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  • ASA bans bet365 ad featuring footballer in another warning to advertisers

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that an advertisement published by bet365 on Twitter (now X) must not appear again in its current form.

The ruling refers to an advert published on the social media platform in February 2023, and featured former Arsenal footballer Granit Xhaka.

The ad featured footage of a goal scored by Xhaka, who at the time played for Arsenal but now plays for Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen, as well as being captain of Switzerland’s national team.

Originally, the tweet was published by the Sky Sports Premier League Twitter account, and was subsequently reshared and promoted by bet365 using Twitter’s Amplify feature.

Amplify places advertisers’ content before the main content of a video, which bet365 said was intended “to replicate the broadcasting of ads ahead of sport content on television”.

It argued that the Sky-produced video which followed its ad was not therefore an advert for bet365 in and of itself.

The operator added that controls were in place to ensure the content would only be promoted to Twitter users aged 25 and over.

In response, the ASA said that because bet365 had promoted the original tweet, “we considered that they had incorporated all of the tweet’s contents into their advertising, and the whole tweet was therefore an ad for bet365.”

It also reiterated previously issued guidance that “UK footballers who played for top clubs were considered high-risk in terms of how likely they were to be of strong appeal to under-18s.”

While the ASA determined that the ad would have been acceptable where under-18s could effectively be excluded from seeing it, but that because Twitter users can verify their own age without robust checks, advertisers cannot guarantee that audiences there are over the age of 18.

Bet365 is just the latest operator to fall foul of ASA rules.

Two Ladbrokes ads have been banned by the regulator in recent months, with one featuring top-flight football managers and another featuring social media influencer and boxer Jake Paul.

Elsewhere, a BetVictor ad featuring Spanish footballers Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets was deemed “irresponsible” by the ASA and was ordered to be removed.

Curiously, another complaint brought against bet365 in June, related to an ad featuring boxer Chris Eubank Junior, was not upheld by the ASA.

NFL gives slots a spin

This week CNBC put out a report on a curious development in the US, as Aristocrat Gaming unveiled its first ever NFL-themed slot machines.

The American football-themed reels are due to hit casino floors when the NFL season kicks off this September.

The new slots are “symbolic of a major reversal for the NFL,” CNBC points out, “from its vehement opposition to legalised sports betting prior to the 2018 Supreme Court decision, which paved the way for states to adopt sports wagering, to partnering with the AGA on responsible gambling initiatives.”

The NFL itself put a more positive spin on the new products, with its SVP of consumer products Joe Ruggiero suggesting “the unveiling of the first NFL-themed slot machines represents an opportunity to bring the League closer to our fans in a new area.”

Aristocrat Gaming was equally optimistic about the development, as CEO Hector Fernandez said: “I truly believe that this could be an industry changing event for slot machines and for casinos themselves … pushing the boundaries, driving innovation to something that really has never been done before.”

The slots will feature customisable skins, allowing players to choose their favorite team, and the game will then load relevant imagery, videos of key game moments and even stadium anthems.

Fernandez suggested that the machines will encourage younger men to give slots a go, helping bring them into a vertical currently dominated by older, female demographics.

When you think of the crossover between sports and casino gambling, is this what springs to mind?

Goodbye, Twitter

Elon Musk hit the headlines once again this week as he unceremoniously dropped Twitter’s existing branding and logo in favour of a minimalist new brand, X.

The change occurred suddenly and without warning, which The Conversation suggested was in keeping with Musk’s movements since taking over the social media giant last year.

“Such drastic changes are usually accompanied by presentations delving into rebrand reasoning from company execs desperate to show how the new image aligns with organisational strategy and company vision,” said the article in its assessment of the rebrand.

Musk’s sudden dropping of the much-loved blue bird is “in keeping with Twitter’s disruptive nature of late,” the article suggests, as the social media network has undergone a series of rapid transformations since it was overtaken by Tesla boss Musk.

The rebrand apparently aligns with Musk’s plans to develop Twitter (sorry, X) into an “everything app”, offering users much more than the ability to simply communicate.

Taking inspiration from China’s WeChat, Musk wants to turn X into a central component of users’ daily lives, facilitating financial transactions, written, audio, and video content, and more.

“But of course, one of the biggest risks of changing a brand identity from one that has global recognition, recall and awareness, is that users may not like the change,” The Conversation suggested. 

“By removing the Twitter brand there is an immediate loss of brand equity – the positive associations consumers have with the brand – which could ultimately encourage people to move to other platforms.”

If the conversation on X this week has been anything to go by, plenty of users have already been “encouraged” to jump ship from the platform.

How do you solve a problem like affordability?

The Racing Post this week offered up a response to the UK government’s Gambling Act review, with one commentator suggesting “I don’t think they truly understand a lot of betting.”

The article focuses closely on the introduction of so-called affordability checks, described as “background checks taking place at a trigger of £125 net loss within a month or £500 within a year.”

A higher tier of enhanced checks has also been proposed for customers crossing thresholds of a £1,000 net loss within 24 hours or £2,000 within 90 days. 

Under more detailed proposals set out in the Gambling Commission’s consultations on the matter, however, “anyone triggering checks at that second tier could be forced to undergo an enhanced check into their finances as often as twice a year,” the piece suggested.

Added to that, it explains, “for the purposes of calculating a net loss, it is proposed that any money won more than seven days ago for those at the £1,000 threshold, and 90 days ago at the £2,000 threshold, would be ignored, meaning that some could be made to prove they could afford their gambling, despite being in profit.”

The piece goes on to set out a number of different example customers, whose gambling activity either would or would not lead to enhanced financial checks being carried out.

The examples point out certain oddities in the way checks would be carried out under the proposals due to the time limits applied to what winnings can be considered, when assessing who needs to undergo checks and who doesn’t.

The piece also suggests that the checks may have the opposite of their intended impact.

“If you are truly trying to get people to gamble in a more responsible way, if I win some money on the first of the month and by the ninth of the month that money doesn’t count any more as my winnings, isn’t that encouraging me to punt through my money quicker, rather than when I actually fancy something?” asked professional gambler Neil Channing.

“’I’d better have a bet because otherwise it won’t count’. That feels totally counter-productive to what they are trying to achieve,” he concluded.

The Gambling Commission’s consultations on the matter are far from over, but the topic of affordability checks continues to be a sticking point for many in the UK gambling market.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled two more gambling ads seen on Twitter to be “of strong appeal to children.”

In January and February this year, Entain-owned Ladbrokes published two promoted tweets featuring managers from top-flight football clubs.

One tweet featured two images of Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe, while the other offered odds on the “next manager to leave,” alongside images of David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Brendan Rodgers and Gary O’Neil.

Ladbrokes response

Ladbrokes said the first tweet was intended as editorial content, as it contained no calls to action, promotional offers or links directing customers to its website.

It added that Eddie Howe’s online presence and career record had been considered when making the post, providing links to relevant Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, each of which had fewer than 1,000 followers.

The operator concluded therefore that “because Eddie Howe had a modest online presence and much of his managerial career had been spent outside of the Premier League, it was unlikely that he would appeal strongly to under-18s.”

The second tweet, Ladbrokes acknowledged, was commercial in nature and should not have included imagery of the managers.

The brand has since “taken steps to ensure that content of that nature would be reviewed more thoroughly to ensure future ads would comply with the advertising rules,” it said.

ASA response

The ASA upheld challenges against Ladbrokes on both counts.

“Managers of Premier League football teams were considered high risk” under UK advertising rules, it said, in terms of how likely they were to appeal to under-18s.

It argued its point due to the popularity of football among young people, given it is “an activity in which a very significant proportion of under-18s participated directly on a frequent basis, and had a general interest in through following professional teams and players across a variety of media.”

The managers featured in Ladbrokes’ ads were, at the time of publication, “all current Premier League managers and would be well known to those who followed football, and in particular fans of the clubs they managed, including children. 

“We considered based on those factors, that all five managers were likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s,” the ASA added.

Even considering Eddie Howe’s extremely limited online presence – whereas social media popularity has been cited as a high-risk factor in previous ASA rulings – the assessment could not be overridden, the authority said.

The ruling comes just one week after the ASA banned another Ladbrokes ad, featuring boxer and social media influencer Jake Paul.

Despite boxing being considered an adult-oriented sport, the authority ruled that Paul’s large following among under-18s meant he was “of inherent strong appeal” to children, and should not be used in gambling ads.

In another boxing-related ruling made recently, the ASA dismissed a complaint about a bet365 ad featuring Chris Eubank Jr., who was not considered to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

Additional ruling

The ASA also published an additional ruling today (12 July), against online bingo brand Lights Camera Bingo, which is owned and operated by Jumpman Gaming.

On the brand’s website, when customers left to open another tab in their browser, a message saying “Hey! Come Back!” appeared in the open tab, in the place of the website’s name and logo.

Lights Camera Bingo said “the intention and only purpose behind the message was to alert a customer that the website had not been closed.”

The ASA ruled, however, that the wording of the message could encourage harmful gambling behaviour or exploit the susceptibilities of vulnerable people.

“We considered that such messaging, in the context of an ad for an online bingo service, could have the effect of encouraging some people to continue gambling when they would otherwise have stopped,” the authority said.

Tell us what you really think

Much criticism has been proffered in the direction of the cryptocurrency world this year, though few have produced a takedown as scathing as Financial Times columnist Jemima Kelly.

Having spent years calling out “the steaming pile of horse manure that is crypto”, Kelly suggested in her FT column this week that 2022 has shown the sector to be even more corrupt and dangerous than she previously thought.

“In many ways, I have been shocked myself at what has happened in the world of crypto over the past year,” Kelly wrote. “It has proved itself more shameless, dishonest, interconnected and fantasy-based than even its strongest critics could have imagined.”

Kelly goes on to list a handful of things we’ve learnt from the world of crypto this year, including the fact that the ecosystem has been propped up by a lot more leverage than many realised. 

“And this was borrowing in real money, not just the magical strings of 1s and 0s that crypto tokens consist of,” Kelly pointed out.

The result of that was widespread chaos and collapse amid rising interest rates this year, leaving crypto prices tanking and platforms such as Celsius and Voyager failing to hold it together.

The past 12 months have also taught us that the world of cryptocurrency isn’t nearly as decentralised as its biggest supporters would have you believe.

“2022 was the year that we found out the extent to which Big Crypto is a real thing: a cartel of interconnected players from exchanges, stablecoin companies and crypto networks who work together via group chats – one Signal chat was reportedly called “exchange co-ordination” and included executives from FTX, Binance and Tether,” Kelly said.

Kelly then pointed out the ‘smoke and mirrors’ effect of the crypto world in recent years.

Martin Walker of the Center For Evidence-Based Management, a longtime crypto critic, told her, the books of crypto exchanges “are filled with their and their friends’ nonsense tokens”, and that when one of these implodes, “whole chunks of industry can very rapidly disappear”.

In spite of all the criticism – of which there has been plenty this year – the biggest takeaway for Kelly was ultimately the sector’s resilience.

Regardless of collapsing exchanges and the falling value of the tokens themselves, “many people are still willing to suspend disbelief, clinging on to the hope that one day, their miraculous internet money might resume its trajectory to the moon.”

Crypto investors will no doubt be hoping for their coins to lift off once again in 2023. Will Kelly be left with egg on her face? 

Going on a bear hunt

According to a new Reuters article, investors in US stocks and shares are currently bracing themselves for an expected recession in 2023.

With just a few trading days left in 2022, the benchmark S&P 500 index is down 19.8% year-to-date and headed for its biggest annual decline since 2008, the article said.

That is largely the result of aggressive monetary policy adopted by the Federal Reserve this year, in an attempt to curb the impact of rapidly rising inflation.

While inflation continues to run rampant, investors are now shifting their focus to the potential consequence of recent Fed rate hikes; the prospect of an economic slowdown in 2023.

Fund managers responding to a survey by BofA Global Research named a deep global recession and persistently high inflation as the biggest risks in the market for next year, with a net 68% forecasting a downturn as ‘likely’ in the next 12 months.

“The consensus is pretty clear that there is going to be a recession in 2023,” said Chuck Carlson, CEO of Horizon Investment Services. “The issue is how much has the market already discounted a recession, and that’s where it gets a little bit thornier.”

Ed Clissold, chief US strategist at Ned Davis Research, added: “If we’re not in a recession now but we’re going into one that would mean that a retest of the October [share price] lows and a break of them is quite possible in the first half of the year.”

Investors are also now working to gauge the degree to which slowing growth has already been factored into corporate earnings.

Consensus analyst estimates suggest a 5% rise in S&P 500 earnings next year, according to Reuters, with at least slim year-over-year growth expected in every quarter.

Earnings fall by an average annual rate of 24% during a recession, however, meaning there is still plenty of risk under current market conditions.

In spite of this, strategists polled by Reuters last month said they expected the S&P 500 to end 2023 around 10% ahead of current levels.

“One way that could happen is if a recession hits early in 2023 and ends quickly. Bear markets on average have bottomed four months before the end of a recession,” the article said.

If there is a bear market on the horizon, the global economy will at least be hoping that it isn’t too grizzly.

Time to take over Twitter

Self-appointed Saviour of the World Elon Musk hit the headlines again this week – or more accurately, continued to hit the headlines – as he performed what was likely considered by his critics to be his biggest and most public self-own.

After asking Twitter users if he should stand down as head of the social media giant following his acquisition of the platform earlier this year (and promising to abide by the results of the poll), 57.5% of respondents suggested Musk should be relieved of his Twitterly duties.

After the poll closed, Musk promised users on the site: “I will resign as CEO as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job! After that, I will just run the software & servers teams.”

BBC News pointed to several possible causes for Twitter users turning against the mogul – though this will come as no surprise to regular users of the platform, who have seen no shortage of criticism aimed at the South African-born space explorer in recent weeks.

I will resign as CEO as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job! After that, I will just run the software & servers teams.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 21, 2022

From charging users for Twitter’s ubiquitous blue ticks to removing journalists from the platform, the court of public opinion has brought a litany of charges against Musk since he took control of the site.

Even the United Nations and European Union got in on the action, with the UN tweeting that media freedom was “not a toy” and the EU threatening Twitter with sanctions.

One thing which could cool off criticism of the platform is the prospect of new management. After the poll closed, however, Musk responded saying that “No one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive. There is no successor.”

Indeed, BBC News agreed with his assessment that a replacement will not be easy to come by.

Some have speculated that Twitter’s co-founder and erstwhile CEO Jack Dorsey could re-enter the fray, while other names, such as former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, engineer Sriram Krishnan and Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner have been mentioned. Heaven forbid. 

At first glance, this does not appear to be a list completely free from the possibility of creating further controversy.

Musk will soon need to find time to focus on his role as Tesla CEO, however, as investors in the car manufacturer appear to be losing patience with the uncertainty created by his foray into the world of social media.

Shares in Tesla have tanked by some 69% this year-to-date, a number which is likely to amuse ‘edgelord’ Musk. His investors won’t be laughing, however. As for the value of Twitter at this point, that’s anybody’s guess.

Entain-owned betting and gaming brand Ladbrokes is the first UK operator to fall foul of new advertising restrictions introduced this year by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

In April, the ASA announced adjustments to existing guidance on gambling advertising, with new restrictions to be introduced around the use of public figures with a view to protecting minors from exposure to gambling ads.

Since 1 October, when the new rules came into force, operators have been forbidden from advertising products using, for example, footballers who are well known among under-18s.

Previous rules stated that ads must not be of “particular appeal” to children, whereas the new rules state that gambling and lottery ads must not “be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.”

While the distinction may appear small, under previous guidance adverts would be permitted as long as they were intended for an adult audience. 

The new definition of “strong appeal to children” gives a broader range of limitations than “particular appeal”, by prohibiting any content likely to appeal to children, regardless of how it is viewed by adults.

According to the ASA, Ladbrokes fell foul of the new rules in October, after sending out a promoted tweet containing images of Premier League footballers Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly.

Advertising Standards Authority: “We considered that it would have been acceptable for the ad to appear in a medium where under-18s, for all intents and purposes, could be entirely excluded from the audience.”

The ASA has now ruled that the individuals included in the ad were likely to have a strong appeal to under-18s and therefore breached the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

When first challenged, Labrokes responded to the ASA saying that its marketing team had carefully implemented new CAP Code guidance on public figures with a particular appeal to under-18s.

Given the appeal of Premier League footballers to young people, it said, it had “made use of all available targeting and age-gating tools to remove under-18s from the ad’s audience.”

One way of doing so was to target the ad only at over-25s, and Ladbrokes provided data from Twitter showing a total of 50,666 impressions with 0% of its targeted audience under 20 years old.

Despite Ladbrokes’ protests, the ASA confirmed today (21 December) that it has upheld the ruling against the ads.

“We considered that it would have been acceptable for the ad to appear in a medium where under-18s, for all intents and purposes, could be entirely excluded from the audience,” the advertising regulator said.

“That would apply in circumstances where those who saw the ad had been robustly age-verified as being 18 or older, such as through marketing lists that had been validated by payment data or credit checking.”

Whereas using the ad under such circumstances would have been considered acceptable by the authority, it ruled that because Twitter users self-verify their age in order to access mature content, under-18s had not been excluded from Ladbrokes’ audience with sufficient accuracy.

The ad must not appear again in the same form.

The UK Gambling Commission has apologised for tweeting a GIF of a child celebrating a goal as it sought to promote safer gambling during the World Cup.

The regulator has since deleted the tweet, although another tweet dated 25 November still shows a child celebrating a goal in the crowd at a football match.

The deleted tweet urged users to ensure they were gambling with UK-licensed operators if they wanted to place a bet during the World Cup.

However, the associated GIF pictured a young boy with England flag face paint, which several users pointed out was inappropriate.

Gambling is illegal under the age of 18 in the UK, while the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also rules out any marketing with a particular appeal to young people and under 18s.

Many more matches are still to be played at the World Cup in the coming weeks. Options are available from betting companies to limit the amounts you can bet so you can gamble responsibly. For advice on how to do this, visit our website https://t.co/MUeSrwUK0t pic.twitter.com/60JxIufbSr

— Gambling Commission (@GamRegGB) November 25, 2022

“Throughout the World Cup we have been using social media to highlight how consumers can protect themselves when gambling online,” said the Commission in a statement.

“In error, one of those tweets featured a GIF of a child celebrating at a football game. We realise this was an oversight and undermined an important consumer protection message.

“We apologise to anyone who may have been offended by unintended association and have now deleted the tweet.”

In November, the UKGC said it would increase social media activity during the Qatar tournament to promote safer gambling and raise awareness of risks around gambling harm.

“We recognise that this is one of the world’s largest and most high-profile tournaments and is therefore likely to see an increase in betting activity,” said the UKGC as part of a declaration of gambling regulators including France, Germany, Portugal and Spain.

“As regulators, we have a key role in ensuring that consumers are protected throughout the tournament.”

“This is my fourth start-up,” says BettorOff founder and CEO Alex Dubin in conversation with iGaming NEXT. “I’ve had two successful exits and one epic disastrous failure that was so unbelievably bad that you could see it from space.”

Taking lessons from his past successes and hoping to avoid a collapse of intergalactic proportions is Dubin’s latest business, BettorOff. The start-up describes itself as an enhanced social media platform specifically designed for sports bettors. Users can carve out a name for themselves and make money in the process by becoming one of the app’s leading tipsters, although Dubin prefers the term “pros”.

While there is already plenty of sports betting chatter on Twitter, Dubin says there is no way to separate the pretenders from those with a genuine edge – something which BettorOff hopes to rectify with its transparency tool. Each user’s data will be tracked from the number of picks won, to their ROI and BettorOff’s patented Weighted Win Percentage statistic. The stats will be on show in black and white, which saves users from having to navigate through the noise on social media.

How will it make money?

Sounds great, right? But with Twitter losing an estimated $4m a day according to its new owner Elon Musk, how does BettorOff – a platform with some 11,000 users compared to Twitter’s near 400 million – make any money? In three simple ways, according to Dubin.

Eventually, the site will take a cut from each of the pro channels. BettorOff will serve as the merchant, similar to big-tech success story Uber. Initially, however, everything will be free as the platform tries to scale and build an engaged community. “For now, we’re returning 100% of the revenues back to the user because we want them as incentivised as possible to keep on picking and inviting,” says Dubin.

The second revenue channel is affiliation, or directing players to bookmakers for a fee. The company is looking to appeal to bettors on the sharper side that search for the best odds. Its Best Odds feature – similar to the Oddschecker Grid in the UK – will show users where to get the best bang for their buck on a specific wager. BettorOff will then receive a set payment from the sportsbook operator for each successful sign-up. “This is how Action Network gained a massive part of its value before it was acquired for a quarter of a billion dollars,” says Dubin, referencing Better Collective’s $240m buyout of the company in 2021.

“I don’t love the optics for a platform like ours of sharing in the losses of our consumers. It seems antithetical to what we’re trying to achieve.”

“We don’t share in losses; we get a strict CPA,” Dubin explains, predicting the next question. “I don’t love the optics for a platform like ours of sharing in the losses of our consumers. It seems antithetical to what we’re trying to achieve.”

The third potential cash cow – and the holy grail according to Dubin – is data. The company wants to analyse the behaviour of its users to spot patterns and sell them to sportsbooks. BettorOff has the advantage of being able to go live in every US state as it is not bound by sports betting regulation. This could prove particularly valuable to operators as new states open up for real-money online gambling. As we head towards 2023, sports betting launches are already on the horizon in Maryland and Ohio, and BettorOff’s data could give prospective operators a leg up on the competition.

Dubin admits the value of data is directly correlated to scale. The platform will struggle to draw any concrete conclusions with 11,000 users, but it has big aspirations. “Data I personally think is going to be the big one,” says Dubin. “But you can’t draw inferences from 10,000 people. You get up to 100,000 people, then great, but seven and eight figures is where statistical modelling really starts to shine,” he adds.

Beyond data for sportsbooks, BettorOff plans to use the data as a potential tool to help its own users make smarter picks, allowing its customers to share in the advantages of data collection. The firm will aggregate its conclusions and offer editorial insights to their community.

Like any content-led business, BettorOff must tread a tightrope between making money and providing the best value to its users. Implementing adverts as a revenue stream without ruining the UX or alienating your audience is never straightforward, as any decent online publisher knows. BettorOff is in a growth phase and building a loyal base is its number one priority in the short term, which is why Dubin has made the executive decision to keep the platform ad-free until at least 2024.

“With pushing ads, especially on a mobile-first platform, you’ve got to be very, very careful,” he warns. “If you’re just bombarding users to the point they feel like a walking ad target, then they’re going to leave you behind.”

What about the little blue bird in the room?

Building a transparent, tailor-made social network for sports betting makes sense, but the obvious challenge for BettorOff will be persuading bettors to switch from Twitter. The sports betting community is already deeply ingrained into one of the world’s largest social networks, and consumer habits are hard to shift.

Dubin refuses to see this as a negative and believes it proves BettorOff’s use case as a business, working as the perfect pitch to investors. “Our challenge as a business is going to be locating our audience to send them our message, but the fact there is no specific solution for that is exactly what we’re trying to solve.” If an advertiser or an operator wants to reach an engaged audience of sports bettors, then this is exactly what BettorOff can provide. “Hey guys, here is a platform that is 100% your target demographic,” Dubin explains. “It’s interesting that our goal is to solve a hurdle that we are now facing ourselves.”

As a start-up, BettorOff is yet to properly turn the dial on marketing, although it did put out a World Cup press release in November based on an in-house survey of US betting habits. It eventually intends to reach bettors with targeted ad spend and via partnerships with both sports teams and sportsbooks, but has not yet spent a penny in this space.

Dubin concedes this will make it difficult to challenge Twitter, which has unlimited pockets by comparison and an established global brand. But despite the business model, he isn’t trying to outdo the social network, and will in fact lean into some of its features. For example, BettorOff has integrated an API that will allow users to post their picks straight to Twitter. There is space for both to co-exist, and BettorOff can benefit from Twitter’s scale to begin with, says Dubin. “While I think it’s fair to say we’re taking on Twitter in the sports betting information sector, we are not trying to pull our users off Twitter.

“Twitter is an incredible networking tool. If your growth story is based on knocking off Twitter, I think you have a heavy lift,” he admits. Users posting their picks and winners on Twitter will be an essential – and cost effective – way for BettorOff to spread its message. Rather than fighting against them, we like the idea of utilising that type of media, whether it’s on TikTok, Instagram or Twitter,” says Dubin.

From one extreme to another

BettorOff has crammed plenty of history into its short lifespan. Dubin formed the company in the summer of 2020 at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. As normal life disintegrated and Covid destroyed sections of the retail economy, the online gambling industry flourished, and valuations for US operators reached their absolute peak. It was the perfect environment for raising capital – in stark contrast to today, where macro factors have restricted cash and investors have tightened their purse strings.

Dubin has the perfect professional background for raising capital. In his early career, he spent more than two years with DLA Piper in New York as an attorney, working directly under the firm’s global head of funds. His first company NXTAKE – an esports-focused sports data and analytics business – was acquired in a merger with SportsGrid back in 2017, where he later joined the board of directors and at one point served as acting COO and general counsel.

He is quite literally more invested than most in the success of BettorOff. Not only is Dubin founder and CEO, but he personally invested in the company’s initial raise, which Dubin dubs the “crazy vision round”. “I think it’s vital that founders have real skin in the game” says Dubin.

Recent developments have shown investors are keeping their cards close to their chest in the real-money online gambling space. Las Vegas Sands folding its online investment arm is a prime example of that. But back in 2020, you only had to whisper the words “sports betting” and you would be showered in dollar bills like Scrooge McDuck.

“When classic markets take a hit, you need to look at alternative assets so that nothing happens if gas goes up or if the housing market craters.”

Dubin, however, believes the effects of the macro squeeze on the space are overstated. “There is still a tonne of dry powder out there, especially in the venture world,” he says. “When classic markets take a hit like they are now, you need to look at alternative assets so that nothing happens to them if gas goes up by $3 or if the housing market craters. There are certain industries that are virtually recession proof, and sports betting has always been one of those,” he proclaims.

The US operators that BettorOff hopes to one day count as clients might disagree, however. DraftKings’ stock has nosedived by 60% on a one-year basis; Caesars is down 49% over the same period. While the macroeconomic environment unarguably played a part, the downturn also coincided with increased investor interest in the profitability of US sports betting firms. Post-PASPA, profits were consigned to the “we’ll worry about it later” pile, but in recent months, investors have demanded more concrete guidance. They all want to know exactly where that inflexion point is on the timeline before parting with their hard-earned cash.

Stockholder appetite has shifted significantly from speculative growth stocks to sure things and done deals, and profitability is now being used as the barometer of success. This could make a sale, and eventual exit, more unlikely for start-ups in the top-line growth phase, such as BettorOff.

Exit through the gift shop 

But is Dubin actively seeking a sale? “That’s the question that any founder must tackle,” he says with a wry smile. He has learned several lessons from his previous companies, which he exited to varying degrees of success. He now looks for three things when starting a new business: Is the sector growing? Is it monetisable? Are there acquirers out there?

In US sports betting, the answer to all three of those questions is yes, and Dubin is smart enough to know there is a diversified base with deep pockets looking to buy into the space, from operators and affiliates to venture capitalists and private equity funds.

For now, at least, Dubin’s focus is on execution and providing the best UX. “My belief is that if we concentrate on that, then acquisition offers, partnership offers, and all of those things that we want to happen financially, will come.”

Dubin’s first task will be to ensure that his valuable target demographic is genuinely better off on BettorOff than elsewhere.

There is no guarantee it will work, but solid foundations have been laid. Dubin, who has been in this position before, says: “I’m confident that if we execute following our guiding principles, then the growth will take care of itself.”

Musk gets trigger happy at Twitter

Bloomberg was among the first publications to provide commentary of Elon Musk’s impending $44bn takeover of Twitter this week.

The Tesla chief wasted no time in stamping his authority on his newly acquired social network by firing several of Twitter’s influential and long-serving leadership team.

Among the casualties, according to Bloomberg, was Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust – also known as the person responsible for Donald Trump’s permanent ban from the platform.

CEO Parag Agrawal was also let go as Musk gets ready to transform the social network into a private company in his own vision, as alarming as that might be for some.

Twitter shareholders will earn $54.20 per share, with Musk’s ownership expected to bring immediate disruption to in-house operations.

The South African has said he wants to allow free speech on Twitter, which is likely to mean laxer content moderation standards and the return to Twitter of previously blacklisted accounts and personalities, including the likes of Trump and Katie Hopkins.

“As the deadline neared, Musk began putting his stamp on the company, posting a video of himself walking into the headquarters and changing his profile descriptor on the platform he now owns to Chief Twit,” wrote Bloomberg.

Further cost-cutting at Twitter is expected over the coming months, although Musk has allayed fears that he could be about to sack 75% of the company’s overall workforce.

Will he stick to his word? Only time will tell.

US tells metaverse NFT casino to shut up shop

Interpol today (28 October) warned that scams might be operating differently in the virtual world. So, here’s a metaverse crime story for you.

InvestmentNews reported earlier this week that state securities regulators from Texas, New Jersey, Kentucky and Alabama filed emergency cease-and-desist orders against Sloties NFT.

Based in Georgia, Slotie is a virtual metaverse-styled NFT casino where players can interact with each other, make purchases and gamble with NFT products.

According to the report, the order alleged that Sloties violated state securities laws and illegally and fraudulently sold Slotie NFTs.

The regulators further accused Slotie of withholding information from investors about its assets and liabilities, anticipated use of capital and key risks associated with NFTs and the metaverse generally.

The report highlighted that although US state regulators didn’t have jurisdiction in a foreign country, their cease-and-desist orders had the effect of shutting down the market for the Slotie NFTs.

This is because websites and marketplaces where they were sold would delist the products after intervention from US regulators.

Next, the author quoted the North American Securities Administration Association, which in August had warned investors over “dangers lurking in the metaverse”.

Amanda Senn, deputy director of the Alabama Securities Commission, said: “Companies operating exclusively online that are seeking to raise money from our investing public are not exempted from the law. States are hard at work ferreting out and fighting fraud.”

The challenge for regulators, the report concluded, was that the metaverse is “the shiny new online object that’s drawing curious users, as well as those who want to take advantage of them”.

Be on high alert if you plan to patrol the metaverse in the near future.

Mirror, mirror, on the (Great) Wall

This week, Business Insider exposed just how apparently easy it is for online gambling operators to circumvent digital restrictions in black markets such as China using the widespread phenomenon of ‘mirror’ websites.

These, the article explained, are operator websites offering their whole suite of products, just as they would in licensed jurisdictions, with the only difference being ever-changing URLs to circumvent government blocks on original domains.

Speaking to one Chinese gambling player called Huang (a false name used to protect his identity), BI reported that gamblers in the country – where the practice is explicitly outlawed – often do not even need a VPN to access gambling sites from China.

His own particular operator of choice – Stoke-on-Trent based industry giant bet365 – apparently had 59 operational mirror sites operated by its subsidiaries, which were uncovered by Business Insider in June.

When each one is identified and blocked by the Chinese government, a new one pops up in its place. “It’s a game of whack-a-mole,” said Ben Lee, managing partner of IGamiX Management and Consulting in Macau.

While it’s impossible to know just how much is being wagered through these websites in the country, a report from the Asian Racing Federation in 2019 estimated that some $54bn was flowing out of the country to offshore gambling operators.

Although it appears easy for Chinese residents to access online gambling, doing so does not come without risks.

Huang, the customer BI spoke with, said his account with the operator had been frozen in May, after which the firm asked him to provide proof of funds.

Fearing the repercussions of taking his case to the authorities – gambling online can carry with it a prison sentence in China – Huang is reportedly unable to recover the $37,000 still sitting in his account. “This is all my savings,” he told BI.

For what it’s worth, bet365 said it does not believe operating in China is illegal and that the operator is licensed by “relevant regulatory authorities across a variety of jurisdictions and is compliant with all applicable legislation.”

While that may well be true, the article went on to shed some light on shady-sounding areas of gambling marketing in China.

A new Gambling Act at last?

Since the UK’s new government, led by prime minister Liz Truss, came into office last month, the gambling industry’s call for answers on a review of the 2005 Gambling Act have been met with little more than radio silence.

According to a report this week in the Racing Post, however, a review may well still be on the cards, according to former Conservative party leader and long standing campaigner for gambling reform Iain Duncan Smith.

According to the article, Smith told a meeting at the party’s conference in Birmingham on Tuesday that there had been little change from the situation under Boris Johnson’s regime with regards to the Gambling Act.

The government first launched its review of the act in December 2020, with a promise to bring forward new legislation “fit for the digital age”.

However after repeated delays, the most significant of which took place as outgoing PM Johnson announced his resignation earlier this year, the industry has been left wondering whether a review will be forthcoming at all.

Smith told the meeting that it is “not altogether certain where the government is right now” following Truss’ ascension to the UK’s highest office, however he added that former gambling minister Chris Philp, now chief secretary to the Treasury, was still keen to move forward with reforms.

Smith remains optimistic that the white paper will still be published, according to the article, but added that “it’s going to be one of those things where the government will have to balance the time they have for doing it and whether or not they’re driven to do it for the right reasons, and that’s really a game of persuasion I guess.

“It’s in exactly the same place as it was before. The problem is that names have all changed and people who therefore knew something about it are no longer in the posts that they were, so that’s the problem,” he added.

While the new government continues to find its feet and establish its priorities, it appears there is still little comfort for an industry which still doesn’t know for sure which way the wind is blowing.

Legalised sports betting? California’s dreaming

Both of California’s sports betting ballot measures are “underwater” despite the near half-billion dollars spent in supporting them, according to California-focused political newsroom CalMatters.

The ballot campaigns, which are now by far the most expensive political campaigns ever seen in the state, are widely accepted to be heading for disaster when state residents are invited to vote on them next month.

With election day just five weeks away, support for Proposition 27 – which would see mobile wagering introduced allowing commercial operators like DraftKings and FanDuel to enter the market – sits at just 27%, with 53% of voters opposed to the measure and 20% undecided.

Proposition 26 – which would allow for in-person wagering on tribal gambling properties – isn’t faring much better, with support of just 31%, with 42% of voters opposed and 27% undecided.

And there is not much time left to change voters’ minds – county election offices are required to begin mailing ballots to all active, registered voters no later than Monday.

According to CalMatters, the campaigns have not been helped by the fact that many of the ads surrounding the issue have been considered confusing or even misleading, and that they are funded by four separate ballot measure campaigns featuring a “complex cast of players”.

Each proposition has attracted separate campaigns both for and against, making for a cutthroat and hard-fought competition which, it now seems, has been battled for months entirely in vain.

Twitter takeover intensifies

Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover saga continues, as the social media giant has agreed to delay a deposition by Musk originally scheduled for yesterday (6 October), as the two sides continue to hash out a way of closing his $44bn buyout of the social network, according to the Financial Times.

After saying he would buy the company in April and subsequently trying to back out of the deal, Musk this week sent a letter informing Twitter he was willing to close the deal at the originally agreed $54.20 per share price in exchange for halting the litigation to determine whether he can walk away from the deal.

A trial to determine that is scheduled to begin on 17 October in a Delaware court.

Negotiations over how to close the deal have hit problems over concerns that Musk could still sabotage a $13bn debt financing agreement he has arranged, while the FT said that according to one person inside Twitter there remains far less concern about the banks themselves being reluctant to meet their debt commitment contract.

An agreement would put an end to weeks of legal to-ing and fro-ing, during which each side has accused the other of being uncooperative and deliberately hiding information.

On Wednesday, the judge overseeing the case in Delaware Court of Chancery, Kathaleen McCormick, wrote: “The parties have not filed a stipulation to stay this action, nor has any party moved for a stay. I, therefore, continue to press on toward our trial set to begin on October 17.”

The article added that legal analysts have suggested Musk’s change of heart was an acknowledgement of weaknesses in his case in which he alleged that Twitter had misled regulators and investors by underestimating the number of fake accounts on its platform.

He also accused the company of failing to disclose cyber security failures, an issue later added to the complaint following similar allegations by a former Twitter executive-turned-whistleblower.

Twitter snapped back at those allegations, saying it was Musk who had breached his obligations in the merger agreement by repeatedly disparaging the company and its executives, while failing to move to complete the deal.

Whatever happens next, there is no question this has been the most overly dramatic M&A story of the year.

Twitch has pledged to prohibit live streams of high profile gambling sites from next month, sending shockwaves through the sector and leaving many unanswered questions.

Live gambling streams are a mega money business on the Amazon-owned streaming platform.

Some of its most popular content creators live stream for tens of hours a day while playing slots and casino games on Curacao-licensed sites including Stake.com and Roobet.

Those sites, which are not licensed in the US or subject to the same levels of consumer protection standards, will now be banned from the platform on 18 October 2022, according to an official statement posted to the Twitch Twitter account at 11pm on 20 September.

An update on gambling on Twitch. pic.twitter.com/lckNTY9Edo

— Twitch (@Twitch) September 20, 2022

The tweet has since gone viral, earning 37,000 retweets at the time of writing.

Gambling on Twitch has inspired some major online controversies in recent times, despite being promoted by high profile celebrity ambassadors and influential content creators.

For example, Canadian rap star Drake – arguably the most successful commercial musician of the last decade – regularly streams live while placing bets with cryptocasino operator Stake.com, which has never been licensed in Canada or the US.

Twitch’s most watched streamer of the last two years is Canadian personality Félix “xQc” Lengyel. In 2021, his streams amassed nearly 275 million hours of views.

xQc regularly goes live with gambling streams. He places huge wagers, often more than $100,000 per spin.

There are transparency issues with gambling streams like this.

Often, the casino operator will fund the streamers so they aren’t gambling with their own money. This makes them more likely to adopt risky playing behaviours or bet more than they can afford. But this is not always obvious or apparent to their audience.

Speaking of audience, age-gaiting is another major concern when it comes to Twitch and gambling. According to Twitch, the average age of a user is 21, with an estimated 20% of global users aged between 13- and 17-years-old – and therefore too young to gamble.

The most recent controversy – and indeed the one that appears to have broken the camel’s back – unravelled earlier this week and centred around Manchester-based content creator ItsSliker.

It transpired that ItsSliker had borrowed money from other popular Twitch streamers to fund his gambling addiction and never managed to pay them back.

He asked for the money, often under false pretences, and gambled it away on online casino games.

When the news came to light, some of the most influential personalities on Twitch – including Pokimane, Mizkif, and Devin Nas – threatened to go on strike and stop uploading videos until gambling sponsorship was banned on the platform.

They have been heard loud and clear, according to the latest statement from Twitch, which name-checked high profile sites such as Stake.com, Roobet and Duelbits, among others.

ItsSliker: “I’m going to fix my addiction. I don’t need to explain how big it is. It has made me into an ill person. It has made me into an evil person.”

ItsSliker has been offline since his last upload two days ago, which was filmed before Twitch made its move to ban certain gambling sites.

“I want to say I’m going to go to rehab. I’m going to fix my addiction,” said ItsSliker on camera. “I don’t need to explain how big a thing it is. It has made me into an ill person. It has made me into an evil person.”

Several leading streamers, including the aforementioned xQc, have now vowed to pay off the people he scammed.

As the news of the ban filtered through last night, casino streamer Roshtein was in the middle of a live stream while playing slots on Stake.com.

Roshtein boasts more than 1.1 million followers on Twitch. As the live chat informed him of the message from Twitch, he sat silent for the most part with his head in his hands. He repeatedly said, “oh my god”, before asking: “What does that mean for us?”

He then suggested YouTube as an alternative streaming platform.

Streamers will understandably be looking for alternatives from 18 October. It is a major source of income to most, and there is also insane demand for live slots streams.

One option could see streamers come together to create their own casino gambling platform. This would allow them to circumvent the rules and regulations as it would most likely be run by an entity entirely separate to Amazon or Google.

Watch this space.