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  • SiGMA to align shows with Affiliate World from 2024 amid strategic investment

The SiGMA Group has made a strategic investment in Affiliate World Conferences, a company described as the world’s leading conference organiser for affiliate marketing.

SiGMA and Affiliate World will now seek to align their global summits to take place in the same city and during the same week.

The first show of this kind will be held in February 2024 in Dubai as regulated commercial gaming looks increasingly likely to arrive in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Delegates flying to SiGMA Dubai on 26 February will also be able to attend Affiliate World Dubai on 28 February.

SiGMA and Affiliate World expect more than 10,000 attendees at the two events in Dubai as a result of the partnership.

SiGMA Group founder Eman Pulis said: “I attended Affiliate World Bangkok for the very first time back in 2014 and was blown away by the energy in the room and the quality of affiliates.

“I just couldn’t believe there still remained so many affiliates that were new to gaming. Coupled with the fact that many operators are constantly demanding for more affiliates to attend conferences; this partnership with Affiliate World will make SiGMA a must attend for operators.

“We’ve listened carefully and are finally in a position to align our SiGMA conferences in the same cities and within the same week as AW, bringing many of the world’s top affiliates closer to the iGaming community,” he added.

After launching in 2014, SiGMA expanded into affiliation in 2020 as it sought to provide traffic to iGaming operators through its portfolio of websites and SiGMA Play.

“I attended Affiliate World Bangkok for the very first time back in 2014 and was blown away by the energy in the room and the quality of affiliates.”
SiGMA Group founder Eman Pulis

Affiliate World, meanwhile, has organised in-person events targeted at the global affiliate community since 2015 and boasts more than 15,000 event participants each year.

The company currently manages three events in Dubai, Barcelona and Bangkok, and employs more than 30 full-time staff in offices across Dubai and Manila.

Affiliate World MD Chris Hong said: “We look forward to very close cooperation with SiGMA’s world class team and leadership.

“SiGMA’s investment in Affiliate World is a strong testament to the value of our exceptional community of super affiliates for operators around the world. 

“We believe this exciting combination creates exceptional benefits to our attendees, exhibitors and sponsors and will allow them to dramatically accelerate their business operations and discovery of new and valuable business partners,” he added.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has created a federal authority to regulate commercial gaming as the country takes another step towards legalising lottery and casinos.

The news was confirmed by the state-owned Emirates News Agency (WAM) on 3 September. The newly created regulator is called the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA).

It has pledged to introduce a “world-leading regulatory framework” for national lottery and commercial gaming in UAE, which looks increasingly likely to become the first Gulf state to legalise land-based casino gambling.

There was no mention of online gambling in the WAM press release, the introduction of which seems extremely unlikely at this stage.

US casino giant Wynn Resorts expects to “soon” obtain a licence from the regulator after last year announcing plans to build a $3.9bn integrated resort in Ras Al Khaimah, which is the UAE’s sixth largest city and an emirate around 45 minutes away from Dubai.

The GCGRA has looked to the US for its leadership team.

Gaming Laboratories International veteran and former Missouri Gaming Commission director Kevin Mullally has been appointed CEO of the new regulator, while the authority will be chaired by ex-MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren.

Murren said: “I am delighted at the appointment of Kevin Mullally. He brings unparalleled category experience and will be invaluable in creating a fit-for-purpose regulatory framework for the UAE.”

UAE government officials have said there are no imminent plans to allow gambling, but casino operators are increasingly confident that change is being considered as the country looks to protect its reputation as a tourism hotspot.

Bloomberg Intelligence gaming analyst Angela Hanlee believes the UAE could generate $6.6bn in gaming revenue annually with the potential to surpass Singapore, which is home to Las Vegas Sands’ renowned Marina Bay Sands resort.

Permitting and regulating gambling would be a major change for the UAE where Islam provides the main basis for legislation. Gambling is prohibited under Islam and is currently illegal in the country, where offenders can be fined or sentenced to two years in prison.

Bloomberg further estimates that Dubai would be the biggest beneficiary of the UAE’s push into commercial gambling.

“The emirate has already seen an influx of newcomers and tourists largely stemming from its handling of the pandemic and attractiveness as a wealth haven,” wrote Bloomberg reporter Omar Tamo.

“The introduction of casinos could further boost its tourism sector — a key pillar of the emirate’s economy — that’s been booming and escaped much of the geopolitical and economic uncertainty elsewhere in the world,” he added.

Elsewhere, Jon Gambrell, Gulf and Iran news director for the Associated Press, believes the creation of a federal regulator suggests that Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital, will oversee the potential operation of casinos in the country.

He also suggested that new casinos could increase the risk of money laundering, with Dubai’s real-estate market described as a “haven” for the financial assets of criminals.

United Gambling Emirates

Gambling could soon be added to the list of attractions available in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to an article published by Bloomberg this week.

The piece followed up on plans announced last year by Wynn Resorts, to open an integrated resort including a gaming area in the country’s sixth largest city, Ras Al-Khaimah.

Those plans have already expanded since being announced, with the resort now set to offer 1,500 rooms, suites and villas when it opens for business in 2027.

And according to Bloomberg, Wynn is not the only major casino operator looking to get in on the action.

Caesars already operates a non-gaming resort in Dubai, while MGM also has plans to develop its own hotels in the city.

Still, whether the country will eventually legalise gambling remains a mystery. According to the article: “Officials are giving mixed messages: one in Dubai said the infrastructure for casinos is already in place, while another said there were no plans whatsoever to allow gambling.”

An international law firm is said to be drafting policy that could be used to regulate gambling across the whole country, although it is not clear who commissioned that work.

If the UAE does eventually legalise gambling, Bloomberg predicts it could become an even bigger market by GGR than Singapore, home to the world-renowned Marina Bay Sands.

Singapore generates $5.9bn a year of GGR from its gambling operations, equal to 1.6% of the country’s GDP.

If the UAE could also reach GGR equivalent to 1.6% of its GDP, operators could expect to generate some $6.6bn annually in the country.

Senior government officials say there are no imminent plans to allow gambling, but with so many operators seemingly eyeing up their options in the region, it looks increasingly likely it will be permitted sooner or later.

Is sport just ‘wagering content’?

Chairman of Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL), Peter V’landys, caused quite the stir this week when he referred to his own sport as “wagering content,” as reported by The Guardian.

According to the article, anti-gambling advocates have responded “furiously” to the chairman’s unapologetic pursuit of gambling revenue in rugby, suggesting that his description of the sport as mere wagering content is “scandalous and counterproductive”.

V’landys is keen to capitalise on the spread of legalised sports betting across the US, and the next NRL season will open in Las Vegas with a view to helping develop broadcast and gambling markets in the US.

He has suggested that some Americans were looking for betting opportunities in different time zones, for which Australian rugby league would be “perfect”.

While he has said that gambling revenue is just one part of a broader revenue base for rugby league, that hasn’t stopped his critics from having their say about the perceived impact of gambling on sport.

“He’s said the quiet part out loud,” said public health professor Charles Livingston in reference to V’landys’ “wagering content” comment.

“On one level, it’s entirely obvious this is not a game anymore, or a pursuit in its own right, it’s become fodder for gambling companies and he wants to maximise the revenue he gets for it.”

“Is that satire? Surely that’s satire,” added Tim Costello, chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform.

“It is a tragedy to me that it is actually changing the way people follow sport, especially young people. They are now following the game not to support their team but to see if their multi comes off.”

Criticisms notwithstanding, some market analysts believe the NRL’s US expansion plan could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcast fees, sponsorship and gambling revenue.

Here’s hoping the American audience can truly fall in love with the sport, and not just turn it into more “wagering content”.

Leaving so soon?

Another story from The Guardian makes it into this week’s Hot Copy, as the paper reported that News Corp-backed Australian operator Betr is up for sale less than a year after it first hit the market.

The company launched with an aggressive customer acquisition strategy in October, offering generous bonuses and outlandish odds to new customers, before being slapped with a A$210,000 fine by regulators last month.

Now, after talks for a possible takeover of rival PointsBet fell through, Betr has been approached by “a number of international and domestic operators seeking to acquire the business,” according to the article.

“We assess all opportunities with the aim of maximising value for shareholders. Our primary focus remains identifying and executing opportunities to further our ambition to be a tier-one operator,” said a spokesperson for the business.

The approaches are being managed by corporate advisory and financial services firm Barrenjoey.

Betr has had a short but tumultuous ride in Australia’s betting market so far. The A$210,000 fine it received from Liquor and Gaming NSW was a record one for the regulator, the largest of its kind ever issued to a gambling company over inducements to bet in New South Wales.

That was after the firm had already been ordered to pay A$75,000 by the Northern Territory Racing Commission for further marketing breaches, before its product had even officially launched on the market.

The Guardian said News Corp has been distancing itself from Betr in recent months, with two of the company’s executives leaving the bookie’s board not long ago.

If a buyer can be found and a sale approved, perhaps the media conglomerate will soon have nothing to do with the business whatsoever.

Wynn Resorts is primed to build a luxury integrated resort including a casino ‘gaming area’ in Ras Al-Khaimah, the sixth largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Ras Al-Khaimah is the UAE’s largest city after Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Al Ain and Ajman and is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination.

In partnership with property developer Marjan, Wynn plans to develop a destination featuring more than 1,000 rooms, retail, meeting and convention facilities, a spa, restaurants, lounges and crucially for the first time in a UAE-based resort, a gaming area.

The resort is scheduled to open in 2026 and marks the largest foreign investment of its kind in Ras Al-Khaimah, according to Las Vegas-based Wynn. It will also mark the casino operator’s first beach resort globally.

Abdulla Al Abdooli, CEO of Marjan, said: “The integrated development, featuring a world-class hotel, entertainment and gaming amenities, will add to the Emirate’s destination strategy to attract tourists from across the world. 

“We are partnering with Wynn Resorts, one of the world’s most renowned integrated resort companies, which has a strong track record of developing luxury destinations with exceptional accommodation, dining, entertainment concepts and gaming facilities.”

Craig Billings, newly appointed CEO of Wynn Resorts, added: “Al Marjan Island is a pristine setting and an ideal greenfield location for us to create the one-of-a-kind guest experiences for which Wynn Resorts is renowned. 

“The region offers tremendous potential for the hospitality and tourism industry and we are excited about the prospect of developing an integrated resort in Ras Al-Khaimah.”

Gambling is currently prohibited across the UAE.

However, reports suggest the Ras Al-Khaimah Tourism and Development Authority (RAKTDA) has created a new Department of Entertainment and Gaming Regulation.

The department will be responsible for licensing, taxation, operational procedures and consumer safeguards relating to gaming, which looks set to be legalised in the sheikhdom provided it takes place in an integrated resort approved by the regulator.

In a statement, RAKTDA said the top priority of the new department is to create a robust framework that guarantees responsible gaming at all levels.

Wynn rival Caesars Entertainment already runs an integrated resort in the UAE at Caesars Palace Dubai, although the property does not offer casino gambling to customers.