You could say that the e-gaming business has had quite a good virus. For want of a better expression. 888 Holding plc published a trading update that showed an average daily increase in revenue of 34%. 888 is predominantly a casino and slots gambling website but 16% of its revenue comes from sports betting. With sports being cancelled across most of western Europe the results are even better than the headline figures imply.

For the predominantly sports betting website, William Hill, Bet365, and Paddy Power the results are not as spectacular. Even less so for those that have a bricks and mortar estate. William Hill reported a 57% fall in revenues in the seven weeks to 28 April 2020.

The shops are now starting to re-open, there is football and horse racing to bet on, but the question remains how strong the recovery will be. There is certainly pent up demand to have a sports bet. The question however with so much uncertainty over jobs whether gamblers will return to their former self confidence.

This was aptly put by Merryn Somerset Webb in the Financial Times (26 June). She said: ‘In most cases, the notion of ‘pent-up demand’ makes no sense. Either people have the urge and the cash to buy something, or they do not. If they have both, there is demand. If they have the urge but not the cash, it is not pent-up demand but wishful thinking’.

Will they have the cash to gamble? If you look at the rising stock market as an indicator you would say yes. If you look at the job numbers, empty shops, and liquidations of businesses you would say no.
Add to this companies that are saying to employees you must take a cut in salary or face redundancy.

Ryanair has called on its pilots to take a 20% cut in salary, a figure many employers are seeking to impose.

Even if we presume the recovery will be V-shaped, other ill winds are blowing in the direction of the UK gambling industry.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC)

The powerful House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has produced a damning report on the state of addictive gambling in the UK, called on the Gambling Commission to do more. This can only end badly. Expect more licence fees, heavier fines, enabling legislation for gambling companies to be sued without going to court, and requests for more and more information to produce league tables to prove a point. None of this will be based on a hard examination of facts to determine proper public policy. The industry has been tried in the kangaroo court of public opinion after a media onslaught based on faulty information.

The kangaroo court had its origin from the courts of Australia’s penal colonies. They were quickly convened to deal with an immediate issue and were called kangaroo courts because they jumped up from nowhere. Today the dictionary describes them as an unofficial court held by a group of people in order to try someone regarded, especially without good evidence, as guilty of a crime or misdemeanour.

PAC has advised that the consumer whilst having protection under law does not have the financial resources to pursue a claim. PAC said ‘Individuals who may have lost thousands of pounds can only seek redress by taking legal action which they are unlikely to be able to fund. As a result, the current regulatory regime is ineffective in meeting the licensing objective under the Gambling Act to protect vulnerable people.

Does this not apply to every citizen who has a complaint against any business? We all trust our legal system because of the impartiality of our judges. But this system is expensive. Is PAC complaining that the cost of resorting to law needs to be reformed, or are they wanting a cheaper kind of court to hear complaints of disgruntled gamblers, if so what about those that have a beef against the travel industry, insurance companies, and builders?

Wirecard

For the first time ever a company in the DAX 30 looks like going into liquidation following the demise of Wirecard. Apparently, EUR 1.9 billion has gone missing. Almost to the week last year the Financial Times did an expose on Wirecard saying that there was a discrepancy in the accounts and a thorough investigation was required. The company denied all claims. The stock was shorted by TCI, and Marshall Wace, they made a cool EUR 1 billion.

Last year the German Financial watchdog BaFin acted swiftly. Not to investigate Wirecard instead they filed a criminal complaint against two Financial Times journalists and several short sellers.

Wirecard was extensively used by gambling companies, in grey markets. The losses that may accrue from the bust have not been disclosed yet, but it is unlikely to be a small number.

I feel a class action coming on against BaFin and the auditors EY whom according to City AM (26 June) failed to request bank statements for three years. This will make a great Netflix documentary.

Written by Warwick Bartlett