All the sun, sea, and sumptuous surroundings of the W Hotel could not disguise a slightly muted atmosphere at the 2013 Gaming Executive Summit in Barcelona last week.
The tone was set by Quirino Mancini, SCM Lawyers, who gave a very downbeat assessment of the internet gambling sector in Italy. “A few operators are doing very well but the majority are simply surviving,” explained Mancini.
This is a particularly concerning view of the Italian e-gaming market because it is the model that has been adopted across many European markets.
On the CEO panel, Bwin.Party’s Norbert Teufelberger was not his usual ebullient self and seemed resigned to a tough period ahead. It perhaps didn’t help that Bwin.Party issued a disappointing trading update earlier that morning:
“The Group’s revenue performance since the beginning of April 2013 was softer than expected due to a lower than expected gross win margin in sports betting during April and June as well as competitive pressures in bingo.
Ahead of the launch of our new poker product, the trends seen in Q1 in casino and poker continued during the second quarter. Whilst we retain a leadership position in our two largest markets, competitive pressures in both the UK and Italy have continued to hold back our bingo business.”
Friedrich Stickler, president of the European Lotteries Association, was on the same CEO panel. Now that the likes of Bwin.Party have fallen into line and either taken local licences or withdrawn from markets, Stickler’s new targets seem to be the Asian sports books, which he deems ‘illegal’. Stickler ignores the fact that they are licensed by recognised jurisdictions and that Europe is largely an irrelevant region for these operators. One also hopes he has the substance to back up some of the things he implied in his comments about certain operators.
Tom Hall, One Works Ltd, used his presentation to highlight the real split in the e-gaming sector: those that are profitable and those that are not. It was telling that the best performers were generally the private operators or, in terms of share price, were those listed firms that still traded in certain markets, like GVC Holdings.
Sean Ryan from Facebook outlined the company’s plans for e-gaming and showed off the new Paddy Power real-money in-play sports betting app for the platform, as well as Zynga’s new real-money poker service. It is clear that Facebook is taking a cautious approach to e-gaming and is using the UK as its test market. Facebook has a small e-gaming team and is most interested in markets that are regulated and have a sizeable population. Denmark, for example, whilst regulated, would not be a priority because of its small population. There are also no definite plans for e-gaming on Facebook in any US states that might regulate.
The fact that two of the most upbeat presentations of the conference were delivered by speakers with no direct involvement in the gambling sector – Kevin Slavin, Assistant Professor at MIT Media Lab, and David Rowan, Editor of Wired Magazine – is a good reflection of the state of certain sectors of gambling at the moment.
Still, the excellent poolside party hosted by Playtech and Safecharge helped everyone forget about that for an evening.