Crown shareholders request the operator to contemplate takeover bids

Crown Resorts shareholders are rumbling for the embattled casino operator to start a formal sale process.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the casino group received a $12 billion merger proposal from its Sydney rival The Star in recent weeks, while US private equity group Blackstone also upped its takeover bid from $8 billion to $8.3 billion.

The Helen Coonan-led board of Crown has so far remained tight-lipped on the takeover speculation, while shareholders are eager for a deal to happen.

Crown’s third largest shareholder, Perpetual, owner of about eight per cent of Crown’s share, just behind suitor Blackstone (10 per cent) and James Packer (37 per cent), which has called the company to immediately start a fast-tracked sale process.

Wilson Asset Management portfolio manager John Ayoub agreed that Crown should open a data room and invite bidders to inspect its books now to get the best deal for shareholders.

“You’ve got multiple parties coming to the table, we would like to see them canvassing as many opinions as they can,” said Mr Ayoub, whose fund owns shares in both Crown and The Star.

“Silence has been their tactic to date and it’s smoked out tw or three potential bidders.

“I think going forward, providing a data room and a transparent and open process is going to be the most beneficial thing for shareholders to see where value can be realised.”

US buyout fund Oaktree has also offered Crown $3 billion in funding to selectively buy back some or all of James Packer’s shares.

Sydney fund manager VGI Partners, which owns around $40 million of Crown shares and a smaller amount of The Star, said it saw the merger as “fair and reasonable and hope that the Crown board will engage with Star.”

“While we think the Blackstone and Oaktree bids materially undervalued Crown and the merger proposal from Star is…a lot more interesting and appealing to us,” VGI executive chairman Rob Luciano said.

“As long-term investors, we’d prefer to keep our capital invested in a great asset that can continue to compound over time and create meaningful shareholder value rather than sell for a quick profit.”

Mr Luciano said that Crown and Star had both recently completed a period of significant capital investment, setting up a merged entity to be highly cash flow generative that could de leverage quickly and then start delivering material shareholder returns.

Crown fields offers from multiple bidders

Blackstone is offering more up-front cash for Crown shareholders in its takeover bid ($12.35) but most market analysts say that The Star’s nil-premium cash-and-scrip merger will deliver more value through the COVID-19 recovery, if it delivers on promised cost savings.

The Star’s proposal is to buy back up to a quarter of Crown’s share at 412.50.

Shareholders in both companies would be issued stock in the new company as a swap rate of 2.68 Star shares for each Crown share.

The Star says that it could find $150-200 million worth of annual savings by merging with Crown, worth around $2 billion in equity value, which makes it offer worth $14 a share.

The Star’s CEO Matt Bekier also flagged this week he would look for a further windfall by selling and leasing back the merger group’s property portfolio, which would span two casinos in Melbourne, two in Sydney, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Perth.

It is increasingly common in the casino and hotel industry to split up the ownership and operation of properties, with Blackstone involved in such a deal with MGM in Las Vegas and is considered by analysts and investors as a possible property partner with The Star if the merger goes ahead.

Crown shares closed at $13.04 on Friday, up 2.3 per cent for the day and up 7.6 per cent since The Star’s proposal was revealed a week ago.

The Star’s shares closed 2.8 per cent higher Friday and are up one per cent for the week at $4.06.

 

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Blackstone’s bid for Crown Resorts is formally rejected

Crown Resorts has formally rejected a takeover offer from one of its potential suitors.

The Australian Financial Review reports that Blackstone’s takeover offer, valued at $8.3 billion, has been rejected, but The Star’s merger proposal remains in play.

The James Packer-backed casino operator told the ASX that the US private equity firm’s revised offer of $12.35 a share, up from the initial offer of $11.85, still “undervalued” the company and was “not in the best interests of shareholders”.

Stock in the company edged up 0.28 per cent $13.07 in mid-morning trade on Monday.

The rejection of the Blackstone offer came moments before public hearings commenced at Victoria’s royal commission into Crown’s suitability to hold a licence at its Melbourne casino on Monday morning.

The Victorian probe was sparked by the NSW Bergin inquiry, which found the company unfit to open its $2.2 billion Barangaroo casino because the company facilitated the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars linked up with Asian triads via its high roller junket program.

The Crown board, led by executive chairman Helen Coonan, concluded Blackstone’s offer was inadequate after taking “considered feedback from shareholders” and advice from financial and legal advisers.

The board also said it believed Blackstone faced significant uncertainty as to the timing and outcome of the regulatory approval processes.

Crown said Blackstone’s revised proposal “as currently understood presented an unacceptable level of regulatory uncertainty for Crown shareholders.”

The decision comes days after Perpetual’s head of equities urged Crown to open its data room to kick off the formal sale process on Thursday.

Perpetual holds eight per cent of the company.

Crown Board cools off Blackstone takeover talks

Mr Packer, who has not made public comments on the takeover or merger proposals, holds 37 per cent of Crown’s stock.

But the “board unanimously concluded that the Revised Proposal undervalues Crown and is not in the best interests of Crown’s shareholders”, the company said.

“The board has had regard to discussions with Blackstone and various legal authorities. The board has considered feedback from shareholders.”

Blackstone’s timeline for gaining regulatory approval from the NSW gaming regulator also played into the board’s decision to reject the offer.

“Despite Blackstone’s modification of these conditions, the board believes there is significant uncertainty as to the timing and outcome of the regulatory approval processes.

“As a result, the conditions of the revised proposal as currently understood present an unacceptable level of regulatory uncertainty for Crown shareholders,” the company said.

Separately, Crown Resorts also told the market it was still assessing The Star merger proposal and “has requested Star to provide certain information to allow the Crown Board to better understand various preliminary matters.”

The company advised shareholders it did not need to take any action in relation to the merger proposal at this stage because “there is no certainty that the merger proposal will result in a transaction.”

In mid-April, investment company Oaktree proposed to takeover Crown, with details of an investment funding of nearly $3 billion to Crown in order to buy back “some or all” of the shares held by CPH.

Oaktree would “provide a funding commitment of up to A$3 billion to Crown via a structured instrument, with the proceeds to be used by Crown to buy back some or all of the Crown shares, which are held by CPH on a selective basis.”

CPH holds a share ownership in Crown of about 37 per cent, making Mr Packer the largest investor in the nation’s largest gaming group.

Mr Packer’s influence over the Crown board as majority shareholder has been scrutinised by a NSW probe into the casino that determined the company was not suitable to hold a gaming licence in the state because of evidence of mismanagement and money laundering.

Findings from the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry also found Mr Packer was not a suitable person to be associated with the casino.

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Star follows the example of casino rivals and bans junkets

Australia’s second largest casino operator has decided to cease working with international junket operators.

Inside Asian Gaming reports that Star Entertainment Group reached an agreement with the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority to cease its relationship with junket operators.

In an update provided by ILGA chair Philip Crawford, where he discussed Crown’s progress in overturning its unsuitability to run its Barangaroo casino, it was revealed Star had reached an agreement that would see it no longer work with international junket operators.

New South Wales becomes the second Australian state to implement a junket ban after the Gaming and Wagering Commission of Western Australia, which oversees Crown Perth, outlined similar plans in February.

New Zealand’s SkyCity Entertainment Group announced in April that it would permanently cease all dealings with junket operators and bring its international VIP operations in-house, following a strategic review into the company’s International Business division.

Asked Thursday about how the absence of junkets might impact the feasibility of Crown’s AU$2.2 billion Crown Sydney development, which has been billed as a “high rollers casino” Crawford said, “My understand from Helen Coonan is that they’ve scrapped their VIP program completely and how they’re going to survive without international guests, that’s a business plan issue that is not my purview.

“Their restaurants and bars are open and people tell me they’re booming but they’ve got their own business model, they’re doing their own numbers and they’ll have to assess that as they’re going forward.

“My understanding is that the VIP program Crown had is gone.”

Junkets a thing of the past for SkyCity

SkyCity said it has determined to permanently cease dealing with all junket operators and will instead operate its International Business under a revised operating model.

That model will see SkyCity “deal directly with International Business patrons after appropriate Know Your Customer and customer due diligence requirements are satisfied.”

The company added that it will consult with relevant gaming regulators in New Zealand, where it operates casinos in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington and in Australia, where it recently completed an A$330 million upgrade of SkyCity Adelaide.

295 transactions linked with junkets were made in Melbourne in 2020, according to figures from Australia’s financial crimes watchdog.

In total, the Victorian casino made 50,000 reports to the watchdog in 2019, including almost 5000 relating to suspicious transactions.

AUSTRAC warned junket tour operators this month they were the target of organised criminal syndicates and foreign spies seeking to launder money through casinos and potentially make political donations.

Junkets bring in high roller gamblers from China to casinos and extend credit to them, enabling them to get around Beijing’s tight controls on capital.

AUSTRAC introduced a new risk assessment that identified some tour operators had links with criminal organisations.

Businesses, including casinos, are required to report any people or transactions that could be linked with crime using a suspicious matter report.

AUSTRAC chief executive Nicole Rose said casinos needed to comply with the rules to disrupt criminal activities, including foreign interference.

“Money laundering and financial crime enables serious criminal activity such as drug trafficking and human trafficking, which causes harm to our communities,” Ms Rose said.

“I urge casinos to take prompt action by assessing their levels of risk posed by junket operators, strengthening their controls and reporting suspicious activity to Austrac.”

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Natural8 Fundraises for Covid-19 Relief in India

Natural8 is the online poker site on the GGNetwork that caters to the Asia-Pacific region of the world. India is a big part of that. So, when India’s plight became international news, Natural8 launched a fundraiser to offer aid.

The Unite to Fight Covid-19 in India campaign goes on through 29 May.

India Cases Surge

The coronavirus pandemic that started in 2020 affected countries around the world in various ways. Australia was able to mostly confine the virus, and New Zealand took even more drastic measures to contain and eradicate it.

India took positive measures initially and through most of 2020 to keep its numbers low relative to the population. Considering it is the second-most populated country in the world, that was no small feat. However, in early 2021, India’s government appeared to have lifted restrictions too early, at least before enough people in the country received vaccines. That caused a spike in cases that alarmed the world.

In mid-February, the numbers of new cases were at a low point, lower than they had been since the previous summer. Even at that point, though, there were 11,000 to 13,000 new positive Covid-19 cases per day.

The surge began in March. By the middle of that month, there were approximately 30,000 new cases per day, and by the beginning of April, that number doubled and continued to rise. By May 8, there were 403,000 new positive cases per day. Daily deaths were at an all-time high as the virus raged out of control.

India slowly increased vaccine distribution and imposed some new restrictions. By mid-May, cases dropped to fewer than 300,000 new ones per day. While still immensely troubling, the downswing was notable.

As of May 21:

  • India posted more total Covid-19 cases worldwide than any other country except the United States of America.
  • India recorded more than 26.2M cases since the pandemic began, nearly 20,000 cases per 1M people.
  • The total deaths reported from Covid-19 closed in on 300,000.
  • India had given more than 187.8M doses of Covid-19 vaccines, though only 3% of the population (fewer than 41.3M people) reported as fully vaccinated.

Natural8 Fundraiser

Considering Natural8’s significant online poker presence in the region, it made sense that its executives wanted to help India.

They organized the Unite to Fight Covid-19 in India campaign to allow Natural8 players to donate to the cause. And for every dollar donated, Natural8 pledged to match it.

Natural8 provided another incentive to donate. Players who contributed $1 or more to the cause receive a ticket to a flipout event (a fast-paced poker game with players automatically all-in on every hand). And as more people have donated, prizes for the special flipout have increased.

All funds raised will go to the Covid-Crypto Relief Fund, which launched on 24 April for this specific purpose of raising funds to aid India in fighting the pandemic. Thus far, money raised has funded oxygen machines and other medical equipment, as well as healthcare workers and patients without healthcare. Contributors raised more than $1M within the first week or so of fundraising.

How to Get Involved

People anywhere can donate to the fund, as it need not happen via an online poker site. The benefit of doing it through Natural8, however, is that the site matches all contributions of more than $1.

Players can donate in several ways:

  • Connect via the Natural8 app and transfer funds to helpindia@natural8.com.
  • Contact anyone with the Natural8 customer support team, available 24/7.
  • Send an email to support@natural8.com for more information or help in donating.

Transfers are simply through the Cashier page. Simply click on “transfer” from the main cashier page and type in the address mentioned above. Type in the amount to donate and click on the lower “transfer” button. Players will then receive an email or in-game notification to verify the transaction and provide a unique confirmation identification.

Natural8 is tracking all donations with the goal of full transparency.

To date, Natural8 players have donated more than $11K, and Natural8’s own matching donation doubles that to more than $22K. No donation is too large or small. Of the nearly 200 donations recorded to date, they range from a few cents to $1,000 and even a few at $1,888.88.

Deadline Approaching

The donation program at Natural8 will remain open to 29 May. But for those who complete their donation before the end of the day on Friday, 28 May, they will receive that freeroll flipout ticket. The flipout will happen on May 29.

Natural8 is determining the number of starting chips for each player based on the amount of money donated. For $1 to $9.99, those players will start with the initial starting stack. Donations from $10 to $29.99 up that stack by a 2x multiplier. This continues all the way up to players who donate $1K or more, which garners an 8x starting stack.

 

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The Star Announces July Return of Sydney Champs Series

The headline on the website for the Star Sydney’s poker room page says it all: WE’RE BACK!

Like most live poker tournament series, the Sydney Champs didn’t happen in 2020. The pandemic shut down casinos in early 2020, and though there were attempts to reopen the casino – and even the poker room – at limited capacity several times, it wasn’t until 2021 that the light at the end of the tunnel appeared. Not only are poker players excited to return to the Star Sydney, they and poker room management are very much looking forward to the 2021 Sydney Champs.

It will begin on 21 July and run through 2 August, with nine tournaments and something for everyone.

Glitch in the History

The Star Sydney first hosted the Sydney Championships in 2009. There were eight primary tournaments during the second week of September that year, and Jarred Graham won the $1,500 buy-in Main Event for $121,500.

Through the years, the series grew to the point of hosting 15 events at the 2018 Sydney Championships. And that year’s Main Event awarded $314,265 to Nebojsa Blanusa for the win.

In 2019, the Star decided to shorten the name to the Sydney Champs and welcome more players. It had also expanded to 18 tournaments over several weeks. That year’s Main Event recorded 600 entries and a prize pool of $1.68M. Hamish Crawshaw won that event for $352,800.

While history will give a break to continuity, the record will show that the 2020 Sydney Champs did not happen due to the pandemic.

Back in Business

Without a doubt, the 2021 Sydney Champs will be the most anticipated by the masses. Poker fans missed their live games tremendously during the many months of closures, especially with the limited online poker options for them as they try to play from Australia.

This year’s series is set to begin on 21 July and run through 2 August. Buy-ins will range from $440 to $3,000, and there will be satellites in the poker room leading up to and throughout the series. In fact, there will be Main Event satellites for the seven weeks leading up to the Sydney Champs. They will guarantee 66 seats into that Main Event but could offer more, dependent upon the turnout for satellites.

The first in-person satellite will be on Tuesday, 1 June. The buy-in will be $330 with a reentry allowed. It will guarantee one seat to the Main Event.

Several satellites will then run each week – $330 for the Main Event and $550 for the $5K Challenge.

Star Poker Sydney also wants to remind players that tables are still restricted to 8-handed action due to Covid-19 restrictions. This could remain in place by the time the series begins. If so, players should pre-register when possible to reserve seats. Online registrations begin on Monday, 24 May.

At this time, players cannot register on site at Star Poker Sydney.

Without Further Ado…

This is the event schedule:

  • Event 1 on 21-25 July: $750 buy-in NLHE Opening Event (repachage, 3 starting flights)
  • Event 2 on 25 July: $440 buy-in NLHE Turbo (freezeout)
  • Event 3 on 26 July: $500 buy-in NLHE Teams Event (freezeout)
  • Event 4 on 27-28 July: $660 buy-in Omaha (1 reentry)
  • Event 5 on 28-29 July: $5,000 buy-in NLHE $5K Challenge (reentry)
  • Event 6 on 29 July: $660 buy-in NLHE Big Bounty (reentry)
  • Event 7 on 30 July – 2 August: $3,000 buy-in NLHE Main Event (repachage, 2 starting flights)
  • Event 8 on 31 July – 1 August: $1,650 buy-in Omaha (reentry)
  • Event 9 on 1-2 August: $1,100 buy-in NLHE Monster Stack (freezeout)

Star Sydney Poker posted the full schedule and structures on its website. Organizers will update the page with any satellite changes or additions and Covid-19 rule changes. There will also be a link for online registrations starting this week.

 

 

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New iSoftBet Releases Include Megaways and Roulette

As 2021 got underway, iSoftBet was one of the online casino slot game developers with numerous new titles on the table. The company released Mighty Stallion Hold & Win, Neptune’s Fortune Megaways, and Book of Cai Shen. Those games covered a range of themes and features.

Just a few months later, iSoftBet has added numerous other titles as additions to its 2021 game library. But there is no slowing down, as they are preparing to release the new Gem Roulette and Moriarty Megaways, adding more diversity and catering to more player interest.

Let’s look at the new games of the past few months and the two that will be released soon.

Bounty Belles: February 2021

The women of the Wild West were outlaws, though not as frequently as men. But that didn’t stop iSoftBet from putting them on “wanted” posters for Bounty Belles, complete with jackpots on their heads as bounties.

  • 5 reels, 3-5 rows
  • 243 to 1,125 paylines
  • 96% RTP
  • 10,000x max win
  • $0.20 min bet – $20 max bet
  • High volatility

This game offers Wilds and a Wild Bounty feature, the latter triggered by Wilds on the first and second reels. Those bounties then become available on the third, fourth, and fifth reels via the Expanding Reels. There are dollar amounts on some symbols, as well as minor (30x bet), major (50x bet), and grand (100x bet) jackpots.

Three or more Bonus symbols trigger free spins: three symbols garnering 10 spins, four symbols for 12 spins, and five symbols for 15 free spins. This bonus can retrigger during the free spins play. And during those spins, players see cards that make up the Dead Man’s Draw – a take on the Dead Man’s Hand of Wild Bill Hickock fame. Players can win multipliers of up to 10x for the free spin wins.

Aztec Gold Extra Gold Megaways: February 2021

If the game name sounds familiar, it’s because Aztec Gold was previously released by iSoftBet. This version, however, is upgraded to include the Megaways and Hold & Win mechanics. Those features expanded everything from paylines to bonus rounds, all in the familiar hidden treasure troves of the Aztecs.

  • 6 reels, 7 rows
  • 117,649 betways
  • 96% RTP
  • 20,000x max win
  • $0.20 min bet – $20 max bet
  • High volatility

Any win in the new Aztec Gold triggers a Cascading Win. All winning paylines vanish to be replaced with more symbols, and the process continues until there are no more wins. Any spin can also randomly trigger one of several features. Montezuma can appear to trigger Aztec Gold Cash Respins or simply a big win. Max Megaways brightens the background and prompts the reels to offer Megaways.

Players will look for Sun Disk Scatters to trigger the Aztec Gold Cash Respins feature. This uses the Hold & Win to hold the discs and spin the other symbols in the hopes of adding more discs. Any or all of the jackpots may also appear during this feature, with mini, major, and mega jackpots corresponding to the current bet. Sun disc values are also multiplied by the total bet for the final payout.

There is also the option for players to use the Aztec Bet. It costs 100x or 150x the bet but guarantees a Max Megaways Aztec Gold Cash Respins round with the maximum payouts possible. Further, players can turn on the Extra Gold feature for an extra 25% bet. This increases the chance for bonus rounds and reduces the number of Scatters necessary for Respins.

Wishing Wheel: March 2021

Developers went with an Irish theme for this one, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. The light-hearted game offers light colors and a spring sky, nothing too bright or flashy. That doesn’t mean the gold doesn’t sparkle, though, as the “luck of the Irish” theme was in full effect with everything from four-leaf clovers to pots of gold.

  • 5 reels, 3 rows
  • 20 paylines
  • 96% RTP
  • 5,000x max win
  • $0.20 min bet – $20 max bet
  • Medium volatility

The Bonus symbol is the Wishing Wheel, which can land on the first, third, and fifth reels and trigger – you guessed it – the Wishing Wheel. That wheel then spins to award up to 15 free spins, which will accompany at least one major feature. Any spin can also randomly trigger the wheel.

The Mystery Pipe is one of those features, which replaces 6-12 positions on the grid with the same symbol. Rainbow Wilds can turn 5-10 positions into Wilds, replacing all other symbols except the Bonus. The wheel may also land on the Mega Reels, which turns either reels 1-3 or 2-4 into all mega symbols. Shamrock Sync turns 2-3 reels in the same combinations, while the Super Shamrock Sync does it for 3-5 reels. And the Rainbow Reels turns up to three reels into Stacked Wilds, with Super Rainbow Reels doing it for 3-5 reels. Finally, Ultra Reels turns the entire grid into ultra symbols.

Each wheel spin also picks a Shamrock Multiplier, which applies a 2x-10x multiplier to all free spins.

Super Reel Spin It Hot: March 2021

This unique game rolled out to several online casinos before opening to the entire market, including casinos catering to Aussie slots players. The symbols are traditional, like diamonds and fruits, bells and sevens, but the slot is anything but “the usual.” It plays in portrait mode and features 10 Super Reels across the top of the regular reels, providing ample possibilities with every spin.

  • 5-10 reels, 3 rows
  • 20 paylines
  • 96% RTP
  • 9,000x max win
  • $0.20 min bet – $20 max bet
  • Medium volatility

There are some predictable features, like the Scatter symbols that trigger free spins. Three of them award eight spins, four trigger 12 spins, and five maxes out at 15 free spins. During the bonus round, Spin It Hot symbols appear more frequently, and jackpot values increase.

Speaking of jackpots, there are three in the game: mini at 10x the bet, major at 25x, and mega at 50x the bet. During free spins, they can increase to as much as 250x for the mini, 500x for the major, and 1000x for the mega.

And speaking of the Spin It Hot feature, it begins when a spin offers six or more Bonus symbols. This opens up the grid to Spin It Hot Respins, and the prizes scrolling across the top of the screen are finally up for grabs. In addition to the jackpot options, there are other prizes for Gold symbols. It gets a bit complicated, but there are a lot of ways to win during the Spin It Hot feature.

Sea of Riches: April 2021

iSoftBet developers take players to the high seas in Sea of Riches, where a storm creates havoc but brings players to a sunny beach. The pirates then search for the many treasures available on the unique board that offers increasing game levels.

  • 6 reels, 6 rows
  • Cluster pays
  • 96% RTP
  • $0.20 min bet – $20 max bet
  • Medium volatility

The big component of the game is the Treasure Map, which likens the action to that of a board game in some respects. The goal is to collect pieces of the Treasure Map, and every bottle symbol adds a piece. When the 25 pieces finish the map, players move to the next level, of which there are four in total.

There are different features for each level. They trigger randomly on losing spins to add Wilds to the reels. The Wild Kraken emerges with its tentacles to turn 5-10 symbols into Wilds. The Wild Storm is a tornado that swirls across the reels to turn 3-9 symbols wild. A Wild Whale splashes his tail to create a pattern of 5 Wilds. And finally, the Wild Ghostship can appear to add 2-5 Wild Multipliers of up to 5x.

Along the way, each spin charges the Captain’s Compass, which triggers different modifiers. Compass modifiers include the Rolling Rum for 1-3 barrels to change 3-6 symbols and Musket Mayhem for 5-12 symbols removed from the reels. The Cannon Blast fires 1-3 cannonballs to remove an entire row of symbols, and the Swarm O’Parrots allows the parrots to remove 10-15 symbols.

The Ruby Megaways: May 2021

This is another revamp of a classic game. The Ruby is a traditional slot with symbols like lucky sevens, diamonds, bars and bells. But it brings the Megaways mechanic to the older version of the game to update it with much more action.

  • 6 reels, 7-8 rows
  • 117,649 paylines
  • 11% RTP
  • 37,500x max win
  • $0.20 min bet – $20 max bet
  • Medium volatility

iSoftBet has yet to release the demo game for The Ruby Megaways on its website, but it is due soon. This slot offers cascading reels, mystery symbols, and 12-27 free spins, depending upon the number of Ruby Bonus symbols on a spin.

The free spins bonus round creates an unlimited multiplier tracker, which increases with each cascade. There is also the chance to continue adding more free spins during that bonus play. Players who want immediate access to the bonus round can use the Ruby Bet to the left of the grid to buy that opportunity for 75x the current bet.

Pearl Legend: May 2021 

For an entirely different theme, developers created Pearl Legend with an Asian theme in an ancient structure. Of course, the Hold & Win feature is the main attraction here, as combined with the pearls, it takes the excitement to another level.

  • 5 reels, 3-6 rows
  • 20 paylines
  • 96% RTP
  • 8,230x max win
  • $0.20 min bet – $20 max bet
  • Medium volatility

Wilds and Pearls are the most lucrative symbols, the former substituting for anything but pearls and gems, and the latter triggering the Pearl Legend Respins with five or more on the grid. This is where the Hold & Win feature comes into play, as all dollar symbols hold, and three respins add more. With every additional sticky pearl, the respins reset at three.

Gems may also appear during the Respins, and three of them trigger a Reel Booster. Blue gems unlock another three rows; green ones boost the value of all symbols on the board. Red ones award an extra respin, and purple ones increase the multiplier level for the bonus game from 2x up to 10x. Players can track their gems at the top of the screen.

There are also Pearl Legend modifiers. For example, the red ball turns 3-5 symbols into Wilds. The blue one transforms symbols into pearls, and the golden dragon upgrades symbols.

Gem Roulette: May 2021         

For players who love table games, iSoftBet’s new take on the classic roulette might be of interest. Gem Roulette is an online roulette variation with special gems and features. The added side bets may be the biggest attraction for players.

The minimum bet is $0.10 and maximum is $10, so this is not the game for high rollers.

Most roulette wheels have a 0 or 00 spot – or both – but Gem Roulette puts gems in those places. The Ruby Bonus offers the chance to win up to 500 chips, and the opportunity is double that with the Diamond Bonus. Hitting either of those symbols triggers the Bonus Wheel, which awards at least 10 chips but has great potential.

Moriarty Megaways: May 2021

This is a take on Sherlock Holmes, set in the old London streets, complete with fog and streetlights leading the way. And the Megaways feature, as licensed from Big Time Gaming, creates more than 100,000 ways to win. To top it off, Sherlock asks a lot of questions, offering some unique entertainment.

  • 6 reels, 3-7 rows
  • 117,649 paylines
  • 96% RTP
  • 37,500x max win
  • $0.20 min bet – $20 max bet
  • High volatility

As in any iSoftBet game, Bonus symbols trigger free spins. Three of them offer 15 free spins, four offer 20 spins, five garner 25 spins, and six maxes out at 30 spins. Wilds are present but a bit different, only appearing in the second through fifth reels and in the very top row. That row is called the Top Tracker, which adds a symbol and extra payout opportunity for the second through fifth reels.

Cascading wins replaces winning symbols with new ones, though they move from right to left on the Top Tracker. Also on any spin, the game may trigger Sherlock’s Max Megaways. This starts with a 1x multiplier and increases once for every cascading win. Conversely, any spin may trigger Watson’s Mystery Symbols, which also carry the increasing multiplier.

This game also offers the Moriarty Bet, a possibility for the player to buy a set of free spins for 150x the current bet.

Where to Play iSoftBet Slots

Almost every new game is available on the iSoftBet website for demo play, which is free. Players can experiment with any game and its features, try different betting levels, and test the payout frequency.

When ready for real-money online slots, check out iSoftBet games at Queenspins, National Casino, Cobra Casino, King Johnnie Casino, Wild Card Casino, Woo Casino, Playamo Casino, Casino Chan, and Pokies Parlour.

 

 

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World Class of Poker Brings New Poker to Asian Market

The live poker tournament scene is a market that requires tenacity for success, not just for players but for organizers. Taking a poker tour to various countries in the Asia-Pacific market requires compliance with each country’s gambling laws, some of which can be unclear or even changed with little notice. Add in a pandemic that shuts down travel, border entries, and group gathers, and live poker series became immensely more difficult in the past year – technically a year and a half.

However, the World Class of Poker created and marketed its new poker tour over the past year. And the WCOP is coming together quite nicely from its home in South Kora.

What is WCOP?

The abbreviations in poker can be confusing. There is the WSOP, which is the World Series of Poker, as well as the WCOOP, which is the World Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars. But the WCOP is different from both of them.

The World Class of Poker or WCOP is a new poker brand that focuses on live poker tournaments. SoMuchPoker recently put a spotlight on the company, one that launched as the brainchild of World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner Ji-Young Kim.

WCOP Planning Manager Tyler Jang told SMP, “As a poker player, I started this project with the ambition of expanding the Korean Poker market base and creating a recognizable poker tournament organization (WCOP) not only in Korea but throughout Asia and eventually the world. My long-term goal is for WCOP to have the right ability to make our own tournament system, create and manage various successful tournaments in Korea continually.”

According to the website, WCOP is a system that allows amateur poker players to hold competitions locally and affordably. At the same time, it allows them to build a list of accomplishments that is recognized by other tours and particularly by the Global Poker Index (GPI).

Part of a Bigger Picture

Kim started the WCOP as a part of the larger JYK brand, using her initials. She calls the company one leading in domestic poker culture, working with partners to establish a new perception of poker, all with a home base in Korea.

“I set up a company because I wanted to feel the overwhelming moments I felt while participating in overseas tournaments with many players in Korea,” she wrote on the website. “We will take the lead in making the poker industry, which is already in the spotlight abroad, recognized as a mind sport that anyone can enjoy in Korea.”

Having just launched in April 2020, JYK has already established business relationships with 11 affiliates and more than 100 contracting companies.

Original events included the Changwon Sangnam World Class Open, Gimhae Jangyu World Class Open, and Jinju World Class Open, all within six months of launch. Before the end of the year, JYK hosted the Masan Sokcho World Class Open, Gangwon-do Poker Tournament (GPT), and the first WCOP Competition (Busan, Sacheon, Wonju World Class Open).

Partners in Poker

As mentioned, JYK has already secured a number of partnerships and franchises.

One is the World Class of Hold’em in partnership with the WCOP. The WCOP itself is the poker tournament subsidiary of JYK. In addition to hosting tournaments and series, further goals include expanding into sporting equipment, training, and providing professional staff for events.

The WPI is a game and solution development company with 15 years of experience in technologies, specializing in areas of game and app solutions. Currently, it is providing technology to WCOP while also developing and managing a brand called BBPOKER Korea.

First and Future Poker Tournaments

The first official WCOP event took place in November 2020 at the Gyeongnam Changwon World Class Arena. The only tournament on record with the Hendon Mob database is the 3Bet High Roller. It had a KRW1,000,000 buy-in and guaranteed KRW30,000,000. Out of 30 entries, Dongwoo Kim won it for KRW11,000,000.

There were also three events in March 2021 at the same location. There was a deepstack turbo event with 139 entries and a high roller with 99 entries. The Main Event was a KRW300,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em tournament. Its 750 entries created a prize pool of KRW149,520,000, and Hyungyu Park won the event for KRW44,000,000.

The WCOP website offers information about current and upcoming events, though it is only in Korean.

What is known is that all WCOP events offer self-registration via mobile devices for convenience and safety. This is in line with JYK’s goal of making the details of tournament registration and play easier so players can focus on the game itself.

 

 

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The Lott Reveals Most Frequent Lotto Winners in 2020

The Lott keeps data. It makes sense for a company based on numbers. When the public is lucky, the Lott puts that data together and reveals information and trends. For most, this is nothing more than interesting and fun, but could it be useful?

This month, the Lott revealed statistics about its 2020 lottery winners, most notably regarding their names and ages. The data came from all divisions in the 12-month period ending 31 December 2020.

Does Your Name Start with J?

People with the first initial of J who played Lott games in 2020 were more likely to win than anyone else. The Lott didn’t reveal the winningest entire first name, but most winners’ names started with a J.

In 2019, the top names also started with J. Coincidence? You decide.

It actually wasn’t close, as the data showed that 11%  winners’ names started with a J. The next most common letter was A, but that was significantly lower at just 8.2%. Barely behind the A names were the D names at 8.14%.

Absolutely no winners’ names began with U or X, with Q, O, and Y names representing only 0.3% each. Names starting with I represented only 0.55% of the winners, and V came in at 0.56%. Somewhat surprisingly, Z names comprised 1.1% of the winners.

In order of popularity, these were the first initials of winners’ first names in 2020:

  • J = 11%
  • A = 8.2%
  • D = 8.14%
  • M = 7.58%
  • R = 7.3%
  • S = 6.74%
  • C = 6.46%
  • L = 5.61%
  • G or P = 5.05% each
  • B = 4.8%
  • K = 3.65%
  • H = 3.37%
  • N or W = 3.03% each
  • E or T = 2.8% each
  • F = 2.22%

The Lott spokesperson Lauren Cooney noted, “It’s always interesting to look at the trends that emerge from division one data and create a profile of our major lottery winners.”

Are You in Your 60s?

The same data analysis delivered information regarding ages of the winners. Instead of breaking it down by individual ages, the Lott categorized it all by decades. Of course, this information should be compared to the percentage of people in each age group who play lottery games, but that is not available.

Anyway, the majority of the winners are in their 60s, but 40s and 50s are not far behind. Winners in their 20s are much rarer, but there are also relatively few winners in their 30s.

  • 60s = 26.43%
  • 40s = 21.43%
  • 50s = 20.71%
  • 70s = 18.57%
  • 30s = 10.71%
  • 20s = 2.14%

Anyone Can Win

As an important reminder, lottery games are completely random. While there are trends from past players and winners, every player has the same chance as the next person of winning.

Cooney added, “It is important to remember that lotteries are fun games of chance, and no matter what your initial is or how old you are, as long as you have an entry, there’s a chance a win could be in your future.

The bigger picture shows that a total of 104.9 million people won something in the Lott games in 2020. And those winnings totaled $3.45 billion. And in the first six months of that year, Australia’s Official Lotteries contributed more than $1.4 billion to community organizations and initiatives via state lottery taxes.

The Lott games include Saturday Lotto, Powerball, Oz Lotto, Set for Life, Lucky Lotteries, Keno, Monday & Wednesday Lotto, Super 66, Lotto Strike, and the instant scratch-it tickets. The scratchers alone awarded 177 top prizes that cumulatively totaled $16 million.

Data includes all of those games, purchased in retail locations or online. And the Lott’s jurisdictions are New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, Northern Territory, and South Australia.

 

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Victorian royal commission into Crown kicks off

It’s been another chaotic week for Crown Resorts, who have named a new chief executive, fielded a merger bid from rival Star Entertainment and are in the midst of two royal commissions in separate states.

WA Today reports that a bidding war is underway for Crown and its sprawling properties in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.

That adds to an already massive workload for current board chair and acting CEO Helen Coonan, who tries to rebuild Crown’s management, board and reputation after last year’s Bergin Inquiry in New South Wales eviscerated all three.

Crown Resorts selling assets to cover debt

Crown is still working towards opening the casino at its new Sydney tower after its licence was suspended when former supreme court judge Patricia Bergin confirmed, among other things, reported that Crown had facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos.

The Victorian government slapped it with a $1 million fine last month for failing to check its high roller “junket” tour partners for criminal links and that could pale in comparison to a potential penalty from financial crimes watchdog AUSTRAC’s investigation into money laundering breaches.

Now Crown is preparing to be grilled again, simultaneously, at two royal commissions that will ceide if it is fit to keep its Melbourne and Perth casino licences.

NSW gambling boss gives update on Crown Sydney opening

West Australia’s commission has just commenced hearings, while Victoria’s commences on Monday.

There are questions about how many balls Coonan, who ended up running Crown as the last person standing after Bergin cut a swathe through the group, can keep in the air at once.

At least the future of Crown Sydney has become clearer when NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority chairman Philip Crawford said he was “confident” he would give Crown the all-clear to finally open the gaming rooms at the new $2.2 billion Barangaroo tower by the end of October.

It was supposed to open in December 2020.

Crawford, who was obliged by the sweetheart deal Crown signed with the NSW government in 2014 to work with Crown to try to restore its licence rather than just take it away, said he was “amazed” by what Coonan had achieved in the past four months by installing new people, systems and a new culture in the company.

I didn’t know in February, whether they would get the licence back…the old management, I reckon, wanted to fight,” he said.

But even as the regulatory storm in NSW is easing, royal commission clouds are gathering in Victoria and WA.

In Victoria, respected former judge Ray Finkelstein was given a tight timeframe of needing to report back by August 1 and was instructed to avoid “unnecessarily duplicating” Bergin’s work.

But Finkelstein is diving deeply into the same thorny issues of money laundering and criminal infiltration that prompted NSW to suspend Crown’s licence.

Requests from the two royal commissions for thousands of documents have sent Crown’s law firm Allens and a raft of advisers into overdrive, with one person familiar with the work saying it is a “logistical nightmare”.

“It’s putting everyone under a massive amount of pressure,” the legal source said.

“The financial services royal commission wasn’t just about one bank.”

There is a risk the royal commission will uncover evidence of wrongdoing that Bergin did not find in her probe.

Finkelstein has said the “most important” area of his inquiry is one Bergin didn’t touch at all: how Crown deals address gambling addiction, something critics have long said Crown has failed to do properly.

“They’re the biggest gambling harm production factory in the country,” gambling academic Charles Livingstone said.

“On a systematic basis, people are being encouraged to gamble way beyond their means at levels which are quite unimaginable to ordinary people, and Crown is being rewarded to do it.”

 

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Scientific Games mulls ASX launch

An American poker machine company is considering a launch onto the Australian Stock Exchange.

The Australian Financial Review reports that Las Vegas gaming giant Scientific Games is considering an Australian public offering, which would help it raise fresh capital and pay down debt.

The Nasdaq-listed Scientific Games has engaged Sydney-based Jarden Australia to run the numbers on a potential ASX-listing and feed their input into a broader strategic review that’s mulling options to fix up the company’s debt-heavy corporate structure.

An ASX-listing is believed to be just one option on the table, however sources said it was a serious consideration.

People discussing business

Australia’s equity capital markets are open to new floats, shares in fellow gaming companies are trading at all-time highs and Scientific Games has plenty of Australian hooks to help it catch some big domestic investors.

The Australian connections start with Scientific Games executive chairman Jamie Odell, who joined the company’s board in 2020.

Odell is a well known and highly respected Australian gaming company executive, having spent nearly a decade running poker machine maker Aristocrat Leisure and turning it into one of the country’s best performing companies.

Caledonia invests $1b in Scientific Games

Another connection is Sydney based fund manager Caledonia Investments, which spearheaded a consortium that invested US$1 billion in Scientific Games in 2020.

Odell was also part of the consortium, he knew Caledonia well from his days as a major Aristocrat shareholder.

Caledonia, run by Will Vicars and Mike MEssara, now owns 9.8 per cent of the company.

Also involved at Scientific Games is Toni Korsanos, another former Aristocrat Leisure executive now plying her trade on the boards of Crown Resorts and Treasury Wine Estates.

Korsanos is Scientific Games’ executive vice chair. Jarden advised Odell and Korsanos when they bought in last year.

It remains to be seen whether Scientific Games will turn the Australian scoping study into a listing, however fund managers reckon the deal would likely be well received.

Scientific Games shares have had a huge run since Caledonia and its co-investors agreed their deal in September 2020.

The consortium paid US$28 a share to take the stake from billionaire Ronald Perelman, and the stock last closed at US$56.09.

Part of the deal saw Caledonia re-shape the board, bringing in the likes of Odell and Korsanos, and working to re-shape its debt laden capital structure.

Scientific Games is carrying US$9.43 billion debt, according to S&P Global Markets research, while it has a US$19.93 billion enterprise value and US$5.39 billion market capitalisation.

Any funds raised at an Australian IPO would be expected to help repay some of that debt.

Last September, it was reported that an Australian fund was poised to purchase a 34.9 per cent stake in Scientific Games.

Australian fund Caledonia was reported to be purchasing a stake in Scientific Games from MacAndrews and Forbes Incorporated.

Caledonia

MacAndrews and Forbes is managed by billionaire investor Ron Perelman, who said earlier this year he wanted a “less complicated and less leveraged business life” and has been looking for ways to reduce his portfolio as several of his companies have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Caledonia has reached an agreement with MacAndrews and Forbes to buy nearly 35 per cent of Scientific Games, at a price of $28 per share.

As a result of the transaction, Scientific Games said it would implement a series of governance changes and enhancements.

This will see the gambling technology giant revamp its board of directors and terminate its stockholders agreement with MacAndrews and Forbes.

Caledonia is a Sydney-headquartered global investment management firm.

Aside from its newly acquired stake in Scientific Games, the investor owns a 10.4 per cent stake in Dublin-based Flutter Entertainment, which owns major brands such as Paddy Power, PokerStars and Sky Betting.

Scientific Games said its board will be restructured to include all existing directors except its MacAndrews and Forbes representatives, as well as three new directors.

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