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CONFIDENCE AND EXPANSION THE KEYNOTES AT I.C.E.

Online Casino News

25 January 2007

Some notable absences, but an upbeat exhibition

The interactive section of the International Casino Exhibition drawing to a close in London today clearly showed the resilience and flexibility of a multi-billion dollar industry that has survived and prospered despite several attempts to cripple or kill it off by vested interests around the world. The recent attempts by American law enforcers to hamstring financial transactions to offshore online casinos notwithstanding, there was an air of confidence and optimism among exhibitors, backed by ambitious practical plans to take up the American slack by expanding into European and Asian markets.

Everywhere the same spirit was in evidence, and the coming months will see real evidence of this as numerous new technological innovations, new games and marketing roll-outs take place.

But before detailing the individual exhibitors, it is appropriate to first report on two important industry events that took place in the I.C.E. timeframe: the unveiling of interesting results from the largest ever global survey of online gamblers, and a round table discussion on responsible gaming which could lead to significant and far-reaching changes for the better in the industry.

InfoPowa has already reported in depth on the main points of the eCOGRA Global Survey on Online Gambling which were released at a well attended press conference at I.C.E. at the beginning of the week. Involving almost 11 000 players in 96 countries across the world and embracing all the main markets, the independent survey was conducted by the research academics at the Nottingham Trent University and as we went to press the results were achieving widespread mainstream media coverage.

Presenting the results of the 6 month research initiative commissioned and funded by the player protection and standards body eCommerce and Online Gambling Regulation and Assurance, Nottingham University psychology specialist Jonathan Parke said that a wide range of respondents in substantial numbers had been accessed through a combination of publicity and open advertising and the oustanding cooperation of leading industry information portals and online gambling sites. Meticulous attention to professional methodology had been practiced, the researcher revealed.

"This was an exceptionally exciting professional research initiative, and the innovative and willing collaboration of all sections of the industry has made a major contribution to its reach and validity," he said before detailing the findings and making the report available.

Industry executives and their staffs are studying the survey closely because new information that will influence strategic and tactical planning emerged in this largest ever online survey sample that focused primarily on what the player thinks and prefers. Full details of the report can be viewed at www.ecogra.org.

The more private Round Table discussion was hosted by Microgaming CEO Roger Raatgever and attended by executives from leading corporate, problem gambling and player protection organisations. The discussion focused on Responsible Gaming, and the exchanges illustrated the very real commitment that top online gambling executives have to expanding the international scope of responsible gambling measures for both moral and professional reasons.

Because a full report on the Round Table and its conclusions and subsequent actions going forward is to be released shortly, InfoPowa can only report that the discussions were both sympathetic and productive, offering the possibility of major educational and common codes of practice initiatives that could have a significant beneficial impact on how the industry deals with this sentive area and how it is perceived in the future.

Back at Earl's Court, the show was going full blast, with the noise, glitz and bright lights of the land gambling side as always dwarfing a nevertheless very creditable turnout in the interactive or Internet gaming section branded ICEi. Disappointing absences of previously high profile exhibitors were RealTime Gaming and (again) Cryptologic, the former having pulled out at the last minute for reasons that have yet to be explained.

Our first stop was at the mobile gambling technology specialists Spin3, a company that is associated with major provider Microgaming for games, and one that has been making the news in a market segment that Juniper Research has recently predicted has a potential of $16 billion in revenues. William Boemsma, the European manager for the company demonstrated the newly launched GameWire MultiLink system - an integration package for the wireless casino system, GameWire.

GameWire MultiLink will allow any enterprise in the eGambling arena to quickly and seamlessly link its existing operation into the GameWire platform and launch a mobile casino offering.

eGambling operators will benefit from GameWire MultiLink's snap-on integration to their existing operations, allowing them to provide their customers with Spin3's mobile casino games, while not disclosing or transferring sensitive information such as player data and payment transactions. eGambling operators not previously associated with the Microgaming network, can now use the GameWire mobile casino system to extend the reach of their services and increase revenues.

Spin3 will have new games on the launchpad soon, too - Mahjong could be one of them - and the company is working on new language options to empower those operators with Asian plans. Work is ongoing on wider payment options, and interesting developments are underway with as yet undisclosed Asian partners. Helping Spin3 deliver quality product are mobile 'phone technology improvements which make handsets better supportive of advanced gaming technologies.

The Boss Media stand had an audience participation gimmick that was attracting as many spectators as the Playboy Bunnies in the main hall land gambling section - an ingenious game from a private supplier branded Mindball. Two contestants face-off against one another wearing brainwave measuring headets, the idea being to move a ball into your opponent's territory.

The staff were too busy dealing with potential clients to play around, however and accounts manager Tove Aldefors briefed us on what's happening at the veteran Swedish turnkey provider, famed for its outstanding graphics.

Launching at I.C.E. is the company's Flash poker, which adds a no-download dimension to the more traditional download suite from this supplier. There are likely to be more games on this instant play platform going forward, we were told. Players can also look forward in the second quarter to a slew of new games with fast, smooth multiplayer action, reward features and great graphics covering a variety of themes.

Watch out for Formula X (a race car themed slot) Fortunes of Egypt with the ancient Egyptian theme much loved by developers, Fireburner which has a devilish cartoon look to it, Lost City a jungle themed slot and a new video poker branded Showdown Poker which looks as if it has a tempting paytable. There's a wheel-spinner slot due, too labelled Money Wheel.

The releases follow three new games launched at the end of December - a slot, a table game and a new Caribbean Stud Poker.

Boss has been busy working on the casino backend system as well, and the new version will have a clever feature that enables marketers to use the extensive data-mining and analysis capablities of the software to identify and make special offers to specific types or categories of regular player. For example, when a player who is in one of the target categories logs on, he or she will immediately be presented with a special promo of free games or spins.

Another interesting facility is called Players Online, which enables players who log in to take an overview of all the multiplayer action ongoing on the premises and decide which, if any player, game or table he or she would like to join.

Boss's IVT technology work continues and the business is growing, we were told.

Readers may remember a show report last year on the GexTech interactive football games, where players can choose their own famous stadia, football club strips and player avatars and compete in a Fantasy League. The pan 'n zoom effects and graphics on this dynamic game are eye-catching to say the least, especially on today's large flatscreen LCD monitors, which the company used to good effect at the show. Managing director David Deprez said that demand is growing for this customisable version of the beautiful game, and GexTech is busy meeting demand from a wider geographical market than Europe by developing stadia and strips from other countries where football is a passion for large numbers of people. Unfortunately, the erratic legal situation pertaining in the United States has discouraged GexTech from entering that market with a truly outstanding product.

The turnkey provider Playtech had a strong presence at I.C.E. and we were shown around by bingo marketing manager Ziv Chen. Typical of the attitude we encountered everywhere, Chen was optimistic about the future of the industry and the ability to rebuild elsewhere the lost American market which his company has abandoned, at least for the present. Playtech are working hard on perfecting their "holistic" strategy whereby all of the different sectors that the company serves, from moble and virtual horseracing to bingo and even land-based kiosk networks are tightly integrated into one, single management interface system with a single account capability for the convenience of players.

Such a system has the advantage of common databasing and cross-marketing for operators. The company's recently announced collaboration with a Mexican land casino (see previous InfoPowa reports) will enable the operator to give clients a free CD featuring the Playtech gambling suite, spreading the commercial possibilities wider. Extensive work on mobile and other technologies is ongoing, with development and marketing centres across a global range of countries engaging a staff of over 350, 80 percent of whom are involved with development. The easy-to-use operational backend touch-screen facility was demonstrated and is impressively fast and precise.

The company now offers products for online casino and poker rooms, live dealer games, virtual horseracing, mobile, skill games and side games with improvements in player-liaison technology and multi-window display among recent innovations. On the live gaming front, the new VIP Baccarat has been adapted from the popular land-based games in Macau, offering interesting game innovations.

Playtech have continuous active market research on the go to define and deliver what the player wants in a suite of over 90 games, said Chen. Just one of the results has been the strengthening of the company's bingo offering and network, Scandinavian expansion and the development both with and without partnerships of skill games. Following the acquisition of Tribeca Tables, the player liquidity on the iPoker Network is markedly up, and new games, interfaces and languages are in production.

Asian players can expect more activity in their region, extending the release of recent new games like the real money pachinko game Dolphin Paradise and the industrys first solo Mahjong games, with Mahjong being a possible future game release. Watch too for a mystery game branded "Stravaganza".

Talking skill games, the Greentube exhibit was small but busy. This Austrian provider offers Backgammon, Gin Rummy, Pool, BlackJack duel, Solitaire and Yatzy Duel to very professional standards, and is introducing a new Bingo product.

Casino Web Cam, the live-dealer-over-the-Internet company headed at one time by now-deceased Adam Anhang had a small and rather low-key presence which was disappointing for a company that once boasted 16 licensees. The stand was understaffed and we were unable to hang around waiting to talk to personnel, but as far as we could see there was nothing new going on.

Inside Gaming, the UK company that specialises in managing single access account online casino and poker rooms for clients using Chartwell Technology software was well represented with personable director Richard Hogg in optimistic mood. The company is currently establishing working relationships with Asian partners and will soon be announcing a significant Asian poker site deal through its new Inside Gaming Asia subsidiary.

Mike Marandino, a top executive at Calgary-based Chartwell Technology was upbeat on a busy stand. Chartwell has been European focused for some time and has therefore been less vulnerable to the loss of the American business than some other online gambling providers. The company has an active new games program which will see the release of 11 new fixed odds game offerings in the second quarter of this year, and a wide range of 10 new slots in quarter 3. Poker fans should look out for the imminent release of a Flash based Texas Hold 'Em to complement the 32 Card Poker launched late last year.

Whilst disappointed in the recent failure of merger talks with fellow Calgary based gaming company Parlay Entertainment, Marandino said that a constructive and friendly dialogue continued between the two companies which had the potential to later develop into something more concrete.

In collaboration with an unidentified third party, Chartwell is developing a Responsible Gaming module for Betfair, which will incorporate ID and age verification at the registration stage and enable players to set wager, time out warning and deposit limits and self-exclude themselves. Look out for company announcements on this commendable initiative within the next two weeks.

A new name at the show was DGN - an online poker network with its antecedents in the Dobrosoft network, which provides the software. Only eight weeks old, the network has offices in Vancouver, Sofia and Costa Rica and is currently working on Java enhancements. Player liquidity on the Curacao based servers is around the 500 player a day mark from 6 main licensees with many affiliate sites. Futurebet is one of the main licensees.

Another online poker name that is being increasingly heard is Cyberarts, which recently signed the popular TonyG and Mansion online poker sites.A friendly and accessible chief marketing officer, David Szetela out of San Francisco gave us the interesting history of the company, which also developes skill games. Founded by two Apple Corporation tech execs who were also professional level poker players, the software was developed over a period of three years and is sold on a one-time licence and no revenue share basis to interested parties. There is no network, but since early 2006 some 6 influential companies have bought the software. The company is expanding the platform, which is adaptable to any game and players could soon see mobile applications and even Mahjong using this innovative software which has stunningly sharp and high quality graphics. There will soon be an important announcement on a big deal with a European interactive poker television network.

The massive online poker network and poker developer Ongame was pulling in the crowds to look over its latest product - a mobile online gaming platform that features revolutionary new anti-collusion measures and a host of compelling player and operator features in an very easy-to-use format. Featuring No Limit Texas Hold 'Em and mobile Blackjack, the new product interfaces seamlessly with the 25 site, 9-million player strong Ongame poker network, and showcases the new poker table layout released only a month ago. Mobile players can both register and deposit directly into the network from the new mobile facility. Ongame execs revealed that the network peaks, and comfortably handles, an incredible 27 000 players simultaneously, and is now bigger than it was when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was enacted last October! With both download and Java instant play the Swedish company, which is owned by Austrian public company Bwin, continues to experience fast growth, especially in Europe. Unfortunately, US players are excluded.

Flying the regulatory jurisdiction flag were strong presences by Alderney, Malta, the Isle of Man and Kahnawake. It was encouraging to see that all four stands were continually busy with interested visitors.

The pleasing new lime and blue Microgaming branding was much in evidence on a large display of this pioneering online gambling company's extensive range of games and gaming platforms, which feature the growing Microgaming Poker and Progressive networks, live dealer technology, mobile operations and every game imaginable. The company has moved into 2007 with the same energetic schedule of at least four new game releases every month that it has maintained throughout 2006, resulting in what must surely be the industry's largest games inventory. There's a launch imminent this week of a new poker site at GUNF.com.

888.com staff were reticent to discuss upcoming attractions because of the company's status in the public markets, where it would be inappropriate for information to be released before it is available to investors and the public at large through official announcements. But it was hinted that new developments on the Pacifiic Poker front could be expected soon.

Across the hall, Golden Palace online casino group was making much of its new Tournament Blackjack deal with Zone4Play. A joint venture company based in the Isle of Man, Gaming Ventures has beenb formed to work through two subsidiaries Get21.com and RNG Ltd to provide this brand of gambling.

Hasu Jani, the sales manager for Northampton-based Betgate showed us around the server-based proprietary software his company has developed as a Betfair partner. The goal is to expand into a white label sportsbetting business with full payment and Support solutions, and the company has experience in the mobile commerce and kiosk sectors.

Swedish turnkey provider Net Entertainment, one of the most reputable companies in the business with an outstanding record of player senstivity, was at I.C.E. in force on an attrractively designed and functional stand. CEO Johan Ohman's assistant, Alexander Vestin escorted us around an impressive array of technology and games development that illustrated an industry's confidence in the future. Definitely worthy of note is the brand new, browser based European Roulette game from the company, which has precision sound effects integrated with the dynamics of the game, and graphics of an exceptionally high quality. Just one of the interesting features is an interactive information panel for the players, which continuously calculates the latest "hot" and "cold" numbers based on the constantly changing game statistics. Players can use the graphic panel to interact directly with the game, making for fast and stratightforward betting. The good news is that there is more to come - Net Entertainment will soon launch a companion French Roulette game.

Other new products from the company include two new scratch games that offer the player a range of scratching tools and a paytable on the reverse of the ticket, branded Star and Hi Roller. On the slots list is a 5 reeler branded Fishy Fortune which has a low win-high frequency cycle that will appeal to smaller bankrolled slots players. Due for release within the next two months are slots with lurid and definitely attention-grabbing graphics titled Legends of Kracow and Voodoo Vibes, both of which are feature rich in bonus rounds. Arabian Nights will feature a community jackpot and plenty of fast action.

The company has come up with a new poker concept which uses the Turkish game of no 2 - 10 or community cards, making for a riskier and more exciting game for the jaded tastes of pokerheads. Another interesting new idea is the inclusion of a free-standing slot on other games. Titled Cash Bomb the insert gives players another option within the gaming window. Net Entertainment clearly has an ambitious eye on the Asian market, too with work on Japanese, Thai, Korean and Chinese language offerings.

Orbis was a disappointment despite its popular Openbet module concept for online gambling, which is reportedly spreading. Disappointing, because for some strange reason only one person (who had returned to the company offices) is allowed to speak to the press despite the exiibition stand being well staffed. The Alderney licensed software on display featured an attractive looking Plum Royale slot, together with Ball Zone and a number of fixed odds games, however noone wasallowed to talk about the Chiswick-based company's plans and new products on the horizon! There was word in the aisles, however that Orbis is about to clinch a deal with the large Australian online gambling operation Lasseters - not confirmed, because there was noone on hand allowed to speak with the media!

Virtual horse racing was in evidence with Golden Race.com and Betsoft.com.

Cantor Gaming was an obvious stop, given their activities in the "on-premises" remote gambling initiative for Las Vegas and Atlantic Casino giant land casinos, and the recent announcement that they are to launch a white label casino in Europe for the Las Vegas Sands Corp - owners of the Venetian. Licensed by Alderney, the software is from EMEI and powers an online gambling operation for FHM men's magazine, which was featured bigtime on the stand. Sales Manager Ian Remmer expects the Venetian launch to take place this (European) summer, and he intimated that another 2 to 3 licensees were in the pipeline and that his company was aggressively going after licensees "anywhere where online gambling is legal" A new version of the software will soon be released which features 12 new slot titles and other new games, a choice of graphics resolution for the player and a mobile capability module to complement the existing mobile offering.The new software iteration will come in standard and light download formats. The company now offers casino and skill games, poker and bingo. It is also actively involved with responsible gaming bodies such as Gamcare.

Calgary based Parlay Entertainment was again on show, and senior executive Peter Trinz revealed that two new bingo games have just been released with a seperate slots game embedded in the bingo screen to keep players busy when things are slow. The company has also launched Bingobets, a facility that enables players to make side bets on an ongoing bingo game.

Not far away, the newly listed Probability plc company was doing brisk business with visitors interested in its mobile offering. The UK company has enjoyed fast and largely trouble free growth and now claims 200 000 registered mobile users for its Bingo, Slots and Roulette games. Over 2 000 different mobiles are supporter by the company, which is licensed in Alderney.

The Partouche Interactive stand was large and well manned, showing off a growing range of interactive and internet products. PI is a new subsidiary of the French land casino company Groupe Partouche, which owns some 55 land operations throughout Europe. The company flew in famous footballer Eric Cantona as their ambassador for the new platform which offers no download Platinum Backgammon using software from the French software developer Que des Jeux. More can be expected from the well backed Partouche Interactive which has been created to "establish a gateway between land-based casinos and communications technology networks" on a global basis.

The company is selling Flash instant multiplay casino games both web and mobile, and web and mobile Backgammon. It is also offering Cash TV, a unique television channel for gaming broadcasts in France on Canal Satellite around-the-clock, and will be producing poker TV programming through Sogimage Productions.

Partouche Interactive was formed under CEO Frederic Vinzia in April last year.

Despite the depredations of American law enforcement officials, I.C.E.i again shows the world that the global online gambling industry is alive, kicking and optimistic in the main. At the many networking gatherings and social dinners the conversation inevitably turned to the US situation and the plight of players who do not want to abandon an Internet pastime that they have grown to enjoy over the past decade.

The bets were that US players will not long be left out in the cold; a $6 billion market is unlikely to be left fallow especially by large and influential American gambling companies looking to expand into the Internet sector.

For I.C.E.i visitors it was an affirmation that the industry continues to develop and innovate in management, marketing and technology, and a strong movement toward responsible gambling commitments was discernible. For Europe and Asia these are exciting times as companies affected by the American legal scenario refocus their resources and energies on those regions.

Online Casino News courtesy of InfoPowa

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