Yesterday, Tuesday February 19th, all access to almost all online gambling sites was blocked by the internet providers in Cyprus on authority of the National Betting Authority. Read the announcement here (through Google translate).
It does come as a natural effect of the Cypriot Betting Act 2012, which in the fall of 2012 also saw many betting shops and similar venues offering access to online gaming services close.
The announcement from the National Betting Authority doesn’t mention, which sites should be blocked but only mentions that the list of websites, which has already been given to providers is not exhaustive and will be constant monitoring and updating. However, according to CalvinAyre.com, a total of 270 domains has been blocked.
At this time none of the affected companies seems to have made any public statement about the issue, although Betfair, whose share prices suffered immediately with a 5% plummet after the new Cypriot gambling regulation was revealed, has previously suggested that they would react to the gambling legislation:
The company believes the legislation contains serious flaws and, in certain areas, is inconsistent with European Union law.
Betfair…will be taking all necessary steps to reduce the impact on profitability through both legal action and cost management.
Betfair, which ended up filing an EC complaint over the Cyprus gambling legislation (and other companies like Tipico, William Hill etc.) was involved in land based betting shops and venues that offered in-venue access to online casino games prior to the closing of land based betting shops in the fall as the first effect of the new Cypriot gambling legislation.
Other and more local effects of the gambling legislation (besides closing local betting shops) included burning down 4 OPAP outlets and attempts to the same on three others
Not everybody is sad
However, one company that will like the development is the Greek monopoly OPAP (and probably the Greek government that are part owners), which is in the middle of a privatization process – allegedly as part of the Troika bailout to Greece.
OPAP currently has a de facto monopoly on all sports betting and lotteries in Cyprus, although two land based betting licensees was awarded to Intralot and Stanleybet recently. Furthermore OPAP is currently allowed to offer it’s services in Cyprus on a tax free basis due to an agreement between Cyprus and Greece.
It has also been indirectly suggested that the primary reason, OPAP currently has a special position on the Cypriot Gambling market is because of it’s ”special” relationship with local politicians – At least if you take the quote from a Member of Parliament, that he “couldn’t be bought by anyone” literally.
Besides favoring OPAP, rumors are that this is the first step towards allowing further land based gambling activities in the country, which should include licenses to build regular casinos. That would definitely also present a welcome splash of cash into the country’s economy, which these days must be envying the house hold economy of Donald Duck.
Future of the monopoly?
As for now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. There’s probably not much doubt that the one-sided favoritism of OPAP is against EC regulations and it will be even more odd, when OPAP will be fully privatized and Cyprus at that time will be close to giving monopoly to a private company from another country.
One can understand the reasoning behind eg. The Danish governments protection of the monopoly of the national Danish supplier, as well as the way the Finnish government seeks to enhance the national monopoly, but allowing a foreign company to operate tax free with a monopoly status, does seem a little odd and makes you think what the reasons behind that might be.
At the moment however, you’ll need to find some way of circumvent the ISP-blocking, if you still want to gamble online from Cyprus.
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Last week I had a question for Party Poker, which I ended up asking both their email support and their twitter support profile. That left me with two totally different experiences – A great service by their Twitter support while the email support was a totally different story. But let’s get the background settled first.
Last week it crossed my mind that I might be interested in playing the WPT National event in Cyprus in early March this year. Not that I’m a particularly gifted poker player, but since I find playing live poker funny and entertaining – And after all, WPT Cyprus is right in my backyard these days and you never know if you might be lucky and meet Ms. Scott
The buy in is $2.200 and with my lack of poker skills in mind I thought it would be a good idea to maybe try some online qualifiers for the event and obviously headed for Party Poker, which I believe is the primary online poker sponsor for the series, looking for online qualifiers.
Had a quick look at the site and didn’t find any information but luckily Party Poker has a “contact us” option, which I deemed was a great option instead of scrolling up and down numberless pages on their website.
Being in no immediate rush I choose the email support option and entered the required info about email-address, subject, my enquiry, which was something as simple as this:
Is it possible to qualify for WPT Cyprus?
If there’s no direct qualifier is it possible to pay with Tournament$ or some other way?
After filling the CAPTCHA and clicking submit I thought I was pretty well on my way to an answer, and so did Party Poker, because they send me to this site:
As you can see they just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t contacting support needlessly and suggests that based on key words in my enquiry, it might be solved by reading the related articles to the right…
Since that list was empty I opted to send the email nevertheless and try my luck with support.
I did however find the screendump above a little funny, and what do you do then? You guessed correctly – you jump to Twitter to make sure everyone can have a little laugh at it like yourself, so I tweeted the image to @PartyPoker including my question about the WPT Cyprus qualifiers:
Not long after that the reply ticked in:
Great answer – simple and giving me other options if I was just really hooked on playing a WPT qualifier or interested in other locations. For me, it kind of closed this enquiry – until five and a half hour later, when I received a reply to my email enquiry.
Email support strikes back
Expecting to see the same reply again, I opened the email being ready to delete it, but no, I was in for a surprise:
The reply had nothing to do with my question, as you can see here:
Our records indicate that you have a play money account registered with us. You are passing on a big opportunity to join the PartyPoints Club and start reaping in the rewards. Our customer support is geared toward our real money players and you are missing out by not becoming one.
To help you get started I have given you a special BONUS OFFER. Make a deposit now using the bonus code REALTODAY and you will receive an extra 100% upto $50*. If you need assistance while making a deposit, please call us anytime.
If your mail is about a Real Money Account that you have with us, please write to us from your registered email address for that account (this will help us assist you better) and we will get back to you quickly as we wish that no one misses out on the fun.
If you still have questions please visit the FAQ section of our website.
Thank you and have fun!!
As you can see, nothing related to my question and still it took five and a half hour to send me a standard conversion email with a simple bonus offer.
There are quite a few things Party Poker does wrong in this email-case in my opinion and it is really bad customer service:
1) They don’t answer my relatively simple questions
2) They use five and a half hour to send a standard email
3) They take my enquiry as an opportunity to push hard to convert me to a real money player
The one thing that really irritates me afterwards is pt. 3 – probably because I already had my question answered by their Twitter support, although not addressing my question is really odd. Anyways, they are simply pushing hard to try to convert a player that has already converted himself by asking the question I asked.
I have already told them that I will play online qualifiers for the WPT Cyprus, so there’s no need to try to convert me to a real money player. That’s already done through my question and their sponsorship of the WPT. If they have the service, I’m playing – Simple, simple.
Since they can’t offer the qualifiers to WPT Cyprus that is obviously a problem in terms of converting me, but who knows – I might just be interested in playing any WPT, so they could at least offer me the answer that I got from Twitter and mention the other WPT qualifiers as I might be interested in that.
Once they answer my I wouldn’t mind them offering me the bonus they do, as it would feel natural. Replying me like the email support did in this case is just plain rude. That can’t be good for business
Twitter Support out on top
The answer I got from Twitter tells me that they realize that I am more or less converted if they offer the qualifier. However, since they can’t offer it – at least they offer an alternative, which I think is a pretty clever solution and I can’t comprehend why email support couldn’t come up with that in five and a half hour. Is that’s really the best they can do? They are in for a hard time then in my opinion
Maybe they just got all the clever people sitting at twitter support and someone else with email support. Or maybe Twitter support just thinks customer service and not convert, convert, convert…
Comments? I look forward to read them
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Best, Morten Madsen
This blog will center around some of the – IMO – weird ways I found a few companies in the iGaming industry have been acting and treating their customers lately. I don’t have anything against the mentioned companies – they are solely chosen based on recent events, which is the reason I had the thoughts below…
I hope someone can come up with positive stories and share them in a comment below.
Generally I think companies should remember that their reputation is one of their largest assets and thus should act according to it. I’m pretty sure heavy advertising can’t make up for bad player treatment – I mean, would you rush to play at a reopened Full Til Poker, if you saw Howard Lederer in a TV-ad saying that everything was all good now?
Purple Lounge shutting down?
On April 27th PurpleLounge.com (PL) was shut down for all players due to poor results and shady accounting by Media Corp (The owner). Shutting down an iGaming site is something that happens from time to time, but the way it was done left all the PL players hanging out there.
When PL was closed none of the players received any information about it – When visiting the website, the players were met by a short statement that a statement would be made shortly. That left players without a way of contacting PL and without access to their funds. After months of reportedly stalling payouts it is no wonder that players fear for their money.
Media Corp claimed to be ”in the process of considering a number of options”, but considering how they treated their customers, it’s my best guess that their top priority is to get rid of PL as soon as possibly. It is not likely that someone will step in and purchase a brand that now is best known for cutting their players from all access to funds and any information for several weeks.
Personally I’m sure we wont see PL opening for action again. Who would play at a site that may or may not have the funds to secure everybody’s payout and who treats their customers like that?
Unibet cancels Bet24s promotions
Last week showed an odd decision by Unibet after their acquisition of Bet24 was completed. In a mail to Bet24s Danish customers that later in May their accounts would be transferred to/merged with their Unibet account and promising great promotions on Unibet as a result of the change.
They also link to a release on Bet24s website. So far, so good and pretty standard procedure.
However, what Unibet/Bet24 mentions in the e-mail and the release on their website is the following:
- All bonuses will expire by May 14th
- All tournament tickets expires by May 14th
- No news about the loyalty program
- All bets that are not settled by May 21st will be canceled and the wager amount will be transferred back to players account.
To be honest, I don’t know whether these points are standard procedure in a situation like this. What it looks like to me is basicly that they are taking promised value from players (loss of bonus and tournament tickets) – and still expecting them to transfer to Unibet by promising good promotions. And I think we all know what promotions means – Good offers but you have to play extra to free bonuses etc. for payouts. And the promotions mentioned were not even specific.
I was also quite surprised on the decision to cancel all bets by May 14th. Whether it would be profitable for the company to do so or not, I don’t know, but I assume that the “house” generally has an edge when it comes to bets, so they’ll probably loose a bit on this maneuver. But what about the players who were winning on eg. long term bets on leagues etc? They will loose for certain and it didn’t take long for the issue to rise in a thread at the largest Danish poker forum with the title: Unibet purchases Bet24 – are they trying to cheat me? by a well known poker player. He claims that he has made bets on the best danish League for DKK 19,000 (app. €2,500) and looked forward to winning an amount between DKK 40,000 and 140,000 (€5,300 – 18,700), why he was pretty shocked by the news.
- Profiles saying that they are closing their Unibet account based on this
- Bet24s support confirms that the bets will be canceled
- Discussions whether it is because they are due to loose a large amount
At some point Unibet (I’m sure they realised they’ve made a mistake) joins the discussion and changes the date the bets has to be settled by until after the end of the Danish league. The Danish Marketing coordinator from Unibet also claims that there is no way that Unibet can transfer the bets from Bet24 to Unibet if they are not completed by the new deadline.
The new deadline doesn’t change anything. Some bets are still going to be canceled because apparently Unibet cannot set up the bet manually in their system or find any other solution tothis issue than canceling the bets.
This way of treating players are in my opinion unbelievable and in no way gives players any reason to trust the company thus destroying the reputation of the company – in this case to key players such as high raking poker players and bettors. One would think that Unibet would be more professional than that – especially considering the large amount of money Unibet are spending in promotion in Denmark, which includes lots of TV-advertising and large sponsorships of two of the top three clubs in the Danish Football League (Superligaen)
These two cases does not only hurt the reputation of the single companies but also the industry in general. Unibet was awarded a gaming license in Denmark this January and is known as an international iGaming company, and if people cannot trust the major players in the industry – then who can you trust?
It will be very interesting what the Danish Gaming Authority will have to say in this case but it definitely raise some questions:
- When can a player be certain that the bet is valid?
- Why should players trust any iGaming company?
- Should this be possible with the new gaming legislation in Denmark?
- When will the iGaming industry mature and realise it’s not the wild west days of the beginning of the century?
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As we’re waiting for more news on what broke yesterday – White Tuesday, Red Tuesday, Super Tuesday as it’s been called so far – whether the story of PokerStars buying the remains of FullTiltPoker is true, I might as well put my head out and write a little about my thoughts on the topic. To be honest, I don’t see how PokerStars would gain from buying FTP – except if it’s part of a settlement with the US DoJ following Black Friday.
First of all, PokerStars is by far the biggest brand in online poker – both when we’re discussing the number of players, the brand value and the software (that seems to be the general agreement). In that perspective, $750 mio. is a lot of money for a brand that no one really knows how the players will react towards, when it returns, but if it’s controlled by PS, it will probably quickly gain a lot of the trust back that players used to have in FTP.
Groupe Bernard Tapie pulls out
Anyways, we all got a little bit wiser yesterday, when Groupe Bernard Tapie announced their pullout of a deal to buy FTP because of disagreements over such a deal with the US DoJ. Apparently GBT only wanted to allow players to withdraw their account based on their playing activity on the relaunched site, while DoJ insisted that all players should be allowed to withdraw within 90 days. I don’t know how GBT would think that such a procedure would have players regain their trust in FTP? It’s obviously a good point that it would force players to play at the site for at least some time, thus generating enough traffic to sustain continous supply of games and growth, but that just doesn’t seem like the way to go if you’re really serious about relaunching the FTP-brand. But GBT does not appear to be moving any further regarding FTP, so who will move in? Or will anybody?
Pros if PokerStars should buy FTP
Should PokerStars buy FTP it will of course offer an immediate boost to FTP, as PokerStars is among the most respected brands in the industry – if not the most respected brand – and that would offer FTP a good backing to get started with. Rumors are stating that PokerStars are willing to allow every player to withdraw their full account within 90 days without any further restrictions, which – as stated above – I believe is the by far best way to restart FTP in order to gain players trust again. But then again, it’s just rumors, and PokerStars are not commenting on the rumors at all except: “No comments”.
Purchasing FTP would of course be huge to PokerStars as poker players prior to Black Friday at least generally felt these were the – by far – best softwares, and I don’t see or hear any other softwares making such improvements that they would reach those levels. And there’s of course also the control of the two largest player pools (again before Black Friday) – not to forget.
Cons if PokerStars should buy FTP
As mentioned above, no one really knows how players will react to FTP returning, but with PS backing, it will probably not be the biggest issue. But still, you’ve seen before, that brands just can’t get through such issues.
Then there’s the legal issues. in GBTs announcement, they also mention that a major issue is the non-US courts, where most of the key assets of FTP is based. They fear that these courts might have another view on the issue and force a potential “acquirer of the assets responsible for all of those creditor obligation”, which GBT thinks is to big a risk, when considering the price tag. I’m sure PS will have considered these issues, should they purchase FTP, but it must be something to consider – unless it’s just smoke from GBT.
Then there’s the poker players. Aren’t online poker in general with as much competition in the industry as possibly? Less competition would in my opinion open up for worse promotions and less development in the services – Competition is the best reason to develop your services, innovate new services, offer good support and do a little bit more to attract customers. In Danish we have a saying that is something like: It would be like peeing in your pants to stay warm – I think for poker players, that it is very fitting in this case.
The competition issue is what the next section is about.
Potential antitrust issues
Even though the sites would function independently (as mentioned by PokerActu.fr) you would think that there would be a lot of focus on whether the two sites are actually competing against each other. And with the new gaming legislations in EU and the following attention from the public, media and politicians, you would assume there will be a lot of focus from the EU on antitrust issues in the market, and even thought the EU might strike slow – they usually strike hard. Right, Microsoft?
There’s also the prospect of online poker in the US, which seems to edge closer and closer to a solution. You would expect everyone to want an open, competitive market, which I believe would also increase the US treasurer, and some also believes that filling the treasures after the crisis could be the main reason, EU countries are so interested in implementing new gambling legislation
So basically I see benefits for PokerStars, should a purchase of FTP go through, but are the benefits good enough for PokerStars to pull the trigger? There’s no benefits besides short term benefits for poker players – that’s for sure. I personally don’t hope (and think #fingerscrossed) PokerStars will buy Full Tilt, but feel free to add a comment about the pros and cons of such an investment. And to be honest, it is not just some random guys that broke the news, so I’m probably all wrong, misunderstood something (IANAL) or fail to see some benefits (or investor).
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