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Conyers Introduces I-Gaming Bill

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As reported by the Netimperative: “Issues surrounding consumer protection, especially the prevention of underage and problem gambling, are at the forefront of the new bill, which is the first of its kind.

The key proposal, from John Conyers Jr, a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, focused on the creation of a commission that could make recommendations regarding how the US government could regulate internet gaming, with the consumer in mind.

“Issues surrounding consumer protection, especially the prevention of underage and problem gambling, are at the forefront of the new bill, which is the first of its kind.

“…Conyers scoffed at the numerous campaigns to prohibit internet gambling, claiming that `this approach reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the internet’. He pointed out that `the international nature of the internet has rendered ineffective federal and state statutes governing the placement of wagers’…”

Conyers and Leach bills go head to head

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This could be a pivotal week for Online gambling, as two competing bills are heard in a US House of Representatives subcommittee.

The Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security has scheduled a hearing for April 29 at 2 p.m. EST. During the hearing, two bills will be discussed: HR 21, from Rep. James Leach, R-Iowa; and HR 1223, which was introduced by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.

Leach’s bill is the latest attempt to make Internet gambling illegal in the US. The bill would prohibit online casinos and sports books from accepting credit cards, electronic money transfers and a variety of other bank instruments as payment from US residents.

The Leach bill was passed March 13 by a voice vote in the Financial Services Committee. The totals of that vote were not recorded. At that time, Leach’s press secretary felt confident that the bill would go straight to the House floor for a full vote.

The Conyers bill would create a commission to study the feasibility of legalizing and regulating online gambling in the US. Conyers introduced the bill March 12 after putting the idea forth at the end of the last Congressional session.

Companies Can’t Wait for New UK Gaming Regulations

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Anheuser-Busch Cos. brought its Budweiser beer, then McDonald’s Corp. brought its hamburgers to the British Isles. Now U.S. casino operators are hoping to export another American institution — the Vegas-style casino — to the United Kingdom.

The impetus is a bill, in draft stage with British officials, that would loosen laws governing British gambling, a prospect that has some U.S. operators looking to the U.K. as their next jackpot.

The regulatory overhaul would expand the size of casinos while increasing the variety of games and adding amenities such as restaurants and entertainment. The U.K. Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which oversees gambling laws, is expected to present the first part of the gambling bill to the public Tuesday, with the full draft to be released in October. If it passes, the change would be nothing short of “cataclysmic” in its potential to change the U.K. industry, Las Vegas gambling mogul Steve Wynn says.

Small, clublike and dominated by table games and few slot machines, current British casinos have the atmosphere of Vegas’s posh, private gambling rooms. Before would-be U.K. punters see the top of a baccarat table, or place a chip on the bingo board, they must register each time at a gambling establishment and then “cool off” for 24 hours before they can play. Until recently, they couldn’t drink while gambling, and live entertainment was prohibited on casino grounds.

“You can come to see us in Vegas wearing flip-flops and a halter,” says Gary Loveman, chief executive of Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. “You walk into one of these places in London and gentlemen will be in suits and ties, the ladies will be in evening gowns. It’s very formal.”

While U.K. casinos have been more tightly regulated than in the U.S., gambling flourishes there. Gamblers place bets on everything from soccer and golf tournaments to the winner of an Academy Award. The national lottery is also popular, drawing more than 70 percent of people in the U.K. “It doesn’t matter who you are. Everybody loves a flutter,” says John Kelly, president of British bingo operator Gala Group, using a Britishism for placing a small bet. “They love to put a couple dollars on a horse or put a little money into the machine.”

Under the new laws, casinos would be able to increase total floor space and the number and variety of slot machines. Casino operators could advertise in areas like shopping malls and membership laws — such as the cooling off period — would be scrapped. A gambling commission also would be created to regulate the industry.

Some U.S. casino companies are rushing to exploit the opportunities even before the new laws are a sure thing. Harrah’s announced a $1 billion joint venture with Nottingham-based Gala Group to build eight regional casinos in such areas as Sheffield, an industrial town in northern England. The deal would bring a total of 8,000 jobs to the areas and an estimated GBP 500 million ($806.5 million) in revenue, the companies said. Harrah’s would also independently develop destination casinos in such seaside tourist spots as Bristol and Blackpool. Earlier this month, Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage bought a 25 percent stake in the U.K.’s Metro Casinos Ltd., of Barnet, and an MGM spokesman stressed the buy is “nowhere near the endgame for us.”

International Game Technology, a leading Reno, Nev., maker and developer of slot machines, recently acquired British gambling company Barcrest Games, of Lancashire. Deregulation will have a huge impact on the slot machine industry, says Goldman Sachs analyst Steven Kent, who says relaxed laws will create a $1 billion opportunity in the U.K. for companies like IGT and its Las Vegas competitor Alliance Gaming Corp.

“We didn’t necessarily buy Barcrest with the bill in mind, but we think it’s a big plus that we’re already there,” IGT President Tom Baker says.

Some Las Vegas casino operators, including Park Place Entertainment Corp., Mandalay Resort Group and Wynn Resorts Ltd., are waiting to see how it all shakes out. Mr. Wynn sees bigger gambling opportunities in such places as China’s Macau, where he is building a casino. He cites the British government’s “strange silence around the tax rate” and lack of a definitive parliamentary deadline as reasons to keep a low profile.

“Deregulation is going to happen,” Mr. Wynn says. “We just don’t know when.”

Merrill Lynch analyst Andrew Burnett in Britain is less optimistic about the bill’s quick success. A general election in 2005 could disrupt the parliamentary process, pushing all nonessential legislation back as far as 2007.

“I think at the moment British deregulation will remain frozen in time,” Mr. Burnett says.

A few British communities are hoping for its swift passage, fearing their livelihood as tourist destinations may be at stake. Blackpool, long ago a tourism favorite for its roller coaster and promenade, is suffering from decline. Alan Cavill, the town’s head of economic development, met earlier this month with MGM Mirage, Harrah’s and Park Place in Nevada to spur interest in bringing U.S.-style casinos to the seaside town. “If Blackpool doesn’t turn around, in five years we wouldn’t be a resort anyway,” he says.

Not everyone is excited at the prospect of megacasinos in Britain. Blackpool official Steven Bate worries that “deregulation could open a Pandora’s Box of problems that the public and the government have not yet acknowledged.”

The town already has its share of gambling. Blackpool, population 142,300, currently has 36 betting shops, 5,000 to 6,000 slot machines on the promenade, and two small casinos.

“I can already get rid of my hard-earned cash now,” Mr. Cavill says. “What I can’t do is do it in a nice atmosphere surrounded by all sorts of amenities.”

Still, Mr. Cavill says Blackpool has no aspirations of becoming the next Las Vegas or Atlantic City, N.J. “We want to be the Blackpool of Europe,” Mr. Cavill says. “I don’t think anywhere else can be the Las Vegas of anywhere else.”

Cultures Clash Over California Casino

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The rustic beauty of the countryside just north of San Francisco has long lured visitors with vistas of vineyards, farms, oak stands and open spaces.

But if developers have their way, an Indian casino will also find a home in bucolic Sonoma County, right in the heartland of America’s wine-growing industry and less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco.The controversy over the proposed casino pits the 580 members of an Indian tribe native to the region and their union backers against environmentalists and locals, who fear an invasion of outsiders whose tastes run more to beer nuts than Brie.

“There is a snob factor working against what is being perceived as a garish casino at one of the entrances to California’s wine country,” said Rich Cartiere, publisher of the Wine Market Report, an industry newsletter. “The wine industry views itself as representing a fine sin, as opposed to a run-of-the-mill sin represented by a casino.”

Not even a pledge of a neon-free casino and an offer to share $164 million in gaming revenues with local governments impresses opponents, who have organized groups such as “No Las Vegas in the North Bay.”

“We find it contrary to what we all, at least locally, viewed as the Indians’ philosophy of life — that they love Mother Earth,” said Patrick Wofford, chairman of Sonoma Citizens to Stop the Casino, adding his group wants to help the tribe find an alternate site.

WEALTH VERSUS WETLANDS

At the center of the controversy is some 200 acres of empty hay field at the intersection of two highways where the tribe wants to build its casino. It would be managed by Station Casinos Inc. (NYSE:STN – News), a Las Vegas company that recently opened a tribal casino with some 1,900 slot machines near Sacramento, the state capital.

The proposed below-sea-level site is near public land slated to be turned into marshes and private property that environmentalists want to return to the marshland it once was.

Standing at the tribe’s proposed site, Marc Holmes of the Bay Institute environmental group says the casino would trigger a “domino effect” of building in neighboring fields.

A casino development would cause prices of surrounding property to escalate and drive a wedge between two key watersheds, Holmes said. “This would just drop a grenade in the plan to restore thousands of acres of tidal wetlands,” he said.

The 580-member Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria says it plans to set aside 1,700 acres of its 2,000 acres of land for open space and wants to restore local wildlife habitat.

Noting that fortunes have been made from wineries on what originally was Indian land, the tribe maintains that gambling revenues will lift its members out of poverty.

According to the tribe, annual income for a third of its members is less than $20,000 while the median family income is about $62,000 in Sonoma County and $89,000 in neighboring Marin County.

CryptoLogic Unveils New Casino Software

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CryptoLogic Inc., a leading software supplier to the Internet gaming and e-commerce industries, today announced the release of the fifth generation of its market-leading casino software, branded Casino Global Edition (GE).

Recognizing the rapid growth, increasing competition and sophistication of Internet gaming, CryptoLogic has added exciting new features that will help its licensees build one-to-one relationships with players through enhanced usability, new jackpot games, multi-currency and loyalty features.

“Internet gaming is more competitive than ever, and that’s why CryptoLogic’s new software is designed with marketing in mind,” said Jean Noelting, president and CEO of CryptoLogic. “Our licensees have some of the biggest and best casinos on the Internet, but with competition from 1,400 other sites, success depends on big jackpots, great promotions and personal marketing.

“Global Edition offers popular new games and exciting features that will help our licensees differentiate themselves, reward loyal players and make it easy and fun to play at their casinos.”

Casino GE builds on the best of CryptoLogic’s technical and marketing expertise. The new tournament and VIP loyalty features will enable operators to reward their top players with preferential status, special contests, higher “comps” and prizes. Multi-currency payouts now extend to US dollars, British pound sterling and euros, offering greater convenience for CryptoLogic licensees’ growing European user base.

Players will also enjoy more chances to win big with new progressive jackpot and slot games. Technical advancements bring enhanced graphics such as animated and information-enabled avatars and easier full screen view, while providing easier downloads.

GE supports CryptoLogic’s strategic shift to create market and consumer driven products to help its licensees build profitable, sustainable Internet businesses. This follows the company’s recent investment in customer relationship management software for comprehensive player analysis.

Revolutionary new technologies no longer provide the point of difference in today’s competitive climate. Accordingly, CryptoLogic’s upcoming new offerings – such as Java games for instant play, a wider array of currencies and international languages, and introduction of bingo and poker – are aimed at moving the company into higher margin game segments, global markets and extending its reach to mainstream, recreational players.

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