Hot copy: Stories that caught our eye this week from around the sector

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Yahoo considers joining who’s who of the betting business

According to a story broken by CNBC, Yahoo owner Apollo Global Management is in preliminary discussions with sports betting firms, including ASX-listed PointsBet, over an asset merger with Yahoo Sports.

While all talks at this stage are thought to be preliminary and no deal is imminent, the move could lead to a sportsbook spinoff of Yahoo Sports and the web search giant’s first foray into the betting sector.

Yahoo Sports already boasts millions of players on its fantasy sports platform, many of whom would be ripe for a cross-sell into sports betting proper, with the vertical now live and regulated across 19 US states.

CNBC was quick to point out that the online gaming market has faced some serious setbacks in the stock market recently, as exorbitant marketing spend in the US, combined with fierce competition across the board and questions around the sustainability of operator business models, has led to investor reluctance to keep hold of sports betting shares.

While PointsBet has an existing deal with Comcast’s NBCUniversal, and Yahoo holds an existing sports betting partnership with BetMGM, one executive quoted in the piece said: “Everyone is talking to everyone right now and there needs to be consolidation.”

Interestingly, Yahoo owner Apollo closed an acquisition from Las Vegas Sands to operate the Venetian Resort Las Vegas and the Venetian Expo for $2.25bn last month, which CNBC thought could help to cross promote a Yahoo-branded betting product.

Decentraland all in on virtual Texas Hold ‘Em

A Bloomberg piece on the Decentraland metaverse showed that the most popular destination in the digital world is, unsurprisingly, the casino. In fact, Decentraland’s four poker rooms frequently host around half of the people in the metaverse at any given time, apparently.

In there, hundreds of virtual avatars sit around poker tables built on graphics which, Bloomberg said, “would have looked cutting-edge two decades ago on the PlayStation 2” (although for those of us that remember the lifelike thrill of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, that doesn’t necessarily sound like such a bad thing).

Curiously, although players in digital card rooms can play for real cryptocurrency, the game’s operator, Decentral Games, does not possess a gambling licence in the US, and even more curiously, claims it does not need one.

Because players can’t directly cash out their chips for money after they play, Decentral Games COO Ryan De Taboada argues the firm doesn’t need certification for real-money gambling.

Other experts consider this a bit of a grey area, with gambling Lawyer Jeff Ifrah claiming: “If you have to buy in to participate in a contest, even if the chips are free, the purchase of a prerequisite to play is a problem.”

Licensing questions aside, poker and gambling are seen as major drivers of traffic to the metaverse, which is desperate to attract more digital avatars and virtual footfall. So, said Decentral Games founder Miles Anthony: “We’re trying to populate the metaverse, basically, with [poker], and it seems to have worked so far.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the gambling industry has sat at the forefront of technical innovation and helped to popularise new online technologies – so the relationship between iGaming and the metaverse looks set to deepen further and further.

Have a Flutter, but do it responsibly

According to a piece published by the Financial Times on Monday, Flutter Entertainment will award 10% of staff bonuses to work that helps to prevent betting addiction this year.

The operator said this week that its safer gambling investments had led in part to a reduced EBITDA figure in its preliminary 2021 financial results, in addition to an “unprecedented run of customer-friendly sports results in 2021”.

The FTSE 100 firm is now aiming for 75% of its customers to use at least one of its safer gambling tools by 2030. The figure of customers currently using the tools sits at around 35%, it said.

Speaking to the FT, CEO Peter Jackson said the company had spent more than £45m in 2021 on safer gambling measures, and that “levels of expenditure will grow”, even though limiting at-risk players could slow down its growth in key markets.

“We are trying very hard, as we do across all of our brands around the world, to engage all the operators in a race to the top,” Jackson added.

He also defended the business from accusations that it was using safer gambling as a way of improving its public image, and warned that safer gambling tools were under utilised in less mature markets, including the US.

Perhaps staff incentives for driving safer gambling strategies are something we will begin to see more of in the gaming industry’s future. For now, the long-term impact and success of the policy remains to be seen.

About the author

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Conor Mulheir

Conor entered the gaming industry in 2018 producing high-level live event content for audiences in London, Amsterdam and São Paulo. From 2020, he went on to report news and commission exclusive content for various gaming media brands before joining iGaming NEXT as editor in January 2022.

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