Sweepstakes get swept out

An article in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) this week shone a spotlight on the online gaming empire of Perth-based billionaire Laurence Escalante.

Escalante’s online gambling business, Virtual Gaming Worlds (VGW), “is facing a concerted push to have its products declared illegal in the United States, its most lucrative market,” according to the piece.

VGW operates the Chumba Casino and Luckyland Slots brands, which are focused on North American markets.

Two legal cases in Alabama and Massachusetts, however, allege that the company is operating in those markets illegally.

For VGW’s part, the operator argues that it complies with US law by using a sweepstakes model, while it also holds a gaming licence in Malta.

Rather than play with real currency, VGW users buy virtual gold coins that allow them to play online but hold no value outside the games.

However, customers can also receive bonus “sweeps coins,” which are redeemable for cash in most parts of the US and Canada.

Plaintiffs in the Alabama and Massachusetts cases argue that this constitutes online gambling under their respective state laws, while VGW is still yet to file a defence.

The company told the AFR, however, that it had operated in North America for more than a decade, “complying with the laws where we operate our online social games, which are free to play and offer sweepstakes promotions. These are a form of trade promotion commonly used in the US.”

The firm has already seen off similar legal cases in Georgia and Florida, but settled a Kentucky lawsuit for around $12m.

It also decided to exit the Michigan market after one of its competitors, Golden Heart Games, was ordered to cease operating by the state’s attorney general.

The legal precedence in such cases is therefore something of a mixed bag, and the outcome of legal action in Alabama and Massachusetts remains to be seen.

Building a Stake in PointsBet

The Australian Financial Review makes a special double appearance in this week’s Hot Copy, as it also published the story of Stake.com co-founders Ed Craven and Bijan Tehrani building a “secret position” in PointsBet.

The pair have “quietly” built a stake in the business, the story explains, “in an attempt to establish a foothold on the local wagering market.”

The Stake co-founders had previously suggested that they planned to diversify their assets, with an entry into Australia’s regulated gambling market among their primary goals.

Sources told the AFR that Craven and Tehrani have built a stake equal to about 4.2% of PointsBet’s shareholder register over the past month, with shares acquired through Stake parent company EasyGo Gaming.

“It is unclear if the billionaire businessmen plan to keep increasing their position, but their interest in the ASX-listed wagering operator is a clear sign that Mr Craven and Mr Tehrani are interested in investing in more traditional forms of gambling,” the AFR reported.

Tehrani previously told The Australian that Stake was interested in applying for an Australian betting licence, as the crypto-focused operator is not currently permitted for use Down Under.

Instead, it seems, the pair are now making their way into the regulated Australian gambling sector by buying up shares in established operators.

Perhaps their shareholding in PointsBet will increase to the point where they can lean on management for more influence over its operations, or perhaps they simply believe in the future of the business.

Whatever happens, it’s always worth keeping an eye on the next move of this billionaire duo.

Party like it’s 2020

A more festive story hit the headlines of the Financial Times this week, as it pointed to a new trend of employees and managers alike opting out of the traditional office Christmas party.

“Is the big festive bash a thing of the past?” the article asked, as new trends in the way we work such as remote company structures make it increasingly difficult to get everyone together to enjoy the merriment.

“Lockdowns forced companies to find creative ways for staff to meet virtually and reward them for working through challenging times,” the article said. 

“Online wine tasting, wreath making and quizzes replaced festive gatherings. But even with restrictions lifted, some employers have continued to eschew the all-company party.”

One can hardly blame them with offers as tantalising as online wreath making workshops up for grabs, but does this really spell the end of the Christmas knees-up?

One company, Toucan Telemarketing, opted to drop it’s festive party in favour of vouchers given out to staff “to help pay for their Christmas lunch at home.”

After more than 20 years of annual parties in the company’s local pub, “Covid put a stop to it, and it hasn’t happened since,” said managing director Paula Bates.

The company does still hold some events for the holiday season, however, with Secret Santa and baking days still going strong. It also expects to have a summer party, which Bates suggested is a more appropriate time of year for people to get together and celebrate.

While the Christmas party may be slowly slipping out of favour, the value of staff get-togethers should not be underestimated, the article argues.

But with the cost of living going up at an unprecedented rate and the pressure to deliver at Christmas, many staff are in no doubt that they’d rather have the money.

Ultimately, perhaps democracy is the best way forward in this case and staff should be given the option to choose for themselves. 

After all, not everyone likes parties, but who doesn’t love having a bit of extra cash?

Crime doesn’t pay

The purpose of hot copy is to signpost exceptional examples of journalism that you might otherwise have missed.

We miss them too, sometimes, and for this week’s edition we are turning the clock back to September.

This extraordinary two-part series from the Washington Post about match-fixing in professional tennis is simply too good to ignore.

It reads like a novel you can’t put down and is as visually stunning as your favourite neo-noir Netflix crime series.

The protagonist is chief inspector Nicolas Borremans, a bald and broad-shouldered Belgian who takes on a case that no one else wants – irregular wagers on obscure tennis matches.

Borremans, who cycles 40 miles to work every day and is the son of a cheese vendor, eventually unearthed a global match-fixing ring of more than 180 players in 30 countries.

Grigor Sargsyan, an Armenian nicknamed Maestro, was at the top of the pyramid and was caught accepting bags stuffed with cash while being surveilled through a telephoto lens.

Borremans had practically single-handedly discovered the largest match-fixing ring in the history of tennis, while Sargsyan was handed a five-year jail sentence.

The Washington Post’s international investigative correspondent Kevin Sieff authored the piece, and it is well worth half an hour of your time.

Betr off alone

The Australian Financial Review’s exemplary gambling coverage continued this week with an under-the-radar scoop on Matthew Tripp’s wagering start-up Betr.

Betr – making consecutive appearances in hot copy after last week’s epic payout – reportedly lost the support of News Corp just four months after it launched.

The paper reports that News Corp quietly sold its shares in the sports betting start-up, but only after injecting more than $70m into the company.

Tripp told the AFR on Thursday that he was grateful for News Corp’s initial support, but confirmed it was no longer an investor in the business.

The plot thickened in the Sydney Morning Herald, which revealed that Lachlan Murdoch was never in favour of supporting Betr’s launch into the ultra-competitive Australian market, and had actively advised against it.

Lachlan is now pulling the strings at the media conglomerate after his father, the 92-year-old media baron Rupert Murdoch, stood down in September.

News Corp is understood to have written down a £52m loss on investing in Betr. Rumours of Lachlan running round the office while screaming “I told you so” remain unsubstantiated, however…

A conservative wager

The Tory party conference has dominated headlines in the UK this week, mostly due to the sudden scrapping of a high-speed national rail project.

But according to The Independent, culture secretary Lucy Frazer has become the second cabinet minister to take a £100 bet that the Conservatives will defeat Labour to win the next election.

The polls suggest otherwise and make grim reading for the Tories, as do the betting odds, with 5/1 currently the best price available, according to Oddschecker.

Frazer swerved the temptation to bet for higher stakes, however, rejecting a wager of £1,000, citing her responsibility for the country’s regulated gambling sector.

“I’m also in charge of gambling, so I think let’s leave it there,” she said.

One below-the-line commentor took the opportunity to say what we were all thinking.

“Why wouldn’t she bet £1,000? It would surely be claimed on expenses anyway!”

Elsewhere in politics, The Guardian ran a story about gambling industry lobbyists paying more than £3,000 per head to sit with ministers during the Tory party’s business day.

Representatives for Flutter Entertainment were in attendance according to the paper, alongside individuals from TikTok, Amazon and the cryptocurrency industry.

You are the company you keep, as they say…

Live to work or work to live?

The Guardian this week reported on a shifting attitude to work in the UK, as more and more employees aim to tilt their work/life balance firmly in favour of ‘life’.

The article told the stories of several young people who, somewhat disillusioned with the professional world, have changed their focus in recent years towards working to live, rather than living to work.

Molly, for example, realised when her employer refused to provide her with a flexible work pattern following the birth of her child, that she was being treated simply as “a cog in the machine.”

That realisation led her to see that years of starting early and finishing late, going above and beyond her expected duties, would not be rewarded in the way that she hoped.

“Work is a distraction from life,” Molly says today, and views it as merely a means to an end.

Now, she confines her work to more strictly set times so that she can prioritise time with her family.

Another contributor to the article, James, had an epiphany about his professional life after reading Bullshit Jobs, a book by anthropologist David Graeber.

James felt in his previous job that he was working hard but still not managing to get ahead in society due to rapid increases in property prices and the cost of living.

While he says he still values his work, James has “realised that this myth a lot of millennials were told – graft, graft, graft and you’ll always get what you want – isn’t necessarily true.”

Now, he says he turns his phone to flight mode to give him some peace and quiet, and enjoys the opportunity to prioritise activities like hiking, reading, and watching films.

The contributors to the article are not alone. The piece points to statistics published this month by King’s College London, which showed that just 14% of UK millennials believe work should “always come first,” compared to 41% back in 2009.

The survey also places the UK below other countries in terms of how many people believe “work is very or rather important,” with 73% of brits responding positively to the suggestion.

The figures are much higher in other countries such as in France, where 94% of people agree, and the work-obsessed Philippines, where 99% of people agreed with the statement.

Is this latest development another example of the ‘snowflake generation’ losing their fire, or are the times really a-changin’ when it comes to our relationship with work?

Betr’s big gamble

Betr is making waves Down Under as the Australian online bookmaker faces a potential epic pay-out.

According to an article in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), tens of thousands of Aussie punters made a savvy move almost a year ago during Betr’s launch promotion.

They took advantage of 100-1 odds on various events, including the AFL, NRL, NBA, Melbourne Cup.

The most popular bet? The Penrith Panthers snagging the 2023 rugby premiership, which would be their third title in a row – a case of third time unlucky for Betr.

The Panthers will face the Brisbane Broncos this Sunday in the grand finale. Should they win, Betr could shell out a whopping A$40m in total prize money.

That would be the largest single pay-out in the history of Australian sports gambling. Talk about a high-stakes game…

But here’s the twist: Betr has been trying desperately to get customers to cash out by offering them cash and vouchers in return.

According to the AFR, they recently sent out emails warning that it might take up to a week to deliver the money into accounts.

To mitigate this financial fiasco, the article suggests that Betr employed a classic strategy known as “betting back”.

This means the company placed its own bets with other bookmakers on the same outcome (the Panthers winning), and will now use those winnings to pay their customers.

Betr leader Matt Tripp expressed his “ambivalence” towards the outcome and even framed the potentially historic pay-out as a win for the company, suggesting that users would keep the money in their accounts for more gambling ahead of the Spring Racing Carnival.

Can Crockfords cope?

Online operators aren’t the only ones feeling the strain of doing away with VIPs, as sustainability increasingly appears to be prioritised over making a quick buck.

Crockfords Casino might have to close its doors despite being Britain’s oldest casino, having first opened for business nearly 200 years ago in 1828.

Vegas Slots Online reports the casino – which is these days owned by Malaysian giant Genting Group – has kicked off a 30-day consultation with staff to try and save the company from closure.

Genting UK COO and President Paul Willcock told the affiliate: “We will explore all options during the consultation period and no decision will be made until the views of our staff have been heard.”

Footfall has dropped at the Mayfair venue, which is worth some £80m, as wealthy tourists can no longer take advantage of VAT-free shopping in the UK since Brexit. Remind me, what were the tangible benefits of leaving the European Union again? Blue passports instead of red ones? Yippee!

Indeed, some of the largest retailers in the luxurious London region are pushing the government to reinstate the “tourist tax” to bolster the faltering retail economy.

According to Vegas Slots Online, Grosvenor Casinos operator Rank Group said high rollers from the Middle East now prefer to go to Milan and Paris instead of London.

A few well-known casinos have shut up shop in London recently, including The Clermont and The Ritz, and the centuries old Crockfords could be next to bite the dust.

We hope the venue, originally founded by a fishmonger, survives this difficult period. Because sadly, as far as London-based casinos go, there are no longer plenty more fish in the sea.

Indian tax hike rings alarm bells

The Financial Times took us to India this week, with an article shedding light on controversial plans to introduce a new online gaming tax in the country.

The proposal has prompted “a fierce backlash from companies and investors who warn it will kill the fast-growing multibillion-dollar industry for fantasy sports and other real-money games,” the piece says.

Strictly speaking, gambling is illegal across most of India, but real-money gaming companies have been able to win several court cases deeming their offerings “games of skill”, rather than actual betting.

Customers are therefore able to legally compete for cash prizes in games such as online rummy and fantasy sports, despite the lack of a gambling regulatory framework.

A recent surge in the popularity of such games has “alarmed authorities”, the FT said, who fear a rise in gaming addiction and are now proposing a significant hike in tax rates.

At present, real-money gaming companies collect commissions on the stakes placed by customers and pay a tax set at 18% on that revenue.

Under the proposed change, which is likely to take effect as soon as October, that tax rate will jump to 28%, “representing a huge disincentive for gamers.”

If the change comes in, it could spell big trouble for companies operating in the sector.

“The larger ones may scrape through, but the mid to smaller players would be finding it extremely difficult – in fact, they would be on the verge of shutting down,” said All India Gaming Federation CEO Roland Landers.

Saumya Singh Rathore, a co-founder of real-money game aggregator WinZo, added that under the proposal, “we are certain that 85% of these games would stand unviable, making WinZo as a platform also unviable.”

That reality could see a serious chunk of India’s economy grind to a halt.

A report published by gaming-focused fund Lumikai recently estimated the size of India’s real-money gaming market to be around $2.6bn in the year to March 2022.

A group of investors has already written to India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to ask the government to reconsider the tax.

If the plans go ahead as suggested, however, India may well find the growth of its gaming sector slowing to a snail’s pace.

Gambling is a religion

In the realm of the righteous and religious, Jason Gerald Shenk stands accused of pulling off an unholy heist of biblical proportions, reports the New York Times this week.

This supposed missionary was hailed in Amish and Mennonite communities across Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania as a devout distributor of bibles to China.

In a shocking twist, Shenk is said to have used more than $30m in pious donations to fund his own not-so-humble lifestyle, including a habit for high stakes sports gambling.

Diamonds, gold, shares in a private nuclear firm and a personal investment portfolio of properties in Santiago, Chile, were allegedly the fruits of this ecclesiastical embezzlement.

Now, with an arrest warrant pending for defrauding charities out of more than $30m, Shenk, 45, is nowhere to be found.

Federal prosecutors claim he renounced his US citizenship in 2016 as he became a globe-trotting fugitive of sorts.

While the folks of the Amish and Mennonite communities continue their uncomplicated lifestyles, Shenk is alleged to have orchestrated a complex money laundering scheme involving shell companies in the British Virgin Islands and the Samoan Islands.

If captured and convicted, Shenk will have lost his biggest gamble to date by looking at up to 20 years in prison, the repayment of funds and substantial financial penalties.

In a bit of a pickle

Clayton Larcombe – Sydney’s most boastful financier according to Australian Financial Review reporter Mark Di Stefano – has made quite the stir down under.

Larcombe’s latest adventure, through fund PAC Capital where he is chief investment officer, has invested in Pickle Bet, an online bookie based in Brisbane.

According to Di Stefano, Pickle Bet allows bettors to place hard-earned money on whether ‘Adriano’ can beat ‘Misterx’ at a game of FIFA, and all in the comfort of your own home.

Pickle Bet, which is seemingly a clone of Flutter-owned Sportsbet with the added twist of betting on esports, allows customers to place wagers on two guys battling it out on Halo.

Di Stefano suggests a lack of oversight on video game betting will provide a major incentive to criminals. “They can ask ‘Misterx’ to concede a few goals for $10,000,” he writes, predicting match fixers will soon eschew cricket and tennis in favour of esports.

The reporter asks who would be likely to invest in this upstart esports betting business; enter Peter Blunden, News Corp executive editor, who has made a personal investment.

Blunden, who has worked for Rupert Murdoch for 44 years, had a previous association with the flailing News Corp betting platform Betr, which was put up for sale in May.

If Pickle Bet sounds like a recipe for potential disaster, it may have something to do with its registration in Darwin, Northern Territory, described as a haven for online bookies.

Indeed, Larcombe’s vision of transforming the betting landscape from “men over 50 betting on horses” to “younger men betting on esports” appears to have overlooked the potential for major legal, ethical and financial issues, writes Di Stefano.

With no need to verify your age or identity to start gambling on Pickle Bet, what could possibly go wrong?

NYPD takes down a Rhino

Another edition of the Hot Copy Crime Files this week, as CBS News reported on five people charged with operating an illegal and long-established gambling business with suspected ties to the Lucchese crime family.

The charges were outlined in an indictment that was unsealed in Brooklyn federal court, as four defendants were arrested at their homes in New York, and another in West Palm Beach, Florida, CBS reported.

The Justice Department subsequently alleged that at least one person arrested in the scheme, Anthony Villani, is a direct associate of the Lucchese family, which has historically played a significant part in New York organised crime. A very simple anagram of Villani’s surname could easily point to a case of nominative determinism here.

In fact, if you take the names of all the men involved (Anthony Villani, James Coumoutsos, Dennis Flizzola, Michael Praino and Louis Tucci, Jr.) and use those to make an anagram, you end up with: “Casino villains r found out on call in some juicy jazz militia scheme, haul to prison”.

Now, I don’t know what a ‘jazz militia’ is, but let’s face it; while this may sound like an obscure cryptic crossword clue, it doesn’t exactly bode well for the wise guys in question.

Villani now faces racketeering charges for illegal gambling, money laundering and attempted extortion, for his alleged connection to a fraudulent online gambling enterprise called Rhino Sports.

Authorities said the business collected illegal sports bets and reaped millions in profits over the course of at least 15 years.

The site used web hosting servers based in Costa Rica and allegedly brought in between 400 and 1,300 bets per week, while employing dozens of bookies to pay and collect winnings in cash, the Justice Department said.

Villani is accused of overseeing the operation, and of personally receiving in excess of $1m annually from the business.

When federal agents searched his residences in 2020 during a probe, they recovered more than $400,000 in cash as well as knuckle dusters and gambling ledgers.

“As alleged, this conduct demonstrates how members of [organised crime syndicate] La Cosa Nostra continue to engage in illegal gambling operations and money laundering money-marking schemes that lead to threats of violence against anyone who stands in their way and has resulted in millions of dollars in profits to the Lucchese crime family,” said US Attorney Breon Peace in a statement.

Now the crime-driven bookmaker has been taken offline, we are left wondering when Martin Scorsese will pick up the film rights.

Fallen Star awaits its fate

The Australian Financial Review has weighed up a worst-case scenario for beleaguered gambling giant Star Entertainment this week.

The casino operator now has 11 days to convince the NSW gambling regulator that it should be allowed to keep its licence following the publication of an eye-popping inquiry into a sustained period of misconduct across the business.

The report – led by senior counsel Adam Bell – concluded Star was unfit to run the Sydney casino property after being infiltrated by Asian organised crime gangs.

The Star even intentionally lured high rollers banned by the NSW and Victorian police because of suspected criminal activity at its Queensland casinos.

NSW Independent Casino Commission chief commissioner Philip Crawford, who ordered the initial inquiry, criticised the operator for arrogance and a lack of transparency.

“We still have inspectors, investigators down there very frequently,” Crawford told the AFR. “And I’m afraid the cultural arrogance, the institutional arrogance hasn’t changed much.”

The newspaper suggests the worst possible scenario – the complete revocation of its operating licence – is unlikely, although the company could still face a suspension.

The regulator also has the option to fine Star Entertainment up to A$100m.

The final punishment will be made public by 27 September, so fold out your telescopes and watch this space.

Kay Adamant she left no unfinished business at NFL Network

Moving away from organised crime, the New York Post featured an interview this week with Kay Adams, former host of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, who recently signed a new agreement with FanDuel TV to host its new “Up and Adams” show, which premiered earlier this week.

“FanDuel is a company that’s been talking to me for a long time,” Adams told the Post. “They want to be in the content game in a really big way, and they’re leaning in to do that. When it came down to it, it was a nice offer. I’m moving to LA, which is insane because I’m such a New Yorker I can’t even drive.”

Adams added that she didn’t leave Good Morning Football specifically to take on the new job, rather that she had simply done all she needed to at the NFL Network. “I felt like my work there was done,” she said.

FanDuel TV emerged from Flutter Entertainment’s former horse racing network TVG and launched on cable this week alongside over-the-top streaming platform FanDuel+.

And it seems the firm’s top brass has been intimately involved with the development of the services. 

Adams told the Post: “Not every day, not everywhere you work, does the CEO sit down and talk to you about what you want, what you consider success, and how we accomplish that. Amy Howe, the CEO of FanDuel, has sat with me for a long time to talk with me about that – the CMO Mike Raffensperger as well.”

It seems the US market-leader is now taking its content creation very seriously. It will certainly be interesting to see the impact of FanDuel TV and FanDuel+ on its bottom line in Flutter’s future earnings reports.

In addition to her role at FanDuel, Adams has also partnered with vodka brand Smirnoff to help in its search for a “cocktail coordinator” this NFL season. We’ll drink to that!

Welcome to Telegram Resorts International

MGM Resorts International customers received a shock this week, as Hackread.com revealed that personal data from millions of the operator’s patrons had been shared on a Telegram channel.

A hacker going by the online handle NightLion was reported to have stolen a database belonging to MGM Resorts in 2020, gaining access to the personal data of a whopping 142 million customers in the process.

At the time, the data was being peddled on dark web marketplaces alongside illegal drugs, weaponry and killers-for-hire, for the princely sum of $2,900.

More recently, however, the records of some 30 million customers were shared to a public Telegram group and made available for free to other hackers, scam artists and associated ne’er do wells, who Hackread warned could use the information to identify potential victims for phishing email campaigns and other scams.

Apparently, Telegram is becoming the platform of choice for cyber criminals to share such data breaches, with a recent story exposing that the personal data of 21 million SuperVPN, GeckoVPN and ChatVPN users had also been made available for download on the messaging app.

Customers of MGM Resorts and the above VPN services are being reminded of the usual advice to be wary of people contacting them online.

Curse of Drake continues in Formula One

God’s Plan singer Drake made a disastrous – and probably short-lived – foray into the world of Formula One betting this week, as reported by Great Britain’s bastion of ethical journalism, the Daily Mail.

Apparently, the Toronto-born rapper stuck C$300,000 on 24-year-old Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc to win Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, with LeClerc starting in pole position before being forced to retire early.

In a nightmare turn which could wake up racing fans and punters alike in a cold sweat, after leading the race for 27 laps the young driver’s car suddenly lost power and sputtered to a halt, allowing Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen to overtake and steal victory.

Of course, Drake placed the losing bet via Stake, a crypto-focused sportsbook with which he holds a commercial partnership.

Even though he lost this bet, we hope that Drake wasn’t left with Trust Issues when it comes to betting on sports. It might not have been the Best [He] Ever Had, but if you Know Yourself, you know that Time Flies when you’re betting on sports.

And if you’re as rich as Drake, why not bet some away on your favourite contests? After all, you can’t take it with you so there’s no sense having Money In The Grave, and even if he is upset, the rapper can always Laugh Now Cry Later.

It almost certainly wasn’t Drake’s own money that he was gambling with, however, with the rapper being put in front of the cameras as an influencer and an affiliate.

Then again, with a reported net worth of $250m at just 35 years old, perhaps it was divine intervention that stopped Drake from winning a penny more. In other words, it was all God’s Plan.

Tabcorp has a Lott to lose

Tabcorp’s recently spun-off lottery division, Lottery Corp, was welcomed with open arms onto the Australian Securities Exchange this week, with the newly formed company instantly gaining a A$10bn valuation on the market.

While some are holding up the firm as a potential takeover target, chief executive and managing director Sue van der Merwe put those claims to bed as she told the Australian Financial Review (AFR) that she was not convinced by the prospect.

Instead, van der Merwe insisted the company was focused on what it can control, including its growth strategy based on the introduction of new products and entry into international markets.

“We feel it’s important we focus on the current business, and we don’t lose sight of the importance of that,” she told the AFR

“Having said that, opportunities to grow outside that are something of interest to us. And something we need to unpack more with the board in the coming months.”

Lottery Corp’s stock traded between A$4.49 and A$4.70 on its first day on the exchange, with valuations based on A$611m of EBITDA and $3.2bn in revenue during the twelve months ended 30 June 2021.

Meanwhile, shares in the remaining Tabcorp business tanked by more than 80% to A$1.01, as the lion’s share of its revenue-generating assets were spun off.

According to the AFR, Tabcorp’s wagering and media business returned to growth for the first time in four financial years in 2020-21, before withering under pressures related to the pandemic in the first half of 2021-22. During the same period, the lotteries business skyrocketed to record results.