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Christmas is upon us, and so are the celebrations for the festival and the advent of the New Year. Amid the lights and the glitter, several significant developments rocked the gaming sector.
In more bad news for poker players in Gujarat, the High Court was unable to take up the poker appeals filed by Indian Poker Association (IPA) secretary KN Suresh and others when the matter was last listed on December 18. The petitions challenged the court’s 2017 order when it had ruled poker as equivalent to gambling, forcing restrictions for the game in the state. Owing to other matters listed on board, the High Court has now rescheduled the hearing for January 8, 2020.
In other developments, fantasy sports giant, DraftKings has announced that it will be going public. The company has reached a business agreement for acquiring sports betting supplier SBTech and has merged with acquisition company, Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corp to forego the typical IPO process.
In reports coming in from Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen has confirmed that a blanket ban on online gambling will be enforced in the country by January 1, 2020.
Over at the U.S., the U.S. branch of U.K.-based bookmaker William Hill has entered a partnership with Circus Circus Las Vegas for running the latter’s sportsbook operations.
Gujarat was one of the fastest-growing markets for poker until 2017 when the Gujarat High Court ruled that poker amounts to gambling and cannot be permitted. The court’s decision severely impacted all prospects for the game in the state, forcing the Indian Poker Association, along with other industry stakeholders, to challenge the decision. Despite their efforts, there has been no legal reprieve for the poker industry in the last two years.
In the latest development, the Gujarat High Court has once again delayed the hearing of the appeal petitions.
The appeal petitions were scheduled to be heard on December 18. However, owing to other cases listed on the board, the appeals could not be heard and have been listed for January 8, 2020.
Gujarat HC Ban on Poker – The Timeline
In 2017, Gujarat police raided a few poker clubs in Ahmedabad and shut them forcibly. Indian Poker Association (IPA) secretary KN Suresh challenged the incident in the Gujarat High Court. Hearing the case, the court upheld the police raids, ruling that playing poker was equivalent to gambling and cannot be permitted in the state. Suresh filed an appeal against the decision, and similar petitions were filed by other stakeholders, namely, Aman Chhabra, Hotel Ramada, and Dominance Games Pvt. Ltd.
Nearly two years have passed, but not much progress has been made on the matter, at least not for the poker industry. The state police, in the meantime, has approached the State Home Department, seeking an amendment in the Gujarat Prevention of Gambling Act. In April this year, police requested that new legislation banning all forms of online gambling in the state, including poker, be introduced by the state.
Even at the last hearing on November 18, the Gujarat High Court had adjourned the matter. The court had stated then that the hearing of the case would be conducted on a day-to-day basis, December onwards. However, the scheduled hearing on December 18 did not take place. Busy hearing the other matters that were listed on the board, the court was unable to take up the appeal petitions. As a result, the poker appeals have been listed for January 8, 2020.
Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) company and bookmaker DraftKings is acquiring sports betting supplier SBTech through special acquisition company (SAC), Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corp. The move will allow DraftKings to go public while forgoing the typical IPO process.
Confirming this, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins, said, “The company was looking to acquire SBTech and then go public or to go public first and make the acquisition later, but this structure allowed the two to be done in one step.” He further added, “We considered those two along with this, and this allowed us to be both at the same point.”
The transaction is expected to be completed by the first half of 2020. As part of the deal, Diamond Eagle will change its name to DraftKings Incorporated. It will reincorporate in Nevada and remain NASDAQ-listed after changing its ticker symbol with an estimated market capitalization of $3.3 billion.
Institutional investors have already committed to private investment of $304 million in Class A common stock of the combined company.
The new entity will continue to be led by Robins, who talking about the acquisition said, “The combination of DraftKings’ leading and trusted brand, deep focus on customer experience and data science expertise and SBTech’s highly innovative and proven technology platform creates a vertically-integrated powerhouse.”
Gavin Isaacs, SBTech Chairman, said: “The combination of DraftKings and SBTech brings together two tech-native companies with the customer at their cores. SBTech will maintain its core business and continue its B2B focus. We are excited about the opportunity to join a company with a similar innovation DNA and create a unique and differentiated player in global sports betting and online gaming.”
All forms of online gambling in Cambodia will be banned by January 1, 2020. The country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen confirmed this on December 21, stating that “in the days ahead, online gambling will disappear completely.”
This move by Cambodia comes in the wake of heightened pressure from China to reign in on all online gambling activities. Cambodia is the second-largest online gaming hub in the Asia-Pacific region only behind the Philippines.
In recent years, Cambodia has issued licenses to casinos and online gambling sites, most of which aimed at customers in Mainland China.
After China took up the issue with the Cambodian government, Sen had in August issued a directive declaring that all the existing online gambling licenses would be canceled at the end of December 2019, and no more permits would be issued. With the latest announcement by the PM, there is little hope that the directive will be reconsidered.
In the 8th Sea Festival in Kampot province, Sen had said, “If Cambodia’s economy continues to depend on online gaming, Cambodian national security will be seen engaged. The country is at a higher risk of becoming a shelter for money laundering by organized crime groups that will come to Cambodia to carry out their activities.”
Sen’s statements, however, did not find support from all political and administrative quarters. In October, the Finance Minister of Cambodia, Aun Pornmoniroth, had warned that banning the local online gambling industry will take a toll on the government’s revenue. Sen countered the opposition and said that when the country gets rid of the crimes related to gambling, Cambodia will create stimuli for foreign investment in high-value projects other than gambling.
It has not yet been revealed how the Cambodian authorities will handle the application of the new ban. China’s state media has urged neighboring countries to join efforts to eliminate illegal online gambling with the subsequent “long-term benefits of local economies.”
In return for this ban on online gambling, China has agreed to grant Cambodia “special discussions on subsidies to support the development” of non-gaming related projects in the Sihanoukville region, where most of the Chinese-oriented gaming websites are located.
Back in October, we had reported that global hospitality and entertainment giant MGM Resorts International was planning to sell two of its Las Vegas resorts in separate deals. MGM had announced that its Circus Circus Las Vegas would be sold to an affiliate of Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin for $825 Million.
More news came in this week when the U.S branch of the U.K.-based bookmaker William Hill announced that it has partnered with Circus Circus and will be taking over the latter’s sportsbook operations.
Confirming the team-up, Ruffin said, “William Hill has been a leader in sports betting for more than 85 years and is one of the most trusted brands in the industry. I can’t wait to see the remodeled space next year.”
William Hill has chalked out big plans for the Circus Circus sportsbook operations that include a massive revamp of the sportsbook that will allow access to William Hill’s top-notch mobile app – kiosks and its InPlay wagering menu.
An official statement from the company read – “The sportsbook will be renovated after the Super Bowl, with plans for a grand opening celebration ahead of the 2019/2020 March Madness College Basketball Tournament. The remodeled space will feature updated video screens, odds boards, seating, and more.”
CEO of William Hill U.S., Joe Asher, commented, “Phil Ruffin has been a great partner, and we look forward to working with him as he breathes new life into this iconic property. Circus Circus is a Las Vegas landmark with more than 50 years of history. The north end of The Strip has so many new and updated offerings opening over the next few years, and we’re excited to plant another flag in this part of town.”