All hail “King Kenny”?

The Telegraph this week published a piece examining the possible triumphant return to the sector of former Entain (then GVC) boss Kenny Alexander.

As reported earlier this month, Alexander could be poised for a return to the public-facing gambling sector after he, together with a cabal of former Entain big hitters including Shay Segev, Stephen Morana and Lee Feldman, acquired a 6.6% stake in the William Hill owner 888.

The new shareholders are likely to take an activist approach with their stake in the operator, which has suffered from a lack of clear leadership since the departure of its former CEO Itai Pazner earlier this year.

The Telegraph’s piece opens with a veritable low point for Alexander, as it reminded us of the much-publicised mishap which saw him steal a takeaway kebab shop driver’s car after a drinking binge in 2021.

That, the piece points out, was far from the only controversy he courted during his career, as a grey market strategy at Entain has now resulted in a serious investigation into Entain’s activities in Turkey between 2011 and 2017.

Entain now expects the investigation to result in a “substantial financial penalty,” which analysts estimate could total around £230m.

Those controversies have raised eyebrows amid Alexander’s possible return to the sector via 888.

After facing initial resistance from the operator’s board, Alexander, Feldman and Morana now “appear to be closing in on taking the helm, according to City sources,” the Telegraph reported.

Lord Mendelsohn, the chair of 888’s board and the man tasked with steering the business in the absence of a permanent CEO, is understood to have flown to New York to meet with representatives of FS Gaming – the investment vehicle through which Alexander et al secured their shareholding – last week.

But with Alexander’s past still ringing in the industry’s ears, insiders are not overly pleased with the development.

“We’re trying hard to lift our image off the floor and then we get this,” said one senior industry source. “It’s like JR Ewing coming back to the ranch with a big grin and tearing down the wind turbine they’ve stuck on the roof.”

FS Gaming, meanwhile, clapped back by insisting that commentators should stick to the facts.

“Kenny Alexander is the best in the world at delivering outperformance for shareholders in the gambling industry,” the fund said.

If they’re right about that, 888’s competitors have good reason to be nervous about Alexander’s return.

You can bet on that?

This week on Betting in Poor Taste, investigative news organisation Mother Jones published a story on the bettors following the much-discussed disappearance of OceanGate’s Titan submersible, in which five people died last week.

According to the piece, users of crypto-based futures trading platform Polymarket wagered more than $300,000 since last Wednesday on whether the vessel would be found by 23 June.

Apparently, that prompted discussions online “about the ethics of profiteering from an event that was likely to turn out fatal.” Indeed.

“What stage of capitalism is investing in someone’s death?” asked one Twitter user while posting a screenshot of Polymarket’s spread on the submersible.

Others directly criticised the platform for opening up this particular market.

Polymarket offers users the chance to bet on almost anything, from whether Russia will detonate a nuclear bomb by 2023 to whether NBA player Zion Williamson’s former partner will release a sex tape.

But still, Mother Jones set out to find out exactly what kind of person would bet on such events.

Two of Polymarket’s users revealed to the outlet that their betting habits had started in more traditional ways, with bets on political events such as elections eventually leading to wagering on altogether more outlandish scenarios.

One of the sources bet that the sub would not be found, following expert analysis “indicating they were already dead.”

This rather pessimistic view chimes with his philosophy on betting overall, as he explained: “I think my ability to be dispassionate about the market’s topic is what makes me fairly successful at it.”

The same impartial approach to betting helped him to win big on Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, despite personally being an ardent and lifelong democrat.

Still, even if you think you can stack the odds in your favour by taking an analytical approach, the question remains: just because you can, does that mean you should?

The Crypto Kid

Dutch financial paper Het Financieele Dagblad (FD) this week took a deep dive (not an OceanGate pun) into the world of tech-savvy teenagers making a fortune from the opportunities they find – or create – online.

The article tells the story of Ronald (a pseudonym), a 2004-born “digital nerd” who started making serious money online after developing a tool designed to get shoppers to the front of the queue to purchase exclusive, highly limited items such as designer clothes and accessories.

He took the money he made from the project and started pouring it into the then-booming NFT market, where the high volatility saw him spend, earn (and essentially gamble) huge amounts of cash reaching well over one hundred thousand dollars.

“At the peak I had $150,000 when I was just 17,” he told FD, before the money began disappeaning “like snow in the sun when the NFT market collapse[d].”

Despite the staggering losses for a boy of his age, Ronald said: “I haven’t lost a second of sleep over it, just see it as a learning moment. 

“That’s also because I earned it with some kind of game. I had not spent hours filling shelves in the Albert Heijn [supermarket]. Then it would have been much worse.”

On the lookout for new opportunities to continue learning, Ronald was approached by an online friend with a proposal to set up a crypto casino.

He would be responsible for setting up the casino’s front-end, while his friend took care of the back-end nuts and bolts.

The brand launched the day before Ronald’s 18th birthday (makes you sick, doesn’t it?), but something in the project didn’t sit right with him.

Concerns around the morality of the project, as well as the sustainability of it, led Ronald to step away from the world of crypto gambling, allowing two Americans to take over the business for an acquisition cost of nil.

The brand has since “rolled off a cliff,” he said, but he isn’t overly concerned by it.

Ronald is now undertaking his studies at university, and will continue to explore his interest in the world of business once he’s finished.

Despite his youth, it seems Ronald is one kid with his head screwed on who appears to have what it takes to become a business leader of the future.

Death to the Metaverse

Business Insider this week brought us a moving obituary to what it calls “once the hottest idea in tech,” the now seemingly ill-fated Metaverse.

The concept, it argued, has died after three years in the limelight, having now been “abandoned by the business world.”

Despite taking the world by storm for a brief and at times bewildering period, “the hype could not save the Metaverse,” the piece argues, as “a lack of coherent vision for the product ultimately led to its decline.”

In its place, of course, sits the new hot topic of generative AI (check out this 15-second roundup of Google’s I/O 2023 earlier this week), which BI suggested sealed the fate of the Metaverse by, frankly, being a lot more useful.

The article proceeds to eviscerate tech companies – with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg bearing the brunt – and their often outlandish claims about the oncoming impact of their latest innovations.

His “grandiose promises heaped sky-high expectations on the Metaverse,” the article argues, while the underlying technology failed spectacularly to live up to those promises and expectations.

Another of the concept’s pitfalls was its “identity crisis,” as it lacked the basic needs of a functional business proposition to flourish – they are “a clear use case, a target audience, and the willingness of customers to adopt the product.”

Most now seem to agree that the Metaverse benefited from none of the above.

That didn’t stop its stratospheric rise in recent years, of course, with other tech CEOs, including Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, also claiming they couldn’t “overstate how much of a breakthrough” the Metaverse would be, as investors started to jump in on the hype and take Metaverse-based companies’ valuations through the roof.

Roblox was one such example, which went public amid a $41bn valuation. The firm’s market cap has fallen by almost half since then.

Then non-endemic companies started to join the mix too, as Disney (understandably) jumped on the trend and Walmart (inexplicably) also wanted to get in on the Metaverse action.

All that hype of course soon came to a head, and as the old adage says; what goes up must come down.

The piece goes on to set out a veritable who’s who of Metaverse failures, from Decentraland to Meta’s Horizon Worlds.

While it might not be surprising to see the Metaverse rear its head once again in the coming years, for now it should probably Rest In Peace.

Brooks shreds white paper

Meanwhile, in The Telegraph, racehorse trainer and newspaper columnist Charlie Brooks penned an open letter to the UK’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Lucy Frazer.

In it, he suggests the recent publication of the UK government’s Gambling Act review white paper “must have been embarrassing,” as politicians left more than 60 aspects of the review open to consultation despite having received 16,000 contributions during the consultation period preceding its publication.

Rather than the “gambling white paper for a digital age” the government promised, Brooks suggested, “what you actually delivered was a morally bankrupt, confused fudge that kicks pretty well every issue into the long grass.”

Blimey, Charlie, why don’t you tell us what you really think?

Brooks goes on to criticise a lack of concrete action on online slot stake limits, despite the swift measures taken to counteract punters making huge losses on FOBTs some years ago.

Instead, he said, the government is “keeping the door open for a £15 maximum bet for anyone hooked on these games which are the crack cocaine of gambling.”

Brooks also suggests that the affordability checks put forward for consultation “are guaranteed to be an abject failure,” and will damage the horse racing industry to the tune of £14m-£40m.

Following a seemingly never-ending deluge of delays to the process, he concludes that “if I could only have one bet this year, it would be that there is no chance whatsoever that this review will be completed and implemented during 2024, as is stated in the white paper.”

Ultimately, Brooks argues that the review will end up damaging “the funding of human and horse welfare in the [racing] industry.”

It remains to be seen whether Frazer will pen a response…

(She won’t.)

Happy birthday dear PASPA

SportsHandle treated us to “an oral history of the US sports betting gold rush” this week, ahead of the fifth anniversary of the repeal of PASPA coming up this weekend.

The piece, which is listed as a 41-minute read (!), offers a near-exhaustive rundown of events in the US betting industry since 2018, from the headache of pre-regulation betting with offshore bookies to the burgeoning regulated industry we see today.

It features quotes taken from interviews with more than 20 industry giants, including the likes of veteran casino exec Richard Schuetz, Action Network chief content officer Chad Millman, Acies Investments’ Chris Grove and former William Hill US CEO Joe Asher, among others.

There’s far too much going on in the piece to summarise here, and readers are encouraged to have a read of the full rundown for themselves.

Of particular interest is the view of an anonymous New York-based sports bettor, who went from “before PASPA was overturned, placing a bet was terrible,” to “these legal betting apps are amazing. You know, just in terms of ease of access, funding, reliability, the interface with the betting companies.

“I could pull [my phone] out of my pocket and make a bet within a minute as a result of all this.”

Ultimately, the trajectory of US betting is summed up perfectly by former New Jersey state senator Ray Lesniak.

He said: “The only thing that surprises me is that not even more states have legalised it. We love sports, and we love to gamble on sports. It’s just as simple as that.”

Good luck arguing with that one.

Time to get back to the office

Workers looking to hang onto their jobs should reconsider a return to office-based work, according to the latest article published on the issue by The Telegraph.

It’s no secret that attitudes towards remote working have changed rapidly in recent years, with tech companies like Facebook, Apple and Google leading the charge on sending their employees to work from home at the onset of the Covid pandemic in 2020.

Since then, as companies across the world have embraced remote and hybrid working structures, the results of this “mother of all experiments” have started coming in, and the future doesn’t look too bright for those opting for an entirely remote setup.

The article points out that earlier this year, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg suggested that staff did a better job when they worked from the office, particularly when they were new to the company.

“Engineers who either joined Meta in-person and then transferred to remote or remained in-person performed better on average than people who joined remotely,” he said. “Our hypothesis is that it is still easier to build trust in person.”

Similar results may well have been observed across a range of businesses, as more and more begin to backtrack on earlier promises made about the option to work remotely.

Twitter, for example, previously introduced a policy to permanently allow employees to work fully remotely. Since Elon Musk took over the social media site last year, that policy has been reversed to such an extent that some employees have reportedly taken to sleeping at the office.

Among other factors, mass layoffs in recent months will likely have a lot of employees thinking twice about how they want to work in the future.

According to Thomas Roulet, an associate professor in organisation theory at the University of Cambridge, who studies home working policies, “tech firms right now are downsizing, and they’re going to target first for downsizing the people who will not come into the office.

“People who are not visible, people who stay at home because they thought tech firms were going to be super flexible, they’re going to be first in line because their bosses have never seen them. And they are not connected to the culture of the organisation.”

The shift is also reflected in the numbers. According to figures from jobs website Adzuna, the number of tech jobs in the UK advertised as fully remote fell from 39% in April last year to 27% last month. Hybrid jobs, which combine office and home work, have risen from 20% to 29%, while office-based roles have climbed from 7.7% to 9.1%.

It seems the remote working revolution may be starting to wane.

Digital currency? Too ‘woke’ for DeSantis

The winner of this week’s ‘not knowing what ‘woke’ means’ award goes to Governor Ron DeSantis, who, according to a column from The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, proudly announced last year that “Florida is where wokeness goes to die.”

According to the article, the ‘wokeness’ DeSantis wants to put a stop to includes acknowledging the role that racism has played in American history, accepting same-sex relationships and, apparently, allowing the creation of a central bank digital currency.

DeSantis insisted in March that the introduction of such a currency – as he terms it, “Big Brother’s Digital Dollar” – would lead to the imposition of an “ESG agenda,” with Americans being prevented from spending too much of their hard-earned cash on fossil fuels or automatic weaponry.

Columnist Krugman suggests that DeSantis might be speaking from a position of “general paranoia,” but to take a more cynical stance, thinks his opinions have been influenced by people who fear the introduction of a digital central bank currency could lead to a clampdown on anti-woke activities like evading taxes and laundering dirty money.

“In that sense,” Krugman offers, “DeSantis’s new crusade is a lot like the vote by House Republicans – one of their first legislative moves after taking control of the chamber – to rescind funding that would allow the IRS to crack down on tax cheats.”

The author points out, however, that there is a strong argument for the introduction of digital currencies to modern economies – and indeed that most money already exists in a digital-only format inside people’s bank accounts.

Still, there remains a “bizarre” $2.3 trillion still out there in cold, hard cash, and Krugman points out that it is the payment method of choice for those operating in less-than-legal industries.

“The thing is, whatever one’s reason for holding a big pile of cash may be, paper currency is inconvenient,” he argues.

“People can and do keep stacks of bills in their home safes and do business with briefcases full of greenbacks, but that’s increasingly annoying in a digital era. So there’s a demand for digital currency – virtual equivalents of old-fashioned cash that can be stored and transferred electronically.”

In that sense, he argues, the introduction of central bank-backed digital currencies is a no-brainer, as they would provide the best of both worlds of crypto and fiat currencies – the convenience of the digital format combined with the stability of government-issued money.

Crucially, it would also “strip away the veil obscuring the dark side of crypto,” which currently “protects the ability of wiseguys to evade taxes, launder money, buy and sell illegal drugs, and engage in extortion.”

“But hey,” he concludes, “I guess thinking that money laundering and extortion are bad things is just another example of the wokeness that DeSantis is trying to kill.”

The Murdoch family: Stranger than fiction

Hot off the heels of the global success of TV series Succession, Vanity Fair published an epic tale this week on a similar situation playing out in the real world, among News Corp media baron Rupert Murdoch.

HBO smash hit Succession “centres on the Roy family, the owners of a global media and entertainment conglomerate, who are fighting for control of the company amid uncertainty about the health of the family’s patriarch.”

Sound familiar? Well, as it turns out, the truth is often stranger than fiction.

The past 12 months have been tumultuous for the family’s patriarch, Rupert, to say the least. A $1.6bn lawsuit looms over Fox News, he is recently divorced from Jerry Hall (after ending their relationship via email), and a slew of medical problems – including a broken back – have left him significantly weakened.

Vanity Fair laid out an impressive roster of additional dramas taking place within the family, as his children vie for position to take over the business at such time as the 92-year-old relinquishes control.

There is far too much drama going on between the Murdochs for it to be neatly summarised here. Readers should set aside half an hour and dive deep into this tale to get a real taste of what’s going on in the inner circle.

Games Global plc?

According to a scoop from Bloomberg, Games Global could be the latest gaming company to join the stock market.

Apparently, the firm has signed a letter of intent with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Tailwind International Acquisition Corp to list the business via a merger, creating a new entity with a combined value of more than $3bn.

No other details appear to be forthcoming at this time, with the insiders who spoke to Bloomberg requesting anonymity and the companies themselves remaining tight-lipped. 

Games Global, which is led by CEO and former IGT executive Walter Bugno, offers a portfolio of more than 3,000 game titles from 50+ studios to its clients. 

Tailwind raised $345m in its initial public offering last year, stating it would focus on combining with one or more companies in the technology and direct-to-consumer sectors in international markets, particularly in Europe.

The Guardian back at it

The Guardian gave us its view on a major betting-related story that surfaced this week – that NFL player Calvin Ridley had been suspended for a full season for betting on NFL games.

The newspaper’s hot take focused on the hypocrisy of the NFL on this topic. 

“There’s something that feels off about making Ridley a splashy example at a time when the NFL is raking in millions of dollars in revenue from gambling, something it regarded as a corrosive element and fought tooth and nail against not that long ago,” the piece’s author wrote. 

“It is a dramatic pivot to go from a century’s worth of moral policing to, effectively, becoming a sportsbook with a bit of football on the side.”

Readers can of course decide for themselves who’s being more dramatic in this scenario.

While the author accepts that professional sportspeople should face consequences for betting on their own leagues, he can’t accept that the NFL has turned its attitude to gambling around so quickly, in the wake of nothing more than a massively booming industry, changing legislation, regulation, and public and political attitudes.

Apparently, the NFL’s punishment of the player while partnering with sportsbooks is sending mixed messages – unless of course you pay attention to who can and can’t place bets, in which case it’s actually quite straightforward.

Premier League inches closer to becoming NFT royalty

According to a piece from The Telegraph, the Premier League is one step closer to launching what will inevitably be one of the most eagerly anticipated NFT collections on the market.

The 20 clubs which make up the top flight discussed a major NFT deal on Tuesday, which could potentially see them launch officially branded digital collectibles this year, with an expected combined value up to hundreds of millions of pounds.

The Premier League has previously been reluctant to dive into the non-fungible world due to the volatility in price of NFTs. 

However, with other major sporting organisations including the NBA getting in on the action, it looks now like the English football is ready to capitalise on the opportunity.

Professional players are already ahead of the organisation in this respect – with high profile purchases such as Neymar’s Bored Ape garnering significant public attention.

Players should be careful about how they approach the new tech, though, as the Premier League has already sent a legal warning to John Terry after he used a licensed trademark of the league in his own range of NFTs, Ape Kids Club FC.

The value of his portfolio has also plummeted by 90% in just one month, while backers including Ashley Cole and Tammy Abraham have deleted their Ape Kids Club posts from social media.

The Premier League might have appeared slow to invest in NFTs, but perhaps it was just waiting to ensure it gets a proper share of the spoils.

Camelot to defend its kingdom 

The Telegraph appeared to have quite the scoop on Wednesday as it suggested UK National Lottery operator Camelot was set to retain its licence as it had secured the preliminary endorsement of the Gambling Commission.

Apparently Camelot had come up trumps on a scorecard designed to judge the merits of bids in the tender process, alongside competition from Italian lottery giant Sisal, pan-European Allwyn and the largest lottery operator in India, Sugal & Damani.

The Telegraph claimed the Gambling Commission had passed its scorecard to UK Government Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who took an admirable stand today by saying she would “probably” withdraw her support for Prime Minister Boris Johnson “if he went out and kicked a dog”, presumably relating to the fallout of West Ham defender Kurt Zouma volleying his poor pet cat last week. 

Anyway, the Gambling Commission was quick to rebuke the Telegraph’s claims yesterday, stating that “we are still in the process of evaluation and today’s Daily Telegraph piece is simply based on false and inaccurate information” – that’s them told, then.

US firms prepare for Super-Duper Bowl this weekend

Operators stateside are preparing themselves for the biggest ever Super Bowl on Sunday as the Cincinnati Bengals face down the Los Angeles Rams (thanks, Google). 

According to the American Gaming Association, a record 31.4m Americans plan to place a bet on the big fixture, with the best estimates claiming some $7.6bn will be wagered on the main event.

The Rams appear to be slight favourites, with 55% of bettors planning to back the team. More importantly, perhaps, 76% said it was important for them personally to bet through a legal operator – an increase of 11% compared to last year.

“The results are clear: Americans have never been more interested in legal sports wagering,” said Bill Miller, president and CEO of the AGA.

“The growth of legal options across the country not only protects fans and the integrity of games and bets, but also puts illegal operators on notice that their time is limited.”

Playtech in the press again

Rumours abound for Playtech, whose Latin American partner Caliplay is close to completing a SPAC acquisition on the New York Stock Exchange, according to The Times.

Speculators are apparently suggesting that if the business “gets off to a flying start” as a public entity, Playtech could end up converting revenues from its partnership with the operator into a 39% stake in the new business – worth as much as $700m.

Meanwhile, The Guardian went to press on Monday with a denouncement of Playtech’s newly signed five-year deal with the Jockey Club as horseracing increasingly looks to iGaming to top up diminishing revenues. 

The result of the deal will be cross-sell opportunities, the piece said, or to put it less gently: “The Jockey Club flogging Playtech some racing-themed wrapping paper for software that mechanically grinds a fixed percentage of turnover from its users”.

The piece argues for stronger distinctions to be drawn between betting and gaming, decrying a blurring of the lines which has led to the cross-promotion of online casino and sports betting products to customers.

The “grubby and cynical” practice should be stopped, according to author Greg Wood, who strongly recommends the government consider “alcohol-style regulation for betting and a tobacco-style regime for gaming” in its ongoing Gambling Act review.