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Neteller waves goodbye to 250 staff

Drops the hammer

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House of Cards Neteller canned 250 employees this week, as the crippling seizure of Neteller funds by the Department of Justice last week continued to impact the company's bottom line.

The DOJ is trying to avoid the mistakes it made in the BetonSports case, where customer funds seem to have vanished into thin air. Of course, with the draconian expansion in asset forfeiture laws in the US in the last twenty years, Neteller's American customers might not end up any better off than Betonsports' American customers.

Fly the gambling skies

Budget UK airline Flybe has followed Ryanair’s lead and jumped into the e-gaming market. Flybe announced an online gaming partnership with PAF, a charitable gaming operator and experienced e-gaming developer, to allow passengers to experience online gaming while booking their flights, car hire, hotels and whatnot on www.flybe.com.

In a release, it notes "the partnership with PAF will see Flybe offering passengers a wide range of games from bingo and keno to casino games such as black jack and roulette, providing customers with a fun and challenging experience while browsing and booking their flights and holiday extras."

Apparently, Flybe went with Finnish group PAF due to the kind of basic, simple layout that requires no software downloads and won’t take up to much time for harried passengers. The new service is also designed to benefit Flybe’s charity of choice - in this case the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A donation of 20 per cent for every play goes to Make-A-Wish, which at least gives the effort a veneer of respectability.

Drip, drip

Antigua has filed yet another complaint with the WTO, this time over repeated leaks by US officials of a confidential preliminary report on the American failures to comply with previous orders to open the American market to online gaming services. The official report is in, but is being kept under wraps until it can be translated and distributed to member states. The USTR violated the gag order covering the case, which led to the Antiguan complaint. What is rumored to be a smashing victory for the little Antigua is scheduled for official release in late March.

Hearts of Darkness

The controversy surrounding online gambling has rattled legal cages around the world in recent years. But Swaziland? In a region not normally considered a hotbed of online gaming activity, the High Court of South Africa has agreed to hear a case involving Piggs Peak online casino, whose servers are located in neighboring Swaziland.

The case originated in 2003, when a subsidiary of Casino Enterprises, Piggs Peak, sought a declaratory judgment from the South African courts that its internet gambling operations in South Africa were legal. Piggs Peak is licensed and regulated by the Swaziland Gambling Board.

The National Gambling Board has threatened to prosecute online casinos, as well as their gamblers and advertisers, but nothing as yet has happened. Parliament seems more concerned with the proliferation of casino games masquerading as video bingo terminals.

The appellate court initially refused to hear the case, on the principle that the case was not ripe - after all, no one had been prosecuted for anything yet. The South African Cabinet is currently considering what's known as the Draft Gambling Amendment Bill to regulate mobile and online gaming. That would transform the case from "not ripe" to moot at the stroke of a pen.

Ich bin ein Bwinner

Germany may be cracking down on Bwin for pushing its way onto German gambling turf, but a German casino is promoting a remote gambling service of its own - live roulette via webcam.

The Casino Wiesbaden in Frankfurt is targeting British online gamblers, presumably because the UK has the strongest regulatory scheme of any major market. Registered players will be able to place stakes on the roulette table via their computer, with authentic wheels and a croupier to boot. Germany may not want internet casinos challenging its own state-run casinos by targeting German citizens, but those same state run casinos apparently want a cut of the online action for themselves. According to Online-casinos.com, Casino Wiesbaden is the sole state-controlled casino offering online roulette, via webcam.

As Thomas Freiherr von Stenglin, the CEO of Casino Wiesbaden, put it, without any apparent irony: "We're very excited to be able to welcome gambling enthusiasts from the United Kingdom via the Internet."

Not quite as over the top as gambling yourself into slavery in dice games, as the Germanic tribes supposedly did in Roman times, but innovative nonetheless.

Q4 reports

Fourth quarter results are rolling in for the big players in the online casino business, and a rebound from the American debacle is clearly underway.

888 Holdings has announced a rise in non-US sales for the fourth quarter of 12 per cent to $40m, with poker up 26 per cent to $18m. Total net gaming revenue for the Gibraltar-based company fell by 39 per cent to $47m, but the upturn on non US business is significant.

"The fears that people had about ongoing costs and recruitment of new players following the closure of the US have largely not materialized," CEO Gigi Levy noted. He also predicted that the seemingly endless foreplay between Ladbrokes and 888 would probably wrap up in the next, oh, couple of months.

Leading gaming software producer CryptoLogic also reported fourth quarter results last week, and it wasn't pretty. Q4 2006 hit many of the online gambling companies hard due to tougher enforcement by the American DOJ, and Cryptologic was no exception, with profits off 70 per cent. Nonetheless, the company for the year posted profits of $24.8m on revenues of $104m. They also ate $1m in relocation costs related to the move of HQ to Ireland.

I’ve had enough, thanks

A spokesman for the Canadian province of Alberta, which already pulls in $1.3bn annually in gaming taxes through regulated video lottery terminals and casinos, has denied that legalized online gaming is next on the list. The government of Alberta is researching the online gambling habits of its residents, leading to speculation that Alberta was going to join the online gambling party.

Hola, amigos

Since skill games are exempted from America's UIGEA(Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act), Skillground.com has decided to step into the breach, offering players the opportunity to play video games head-to0head against other players for fun or money.

No random number generators are used in the video games offered, thereby eliminating the chance element required by the law. This forum for pari-mutuel wagering, which is legal in virtually all states, includes everything from first person shooters to fighting games to racing games. Let the good times roll. ®

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