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bwin.party enters social gaming with $50m investment...

bwin.party digital entertainment has today announced its entry into social gaming with an investment of up to US$50m over the next two years.

A specialist management team led by Barak Rabinowitz has been recruited to spearhead the group’s social gaming strategy, as well as the establishment of a dedicated social games studio in Gibraltar.

The company revealed its strategy of leveraging existing group assets and skills as well as those of partners to deliver long-term value and it hopes to secure a meaningful market position within the next two years.

Jim Ryan and Norbert Teufelberger, co-CEOs of bwin.party, said: “We have chosen a ‘build and partner’ strategy, one that provides us with both the resources and additional management expertise to execute our planned extension into social gaming - an exciting and fast growing area of digital entertainment that is the latest addition to our business strategy.

“Our investment will enable us to launch Win, our dedicated social gaming studio with its own development centre that will increase our speed to market both for social as well as mobile games. Intent on securing a meaningful position in the marketplace, we expect a €5-€10m impact to Clean EBITDA in 2012 and 2013. However, we are excited by the potential of this new market and believe we can deliver attractive returns in the medium term through relatively modest investment, funded from operating cashflow over the next 18 months.”


bwin.party digital - Extension of Group strategy into social gaming...

30 May 2012

bwin.party digital entertainment plc ('bwin.party', the 'Company' or, together with its subsidiaries, 'Group')
Extension of Group strategy into social gaming
Highlights:

· Investment of up to $50m (€40m) over the next two years to fund:
o establishment of a new social games studio called 'Win (Taiwan OTC: 3105.TWO - news) ' with its own dedicated development teams
o development and launch costs of a number of new social gaming applications
o the purchase for up to $23m (€18m) in cash (of which $17.25m (€14m) has already been
paid) of a number of assets from Velasco Services Inc. and Orneon Limited which will
accelerate our market entry and include
§ a number of existing B2B social gaming contracts
§ significant software engineering resources
· Strategy focused on leveraging existing Group assets and skills as well as those of partners to deliver long-term value
· Launch of first applications in Summer 2012
· Commitment to secure meaningful market position expected to result in additional costs of €5-€10m in 2012 and 2013

Introduction

The advent of social gaming has been a spectacular growth story over the past two years. Over this period revenue models have evolved extensively so that what previously was an interesting internet phenomenon has become a large commercial marketplace, one that now is worth billions of dollars each year. Whilst being very different in many ways to real money gaming on the internet and through digital channels, several of the assets and skills required for success in the social gaming world are the same as those required by successful companies in the real money gaming market:

· Proprietary gaming content
· Excellent CRM and business analytics
· Online marketing expertise
· Partnerships with leading brands

With many of these and other assets already in place within the Group, we are keen to leverage them into this exciting new market and so have launched a new social gaming business unit and strategy with its own dedicated management team and infrastructure. Called 'Win', the new unit is based in Gibraltar and will draw on resources across the Group's locations to identify and develop new opportunities in social gaming.


Management team

A specialist management team led by Barak Rabinowitz has been recruited to spearhead our social gaming strategy and the establishment of a dedicated social games studio. Having studied at Georgetown University as well as the London School of Economics, Mr Rabinowitz spent three years working in the Mergers ∓ Acquisitions and Global Technology Groups at Morgan Stanley (EUREX: DWDF.EX - news) before joining Yahoo (NasdaqGS: YHOO - news) ! in 2006. Following an MBA at Harvard Business School, Mr Rabinowitz was engaged in social gaming start-ups before being appointed CEO of Mytopia where he was instrumental in growing revenue and has extensive experience in the management and development of social gaming companies.

Alex Usach will lead a new technology development unit dedicated to social games development. He has over 20 years of management experience in software development having qualified with a Ph.D Degree in Computer Science from Vinnitsya Polytechnic University. Previously Mr Usach led Eastern European branches of Flextronics International (until 2006) and more recently of Aricent Group, a software services company owned by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. Mr Usach is known to a number of the world's leading gaming companies as a partner in developing new content for both real money and social games.
Dan Matkowski, is lead Game Producer. Previously Mr Matkowski was a leading games producer with Electronic Arts (NasdaqGS: ERTS - news) , the US interactive entertainment software company and has extensive games production experience across multiple platforms, developing products through the concept and discovery/ prototyping, pre-production, production and finalising phases.

Tilli Kalisky is Head of Publishing. Previously Associate Partner with Greylock Partners, a leading US Venture Capital firm, Mrs Kalisky is a graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Sloan School of Management and has extensive experience of working with a number of social media companies including mysupermarket, PLYmedia and VocalTec

Dennis Hettema is in charge of prototype development. Previously co-founder and head of incubator at Hettema ∓ Bergsten, a social gaming applications company, Mr Hettema developed the Group's Aces Hangout application that is now running on Google (NasdaqGS: GOOG - news) +.

Investment in development resources

Including the acquisition of assets announced today, the Group is investing approximately $50m (€40m) from existing resources over the next two years to become a major force in the rapidly growing social gaming market. As a first step, we have secured significant development resources by contracting with software developers and engineers experienced in delivering social gaming solutions across all key technologies including HTML5, iOS and Android.

Based in Eastern Europe and operating now as part of our Win Interactive subsidiary, the team has extensive experience having been behind the development of highly successful social gaming applications and platforms including Slotomania, now part of Caesars Interactive Entertainment, and Casmul, that was acquired by Playphone, bwin.party intends to launch a variety of social gaming products on the web, mobile and social networks.

As well as securing significant development resources, the Group has assumed certain B2B service contracts under which Win Interactive will continue to provide a range of social gaming and related services to third party gaming companies whilst also developing proprietary applications for the Group.


Social gaming strategy

We believe that we can establish a competitive advantage in social gaming built on the following four pillars:
· Experienced management team and proprietary gaming platform
· Portfolio of new applications online and on smartphone platforms
· Original IP in the creation and distribution of social gaming content
· Best of breed partnerships with leading independent game studios
Leveraging the Group's existing assets and skills including, inter alia, our extensive library of proprietary games content and experience in customer acquisition and analytics, we have a plan in place to reach the following milestones over the next twenty-four months:
· Establishment of a dedicated social gaming unit, Win
· Development of dedicated social gaming technology platform
· Release of social sports betting, casino, poker and bingo applications
· Launch of a new social gaming destination portal called www.win.com

Drawing upon the Group's extensive games portfolio as well as through the development of new content, Win will operate on a 'freemium' business model based on the sale of virtual credits for users to play and advance in the games, as well as to purchase virtual gifts and other consumables. Win may also seek to exploit advertising opportunities that can provide additional revenue through offers, banners and search.

Mobile is an important channel for social gaming and by drawing on the experience of our newly engaged developers, many of whom were integral to the development of an application platform for operating multiplayer-social games and gaming networks on iOS and Android devices, the Group intends to launch games using this important medium.

Commenting on today's announcement, Jim Ryan and Norbert Teufelberger, the Co-CEOs of bwin.party, said:
"We have chosen a 'build and partner' strategy, one that provides us with both the resources and additional management expertise to execute our planned extension into social gaming - an exciting and fast growing area of digital entertainment that is the latest addition to our business strategy. We are focused on building a meaningful stand-alone enterprise that will operate outside our core real money gaming business but which will benefit from the Group's significant resources and assets. Our investment will enable us to launch Win, our dedicated social gaming studio with its own development centre that will increase our speed to market both for social as well as mobile games. Intent on securing a meaningful position in the marketplace, we expect a €5-€10m impact to Clean EBITDA in 2012 and 2013. However, we are excited by the potential of this new market and believe we can deliver attractive returns in the medium term through relatively modest investment, funded from operating cashflow over the next 18 months."

Video interview and analyst presentation - 30 May 2012

An interview with Norbert Teufelberger and Barak Rabinowitz, in video/audio and text will be available from 7.00am BST on 30 May 2012 on: www.bwinparty.com.

The Group will also give a presentation on the Group's entry into the social gaming market to invited analysts in London at 11.00 a.m. BST on 30 May 2012. The presentation will be made available via a live webcast that can be accessed through the Group's website: www.bwinparty.com. Copies of the slides presented at the meeting will also be made available on 30 May 2012 and a telephone audio stream of the presentation will also be available using the following details:

Dial-In No: +44 (0)20 3003 2666
Replay (available for 1 week): +44 (0)20 8196 1998
Replay passcode: 6419292


Australian online poker gets boost from report...

Australian gambling service providers have welcomed the recommendations of a review into the Interactive Gambling Act which could usher in online poker tournaments and online in-the-run betting.

Josh Blanksby, director, legal and corporate affairs at Betfair, told Computerworld Australia that promoting online poker tournaments in Australia is a step in the right direction. He said overseas operators already offer these services to Australian consumers and operate in an unregulated environment.

“There’s clearly a demand for it and we’re of the view that if possible they should be betting with Australian operators where it’s much safer and controlled,” Blanksby said.

While Betfair does not currently offer online poker services to its Australian customers, Blanksby said it would look into the opportunity because of consumer demand for the services.

“We’ve got technology available to us to offer those services in the jurisdictions that it’s permitted through Europe and a few other jurisdictions. Obviously, if the licenses became available we’d certainly look at it,” he said.

In its submission (PDF) to the committee, Betfair also proposed legalising online in-the-run betting, which would allow users to place bets while a game is in progress.

While it is currently legal for in-the-run betting to occur over the phone or in person, it is prohibited the online.

The review has recommended any form of in-the-run betting, on any platform, should be allowed if it is approved by the relevant state regulator and the national sports governing body. However, micro-betting, such as play-by-play betting, should still be prohibited, the report said.

Blanksby has welcomed the lifting of the prohibition on online in-the-run betting and said the law was created in 2001 but technology and the way customers interact with the internet changed changed.

“It just didn’t make sense for one platform not to be allowed while others are,” he said.

The Review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 found there could be as many as 2200 gambling services which are unlicensed and breach the IGA, with an estimated $1 billion being lost per year to unlicensed online gambling providers.

The review is now up for public consultation, which will close on 25 June.

“This is an interim report only. The government has made no decisions about possible changes to the IGA and will not do so until we have had further public consultation with interested parties,” Senator Stephen Conroy, minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy, said in a statement.


Abbott comes out against online gambling...

The federal coalition has declared it will oppose any moves to open up online gambling.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says he's not against gambling overall, but he is against more online gambling options, particularly those that might target young people.

"If it goes ahead, every computer is a casino," he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday as he joined independent senator Nick Xenophon to discuss the issue.

"That's not on as far as the coalition is concerned."

Communications and Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy earlier this week released a departmental interim report into the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA).

The report suggests 30 changes to act, including measures to ban micro-betting on sporting events, such as ball-by-ball bets in cricket or point-by-point bets in tennis, across all platforms.

But Senator Xenophon says the underlying reasoning of the report - that new forms of online gambling should be legalised because Australians were using illegal overseas sites - is flawed.

Senator Xenophon told reporters that the government had changed its tune on online gambling, since Senator Conroy said almost two years ago that the risks of opening it up in Australia were too great.

"That raises some serious questions - is the federal government looking at online gambling as their next big revenue source?" Senator Xenophon said.

The Commonwealth had been the "last best hope" for gambling reform because it did not rely on gambling revenue, unlike the states.

"Tony Abbott is absolutely right - if you open this up you will unleash a new tidal wave of problem gambling, particularly amongst younger Australians."

Senator Xenophon said if the government was concerned about Australians spending money on overseas-based online gambling it should blacklist the websites and crack down on the financial transactions.

Anti-gambling campaigner Tim Costello said in a statement, read by Senator Xenophon at the media conference, that online gambling was a "predatory product". (AAP)


Playtech and Virgin Games partner...

Virgin Games has further enhanced its offering by partnering with online gaming software provider Playtech.

Virgin Games has established a direct integration with Playtech, giving its customers access to a large variety of online slot games that will be launched over the coming months. The first game to be launched is Rocky, a five-reel, 25-payline slot based on the MGM film of the same title.

This integration “reinforces” Virgin Games’ strategy to bring its customers a wider choice of game content.

Simon Burridge, CEO of Virgin Games, said: “Our goal is to provide our customers with the widest range of top tier entertainment through online casino games. We believe that it is key to offer both variety and choice so it is crucial to us that we offer a range of games from a number of the best of breed software providers.

“Since the launch of our custom built platform back in 2008, we have introduced a wide range of new gaming content to our sites and Virgin Games now has one of the widest ranges of casino and slot games available in the UK, hosting over 350 games. The addition of Playtech, a leader in its field, is a big step forward for Virgin Games customers and we look forward to launching its games with a range of promotions over the coming months.”


James Packer to face fight on Star casino takeover...

Star casino chairman John Story has vowed to fight James Packer's move to have him kicked off the board and replaced by former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, declaring he has the full support of his directors.

Asked if he was considering stepping aside from his role with The Star's parent company Echo after Mr Packer called an extraordinary general meeting of shareholders, he said: "Of course I'm not."

Asked if he had the full support of the board, Mr Story replied: "Yes."

A statement from the board supporting Mr Story is expected today.

The EGM called by Mr Packer must be held by the end of July. It comes amid moves by Mr Packer to take over The Star and build a second casino as part of a luxury hotel development at Barangaroo.

At this stage it appears Mr Packer's bid to install Mr Kennett will be unsuccessful but he will continue to press Mr Kennett forward if regulatory authorities allow him to lift his 9.9 per cent stake in Echo.

Mr Story has made clear that if Mr Packer wants to take over the casino and win board positions, he should pay a "premium" for it.

But Mr Packer's company Crown claims he has already artificially inflated the share price by lifting his stake from five per cent.

Premier Barry O'Farrell gave Mr Kennett support yesterday, saying he would be a very "capable" chairman.

Mr Packer's bid to increase his stake in Echo may face significant regulatory hurdles, with the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority to send casino inspectors to Macau to investigate Mr Packer's businesses there amid controversy over his dealings with the Ho family.

The approval process could take six months.

Mr Packer's business partner in Macau is Lawrence Ho, son of Stanley Ho, who has been linked to Macau triads in reports by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Mr Ho denies the allegations and Lawrence Ho denies any connection with his father's business interests.

Crown sources pointed out yesterday that Mr Packer had won regulatory approval in Perth, Melbourne and the "strictest" regime in the world - Nevada.

sIt is understood the Packer Barangaroo hotel proposal presented to the Premier in a meeting in March in the Premier's office involves the completion of a six star luxury hotel development at Barangaroo in 2018.

That would be built just one year before the one-casino licence for NSW runs out.

Crown and Lend Lease have been having discussions about building the hotel at Barangaroo south.

Asked for his opinion of Mr Packer's boardroom moves, Mr O'Farrell said yesterday: "I'm not a shareholder, I don't have to make anything of them.

"Jeff Kennett is certainly someone who is more than capable of being a chairman of a public company, and as I've said on the record before, I welcome investment in NSW, but anyone who invests in NSW has to meet the usual regulatory and planning approval."

But even if Mr Packer wins a takeover of the Sydney casino, it will never be as big as Crown in Melbourne.

There is a clause in the Victorian casino agreement which stipulates Mr Packer would not be able to build The Star as big as Crown (News Limited)


Packer casino bid to give Kennett a Star role...

Billionaire James Packer will ask Echo Entertainment shareholders to dump the head of Sydney's The Star casino in favour of former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett.

Mr Packer, who is chairman of Melbourne's Crown Casino, has called for the chairman of Star operator Echo Entertainment, John Story, to be stood down over the company's management of the casino and handling of a recent public inquiry into its operations.

Mr Packer has written a letter to Echo shareholders calling for an extraordinary general meeting to remove Mr Story and install Mr Kennett to the board.

Mr Packer is an Echo shareholder and it is believed the move is part of his plan to pressure the New South Wales Government to approve a second casino on Sydney Harbour.

The Government had said it would not comment, because Mr Packer's application to build the casino in the massive Barangaroo development is before the state's Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority.

But Premier Barry O'Farrell later insisted Mr Kennett's involvement would have no impact on any decision to allow a second casino.

"Jeff Kennett is certainly someone who is more than capable of being a chairman of a public company and, as I've said on the record before, I welcome investment in New South Wales," Mr O'Farrell said.

"But anyone who invests in New South Wales has to meet the usual regulatory and planning approvals."

Anti-gambling campaigner and independent Senator Nick Xenophon says he is disappointed to hear of Mr Kennett's involvement.

"What I find curious is that Jeff Kennett, through his terrific advocacy and terrific work for Beyond Blue, an organisation that has helped so many Australians battle depression; I think there is some irony in the fact, if he takes on this role at The Star casino, there is a clear link between problem gambling and depression," Senator Xenophon said.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu says he is surprised to hear of the potential new role for his predecessor, but Mr Kennett would be a valuable asset.

"Obviously there's a downside of gaming and gambling. I think if anybody is aware of that Jeffrey is aware of it, but there are also other components to what I understand is going to happen at Barangaroo," Mr Baillieu said.

The inquiry into The Star by the gaming authority reported back earlier this month.

The authority found the casino acted appropriately over sexual harassment claims against its former managing director, Sid Vaikunta.

The report said Echo promptly and thoroughly investigated the allegations and it was appropriate they sack him.


Tabcorp responds to Gambling Act review findings...

Australia’s Tabcorp has responded to the interim report released by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, following its review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

The operator has been a long-time advocate of a review of the act, but believes that the growth of online technologies has meant that it is not fulfilling its intended purposes since it was first introduced 11 years ago.

The company stated: "Specifically, a number of gambling operators offer online services to Australian customers in contravention of the act, without consequence.”

Tabcorp has reiterated its support for an online gambling framework that creates a level playing field for wagering operators, minimises harm and maintains consumer confidence in the gambling industry.

In response to the interim report’s findings:

• Tabcorp supports efforts to strengthen sanctions against illegal online gambling operators, including the provision of more forceful warnings to consumers. To succeed, these measures will require vigilance by authorities, resourcing from government and regular review to keep pace with technological change. The measures proposed should go some way to ensuring that contravening operators are more likely to comply with the act’s requirements and are sanctioned when they are breached.

• The deregulation of certain online gambling activities, such as live betting on sports events and tournament poker, would enable Australians who wish to participate in such activities to bet with reputable Australian operators, rather than force them to bet with contravening offshore or local operators.

• Tabcorp supports the development of national minimum standards for harm minimisation. This would create a framework for the appropriate delivery of online gambling, noting the differences for customer care between online and land-based gambling activity. Standards should address responsible gambling messaging, credit betting, inducements, marketing, self-exclusion and requirements for arrangements with sports controlling bodies. Tabcorp has been critical of the inconsistent approach to responsible gambling messages, pre-commitment tools and credit betting policies, which currently apply across the country. (Intergame Online)


News Ltd moving into MMOs and online fantasy games...

News Limited wants to begin charging for massively multiplayer online (MMO) sporting games

News Limited has flagged that it is to make a push into massively multiplayer online (MMO) games and ‘online fantasy games’ as part of an effort to capture a slice of the growing online gaming market.

In its submission to the Federal Government’s Interactive Gambling Act 2001 review, the company argued for a clarification of the ‘interactive gambling’ term to allow it to begin charging users to play.

The company already offers online fantasy sports games in which users can construct sports ‘dream teams’ but these are run as “free to enter trade promotion lotteries" in order to remain compliant under Interactive Gambling Act 2001 and various state legislations. However, News Limited argues that the nature and scope of the competitions are not akin to gambling services, and hence should not fall under the Act.

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According to the submission, the fee charged for entry would be based on a “relatively small fixed annual payment” in return for News administering and providing the gaming service.

“There would be no continual investment from the participants as is required to play poker machines, online poker or sports betting where there is always a chance to take or event to bet on,” the submission reads.

“This scenario differs markedly from the issue of problem gambling which is what the Act was designed to control by limiting the provision of gambling services to Australians through interactive technologies such as the internet.”

In clarifying the Act’s definition of an interactive gambling service to allow the company to charge for its online games and “allow News Limited to adequately compete in what is becoming a largely international market in terms of interactive online games.”

Detailing its plans for massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, News said it intended to allow users to take their dream sports teams and allow them to compete against other players online.

“Entry to the MMOs would be free with participants at a later stage being afforded the non-mandatory opportunity to purchase better skills to improve performance,” the submission reads.

According to the submission, with each user win the difficulty of the game increases, thus increasing the need for users to purchase new players, skills, coaches, and equipment via ‘cards’.

“The upper limit to the number of cards one player can purchase ensure that the games requires a fixed payment which would not be comparable to regular and continual monetary injections required to play online poker or wagering on sporting events,” the submission reads.

News’ submission follows those made by a number of online gaming companies. In its submission Sportsbet called for a relaxation in the Interactive Gambling Act to allow it to compete with offshore companies.

In its submission Internet Industry Association (IIA) called on the government not to make internet service providers responsible for regulating online problem gambling.


Crown Casino To Host World Series of Poker in 2013...

James Packer's Crown Casino has announced an exciting partnership with the worlds largest poker brand, the World Series Of Poker. Set to take place at Crown Casino in Melbourne from April 4-15 2013, the World Series of poker Asia-Pacific (WSOP APAC) is a huge expansion into the world's largest gaming market.

WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart said, “Our goal is to establish the worldwide grand slam of poker and use our platform to elevate the game through a series of major championships,”
“With WSOP Las Vegas growing annually and WSOP Europe poised for long-term success after five years, the time is right to turn our attention to the dynamic poker scene in Asia and Australia. Given Crown’s success with the ‘Aussie Millions Poker Championship’, we couldn’t ask for a better partner than Crown to establish the Asia-Pacific’s definitive poker festival.”

Crown Casino in Melbourne already is the home to the world's largest tournament series outside of the World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas with the Aussie Millions series each January attracting the worlds premier players. Crown Melbourne's CEO Greg Hawkins said, “This exciting partnership brings together two industry leaders, and two strong brands, to create a premier poker event in this region”.

“Our agreement firmly aligns with our objective of attracting the very best local and international players, all vying for a coveted WSOP bracelet. We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved with the Aussie Millions and look forward to featuring WSOP Asia Pacific on our poker calendar in April 2013.”

The WSOP brand is one of the worlds most iconic and every poker player in the world dreams of one day being the proud owner of coveted WSOP Bracelet. The WSOP brand is 42-years old and in 2007 it expanded beyond the USA with the launch of the WSOP Europe in London (2007-2010) and subsequently into France (2011). The WSOP APAC is set to tap into the tremendous growth of peer-2-peer gaming in this region.

As part of the agreement with the WSOP, the WSOP APAC events are expected to be televised globally across ESPN. Fox Sports, as seen on Foxtel, already broadcasts games from competitor, World Poker Tour (owned by Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment).

One man who is no stranger to ESPN and the WSOP is Australian local sporting hero, Joe Hachem. Way back in 2005 Joe won the most prestigious poker event in the world, the World Series Of Poker Main Event.

“It’s thrilling to think the World Series of Poker is coming to Australian soil,” said Joe Hachem. “I know first-hand what a life-changing moment winning the WSOP gold bracelet was and how it served as a catalyst for the growth of poker in Australia and Asia. It will be a dream come true to host a worldwide poker event such as this at Crown. I can’t wait.”

The full WSOP APAC schedule is set to be released later this year.


Marvel Entertainment - The Avengers Boosting Marvel Slots Popularity; Media Agency...

The box office success of Marvel Entertainment comic book based movie 'The Avengers', is boosting the popularity of Marvel slot games across internet networks, the Media Man agency has reported.

A Media Man spokesperson said "Marvel themed games have been popular ever since they were first released, but the success of Marvel Entertainment movies such as Thor, Captain America and The Avengers has at least doubled their popularity according to our data. A new rumoured Hulk movie or TV series, and the upcoming release of The Wolverine movie, staring Australia's own Hugh Jackman, will only further spike online game popularity."

Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment has licensed the Marvel deal, and the games can be found at Hitwise top ten website portals such as Media Man, which has a b2b in place with Bwin.Party and PartyCasino.

More Marvel Entertainment games are in the works and the Media Man agency will be providing detailed reviews on the games as more information comes to hand.

Gamers and gamblers, as always - bet with your head, not over it, and have fun.

Marvel Entertainment movie game fans and true believers...there's only one thing to say - Excelsior!


Chris Hemsworth Catches Self From Fame, Calls Hollywood Rise Amazing...

Chris Hemsworth is literally lording over cinema lobbies recently. His arresting larger-than-life posters and stand-ins are displayed as Thor in “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “The Cabin in the Woods” and forthcoming film “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

“[Fame is] absolutely [surreal] I catch myself and I think ‘oh my God.’ I’ve been in the business 11, 12 years and now I’m doing exactly what I dreamed of. It’s funny because when you are right in the eye of the storm you don’t realize it. Then suddenly you catch yourself and go ‘wow, this is amazing.’”

Hemsworth spends most of the awesome Hollywood time going through the motion without really realizing how huge his year has been since he starred in “Thor.” But he gets reminded of the feat through family.

“What’s most enjoyable is when my parents come and visit and I’m able to see it through their eyes. That’s so great. They are blown away every time they come to a set to visit. And it’s lovely going to premieres with them. We all just have a laugh about it.”

For the actor, it seems just yesterday when he came to LA from Australia and struggled to find acting gigs. But looking back now, “I’d had a good year of doing nothing and I was about to go home when these things started happening. I worked with Kenneth Branagh, Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman in ‘Thor.’ These are great professionals who I respect enormously and they are such a good bunch of people, too. Then I jumped into ‘The Avengers’ with another amazing cast and from that to ‘Snow White and the Huntsman.’ It’s been incredible. Next I’ll be working with Ron Howard on ‘Rush.’”

A family man off-camera, Hemsworth’s family life is also in the upswing. Happily married to actress Elsa Pataky and a new father to a baby girl born May 14, Hemsworth is one rare example that some people can have it all.

“I am very excited (about fatherhood). As a kid, my parents travelled up to the Northern Territory and all over Australia. I look forward to doing that kind of thing with my family. So becoming a father is another exciting journey for me.”

Playing A Drunk Huntsman

The 28-year-old actor only gets to visit the dark side when filming. In “Snow White and the Huntsman,” the actor stars opposite Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. “It’s certainly more the Grimm’s fairytale version of Snow White than the Disney version that we know from the cartoons. ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ is epic in every way. The scale of the picture is huge. For example, we were shooting 150 people on horseback riding down the beach to storm the Queen’s castle, a fantastic scene we shot down in Wales. I’ve never seen anything this size. And the sets were incredible. They built castles and courtyards and villages one after another.”

He likened the production to the epic battle scenes of “Lord of the Rings” and “Gladiator.” “It’s a sort of on the scale of a ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Gladiator’ film. What was great for me was Rupert Sanders’ (director) vision for the film and the fact that there are fully developed characters. There’s nothing black and white about it. Even the Queen has great motivation for doing what she is doing. She is not just evil for the sake of being evil. Snow White, too, has her own conflicts. The Huntsman, who I play, is a real lost soul and has sort of given up on the world and then sees a bit of light in Snow White. She sees it in him, too, and all of a sudden he is forced to re-think things and find who he really is. It’s a very redemptive story for my character. There are some beautiful character arcs.”

In “Huntsman,” the dwarves are played by Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins among others. “The dwarves are amazing. To work with those guys and actually to sit off set and listen to Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins chatting away to each other, telling stories, all their banter, was such a treat. What they add to the film is just brilliant. It’s one of my favourite things about the film,” said Hemsworth.

As the Huntsman, Hemsworth said he was “hired as a bit of a mercenary. He’s a drunk and he puts himself into situations where he doesn’t really care what’s going to happen. And he’s doesn’t have much of a choice about whether he will go and capture Snow White. He is kind of forced into it but at the same time he is offered something that The Queen promises. So he weighs his options and agrees to do it. By the time he meets Snow White and captures her, his conscience starts to play into it and he starts to see the light that Snow White has. He begins to question what he is doing.”

As far as Hollywood’s current obsession with fairy tales goes, Hemsworth said it has a lot to do with the stories being familiar to viewers. “I think it’s because fairy tales are familiar to people. These stories have survived so long so obviously there is something enjoyable about them. It can be tough sometimes to get people into the cinema so when you have a film of this scale, with all of the special effects, people want to see it on the big screen.”


Hugh Jackman tweets Wolverine sequel start date...

Uncross those adamantium claws because The Wolverine could go into production in Sydney as soon as August, according to a tweet from Hugh Jackman.

In a reply to a fan who tweeted him about when his Wolverine sequel would start filming, Jackman replied: "(it) starts shooting in August!!!"

The Aussie star, who is currently filming Les Miserables with Russell Crowe, will take a two month break before filming begins so he can bulk up his famous frame for The Wolverine.

The news was announced last month that the state and federal government had secured a deal with 20th Century Fox to have the film shoot locally, bringing some 2000 jobs to Sydney.

It was a welcome relief for fans of Jackman's portrayal of comic book hero Wolverine.

The sequel to X-Men spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine has experienced no shortage of trouble in its pre-production stages, with a 2011 start date in Japan having to be canceled after the tsunami.

Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky was attached to the project, before dropping out and being replaced by James Manogold (Walk The Line, Girl, Interrupted).

Jackman says he's looking forward to working with Manogold, who directed him on rom-com Kate and Leopold.

"He’ a great director and he’s very smart.

"I know he’s going to make an amazing film and this is the best script we’ve ever had.” (News Limited)

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The gambler who hasn't made the list - yet; A serious man; When the crowd funds a flop, what next?

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The gambler who hasn't made the list - yet - 24th May 2012


An honorarble mention in this year’s Rich 200 must go to David Walsh. While his estimated wealth falls short of the $210 million cut-off in this year’s ranking, the Taswegian stands out this year for his ability to make Australians feel uneasy.

It’s not just the contents of his Museum of Old and New Art (Mona), perched on the banks of the Derwent River just outside Hobart, with its excrement-producing Cloaca exhibit, display of human ashes and artist Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary depicting the mother of Jesus surrounded by female genitalia and including elephant dung that will discomfort some.

It is the fact that in a year when arguments about gambling reforms have drawn vicious lobbying from the pubs and clubs industry and threatened to bring the machinery of parliament to a halt and when there’s growing concern about gambling generally that Walsh has so overtly used a fortune accrued from wagering to build a temple to art – celebrated by many of the same people who decry gambling.

In fact, the country’s largest private museum, which opened early last year, has contemporary Australian art fans salivating. Its contents include Sidney Nolan’s Snake, a 46-metre-long, nine-metre-high collation of 1620 different painted panels, and works by Brett Whiteley, Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman and Russell Drysdale. Mona also treads solidly into ancient territory with the mummy and coffin of Pausiris and a cast bronze votive figure of Isis and the Infant Horus, from 600-300BC.

The public loves it. Mona drew more than 330,000 visitors last year – almost half from outside Tasmania. The collection is doing great things for tourism to the Apple Isle and for Australia as a whole.

“The only time I can think of in recent history that [we had] something this big, audacious, generous and gifted was probably in America,” Edinburgh Festival director Jonathan Mills gushed last year. “It’s the Getty, the Guggenheim, it’s on that level.”

And yet, revelations that Walsh’s $175 million project was funded in part by his friend and fellow gambler Zeljko Ranogajec, whose gambling syndicate makes money out of the rebates that totalisers give in exchange for placing large bets – reducing the pool of winnings for ordinary punters placing smaller bets – only adds to the unease.

It’s no doubt a contradiction the private Walsh enjoys. If he were a miner or industrialist, his generosity would be unambiguously celebrated. That’s the sort of background Australia has come to expect of its arts patrons. Still, taking from the poor and giving to middle-class causes is something state-owned lotteries have always done. Walsh could argue he is doing the redistribution more directly, by cutting out the need for a lot of grant applications. Or he might not.

“I invent a gambling system,” Walsh writes in the introduction to his book Monanisms. “Make a money mine. Turns out it ain’t so great getting rich using someone else’s idea. Particularly before he had it. What to do? Better build a museum; make myself famous. That will get the chicks.”

The extent of Walsh’s own fortune is unclear. He has a collection of properties in and around Hobart, one of which he co-owns with Ranogajec, along with the premium Moorilla Estate winery and vineyard and Moo Brew brewery.

It remains to be seen how Walsh views his own cash flow. Is Mona, with its stated $100 million worth of artworks, simply vanity spending? Is Walsh a patron in the traditional sense or should this be seen as an initial investment into a new realm of money-making ventures?

Features of the museum, with its iPod-based self-guide system, which explains exhibits while simultaneously collecting useful data for curators on what visitors are viewing and the length of time they spend at each artwork, along with a bar in the museum selling Moo Brew beers and Moorilla wines lend themselves to replication. A side project is the 10-day Mona Foma (Festival of music and art), which this year ran for the fourth time.

It may all be just another investment. The 50-year-old Walsh has already said in interviews he intends to exploit his high-profile attraction.

“I want to use Mona as a marketing tool to drive some products that I hope will make some serious money.” (Fairfax Media)


A serious man - 28th May 2012...




Tom Waterhouse just lost $400,000. It's 2.25pm on a Saturday in Melbourne and Waterhouse is working, with 20 of his staff, in his weekend "office", a gloomy bunker at Moonee Valley Racecourse. The course itself is a ghost town - there are no races here today - but the bunker, a low-ceilinged and exceedingly unglamorous space, is animated by the kind of urgency you see in a termite colony that has just been kicked. There are lots of computers, screens, mobiles, TVs tuned to six race meetings, and young guys with fashionable facial hair - Waterhouse's "wagering officers" - who yell out stuff like "The eight in Sydney to win $5000" or "$4000 each way on Top Fluc One!"

At the centre, meanwhile, is Waterhouse, standing at a high table, sucking on a vitamin C tablet. He is dressed in a dark-blue suit and mint-green tie. His eyes are blue, his skin pale, his teeth ruler straight and pearly white. On the table before him are four computer screens and 10 mobile phones, the numbers of which are known only to VIP clients, 100 "high net worth individuals" whose minimum bet is $1000. He won't tell me their names or, in fact, anything about them, except that all but one are men.

The first thing you notice about Waterhouse is that he is the exact opposite of what you expect. He doesn't drink alcohol or coffee, nor does he smoke or swear. Instead, he says "Oh, gosh". He is distractingly, almost distressingly polite: "When I first met him he was so nice I thought he was taking the piss," his marketing manager, Warren Hebard, tells me. Above all, he does not get ruffled. Getting ruffled would indicate either a lack of control, which he has in spades, or a surfeit of emotion, which he hasn't. And yet, like his mega-risk-taking grandfather, Bill, Waterhouse is known for taking on the biggest punters, for winning and losing bathtubs full of money in the course of an afternoon. In 2008, he lost $1.175 million in 10 minutes, only to make it all back by sundown. Not long after, he lost a further $2 million (for good, this time). When, this afternoon, it becomes apparent that he has just done $400,000 on one race, he issues only the slightest wince, pops another vitamin C and returns to his screens.

Waterhouse, who turns 30 this June, is the managing director of www.tomwaterhouse.com, one of Australia's largest corporate bookmakers. The company, which has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin, offers odds on not only thoroughbreds, harness racing and greyhounds but also on rugby league and rugby union, cricket, tennis, Australian rules and, as Hebard puts it, "every other sport you can think of, from Swedish handball to two flies crawling up a wall".

Waterhouse makes the most of his family name, which has been intimately associated with bookmaking and horse racing for 112 years. (His father, Robbie, still works as a bookie; his mother, Gai, is a celebrated trainer.) But his real business is in creating as many markets as possible for punters to wager on: Waterhouse now offers odds on everything from who will win Dancing with the Stars and the Miles Franklin Literary Award to the final sale price of painter Edvard Munch's masterpiece, The Scream. "As long as it meets my licensing conditions and it passes the smell test, meaning it's not too weird, I will bet on anything," he says.

Perhaps more than any other bookie, Waterhouse embodies the changes that have recently transformed Australian gaming. Ever since the easing, in 2008, of regulations governing cross-border betting and gambling advertisements, overseas and domestic bookmakers have been battling each other for a piece of the local market, where punters wager more than $20 billion a year. Corporate bookmakers such as the foreign-owned SportingBet and SportsBet barrelled in, going toe to toe with on-course operators, including Waterhouse, who had been working "on the rails" since 2003, building his VIP business under the tutelage of father Robbie and grandfather Bill. By 2008, Tom was Australia's biggest on-track bookie; at the Melbourne Cup that year, he held more than $20 million over four days, more than all the other bookies combined.

But there is only one Melbourne Cup a year. Thanks to the advent of pay TV and online gambling, normal race-day attendances plummeted throughout the 2000s. "I haven't been to the races in three years," Waterhouse says. "It's dead. At the same time, I realised people still want to have a punt, they just wanted to do it from their couch or on their iPhone."

And so, in 2010, Waterhouse launched his online business, which he promoted in a multi-million-dollar campaign of free-to-air, print and online advertisements, including paying $70,000 to have his face plastered on a Melbourne tram. The company now has 80,000 clients, boosted by the purchase last year of the databases of two corporate bookmakers who had recently gone bust. Waterhouse employs 60 staff, and is recruiting overseas for 40 more. Robbie Waterhouse calls the strategy "growing broke", explaining, "The business is expanding at such a rate that it requires every dollar Tom has."

According to Warren Hebard, the marketing spend is now $20 million a year, a mere fraction of company turnover, which he puts in the "hundreds and hundreds of millions".

Recently I had dinner with Waterhouse at Nobu, a Japanese restaurant in Melbourne's Crown complex, where he lives in a $1900-a-night villa apartment on the 31st floor. Waterhouse has a perfectly acceptable home in Sydney - an apartment in Balmoral on Middle Harbour, just around the corner from his parents, that he bought in 2009 for $3.5 million. But Victoria's more favourable gambling laws mean he spends half his life south of the border, necessitating a yoyo-like schedule of at least three business-class flights to Melbourne and back a week. Such an arrangement is fine for now - he and wife Hoda Vakili, whom he married last year, don't have any children, a situation Waterhouse plans to remedy.

"I want to have six kids," he says. "As soon as possible."

"Seriously?" I ask.

"Seriously," he says.

Thanks to his 2006 appearance on Dancing with the Stars (he was knocked out in the third round), and his frequent partying with the likes of Charlotte Dawson and Tim Holmes à Court, Waterhouse has become known as something of a red-carpet junkie. He certainly knows how to spend his money: there are the skiing trips to Aspen, the holidays in Italy and, of course, the yearly pilgrimage to London, where he attends Royal Ascot and picks up a new suit from his father's tailor in Savile Row. His marriage last year was similarly five-star: bucks' and hens' nights in London, ceremony in the Sicilian seaside town of Taormina, followed by, as one newspaper put it, "lunch in Switzerland" and the honeymoon in Monte Carlo.

Not surprisingly, plenty of people don't like Waterhouse. The consensus is that he is too rich, too young and too lucky. Others don't like the fact he's a bookie. "Self promoter, making $ off the misery of others," one tabloid newspaper reader commented after an article on him last year. When news emerged that Vakili had undergone emergency surgery in January after injuring herself in Aspen, readers responded with an outpouring of indifference: "Should wipe the smug smile off their faces for a few weeks at least," one wrote.

I'm as jealous as the next guy, but "smug" isn't the right word for Waterhouse, who, in person at least, is self-effacing to the point of invisibility. He is softly spoken and reflexively formal. "Mum thinks I dress very boringly," he says. "Always in a dark suit and white shirt." When he was nominated for the Cleo Bachelor of the Year Awards in 2005, he was one of only two people out of 50 who opted to keep their shirts on for the photo. (The other was Guy Sebastian.) For now, he says, his life is defined by work: he goes to bed at midnight and rises at 7am, and takes only one day off a week. "Until I was married I worked seven days a week," he says. "Even when I'm on holidays I'm on my computer six or seven hours a day."

He is partial to fast cars: he has owned a Porsche 911 and currently drives a silver Mercedes SLS Gullwing (retail price: $496,000). But to picture him driving it fast, let alone crashing it, is to picture the Pope smoking crack. His optimum mode of relaxation is going to the movies with Vakili, which he does at least once a week. "We'll get the choc tops, a Slurpee," he says. "It's really great."

He also likes tennis, though playing him requires a certain kind of patience. "This is the problem with Tom at tennis: he is so formulaic and robotic," friend Jason Dundas says. "He never goes for a winner, because he knows the formula is that whoever can hold the rally longest wins. And so he plays the game to never hit a foul, and just hits these lollipops; he never goes for that Rafael Nadal cross-court winner because he knows that the chance it will go out is higher than it will go in, and he calculates that all in his head and wins the game every time. It's so annoying."

It's impossible to separate Waterhouse from his family, which has, since the First Fleet, shown a Flashman-like knack for controversy. When Governor Arthur Phillip was speared by Aborigines at Manly in 1790, it was Lieutenant Henry Waterhouse who was there to pull out the spear; Henry also brought the first thoroughbred racehorse to the colony, along with the first merino sheep. Later the family operated a Sydney ferry service, ran pubs and a sly-grog operation, even dabbled in opium smuggling.

The first bookmaker in the family was Charles Waterhouse, who got his licence in 1898, but it was his son, Bill, who would take it to another level. Through a combination of brains, balls and ruthlessness, Bill, who had initially practised as a barrister, became arguably the world's biggest gambler, a "leviathan bookie" who in the 1960s took on high-stakes punters like "Filipino Fireball" Felipe Ysmael and "Hong Kong Tiger" Frank Duval in million-dollar betting duels.

With his suit, hat, tote bag and cigarettes - 100 a day at one stage - Bill, who turned 90 this year, epitomised the old-style bookie. In his autobiography What Are the Odds?, he writes about arming himself with a .38 Smith & Wesson in the 1970s, and about his various entanglements with gangster George Freeman, "marijuana salesman" Robert Trimbole and the late Kerry Packer, who apparently died owing him $1 million. ("You can go and get f...ed and whistle for it," Packer reportedly told him. "You'll get nothing from me.")

"I don't pretend to be Simon Pure," Bill Waterhouse writes. "I have sometimes cut corners to get what I needed, but I am certainly no crook." Yet his name has been associated with virtually every scandal in horse racing bar the death of Phar Lap. Chief among these was, of course, the Fine Cotton affair of 1984, in which a handy sprinter named Bold Personality was painted with Clairol hair dye and substituted for a weaker horse called Fine Cotton. Bill and son Robbie, who had put money on the horse, were both charged by the Australian Jockey Club with "prior knowledge" - something they have always denied - and banned from racetracks for 14 years.

Tom insists he can't remember much about it: "I was two years old!" he tells me. Nor did it feature much in conversation. "It's a little bit like religion; I try not to bring it up."

It's tempting to see in the younger Waterhouse a reaction, conscious or otherwise, to the family's picaresque backstory. But it seems Tom has always been serious. Like his father before him, he attended the elite Sydney private school Shore. But where Robbie had gained a name for running a student betting ring, Tom became a senior prefect and house captain. "He is a seriously, like very, very, very ambitious guy," long-time friend David Chambers says. "He controls his emotions, he doesn't let them control him."

Chambers, who grew up around the corner from Waterhouse, says "Tom was always super competitive ... and a little bit bizarre. One day he came to school and said, 'You guys are all taking sick days: that's soft. I am never going to take a sick day.' He just thought it would be fun. And we were all like, 'Yeah, whatever.' But he never did, the whole time we were at school."

Horse racing dominated the Waterhouse home. "It was always discussed around the dinner table," Robbie says. "Every aspect of it." Tom got his first horse, a Shetland pony, for Christmas when he was five. Yet he had no interest in an on-course career. Instead, after school, he started a commerce degree, majoring in finance and marketing, at Sydney University. "I wanted to go into finance," he says. "It seemed like a good industry to be in."

Then one day in 2001, Robbie asked him if he'd come and "help out on the bag" at Rosehill. "Within about 20 minutes I was hooked," he says. Waterhouse was only six months into his course, but he immediately rearranged his timetable, moving his classes to Monday and Tuesday so that he could attend the races for the rest of the week. He got his licence for the dogs, then for thoroughbreds. Coming from racing royalty had its advantages. Gai, daughter of legendary trainer Tommy J. Smith, taught him horses; Robbie taught him analysis. ("Dad still gets up every day at 3am so he can do seven hours studying all the results and times.") And Bill showed him how to gamble. (Bet bigger if you're winning, smaller if you're losing, and always keep an eye on cash flow.)

Yet there were mishaps. In 2007, one of Waterhouse's biggest punters, the CEO of a big listed company in the US, placed a bet with him of $1.2 million. As he had never taken a bet that big, Waterhouse laid off the risk by "betting back" $800,000 with other bookies. When the CEO's horse lost, "I thought, 'Oh gosh, I've won $400,000! I'm going to buy a Ferrari!' But come Monday I had to pay $800,000 to those other bookies while my guy took the knock [refused to pay]."

Waterhouse pursued the debt through the courts, but has never got all of it back. (Courts are a recurring motif with bookies. In 2010, Waterhouse was in the Federal Magistrates Court chasing $2.6 million that he said Sydney businessman Andrew Sigalla owed him. And in January this year he placed a caveat over brothel-owner Eddie Hayson's Parramatta Road business, Stiletto, as security for $1 million in gambling debts.)

The movement of money away from the track and onto the internet has done much to sanitise racing. "In the days of the SPs, if you took the knock they'd come round and cut your toes off," veteran race writer Max Presnell says wistfully.

The perils of 21st-century gambling are more prosaic. Addiction. Bankruptcy. Family break-up. Waterhouse was raised in a religious household. "We went to church every Saturday night," he says. "I still pray occasionally, just to reflect on family and loved ones." But the moral dimension of his business doesn't trouble him. "I always say to people who bet with me, 'Anything in excess is bad for you: shopping, eating, gambling.' "

When in doubt, he invokes what he calls The Toilet Test: "If you feel uneasy about the bet, if you need to duck off to the toilet all the time, then you're betting too much. It's like anything else - if you feel uncomfortable doing it, chances are it's not a great thing to be doing."

The boardroom of Waterhouse's North Sydney office is an impressive space: there's a giant antique table, a cabinet full of trophies and a life-sized portrait of Bill Waterhouse, form guide folded under his arm, standing beneath the Harbour Bridge. Tom is explaining how he prices his odds when I spot, high up in the cabinet, Bill's original white leather tote bag.

"Do you want to see it?" Tom asks excitedly.

"Yes," I reply, imagining it to be full of interesting stuff: betting stubs, track programs, old pencils worn to the nub. But when Tom opens it up, it's empty. "Oh," I say, disappointed.

"It's basically just like a big purse," Tom says. "That's the way it worked." (Fairfax Media)


When the crowd funds a flop, what next? - 29th May 2012


Backers of high-tech video glasses have had enough of waiting for their crowdfunded returns.

Crowdfunding website Kickstarter was used to raise $US340,000 for a project to build a pair of HD-video recording glasses, but almost a year on, people who invested in the project have not received their products and the project creators have seemingly disappeared.

Kickstarter has denied responsibility for a growing number of apparently failed crowdfunding projects, but donors who claim to have been ripped-off are fighting back.

Crowdfunding is a way for individuals to make their dreams a reality, as touted by websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo which provide the social media tools to tap friends, family, and their extended networks for the capital needed to build a product.

In the embryonic stages the quirkier ideas garner media attention and are oversubscribed, often raising more money than initially requested.

While the success stories are well-documented, there is a growing list of stillborn projects where money has been collected by the project owner (95 per cent) and by Kickstarter (five per cent) but donors haven't received their promised returns.

The websites stress the responsibility rests with the project owner and the donor - they shy away from calling them "investors" as this would attract different regulatory compliance - but some frustrated donors are taking action.

The ZionEyez project trajectory is typical other Kickstarter consumer tech product success stories, but so far it doesn't feature the same happy ending.

The four founders asked for $US55,000 to build Eyez, a pair of glasses that could record HD video. After extensive media coverage (including by Engadget, Mashable, Forbes and Rolling Stone) it raised $US343,415 from 2106 backers when the funding round closed on July 31.

Since then the founders have missed the original delivery deadline of the northern "Winter 2011" and donors' growing concerns over product delivery are not being directly addressed.

There are more than 850 comments on the project page, some asking for a class action, and including one donor's correspondence with ZionEyez.

"Thanks for reaching out to us. We will be releasing another engineering update for our KS Backers in the near future. Thanks for your patience and support!"

Bill Walker was one of the donors who committed the $US150 required to secure a pair of the glasses.
In an attempt to claw back the donations he built the site zionkick.com to organise legal action against the founders of the ZionEyez project.

They must provide a reasonable time for the product to be delivered, he said.

"At the present time we (interested backers) are playing the waiting game," Walker wrote via email. "We have to give them a period of time in which to perform before filing fraud charges. When a period of time elapses that would satisfy the legal eagles...then we attack. Until then we bide our time."
"Their attorney CEO knows the heat is on so he might be insisting they produce something, even if it's on the level of the $US59.95 products currently on the market. Produce anything that will satisfy the spirit of what they said they were going to produce.

"In the meantime Kickstarter takes their 5 per cent and insists the backer is totally responsible for vetting the money grubbers."

Kickstarter did not respond to specific questions about whether it would intervene in the ZionEyez project, and pointed to their frequently asked questions (FAQ) page which says the creator is responsible for fulfilling a project's promise.

"Kickstarter doesn't issue refunds since transactions are between backers and creators, but we're prepared to work with backers as well as law enforcement in the prosecution of any fraudulent activity. Scammers are bad news for everyone, and we'll defend the goodwill of our community."
ZionEyez did not respond to requests for comment.

Crowdfunding projects fall outside the general consumer protections afforded by the Australian Consumer Law and NSW Fair Trading's jurisdiction, according to a Fair Trading spokesperson.

This is because the project is not a form of business trading, and a consumer-supplier relationship does not exist. The risk is amplified when dealing with international sites, the spokesperson said.
"Whenever dealing with an entity that is from outside Australia, consumers should be aware that should something go wrong, redress can be much more difficult to achieve than when the trader is domestically-based," the spokesperson said.

Donors do have some avenues for legal recourse but this could be expensive, according to Rouse Lawyers special counsel Kurt Falkenstein, who specialises in start-ups and has helped some raise money via crowdfunding.

The crowdfunding websites should take responsibility, he said.

"The principles of contract law still apply to crowdfunding – and if you misrepresent or falsify information that induces someone to enter a contract, you are liable – so the terms and conditions of the crowdfunding platform are vital," Falkenstein said.

"The hard thing with contract law is enforcement – are you going to go to court over tens or hundreds of dollars?

"Consumer law may apply where goods or services are promised but not delivered – you can't promise to provide something and not do it – but then you are relying on the ACCC.

"For me, if hundreds or thousands of people are ripped off, the platform should help those people band together and enforce their rights."

There is always a risk that these websites can be exploited, according to Alan Crabbe, co-founder of local crowdfunding website Pozible. He did not respond to a question whether the site had any undelivered projects.

There are safeguards against this, including filtering projects based on national/state investment laws, checking the project creator and holding photo ID, and tracking unusual activity on projects, he said.

Crowdfunding websites are not legally responsible for failed projects, according to StartSomeGood.com co-founder Tom Dawkins, but this does not mean they won't be judged in the court of public opinion.
The key is to curate the projects , he said, so the sites, project creators, and donors are ensured of the greatest chance of success.

"We don't believe we are legally or functionally responsible but, after the project concludes, we know people will hold us responsible anyway."

"We reject a lot of projects because they're too fantastic and unachievable. We try and make sure that we do feel proud of every project on our site, that we feel comfortable and stand by it."

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Vegas casinos gamble on online partners with a past - 14th May 2012

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To prime itself for the U.S. debut of legal online poker, MGM Resorts International, owner of such Las Vegas Strip monuments as the MGM Grand, the Bellagio and the Mirage, wanted a partner that knew the ropes.

So last October it hooked up with Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment Plc, a London-listed, Gibraltar-based specialist that rakes in more from Web betting than any other publicly traded company. MGM Resorts took 25 percent of a new venture 65 percent owned by Bwin.Party, with smaller Las Vegas casino operator Boyd Gaming getting the remaining 10 percent.

"We'll be out of the gate as soon as anybody," MGM Resorts Chief Executive Officer Jim Murren boasted to investors in February.

Online expertise isn't the only thing that distinguishes Bwin.Party. In 2009, an earlier incarnation of the company paid $105 million while admitting to U.S. prosecutors it had run an illegal gambling operation and engaged in bank and wire fraud.

Among its principal backers: a California-born woman who made a fortune in phone sex and Web pornography businesses that, like the pioneering online-gambling company that became Bwin.Party, faced multiple allegations of wrongdoing.

MGM Resorts' choice of Bwin.Party as a partner while applying for online poker licenses in Nevada might seem unusual. It isn't. The alliance reflects the calculated risks that major casino operators, Native American tribes and social-gaming giants Zynga and Facebook are weighing as they angle for a slice of a market valued at billions of dollars a year.

Caesars Entertainment Corp is prepping for online poker by tying up with an Israeli company that in 2007 acknowledged settlement talks with the U.S. Justice Department over alleged breaches of anti-gambling laws.

A group of Native American tribes in California has signed up to use software from another Israeli company, run by a man who served prison time for stock manipulation and bribery. Another tribe last week announced a deal with Bwin.Party.

Zynga, eager to convert some of its tens of millions of virtual poker enthusiasts into cash gamblers, also has been in talks with Bwin.Party and others that have had brushes with the law, according to people familiar with the matter.

Meanwhile, offshore gambling outfit PokerStars is considering buying its chief offshore rival, Full Tilt, and making a run at the U.S. market even though founders of both were indicted by the Justice Department last year on charges of illegal gambling, bank fraud and money laundering, according to people familiar with the situation.

All this comes as Nevada prepares to license the first online poker operators and software suppliers late next month -- and as California, New Jersey, Iowa, Massachusetts, Delaware and other states debate similar moves.

Many of the cash-starved states, encouraged by intensive industry lobbying, have felt freer to act since December, when the Justice Department declared that one federal anti-gambling law, the Wire Act, would no longer be enforced beyond sports betting.

But casino operators, Indian tribes and Internet powers bent on offering online poker lack experience delivering it. Online poker is a business that involves processing billions of dollars worth of bets and battling the fraudsters, cheats and robot-player software that can ruin the games. Hence the casinos are cozying up to some tech-savvy offshore partners whose pedigrees might give regulators pause.

Most states have "suitability" rules designed to keep crooks out of the gambling industry. Nevada requires that successful license applicants and their large shareholders possess "good character, honesty and integrity." Nevertheless, the big casino operators and their offshore partners are betting that regulators will look favorably on their license applications for two good reasons: tax money and high-tech jobs.

Early indications are that they are right.

At a hearing on a Caesars deal with the Israeli company last year, Mark Lipparelli, chairman of Nevada's Gaming Control Board, said: "I don't think as we look at companies that we can have perfection as the standard, because I think that would be a disservice to the state in attracting business here." The board unanimously recommended approval of the venture.

Gambling foes warn that states are putting fiscal worries ahead of public safety, exposing a huge and vulnerable population to the potential for compulsive betting. "The governments are so desperate for revenues that they will partner with these lawbreaking outfits," said Les Bernal, executive director of the nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation in Washington, D.C. "They will create addiction in order to feed off of it."

PORN AND CARDS

Jim Ryan, co-chief executive officer of Bwin.Party, acknowledged in an interview that when the company was looking for U.S. partners, its history was a chief concern of MGM Resorts and other U.S. companies.

"Suitability is the very first question on all of their minds," he told Reuters during a recent business trip to San Francisco.

It's easy to see why.

Bwin.Party grew out of PartyGaming, a brainchild of San Francisco-area native Ruth Parasol, who has a history as colorful as Las Vegas. After earning a law degree, Parasol first prospered in the 1990s through 1-900 phone-sex and other services that were sued by multiple states for aggressive billing and collection practices. In North Carolina's suit, the judge ordered a company she co-founded to pay $270,000 in damages.

Then Parasol put her money behind Internet Entertainment Group, which gained notoriety for releasing an early Pamela Anderson sex video and promising an initial public offering that never happened. Employees accused the company of routinely overbilling customers, and Chief Executive Seth Warshavsky fled to Thailand as authorities investigated. Warshavsky didn't respond to an interview request.

Parasol managed to emerge unscathed, and in 1997 founded Starluck Casino in the Caribbean, providing online gambling to customers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The company had a big hit with its PartyPoker website, which became the dominant force in U.S. online cards, and then renamed itself PartyGaming.

Parasol, who has been living in Gibraltar for most of the past decade, declined requests for an interview.

In 2005, PartyGaming's IPO became the largest London had seen in four years, valuing the company at more than $8 billion. Just then, debate over the U.S. legal status of online gambling flared.

The Justice Department had long argued that Internet poker violated the Wire Act and other federal and state laws. Despite the success of PartyGaming and other offshore companies, no U.S.-based companies offered alternatives for fear of prosecution.

In 2006, Congress clarified the matter by passing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, or UIGEA, explicitly barring processing interstate or international poker transactions where state laws forbade such gambling. PartyGaming responded by pulling out of the U.S., leaving two-thirds of its players behind to be claimed by privately held offshore companies.

The law didn't snuff out online poker in the U.S. as players migrated to other offshore providers. Research firm H2 Gambling Capital estimates the U.S. accounts for about $400 million of global annual online poker revenue of nearly $5 billion, or 8 percent. Depending on how many states ultimately legalize online cards, that share could rise to as high as 28 percent in five years, the company says.

PartyGaming's problems didn't end when it left the United States. In 2008, co-founder Anurag Dikshit pleaded guilty to gambling via the wires in federal district court in New York. He forfeited $300 million and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, leading PartyGaming itself to settle in 2009. The company paid $105 million to avoid prosecution for pre-UIGEA violations. Dikshit couldn't be reached. His lawyer didn't return calls seeking comment.

In 2010, prosecutor Arlo Devlin-Brown told the court that the probe was continuing and referred to documents under seal. He recently told Reuters he could not comment further, leaving open the possibility that Parasol could be charged if she returns home to the United States.

PartyGaming's fortunes recovered as it began to focus on non-U.S. customers. Last year it bought rival Bwin Interactive of Austria and changed the merged company's name to Bwin.Party, with annual revenue of 691 million euros, or $902 million.

During the merger talks, the regulatory suitability of PartyGaming and Parasol became an issue. Parasol and her husband, Russell DeLeon, agreed that the board could force them to restructure their more than 13 percent stake in the merged company or sell it if "required by any gaming regulatory authority in connection with business opportunities," according to merger documents filed with regulators.

That clause wouldn't apply, however, if the licensing process is "more burdensome to the principal PartyGaming shareholders than the licensing requirements currently imposed by the state of Nevada." That means the couple's stake could, in effect, block deals in states with tougher standards. Bwin.Party's Ryan said he couldn't imagine the couple standing in the way. DeLeon couldn't be reached for comment.

Now partnered with MGM Resorts, Bwin.Party has applied for a Nevada license to offer Internet poker software and services. Co-CEO Ryan said the joint venture will handle all U.S. games where players pay to play and can cash out their winnings.

In the meantime, he said, Bwin.Party will promote its brands through a social game, to be announced soon, without the ability to cash out. Ryan said negotiations with Facebook, a likely game platform, are continuing.

Facebook declined to comment. MGM did not respond to repeated interview requests about its choice of Bwin.Party.

"PRETTIEST GIRL IN TOWN"

One of Bwin.Party's top rivals is also listed in London but based in Israel. That company is 888 Holdings, founded by a dentist inspired to put poker on the Net after a 1996 trip to Monte Carlo. The late Aharon Shaked and his brother Avi mortgaged their homes to fund the company, and their families and a co-founding family still have majority control.

In 2006, 888 joined PartyGaming in pulling out of the U.S. market. But for a time before that, 888's Casino-on-Net gambling website was among the top 10 buyers of banner ads aimed at U.S. home Internet users, reaching more than 10 percent of them in a single week, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

In 2007 the company acknowledged it was in settlement talks with the Justice Department over suspected breaches of pre-2006 anti gambling laws. No charges were filed.

The 888 deal with Caesars that Nevada regulators approved last year was a trial run of Caesars-branded online poker in the British market, where such games have been legal for years. Caesars, operator of the Strip's Caesars Palace, Harrah's and Rio, has since expanded its relationship with 888, agreeing to use its software in the United States once states approve.

Ambitions are running high at 888. "The most exciting market opportunity for the industry must be that of the States, and we are definitely the prettiest girl in town, with everybody keen to have discussions with us," 888 Chief Executive Officer Brian Mattingley told investors last month. Officials at 888 declined interview requests, as did those at Caesars.

Lipparelli, the Nevada Gaming Control Board chairman, said scrutiny of the initial Caesars venture was lower than what it would have been for a U.S. venture. He said current investigations of Bwin.Party, 888 and more than 20 other license applicants would be far more rigorous than anything the overseas outfits had experienced in their home countries. "Some will probably not make it through," Lipparelli said.

He said confessions of pre-2006 wrongdoing wouldn't automatically prevent licensing, though. Gambling executives say they expect smooth sailing in Nevada because regulators want to add local technology jobs. Concern about past lawbreaking "has all gone away," one casino executive said.

One big test could come in the case of PokerStars, based in the Isle of Man, and Full Tilt Poker, based in the Channel Islands, which together snapped up most of the U.S. market after the 2006 law was passed and PartyGaming ran for the exits.

Last year, on an April day known in online poker circles as Black Friday, federal prosecutors unsealed indictments alleging illegal gambling, bank fraud and money laundering against the founders of PokerStars and Full Tilt. Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Full Tilt had operated as a Ponzi scheme, relying on new players' deposits to cover payouts to older customers while executives and advisers took hundreds of millions of dollars from player accounts.

The indictments prompted Wynn Resorts Ltd to drop a weeks-old "strategic relationship" with PokerStars. The main owner of Station Casinos, which serves Las Vegas locals at 11 casinos off the Strip, abandoned a similar tie-up with Full Tilt. Neither Nevada company returned calls seeking comment.

Full Tilt has shut down while it negotiates with the Justice Department. But PokerStars remains the biggest site worldwide, with what others in the industry believe tops $1 billion in annual revenue. It harbors hopes that a deal with prosecutors could pave the way for a return to the U.S.

People familiar with the situation say that as part of the settlement talks with the Justice Department, PokerStars is considering buying Full Tilt and refunding U.S. players hundreds of millions of dollars missing from their accounts. PokerStars confirmed the settlement talks but declined to comment on Full Tilt or its American aspirations. Full Tilt officials couldn't be reached for comment.

"CONCERNED ABOUT PROBITY"

In California, casinos and gambling-software companies already are scurrying for deals with the tribes and others that would be eligible for direct licenses under a bill pending in the state senate. Caesars manages the Rincon tribe's Harrah's casino and is hoping to build on that with software from 888.

A coalition of tribes and card rooms known as the California Online Poker Association has signed up to use software from Playtech Ltd, a London-listed British company. About 40 per cent of Playtech is owned by Teddy Sagi, an Israeli billionaire who pleaded guilty to stock manipulation and bribery in 1996 in a scandal known as the Discount Affair. He was sentenced to nine months in prison. Playtech didn't respond to a request for comment.

The tribes are aware of the risks of choosing partners that won't satisfy the state Justice Department, which the current bill would empower to approve license applications.

"We are very, very concerned about probity," said Joaquin Fletcher, president of the Pechanga Development Corp, owner of the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California. "We don't want whoever we pick to just create more nightmares down the road."

Similar concerns are on the minds of social media companies.

Zynga, the dominant provider of recreational games on Facebook, has 36 million monthly average users of its Texas HoldEm Poker, the second most popular game on Facebook after its CityVille, according to market research firm AppData.

The card game doesn't require regulation because players don't receive cash payouts, though they often pay for extra chips to play with. Those virtual chip purchases have made the game one of Zynga's top earners and opened the company's eyes to the potential of the real thing.

Lazard Capital Markets said in March that it expected Zynga to move "aggressively" and capture an extra $100 million in annual profit by offering online poker with cash payouts and prizes.

Zynga has held talks with Bwin.Party, 888, multiple California tribes and card rooms, and the big brick-and-mortar casinos, people familiar with the discussions said. The company might experiment first with poker in well-regulated overseas markets such as the United Kingdom, they said. Zynga declined to comment.

The gambling majors have seen the promise of social networking as well. MGM Resorts, like Bwin.Party, is planning its own game without cash payouts but with social networking built in. Caesars recently bought game application developer Playtika, which has a popular free slot machine app on Facebook called Slotomania, and it launched a Caesars-branded casino game suite there, too.

Despite the enthusiasm, the risks of a regulatory, legal or public-relations setback for Zynga and Facebook are substantial, even if they partner well.

With millions of free players, "it's very likely these people can be converted" to playing for real money, said one longtime offshore poker executive. "But do they want a headline saying some kid lost $10,000 playing poker on Facebook?" (Reuters)

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

World Series Of Poker Announces Partnership With Crown For Major Poker Series Debuting In Melbourne, Australia In 2013

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Crown Melbourne Crown Limited James Packer World Series of Poker Poker Melbourne


WSOP ASIA-PACIFIC (WSOP APAC) TO FEATURE MULTIPLE BRACELET EVENTS APRIL 4-15, 2013

Melbourne, Australia. Tuesday 1 May 2012. With poker’s popularity exploding across the AsiaPacific, the World Series of Poker (WSOP), in partnership with Australia’s Crown Melbourne, have today reached a multi-year agreement to bring the major poker tournament series to the region commencing in April 2013.

World Series of Poker Asia-Pacific (WSOP APAC) will take place April 4-15, 2013, at Crown
Melbourne, and feature five WSOP gold bracelet events.

“Our goal is to establish the worldwide grand slam of poker and use our platform to elevate the game through a series of major championships,” said WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart. “With WSOP Las Vegas growing annually and WSOP Europe poised for long-term success after five years, the time is right to turn our attention to the dynamic poker scene in Asia and Australia. Given Crown’s success with the ‘Aussie Millions Poker Championship’, we couldn’t ask for a better partner than Crown to establish the Asia-Pacific’s definitive poker festival.”

Crown Melbourne is Australia’s leading integrated entertainment resort attracting approximately 18 million local, interstate and international visitors each year. It is one of the largest entertainment complexes in the world showcasing world-class gaming facilities and is the home of the renowned and most prestigious ‘Aussie Millions Poker Championship’ along with the largest poker room outside North America. The world-class complex also boasts Australia’s best restaurant precinct, international designer brand shopping and award winning hotels - Crown Towers, Crown Promenade and Crown Metropol.

“This exciting partnership brings together two industry leaders, and two strong brands, to create a premier poker event in this region,” said Crown Melbourne’s Chief Executive Officer, Greg Hawkins.

“Our agreement firmly aligns with our objective of attracting the very best local and international players, all vying for a coveted WSOP bracelet. We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved with the Aussie Millions and look forward to featuring WSOP Asia Pacific on our poker calendar in April 2013.”

The agreement marks the first time the WSOP is exporting its prestigious tournament series to
Australia, and marks just the second expansion of the 42-year-old brand, after the advent of WSOP Europe in 2007. To date, WSOP gold bracelets have only been awarded in Las Vegas (1970-2011), London (2007-2010) and France (2011).

Crown’s agreement with the WSOP includes provisions for international television production of the event and is expected to be shown globally on ESPN.

Legions of locals have been swept up in the Australian poker boom that was ignited when Melbournian and Crown ambassador Joe Hachem became the 2005 World Series of Poker Champion, scooping up $7.5 million in prize money for his efforts.

“It’s thrilling to think the World Series of Poker is coming to Australian soil,” said Joe Hachem. “I know first-hand what a life-changing moment winning the WSOP gold bracelet was and how it served as a catalyst for the growth of poker in Australia and Asia. It will be a dream come true to host a worldwide poker event such as this at Crown. I can’t wait.”

Crown’s CEO Greg Hawkins further added, “This initiative will provide Crown with significant exposure in Asia, Europe and America, and forms an integral part of Crown’s global marketing strategy to attract further international visitors to Australia and Crown Melbourne.”

The complete schedule and dates are expected to be announced later this year.

ABOUT THE WSOP

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is the largest, richest and most prestigious gaming event in the world awarding millions of dollars in prize money and the prestigious gold bracelet, globally recognized as the sport’s top prize. Featuring a comprehensive slate of tournaments in every major poker variation, the WSOP is poker’s longest running tournament in the world, dating back to 1970. In 2011, the event attracted 75,672 entrants from 105 different countries to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and awarded over $192 million in prize money. In addition, the WSOP has experienced groundbreaking alliances in broadcasting, digital media and
corporate sponsorships, while successfully expanding the brand internationally with the advent in 2007 of the World Series of Poker Europe.

ABOUT CROWN MELBOURNE

Crown Melbourne is Australia’s leading integrated entertainment resort attracting approximately 18 million local, interstate and international visitors each year to its 560,000 square metre entertainment complex. The property features 1,600 guest rooms across the complex’s three hotels - Crown Towers, Crown Metropol and Crown Promenade Hotel – in addition to the Palladium, which is Australia’s largest ballroom, a world-class convention centre, more than 70 restaurants and bars reside in the complex, including many of Melbourne’s finest , international designer boutiques, 14 cinemas, two nightclubs and a live entertainment theatre. Crown Melbourne
was built at a cost of $2 billion in 1997 and in the period 1997 to 2014 a further $2 billion will have been spent to further enhance Crown Melbourne including building Promenade and Metropol hotels, expanding the Mahogany Room and further enhancing the restaurant precinct in Crown Melbourne. Crown Melbourne is one of Victoria’s leading tourism icons.

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