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More M&A already?

After Fanatics’ PointsBet deal and Aristocrat’s acquisition of NeoGames in the past few days, one could be forgiven for thinking that would be all in the world of M&A this week.

Not so, according to a story in Business Insider, which speculates that UK-listed gambling giant Entain has set its sights on the $200m purchase of sports pricing and analytics firm, Angstrom Sports.

Three people “familiar with the discussions” confirmed to Insider that Entain is nearing a deal carrying a $200m price tag, while the companies in question remained tight-lipped.

UK-based Angstrom is focused mainly on US sports, and enables player and in-game prop bets – a big deal for stateside bettors – as well as trading and risk management tools.

“There is a lot of M&A buzz around pricing and analytics companies like Angstrom and Swish Analytics who can help operators with in-play and [same-game-parlay] modeling,” wrote friends of iGaming NEXT Eilers & Krejcik Gaming in a newsletter earlier this month.

Eyes are particularly focused on Entain at the moment, too, as it declared recently that it would end its financial support of US joint venture BetMGM once the brand reaches profitability, as it is expected to later this year.

With previous discussion around other companies buying out Entain – including JV partner MGM itself and DraftKings – having drawn to a close, whatever happens next for the gambling giant will certainly be watched closely by others in the industry.

In the meantime, it looks like there will be yet another deal to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars soon to come. Watch this space.

Put that baby down and gamble!

In this week’s edition of Advertising in Poor Taste, The Guardian’s Rob Davies once again cast his critical eye over one of the online gambling sector’s darker recesses.

This is the second Entain-related story in this week’s Hot Copy, as the firm’s Coral brand was reported to have paid parenting blogs to advertise its online casino games to new mothers, with a marketing tactic condemned as “predatory” by mental health and addiction experts.

The brand allegedly paid bloggers to suggest online casino as a way of relieving the stress of caring for a new baby. 

For example, in one post about baby food recipes, it was suggested: “If as a mum you can’t leave the house, then why not consider bingo online?

“You can click here to play Bingo online at Coral – this momentary break from childcare can prove beneficial.”

Another parenting blog recommended new parents indulge in “opulent games of online roulette that are easy to learn and can provide some handy winnings too.”

While gambling winnings certainly can come in handy, it’s a long established fact that operators in the UK must not present their games as any kind of solution to financial difficulty. Given that the odds are perpetually in favour of the house, that’s pretty much a no-brainer.

In Entain’s defence, it said links included in the blogs had been posted between 2014 and 2016, long before the company we know today bought out Ladbrokes Coral in 2018.

The posts were still live as of Sunday, but the operator said on Tuesday it would try to get them taken down as soon as possible.

“Neither Coral nor any Entain brand actively targets young mothers or any other potentially vulnerable group through the use of affiliate marketing,” a spokesperson said, adding the caveat that the company is “unable to prevent third parties from linking to our gaming sites.”

Still, the historical nature of the offences did nothing to prevent the tactic attracting ire from many, including NHS England’s mental health director and the founder of the National Problem Gambling Clinic.

Their main conclusion was that, actually, gambling probably isn’t the best way of relieving the stress of becoming a new parent. Go figure.

See you in court

Bet365 found itself back in the news this week, too, as The Telegraph published a report on the firm’s alleged failure to identify compulsive gambling behaviour.

A High Court case brought against the operator has seen it accused of failing in its responsibilities to protect customers, and apparently the case has gambling bosses across the industry worried that more legal challenges might be forthcoming.

The customer in question, Vayuputra Anirudh Thotapalli, claims he lost nearly £300,000 between February 2015 and March 2016, after depositing upwards of £800,000 in his account.

On 33 different occasions, the customer was able to place more than 30 bets per day, with one particularly busy run on Christmas Eve seeing him make 162 wagers on a single day.

This activity, his lawyers argued, “was demonstrative of his being a compulsive gambler.”

In addition to not preventing compulsive behaviour, bet365 allegedly also waited until two months after he opened his account – at which point he had already lost over £46,000 – to ask how he was funding his gambling.

The operator stands accused of not properly asking for evidence of his income, living expenses and assets at that time.

His account was only closed some 10 months later in February 2016, after he failed to provide bank statements and the operator reached the “obvious” conclusion that he couldn’t support that level of gambling, according to his lawyers.

Bet365 in turn said it had “repeatedly engaged” with the customer to make sure he was gambling responsibly, including a self-assessment weeks after opening his account and follow-up phone calls with staff.

“At no time did the claimant inform bet365 that he was a compulsive gambler,” bet365’s defence said. 

“Instead he positively confirmed to bet365 that he was in control of his gambling, and passed the responsible gambling self-assessment on at least four occasions.”

The case is now expected to go to trial, which may have broader repercussions for operators in the UK market.

Similar cases have been dismissed in the past, with courts ruling that bookies have only a limited responsibility for their customers’ behaviour.

If this case goes the other way, though, it could bring in quite a sea change for customers who’ve lost large sums to operators while experiencing gambling harms.

The industry will be watching this case very closely indeed.

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