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Gaming Report: Essel Group Backed Jalesh Cruises to Begin Casino Cruises, GVC Brands Bwin & partypoker Exit Swiss Online Gambling Market

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  • Namita Ghosh January 18, 2019
  • 5 Minutes Read

Goa is one of the only two states that allow casino gambling in India. While the government of Goa is looking at the relocation of casinos operating from vessels moored on River Mandovi, a new casino vessel may soon be seen in Goa’s waters soon. The Essel Group-backed Zen Cruises is starting their premium brand of leisure cruises, and a fully equipped casino is part of the plan!

Internationally, UK-listed GVC Holdings has pulled out its Bwin and partypoker brands from Switzerland after failing to find a local, land-based casino operator to partner with. Back in Asia, Vietnam will be seeing the Corona Casino resort opening its doors this weekend. This is the first casino resort that is legally permitted to allow locals to gamble.

In news coming in from the U.S., Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker is preparing legislation that would pave the way for the state to issue sports betting permits to casino licensees, even Resorts announced that Keith Meister will be soon joining its board of directors.


Essel Group-Backed Jalesh Cruises to Begin Casino Cruises

The thriving casino industry in Goa will soon see an additional casino cruise added to its map. Zen Cruises Private Ltd, a company backed by Essel Group has recently confirmed that it would be launching its first premium brand of leisure cruises with a full-equipped casino. Called ‘Jalesh Cruises’ these luxury liners will commence operations from April 2019.

Jalesh Cruises

The first of these cruises, Karnika will be sailing to Goa from Mumbai in April. The 2,000-seater cruise liner will offer entertainment shows, adventure activities and exotic authentic cruises to passengers. However, Goa is not the only destination on the route of these cruises. The company also plans to add several other locations to the route of these cruises in the near future.

On its Jalesh Cruises website, the company has stated, “Roll the dice and spend your night with the lady luck and enjoy a flutter at Players Bar & Casino. Located on Deck 8, the Royal Casino will spoil you for choices. From most popular games like Blackjack, Poker, Scratch-off and Slot Machine Games to some amazing table games, this place is sure to rise up your excitement.”

Notably, Chairman of the Essel Group, Subhash Chandra, who is also a Member of Parliament (MP) in the Rajya Sabha, had played a crucial role in forming the India Cruise Lines Association (INCLA) last year. In 2018, INCLA petitioned both the Union Ministry for Shipping, Road Transport, Highways, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to allow casino gambling on cruise vessels along with the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the casino sector.

While the government is yet to clear the way for these demands, through Jalesh Cruises, the Essel Group certainly seems to be diving into the deep end of the casino industry.


partypoker, Bwin Brands Exit Swiss Online Gambling Market

After talks for a deal with a local casino partner in Switzerland failed for UK-listed gambling operator GVC Holdings, the company has withdrawn its Bwin and partypoker brands from the country.

GVC Switzerland

Switzerland enforced its new online gambling laws on January 1, 2019, wherein for the first time in the country’s history, Swiss land-based casino operators have been allowed to offer online casino poker products. However, as per the law, international operators have to strike a partnership with a local land-based operator to offer their services. Swiss internet service providers have to block the domains of international operators that fail to do so.

While companies like UK-listed Playtech signed up with the Swiss Casinos Group last year in November, others such as Belgium’s Ardent Group bought their way into the Swiss online market.

In September 2018, GVC announced that it was holding “discussions” with a Swiss land-based operator to seek an online tie-up. The company assured investors that since Switzerland represented less than 1% of its group revenue, failing to do so would not affect the company much.

Clearly talks didn’t make much headway since GVC’s partypoker and Bwin brands began turning away Swiss players last week. Other firms like MRG and NetBet also pulled out of their Swiss operations.

PokerStars is reported to be pursuing a local partnership at the moment. Since Swiss regulators will start enforcing the new rules from July when the country’s first new online licenses are given out, operators like GVC who have withdrawn their brands from Switzerland may yet return in case they find a local casino partner.

Corona Casino in Vietnam to Open this Weekend

Located in the Phu Quoc Island of Vietnam, the Corona Resort and Casino is set to make a grand opening this weekend. According to a GGRAsia report, the resort will be the first in the country to take big strides in Vietnam’s gambling industry, by allowing eligible locals to gamble.

Corona Casino Resort

Managing Director and CEO of Netherlands-based Upffinity Gaming Management (UGM) Daniel Kupsin said, “We plan to open for business, including local citizens of Vietnam from the evening of January 19.” UGM was appointed by local property development and real estate firm, Phu Quoc Tourism Development and Investment Company JSC (PQTD), operated by Vietnam’s business giant Vingroup to offer “casino management and advisory services” for Corona.

The casino boasts of two floors sprawled over 202,361 square feet of total space, with 100 gaming tables that offer games like Baccarat, blackjack, sic bro, roulette and poker, in addition to over 1,000 slot machines and 1,000 electronic gaming machines.

The casino resort is the first property in Vietnam open to locals as part of the Vietnam government`s three-year pilot program that will ascertain the economic viability of allowing local gambling venues. As part of this pilot program, a second casino that is currently under development in Van Don about 100 miles east of Hanoi by the Sun Group will also allow permitted locals to gamble under certain conditions.

The venue was designed by Steelman Partners LLP, a US-based architectural firm.


Massachusetts Governor Prepares Paperwork For Land-based, Online Sports Betting

Sports betting may yet soon come up in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. On Thursday, Governor Charlie Baker announced that he was preparing legislation that would pave the way for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) to issue sports betting permits.

Charlie Baker
Charlie Baker

The legislation, when enforced would effectively allow the casino licensees of the state including MGM Springfield, Plainridge Park Casino and Encore Boston Harbor to operate land-based and online sports betting.

For online wagering, these casinos will be allowed to partner with third-party firms, even as the MGC may also issue online-only licenses to non-casino licensees.

As per Baker’s plan, a 10% tax would be applied to land-based wagering revenue, while the online betting would be taxed at 12.5%. A new, 12.5% tax would be applied to the DFS revenue that is currently not taxed. Governor Baker’s plan does not include wagering on college sports or esports events.

Betting operators in Massachusetts would have to pay an initial $100K license fee in addition to a $500K renewal every five years. If Baker’s legislation goes through, Massachusetts could see an inflow of $35 Million to its annual budget by 2020.


Keith Meister is Joining the Board of MGM Resorts

International casino and gaming company MGM Resorts will soon see a new member in its board of directors. Keith Meister, who is currently the managing partner and Chief Investment Officer of Corvex Management LP, will be joining the company. Corvex owns 3% of MGM’s shares.

Keith Meister
Keith Meister

Chairman and CEO of MGM, Jim Murren said, “[We] are aligned on our strategy to increase free cash flow, continue to pursue an asset-light model, drive margin improvement and position the company for long-term future growth. Keith’s strong track record of helping companies maximize value for shareholders as well as his experience in real estate and gaming will be invaluable.”

In his official statement, Meister said, “MGM is focused on driving profitable growth, and, with my experience in the gaming industry and other similarly situated companies, I can be helpful in amplifying these efforts. I expect to be a long- term investor in MGM as we work collaboratively to build an even greater company.”

Interestingly, MGM has recently brought on-board former governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval as president of its Global Gaming Development. MGM is one of the casino majors with a growing interest in Asia, specifically Japan.

Meister has earlier served as Director of Yum! Brands Inc, a fast food firm, The Williams Companies and American Casino and Entertainment Properties LLC. Since 2017, MGM has roped in four independent directors, and Meister will be the 13th member on the MGM board.

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