportOdds was the perfect suitor. The acquisition strengthens SportOdds' position in the Australian market as well as the overall Internet sports betting market. The company is emerging in I-gaming as an industry leader.

2001's Winner: GoCorp

Biggest Splash: Poker

The World Series of Poker was won by a player who qualified online and the vastly popular World Poker Tour has been a great marketing vehicle for Internet poker rooms. The stars were aligned for poker in 2003, as these opportunities, amid the saturation of other gambling sectors and the increased popularity of P2P business models, paved the way for massive expansion.

Honorable Mention: BSkyB made huge strides in expanding its iTV gambling services.

2001's Winner: Playboy

Missing in Action: Software Suppliers

We'll avoid the backlash by not mentioning names, but many of the industry's top gaming software suppliers have apparently fallen of the face of the earth. You don't see them at industry tradeshows and you don't hear about them launching new software and signing new licensees.

2001's Winner: Jon Kyl

Best Enforcement: Raymond Gruender

For those who don't know Raymond Gruender, he's the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Missouri, where numerous subpoenas have been handed out to entities involved in the advertising of online gambling services. Many experts believe forbidding media outlets to carry I-gaming ads is unconstitutional, but none of the subjects of the subpoenas have challenged Gruender. Thus, regardless of the legality of his efforts, they have proven to be very effective.

2001's Winner: Visa and MasterCard

Worst Enforcement: Raymond Gruender

Okay, so we're contradicting ourselves, but the advertising crush, albeit successful so far, could be a window of opportunity for I-gaming operators. If the industry can muster up some fight and challenge the advertising crackdown in the courts, they've got a good chance of winning. Maybe, just maybe, Gruender bit off more than he can chew.

2001's Winner: Wayne County Sheriff's Department

Worst Attempt to Fight Terrorism - The Pentagon

This one defies logic. The Pentagon actually attempted to set up a U.S. government-bankrolled online betting exchange in hopes of luring terrorists for a punt or too and tracking their funds. Congress, which sort of has another agenda for I-gaming, managed to convince the Pentagon to pull the plug. Seriously, this wasn't an April Fools article. It really happened.

2001's Winner: N/A

Biggest Advocate for a Free Market: Ladbrokes

Virtually all of Europe is against opening up the betting markets to foreign operators, but Ladbrokes keeps plugging away at defying this. The U.K.-based sports betting giant is vying for the right to offer its services in Finland, Denmark, Germany, Holland and anywhere else in Europe where sports betting is legal. It's an uphill battle, but Ladbrokes seems prepared for the challenge.

Honorable Mention: Stanley Leisure, which got the ball rolling with the Gambelli case. 2001's Winner: N/A

Biggest Opponent of a Free Market: Ladbrokes

Again with the contradictions. Ladbrokes is in favor of opening the European markets to new operators, unless of course the new operators are betting exchanges. The group has led U.K. efforts to prevent P2P sites from taking business away from traditional bookmakers. It seems a little hypocritical on the surface, but P2P is a serious threat to Ladbrokes and other established bookmakers. It's a battle that has to be fought.

Best Neighbors: Pacific Racing Jurisdictions

India, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and Turkey in 2003 signed on the Asian Racing Federation's Good Neighbor policy, by which each participating country agrees to prohibit its licensed race betting services from targeting customers based in all other participating countries. Australia also signed on, but is excluded from our list of winners (see below).

2001's Winner: N/A

Worst Neighbor: Australia

Australia has been adamant about keeping its gaming operators from offering "harmful" services to Australians, but has no problem with their offering the services to bettors in other countries. Australian officials have championed the "good neighbor" system and even included a neighborly clause in the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001, but they have yet to grant (to our knowledge) any country the coveted "good neighbor" status. Denmark has requested it, but they don't meet Australia's very specific criteria for being on the list.

Honorable Mention: The United Kingdom is a close second for ignoring requests from neighboring European countries to prohibit U.K. operators from targeting their citizens, but Australia wins by virtue of its hypocrisy.

2001's Winner: N/A

Company of the Year: Betfair

Note, we did not attach the word "best" or "worst" to this one. Love them or Loath them, there's no denying that Betfair has had a huge impact on the bookmaking industries in Europe and Australia. P2P has changed the complexion of the I-gaming business and Betfair has led the way.

2001's Winner: Access Gaming Systems

Mark Balestra

Mark Balestra is the Managing Director at BolaVerde Media Group. He previously worked at Clarion Gaming and the River City Group where he was the publisher of iGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.