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Wynn or lose?

The Nevada Independent this week brought us the story that disgraced former casino mogul Steve Wynn is set to pay $10m to the Nevada Gaming Control Board to settle a now years-old dispute.

Further to the eight-figure fine, Wynn will agree never again to have any involvement in Nevada’s gaming industry.

Under the terms of the agreement, he will no longer be able to serve as an officer or executive with a Nevada gambling firm again, but notably, will continue to be allowed to have “passive ownership” of under 5% of any such business.

The settlement relates to a four-year legal dispute between Wynn and Nevada’s gambling regulator, after it filed a five-count complaint against the exec in October 2019.

That complaint sought to deem Wynn unsuitable to hold a gaming licence in the state following allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct against female employees during his time as chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts.

It came after a previous, 10-count complaint filed by the regulator against Wynn Resorts in February 2019, which led to the operator paying a $20m fine for failing to report and/or investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct against its CEO.

Wynn, one of the world’s richest people with a reported net worth of $3.2bn, currently lives in Florida and has denied the allegations.

According to the settlement, Wynn waived his right to a public hearing on the matter. However, if he violates any terms of the settlement, Nevada gaming regulators could move to find him unsuitable and he would face additional fines and disciplinary action. 

Wynn previously claimed gaming authorities held no jurisdiction over him since he resigned from his position at Wynn Resorts, sold his stock and relinquished his gaming licence in February 2018.

After all that, one thing’s for sure. Steve Wynn won’t be appearing in the boardroom of any Nevada-based gambling business again.

The big new poker boom

The Financial Times brought us something of a love letter to the world of poker this week, via senior data journalist Oliver Roeder.

Roeder sets out what’s going on behind the latest poker boom, which saw more than 10,000 individuals take part in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas over the past few weeks.

He takes us back to the first so-called poker boom, tracing the game’s explosion in popularity back to the Moneymaker case of 2003.

The aptly named Chris Moneymaker was a Tennessee accountant who gained access to the WSOP Main Event via an $86 online qualifying tournament.

He went on to shock the world by winning the event, including the $2.5m top prize, while his unexpected victory was broadcast on television. 

“His victory coincided with the spread of online poker, and countless new players logged on, dreaming of big money,” Roeder writes.

Now, 20 years later, Roeder suggests the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has helped contribute to a second wind in the poker world, and another boom helping bring new players into the game.

“The pandemic sapped social interaction and necessary human-to-human contact, friendly and probing and competitive,” Roeder says. “These qualities are found in high doses at the poker table.”

Indeed, the numbers don’t lie, and as this year’s Main Event wraps up, the WSOP can celebrate its best-ever event in terms of attendance.

Roeder also sets out the stories of some key characters helping usher in a new generation of poker players – from superstar Daniel Negreanu to former editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver.

In the end, he concludes, it’s the human touch of playing face-to-face that is now driving the resurgence in poker’s popularity.

The existence of machines capable of superior mathematical reasoning “does not deter us, nor does it diminish our human striving to play this game well,” he writes.

“We still play poker. We even still play chess. We still run foot races despite the existence of cars. We still write despite the existence of chatbots. We row on against the current.”

Row on, new poker enthusiasts. Row on.

Not so free-to-play

The Guardian this week put out a report on the increasingly blurred lines between mobile gambling and so-called free-to-play casual gaming.

It tells the story of Carrie (a pseudonym), who one day found herself writing a suicide note addressed to mobile game developer Zynga.

A recovering gambling addict who had self-excluded from using online casinos, Carrie had found that she could seek out the dopamine hits her addiction previously craved from gambling from another source, namely ‘casual’ games like those created by Zynga.

“Zynga deliberately uses the same techniques that bookmakers do with slot machines to feed people’s addiction and now I find myself addicted with no way out,” she wrote to the company.

Indeed, Carrie is not the only person commenting on the increasingly hazy distinction between online gambling and ‘free-to-play’ games, most of which in fact rely on a ‘freemium’ system which allows players to progress in exchange for cash.

Gambling and casual gaming “are rapidly converging,” The Guardian reports, as tactics for getting punters to part with cash are shared across both industries.

The report outlines several of the “tricks” used by game developers in the free-to-play and real-money sectors, as revealed by the founder and former CEO of game developer Tribeflame, Torulf Jernstrom, in 2016.

Readers are encouraged to access the full article to see quite how far mobile gambling and FTP gaming have converged, and to better understand the impact of that convergence on vulnerable people.

The article also offers projections on the size of the mobile game market, expected to reach over $100bn by 2025, and explores how the companies involved have in many cases imitated gambling firms in their hunt for high-spending ‘whales’.

Free to play? Maybe not so much.

Sportradar has recruited former Zynga finance chief Gerard Griffin as the company’s new chief financial officer (CFO).

Griffin, who boasts more than 25 years of experience in the gaming, media, and technology sectors, will take over from current CFO Ulrich Harmuth effective 9 May, 2023.

Harmuth has occupied the CFO position for the last seven months on an interim basis alongside his primary role as chief strategy officer.

Griffin will be based in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in his new role, where he will be responsible for the company’s accounting, finance and investor relations operations.

He will report directly to Sportradar CEO Carsten Koerl.

Griffin previously held the position of CFO at gaming giant Zynga.

During his tenure at the San Francisco-based mobile specialist, Griffin played a crucial role in improving the company’s revenue, profitability and cash flow.

Prior to joining Zynga, Griffin served as SVP of finance at Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) for more than a decade, where he also led the finance division for EA’s marketing, publishing and studio divisions.

He also worked as CFO for EA International in Geneva, Switzerland, for over six years, while his extensive CV includes stints at NBC Universal, Primedia and KPMG.

“As a highly accomplished CFO with relevant experience across several sectors, we are confident that Gerard will bring discipline and strategic focus as we continue to drive growth and profitability around the world,” said Sportradar CEO Koerl.

Griffin now has less than a month to prepare before Sportradar publishes its Q1 2023 financial results on 10 May.