20061207

888.com mobile and other crimes

You can draw but you can't hide. Poker and casino invaded our screens and not only in the late night hours, where other non glamorous but lucrative programs used to rule (porn, TV shopping...). People enjoy watching other unathletic nobodies become wealthy superheroes just like that, sitting at a table. Later, when they turn to dumb their online gaming automats, they believe each winning streak is due to their talent and each losing one to bad luck. Gibraltar-based virtual casinos can submerge all European medias with their greenbacks ; they know the ROI will be huge.
And this goes far beyond the Rock and your usual sin cities : if Macau SAR gladly returns to the colonial rule of the roulette, Tony Blair also wants to turn Brighton & Hove into Western Europe's Las Vegas. Never mind those medical reports on gambling addictions (nor the statistical reports : half a million French citizens hooked to online poker within a few months !). In the US, one can wonder if the theo-cons who recently managed to have some speakeasies banned are not themselves involved in legal joints. Religious fanatics actually served as a convenient cover-up for the main lobbyists : Sin City Inc.

France's most vocal moral safeguards happen to be the two public-controlled incumbents : La Francaise des Jeux (lotteries) and the PMU (horse racing). Both enjoy legal monopolies and mean to keep them. They can read Nielsen Netratings and they know that in the UK, The National Lottery only holds 35% of the sweepstakes sector, followed by a pack where William Hill (6.3%) and Ladbrokes (5.6%) seem about to be overwhelmed by the new tide (6.2% for Partygaming, 4% for Pacific Poker, 3.7% for Cyberslots...).
FdJeux sponsors a cycling team for a few million euros a year and just couldn't let newcomers massively sponsor most of the Ligue 1's pro soccer teams. The incument got Bwin's top executives arrested but also, and as a side effect of this rather mediatic event, the attention of Bruxelles. As a proof of its moral virtues, FdJeux just decided to start a campaign to sensibilize the public to the dangers of over-gaming... after decades of shameless aggressive marketing campaigns.
Meanwhile, 888.com Mobile was launched late last month. Anyone can download the program for free (but for the telecom- and, of course, the gambling part) and the company claims a 85% coverage of the European market because 340 devices are supposed to be compatible. The die is cast, "faites vos jeux, rien ne va plus".
US players crushed by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, European players waiting for a clear legal framework... will Asia become the ultimate eldorado (even if the 2nd Mobile Gambling Summit Asia didn't bring any major disruptions) ?
MNOs want their share but fear for their image... They can do cute things* but big bucks may involve meeting with wiseguys and goodfellas, or even getting nasty. Dealing with timeslots backstage definitely looks simpler than dealing cards or managing slot machines for your customers.


* see "iPub by O2 - boozer friendly" (20060301)



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