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Gaming Report: Casinos in Goa & Sikkim to Remain Closed, US States Ask DOJ to Clarify Position on Wire Act & More

Gaming Report
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  • Namita Ghosh June 25, 2021
  • 6 Minutes Read

Live gambling in India will have to wait a little longer before resuming operations with casinos in Goa and Sikkim – the only two states that allow legal gambling – to remain closed till June 28.

The prospects for country-wide liquidity sharing for online poker in the US could become a reality very soon with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) deciding not to appeal a January 2021 judgment by the US First Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the US District Court ruling striking down the 2018 reinterpretation of the Wire Act. The Attorneys General from 25 US states and the District of Columbia have written to the DOJ, asking the latter to clarify once and for all his final stand on the 1961 Interstate Wire Act.

PokerStars is finally coming back to Switzerland next month and has forged a partnership with Casino Davos for the return.

888 Holdings has entered a partnership with Authentic Brands Group (ABG) to develop online betting and gaming products for ABG’s new betting-focused brand, Sports Illustrated (SI) sportsbook. The products will be launched as part of the SI sportsbook, expected to launch first in Colorado.


Casinos in Goa & Sikkim to Remain Closed Until June 28 (At Least)

Casinos in Goa and Sikkim had shuttered in April-end after a fresh surge in COVID-19 cases. Although Goa continues to register a decline in COVID cases, the Goa government has extended the state-wide lockdown till June 28. This essentially means that all the onshore and offshore casinos of the coastal state will continue to remain closed.

Likewise, in Sikkim, casinos will remain closed this month, effectively extending the latest phase of the gaming lockdown in India.

Needless to say, gaming companies continue to report losses. In its regulatory filings on Monday, Delta Corp, one of India’s biggest gaming and hospitality firms, underlined that its casinos in Goa and Sikkim will remain closed till June 28 due to the COVID-situation.

The company statement stated, “Due to the surge in COVID‐19 cases being witnessed in Goa and Sikkim, the Government of Goa and Sikkim inter‐alia has extended the restrictions in both these states respectively till June 28, 2021. Accordingly, the casinos operated by the company and its subsidiaries in Goa & Sikkim will remain closed during this period. We are unable to estimate the quantum of potential losses on account of this temporary closure and the pandemic at this time.”

The company`s scrip was trading at 182.20 per share on Tuesday but slipped through the week. However, it recovered somewhat to close at 181.10 at the end of Friday’s trading session.

Casinos in Goa first closed operations last March, reopening only after a seven-month hiatus on November 1. Goa went into lockdown mode again in April-end, and the government has kept extending the state shutdown since.

With the threat of a third wave, and the new Delta-Plus strain looming large, surveillance along the Goa-Maharashtra border has been increased, and restrictions including mandatory double vaccination dose and a negative RTPCR report have also been put in place.

There are at present over 1.65 Lakh COVID-positive cases, including 2,727 active cases reported in Goa, but since the numbers are falling. Accordingly, the government has hinted at reopening tourism activities after July. Earlier this week, CM Pramod Sawant said that once the first dose vaccination is complete in the state, the tourism sector will be opened up.

Goa Ports Minister Michael Lobo added, “We have to wait till July and let the number of cases go to zero. We’ll reopen Goa for tourists with proper screening.”

If the COVID graph is contained in Goa, it could be safe to expect an August-September reopening for casinos in the coastal state.


US States Ask DOJ to Clarify Final Position on Wire Act

Attorneys-general from 25 US states and the district of Columbia have written a letter to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asking him to clarify the final stand on the 1961 Interstate Wire Act.

The six-page letter dated June 18 has been addressed to the U.S. Attorney-General Merrick Garland and his deputy Lisa Monaco. It exhorts the Biden DOJ to revert back to the DOJ’s 2011 opinion that keeps all forms of interstate gambling out of the purview of the Wire Act’s prohibitions.

The letter states – “After the First Circuit decision, it is vital that States get clarity on the Department’s position going forward…States and industry participants need to understand what their rights are under the law without having to file suit in every federal circuit, and finality is needed so the industry may confidently invest in new products and features without fear of criminal prosecution.”

The AGs underlined – “Internet gaming has for years been, and remains, an essential industry here, one the DOJ viewed since 2011 as perfectly legal until its baseless backtracking in 2018.”

The letter becomes significant in light of the fact that on January 20, the US. First Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the June 2020 US District Court ruling, which struck down the 2018 reinterpretation of the Wire Act prohibiting all forms of interstate online betting.

The DOJ had refused to appeal this ruling, a move interpreted by many in the gaming industry as the DOJ stepping down from its 2018 OLC opinion. With the DOJ not spelling its stand loud and clear, the AG’s are asking the DOJ to issue a memorandum to formally rescind the 2019 memo that had ratified the 2018 OLC opinion and formally endorse the January 20 ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a separate statement, New Jersey AG Gurbir Grewal said that his state’s legal gambling industry and its services and programs that are funded by gaming revenue “would have been devastated in 2020 without online gaming.”


The Wire Act Muddle

The DOJ came out with a revised opinion on the 1961 Interstate Wire Act in November 2018, reversing a prior 2011 OLC opinion. If the Wire Act prohibitions were earlier applied only to sports betting, the new interpretation brought other forms of interstate online gambling into the “illegal” bracket.

Since several US states had launched online lottery, poker, and casino products, drawing legal support from the 2011 opinion, the shift in opinion threatened to push the online gaming industry into an unregulated, grey realm. It also jeopardized the online poker liquidity sharing pact between Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada.

The move not only put a question mark on the legality of state-run lotteries, but it also dampened the growth of online poker, casino, and sports betting.

While the reinterpretation was legally challenged by New Hampshire Lottery Commission (NHLC) and several other operators, through 2020, the DOJ kept extending the compliance period requiring companies to fall in line with the new opinion.

Resolution of the Wire Act issue is essential to allow legal interstate online gaming in states unhindered and for growth of regulated online gaming. A positive development here could be a gamechanger for the online poker industry in the US.


PokerStars to Launch Online Poker in Switzerland Next Month

After two years of negotiations, PokerStars has finally entered a deal with Switzerland’s Casino Davos and will be launching in the country in July. This will make Casino Davos the second licensed online poker room, after Swiss Casinos to run a regulated online poker room in the country.

The site will be launching on PokerStars.CH accounts, while deposits will be handled by Casino777.ch, although new players would be able to sign up directly through PokerStars.CH.

Players will have to download the desktop client following verification and will have access to the global PokerStars player pool. The app is expected to be launched soon on the Apple App Store.

The Chief Gaming Officer of Casino777.ch, Robert Kocher led out, that once the app goes live, players can “take part in all PokerStars offers, including the big international tournaments that PokerStars organizes worldwide.”

In 2015, the Swiss government had repealed the ban on online gaming and even passed a new draft law to regularize licensed online gaming. The country’s federal gaming board, Eidgenössische Spielbankenkommission (ESBK), passed the ‘Money Gaming Act’ in June 2018, and on January 1, 2019, the country adopted the new online gambling framework.

PokerStars, had in 2019, exited Switzerland, announcing that it planned to re-enter the market with Casino Davos.


888 to Develop Sports Illustrated Betting and Gaming Products

888 Holdings will be developing betting and gaming products for Sports Illustrated (SI) Sportsbook, a new betting-focused brand owned by the Authentic Brands Group (ABG). ABG and 888 have inked a partnership deal for the same.

Sports Illustrated is a popular American sports magazine in circulation since 1954 and currently owned by ABG. With the SI Sportsbook launch, the company aims to leverage the magazine’s cult popularity in the online sports betting domain.

As part of the deal, 888 will use its proprietary technology to develop SI products that will be part of the SI Sportsbook. As a result, the SI brand will be able to deliver a new betting experience, first to players in Colorado, where it is expected to launch in the second half of 2021, and subsequently in other US states.

In lieu, ABG will give 888 an exclusive license to use the SI brand and trademarks for online sports betting and iGaming.

CEO of 888, Itai Pazner, said this strategic partnership will help accelerate 888’s investment in the US. “Sports Illustrated is an iconic sports media brand with high awareness and consumer loyalty. This agreement provides us access to millions of engaged sports fans across the US, giving us a high-volume and cost-effective customer acquisition channel and great content to engage sports fans,” Pazner said.

Founder, Chairman, and CEO of ABG, Jamie Salter, underlined that 888 is one of the market leaders in online betting and gaming and outstanding technology, products, and marketing capabilities. “We are thrilled to announce Sports Illustrated is entering the online sports betting and iGaming space…and we are excited to partner with them to offer an innovative product experience for sports fans.”

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