Friday, October 21, 2011

Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment tipped to be dominant player; Buy rec, by Greg Tingle - 21st October 2011

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Medium to long term investment prospect, Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment (LON:BPTY) could be the dominant player in online gaming across Europe, deriving the majority of its profits from regulated markets, states UBS analyst Simon Whittington.

In the meantime, the company is buying back shares, paying around 5% dividend yield, and driving double-digit EBITDA growth, underpinned by conservative synergies, he added.

UBS rates the firm a 'buy' with a 12 month target price of 185 pence (current price: 104.8 pence).

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment Betting On United States, by Greg Tingle - 20th October 2011

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Jim Ryan, the co-chief executive of Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment is a very busy man.

In fact, he's invested three of the past five weeks in the United States pushing a presentation that advertised to investors the strengths of the world’s largest publicly-traded online gambling - gaming firm. Ryan’s presentation included a one-page chart that listed the top online poker brands in the U.S. market. The names of once fierce competitors PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, were crossed out in red. Is Party the only real game left in town? Time will tell.

“Where you see the red lines, those organizations have been indicted, so although one can’t predict the future, it’s unlikely you will see those brands back in the U.S.,” Ryan said during an interview. “The brand that has the most consumer awareness is in fact the PartyPoker brand.”

Ryan’s company happens to own both PartyPoker and the World Poker Tour, two of the top online poker brands that did not have their U.S. operations shut down by the U.S. Justice Department in April because they were not facilitating for-money online poker play in America—in the case of PartyPoker since 2006. They also own PartyCasino, a top online casino destination website. The fact that Ryan, who is based in Gibraltar, has recently been spending so much time in the U.S. demonstrates he is optimistic and hopeful for a U.S. comeback. “My focus is on the U.S.,” says Ryan, who is in the final stages of negotiating partnerships with two U.S. companies. “Even though there is no guarantee that online gaming will ever regulate in the U.S.”

For years Ryan and his staff at PartyGaming, which merged with Bwin earlier this year, had to sit on the sidelines, watching how much money PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were snatching. It was a difficult thing to watch for the top brass and workers at PartyGaming, which was the biggest online gambling company in the world thanks to its domination of the U.S. online poker market until Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006. PartyGaming exited the U.S. market and saw its stock price take a massive hit, while PokerStars and Full Tilt kept their U.S. facing .com websites on air. Party competitors enjoyed somewhat of an unfair advantage, with the rouges using the U.S. market to expand globally at PartyGaming’s expense. “We were beyond the point of frustration,” says Ryan.

Next PartyGaming struck a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, paying $105 million and admitting its U.S. operations had for years violated U.S. law. Meanwhile, PokerStars and Full Tilt continued to operate in the U.S. and claimed that their U.S. operations did not violate U.S. law, pointing to legal opinions the companies had received from top American legal eagles. To many, it appeared like PartyGaming had given a lucrative business away. Even at the company’s headquarters there were doubts until April 2011, when federal prosecutors in Manhattan closed down the U.S. operations of PokerStars and Full Tilt, naming them illegal gambling businesses, and indicted some of their key execs. "I think Party has been vindicated now in getting out when they did and in dealing with the Department of Justice," says Behnam Dayanim, a partner at Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider, who negotiated PartyGaming’s agreement with federal prosecutors in downtown Manhattan.

With all that said, Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment is not exactly holding a management party quite yet. It's so close, yet so far, from reclaiming online poker’s crown. Operating in highly-regulated and taxed European markets while competing against well-run companies like PokerStars is not for the faint-hearted. Bwin.Party’s stock, which trades on the prestigious London Stock Exchange, has dipped by 50% in 2011. Big corporate mergers can be problematic, but the outfit has also suffered a setback in Germany, where the nation’s top civil court recently decided to uphold an online gambling ban, and been dissed by higher gaming duties across Europe. When the company attempted to take advantage of the April U.S. shutdown of PokerStars and Full Tilt, Bwin.Party found that while some new European players were attracted to its poker brands, revenues remained flat-ish. It wasn’t until Full Tilt’s European regulator suspended Full Tilt’s license in late June that Bwin.Party’s increased advertising and promotional expenditures started to pay dividends. PartyPoker is now the second-biggest online poker room in the world, according to PokerScout, averaging 4,150 cash players during any given time. PokerStars has 22,800.

Ryan, who joined PartyGaming as CEO in 2008, has been waiting for this moment for what seems like forever. He long ago took Bwin’s Norbert Teufelberger to a McDonald’s in La Linea, Spain, and chatted to him at length about the pros of combining Bwin’s strong online sportsbook business with PartyGaming’s poker brands, resulting in the merger that was first announced in 2010. Ryan also fine-tuned his company’s business-to-business capabilities over the last few years with an eye toward finding a U.S. partner with whom he can re-conquer America. "We had to be realistic about where we sat in the food chain," says Ryan. "We figured if the U.S. regulated it would be unlikely that we would secure a license directly, that the laws of the land would be written to allow existing land operators and equipment manufacturers in the U.S. to secure the licenses." Ryan is optimistic about current efforts in Washington, driven by the American Gaming Association and powerful casino companies like Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, to potentially get some sort of online gambling legislation through a divided Congress. Ryan notes he is also preparing for the possibility that online poker gets regulated first on a state-by-state basis.

"We have to be ready for both federal or state," he says. "It feels good to have American taxpaying companies finally driving this.".

If an offshore operator is to succeed in American, Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment looks like the firm to place bets with.

Bwin.Party has identified Australia and New Zealand as places to further expand their business, even sponsoring high profile poker players such as Tony G and Stewart Scott (a former Crown Casino 'Aussie Millions' champion.) PartyPoker is one of a number of rumoured brands set to take over the sponsorship spot at James Packer's Crown Casino that FTP once enjoyed. Party look to have as much chance as anyone, probably more so.

In the meantime, poker and casino game players in regions such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, South America, South Africa and beyond can continue to enjoy their gaming.

Poker playing celebs such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Tobey McGuire are understood to be open to sponsorship approaches from Bwin.Party.

Governments of the world - you're throw of the dice.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

WSOP Europe: Michael Mizrachi, Philippe Boucher Capture Bracelets As Championship Event Enters Day 1B - 16th October 2011

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As the €10,000 Championship Event of the 2011 World Series of Poker Europe enters its second Day One on Sunday, poker pros Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi and Philippe Boucher captured the final two preliminary bracelets awarded on Saturday.

In the €10,000 Split Format No Limit Hold’em event, Mizrachi came back yesterday as a member of the Final Four who would determine the title. In his semi-final match against Roger Hairabedian, Michael slowly worked the heads up match to what was a startling conclusion. On the final hand of their matchup, Hairabedian flopped a set of fives on a J-8-5 board, but Mizrachi was able to best that by turning a straight with his 7-6 when a four found the turn. Once the board didn’t pair on the river, Michael Mizrachi was on to the final.

In the other semi-final match, Shawn Buchanan and Noah Schwartz battled it out for the right to face “The Grinder.” Buchanan methodically worked his way into a comfortable lead against Schwartz before getting him to commit his final chips with a mediocre offering. After a minimum raise from Shawn, Noah decided to make a three-bet stand for his last chips with only an A-5 off suit. Buchanan quickly called, tabling his pocket Kings, and once the board ran dry (albeit with a bit of a flush sweat), Shawn Buchanan was the winner of the match.

As predicted here yesterday, the Mizrachi/Buchanan battle was a fierce one, although Michael came to the felt with a 2:1 chip lead over Shawn. “The Grinder,” true to his name, was able to gradually add on to his lead over the two hours of play; nothing that Buchanan attempted seemed to work as his chip stack slowly slipped southward. The end of the tournament was particularly brutal for Buchanan as, holding an A-J against Mizrachi’s A-10, a ten came on the flop to flip the lead to Mizrachi. Turn and river deuces sealed the deal for the 2010 $50K Poker Players’ Champion, giving him his second bracelet in as many years.

1. Michael Mizrachi (United States), €336,008
2. Shawn Buchanan (Canada), €207,624
3. Roger Hairabedian (France), €112,092
4. Noah Schwartz (United States), €112,092

The final table of the €1500 Six Handed Pot Limit Omaha tournament seemed to be more of a sprint than a marathon, highly unlike major championship final tables. Chile’s Nicolas Fierro came to the final table with the chip lead, but it was a one man wrecking ball by the name of Philippe Boucher who stole the show.

After taking almost an hour and a half before the first player, Jack Ellwood, was eliminated by Boucher, the Canadian pro would then storm his way through the remainder of the field. He would go on to knock off the entire table on his run to the title, only pausing slightly during heads up play against Michel Dattani. On the final hand, Dattani would commit his final chips holding an A-A-J-7 against the A-Q-10-9 of Boucher. After the board ran 6-6-8-J-Q to give him the winning straight, Philippe Boucher would pick up his first WSOP bracelet in just under four hours.

1. Philippe Boucher (Canada), €124,584
2. Michel Dattani (Portugal), €76,982
3. Nicolas Fierro (Chile), €53,426
4. Alexander Dovzhenko (Ukraine), €37,529
5. Jared Solomon (South Africa), €26,676
6. Jack Ellwood (United Kingdom), €19,181

While these two final tables wrapped up action, the first Day One of the €10,000 Championship Event was in play. 310 players eventually wound their way to the tables in the battle for the next WSOP Europe Main Event championship, guaranteeing that this will be the biggest Championship Event in the history of the WSOP Europe. Last year’s total number of players was “only” 346 and the record field for the tournament was in 2007 and 2008, when the tournament drew 362 players.

At the end of Day 1A, 173 players remained, with Jamie Rosen holding the chip lead with 162,700 in chips. Notable names in the Top Ten include the U. K.’s Chris Moorman and Erik Friberg, but there are threats looming down the leaderboard. Two time World Champion Johnny Chan is just off the leaderboard in eleventh place with 108,350 in chips, while Ramzi Jelassi, 2011 WSOP November Niner Ben Lamb, Carlos Mortensen, Will “The Thrill” Failla, Chad Brown and Arnaud Mattern are just some of the names in the Top 25.

Day 1B is currently in play, with 165 players stepping up for the action on Sunday. Some of the players who have made early moves during Day 1B include 2010 WSOP November Niner Filippo Candio, Robert Mizrachi, Tommy Vedes, Shannon Shorr, Bryan Devonshire, Sandra Naujoks, Mike “Timex” McDonald and Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier. Defending World Champion Jonathan Duhamel, Men “The Master” Nguyen, Jean-Robert Bellande and Sorel Mizzi are all below their starting stacks, with “The Grinder” and Steve Billirakis two of this year’s WSOP Europe bracelet winners already eliminated from the tournament.

Final numbers for the Championship Event aren’t in yet, so the prize pool hasn’t been determined or the first place prize. However it plays out, the 2011 World Series of Poker Europe has been a record breaking schedule with its final stories yet to play out. (Credit: Poker News Daily)

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