The online gambling clans were gathering in a cold and overcast London this week as the industry's premiere European Expo IGE-ICEi opened at Earl's Court.
Early visitors - and there were thousands of them - were treated to a welcome by a bevy of bowler hatted Cake Poker Network girls clad in tights and smart yellow tops, who braved the chilly temperatures to put on a cheerful display and brighten the day.
The burgeoning Cake Poker Network was celebrating the addition of eight new poker rooms, including international poker ace Phil 'The Unabomber' Laak's new site Unabomber Poker.com
IGT-UK and Wagerworks
Almost immediately catching attention was the giant stand put together by IGT-UK and its subsidiaries, Million-2-1, Barcrest and Wagerworks with the centrepiece the just-launched Monty's Millions slot (see previous InfoPowa reports) which is a first for the company in that it was simultaneously implemented on both land and online channels. The company will be applying this all-channels approach for at least some of its future game releases, bringing the top IGT land products into the Internet environment faster.
Wagerworks also had large and colourful displays of more established but still fresh games such as Dungeons and Dragons Crystal Caverns, Treasures of Troy, Captain Jackpot's Cash Ahoy! and a new slot that is imminent titled Kitty Glitter - all showcasing the quality graphics for which Wagerworks is justifiably proud.
Wagerworks has also carried some meaningful upgrades to its RGS platform, launching a new version, and InfoPowa was told that players could expect some major branded releases later in the year.
Neogames, the Malta and Israeli company that has made such an impact on the scratch card sector in the past year, signing up over 20 white label and game contracts, featured its latest offerings of games like Cash Farm, themed on farmyard animals; Christmas and Knights, which is based on the popular game War.
But the bigger story for this rapidly growing gambling software provider was the introduction of its new mobile scratchcard platform targeted on the UK market, where recent research has shown a growing, gender-balanced 35 to 55 aged demographic who are scratch card fans..
Supporting over 100 different mobile devices, including all the main brands, the platform carries 10 of NeoGames' most popular scratch games. These are backed by horizontal scrolling menu, which holds all the functions and changes dynamically according to the required actions. In addition, the mobile platform supports the regular applications including cashier, registration, cash out, history and player promotion adapted to the mobile environment.
"This is an exciting time for NeoGames as we venture into the future of gaming" Shay B. Joseph, managing director of NeoGames Network said. "By creating the mobile application, scratch cards can now be played anytime, anywhere; on the train, at the bus stop, even at the checkout in the supermarket."
Neogames spent four years developing its proprietary technology, and says it has signed over 20 games and white label contracts in the last 12 months and the pace shows no sign of abating.
GTech G2 - the holding group for Boss Media, Dynamite Idea, Finsoft and St Minver was celebrating the renewal of its contract with the major betting group Sportingbet.com - a five year relationship that has seen G2 provide online gambling products across all key product verticals, including poker, casino and games, licensing the new G2 bingo product whilst also entering a new phase of its sports betting relationship.
The 3 year renewal means that Sportingbet will continue to use the Margin Maker software, and will also integrate G2’s player-centric Gaming Management System which will serve as the back office for bingo, poker and casino. As a result, Paradise Poker, the leading poker brand operated by Sportingbet, expects to increase the number of casino side games offered to its poker players in the coming months. Paradise Casino is also expected to benefit from many new flash games from G2. Sportingbet’s poker site has for several years operated on GTech G2’s Boss Media’s International Poker Network (IPN).
“Sports betting is, of course, our core business and we’ve partnered with Finsoft, and then subsequently GTechG2 post-sale, to provide our sports betting systems for years,” said Andy McIver of Sportingbet plc. “This extension of our relationship with G2 achieves many positives for us, including some exciting new operating methodologies around Margin Maker, plus a suite of new casino games, renewed vigour around poker and the exciting launch of bingo.”
GTech G2 has also embarked on a major new bingo strategy, taking its business in-house from Parlay and launching new bingo software on its own network, which additionally boasts 12 side games with plans for a further 12 before year-end. Licensees are being migrated to the new bingo offering, which will give more player liquidity and improved game performance.
Poker software improvements are also in progress, and a new game Texas Hold 'Em has been made available, bringing the group games inventory to over 300 products. GTech plans to add to this at the rate of 3 to 4 games a month; not merely re-themed skins on old engines, but truly new products, and to boost production it has taken on additional staff.
Watch out for a new Pari Mutuel offering developed in-house, more sportsbook functionality and the addition of third party games to add variety to the group's overall range.
Worthy of special mention among the new G2 games released are the slots Maya Gold, Lucky's Diner and Rome, along with a new 80 ball speed bingo, VP, American Roulette and Showdown Poker. The Margin Maker sports betting platform has been upgraded, and the introduction of the Solid Icon-developed Virtual Derby online fantasy horse racing game should be well received. Virgin Casino, powered by G2, has also reported the launch of Triple Chance Hi Lo, Casino Dice, Spin Win, Aces High and Bingo Keno Extreme, and the Dynamite Idea subsidiary has launched the new bingo side games, a 3 reel single line pub fruity, BarXMagic7 slot and promises to follow with more Electrocoin land-style slots like BarX-5 and BarX125 for the online division of the Gala Coral gamblng group.
“When we began to assemble the igaming software development companies that now form GTech G2, it was this kind of end-to-end, fully managed customer solution that we envisioned,” said Atul Bali, CEO of GTech G2.
Industry veteran Microgaming had its usual impressive and large presence in the ICEi section, featuring its massive range of games on a large flat screen wall-to-wall monitor but otherwise taking a different presentation approach, eschewing other graphics in favour of placards with glowing endorsements from top industry people and companies like Andy Harris (Ladbrokes); Pat Harrison (32Red); Gilbert Puente (Jackpot City) and Petter Nylander (Unibet).
Expect a major branded game announcement from this prolific games developer this week.
This provider's new 5 reel 20 pay-line Hellboy slot, themed on the famous Dark Horse comic cult character with unusual artwork to match, is probably its most recent major game, and was featured prominently atop its ICEi stand.
MGS has continued its punishing new games release schedule of 4 games a month for the past several years, and the pace shows no sign of slackening. A new Live Dealer Blackjack offering enables players to experience the thrills, atmosphere and realism of land-based casino play through a crisp, clear interface, and interact with live casino personnel dealing cards in real-time, streamed via over the internet via video.
During show week the company released three new bingo side games, Elementals (5 reel 20 pay line), Classic Blackjack Gold and a traditional pub style slot titled Scratch ‘N’ Spin.
Microgaming's mobile gambling associate technology provider, Spin3, inked an Eastern European deal for a mobile casino with gambling firm Rocketspin during show week. The agreement includes the first use in the Eastern European industry of NetWallet, a secure WAP mobile billing facility.
“Eastern Europe is a hugely exciting region offering great potential for growth. The market is virtually untouched with a strong desire from consumers for mobile casino games and entertainment,” said Matti Zinder, head of Spin3.
Longtime Microgaming rival and fellow industry pioneer Cryptologic also presented a major display, featuring giant models of characters from its many licensed brand games like Batman, Superman and The Incredible Hulk alongside colourful flat screen presentations of games that included Hollywood Jackpots, Jenga, the complex and fascinating Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Braveheart, Forrest Gump, Fumi's Fortune and Just Vegas. The latter is an interesting product in that it can be played in three different versions and paytables with a choice of Asian, Egyptian and Roman themes.
Among Crypto's recent table games releases are Blackjack Perfect Pairs, Sic Bo VIP and Double Double Bonus Poker.
InfoPowa was taken through a new Blackjack offering that has a high player protection facility which can be turned on or off by the player. Using optimal basic strategy criteria, when this guide is turned on and the player makes a questionable decision, the game will flash a warning panel to ensure the player is not disadvantaged.
This quality and long established provider has invested a massive amount of skill, technology and money into a very impressive new lobby and menu structure that is intensely player-friendly and easy to use, with convenient alphabetical search, colour coding and efficient keyboard shortcuts.
The company's table game complement is under continual review and replacement or updating, and like many of its rivals Cryptologic is adding more games diversity by importing third party products under strict supervision.
During show week the company announced the latest in its series of important business deals - a new agreement to supply the Scandinavian online casino operator Bet24 with at least 10 new games. Bet24 is owned by the Modern Times Group AB (MTG), a major international entertainment broadcasting corporate with the second largest geographical broadcast footprint in Europe.
Canadian software provider Chartwell Technology again presented its emphasis on an open, flexible platform offering a large range of products from its own studios and third party suppliers like Ash Gaming, Games Marketing and branded games from Paramount - 9 liner slots Sleepy Hollow and The Italian Job are recent examples.
The company showcased its multiplayer blackjack and baccarat, along with Texas Hold'Em Bonus and slots like Magical Grove, Arthur's Quest and Amazon Wild.
The company’s new involvement with the land slot manufacturer Novomatic heralds a new era of opportunity to convert popular land games to the Internet milieu with slots like Book of Ra, Reel King and Columbus all showing great potential, said Darcy Krogh, VP of business development.
The centrepiece for Swedish provider Net Entertainment's exhibit was its new slot Gonzo's Quest, the first in a hopefully large range of super-animated, feature-rich, interactive and storyline offerings that bring a strong and immersive entertainment element into the game as well as the usual gambling functionality.
There are a significant number of players who prefer this sort of game, NetEnt research has shown, and the company will ensure that a number of future games are designed and built with this in mind, we were told by Daniel Lindberg, the head of product management.
Gonzo's Quest is based on the historical efforts of the 16th century conquistador Gonzalo Pizzarro to find Eldorado, the mythical city of gold.
Other games showcased at ICEi included Ghost Pirates, Wild Witches, Beetle Frenzy, Mega Fortune and Blackjack Professional Series.
The company is also developing a range of scratch cards to meet demand from this interesting sector, together with a series of mini games and a slew of new offerings that will be released over the coming months. In particular, the upcoming World Cup football in South Africa has inspired the company to plan a range of slots and soft games.
Watch out for a major new release based on a branded game in the next month or so, and slots aplenty in the second half of the year.
NetEnt's Casino Module product continues to generate good business, with some 60 licensees now using this popular turnkey product that offers 100 unique games, with mini games and a seamless e-wallet on the cards.
With over 200 employees and a market cap of around Euro 250 million, this remains a company that is in the business for the long haul.
All the way from Malta, the Media Live Casino company showed off its live dealer operations and games, streamed from the Mediterranean island on a proprietary technology platform that includes under table webcams.
Sales manager Marco Cupito said that the live dealer action on roulette, blackjack and baccarat was proving popular with the player community, which was looking forward to the March launch of live Texas Hold'em .
Taking a break from the purely game and software providers at ICEi, InfoPowa talked to Reuben Portanier, for the last nine months the CEO of the Lotteries and Gaming Authority on Malta.
Good reports of improvements in service have been circulating since this energetic young executive took the reins, although he has kept a relatively low personal profile as he tackled the tasks of improving performance in terms of both compliance and administration.
The LGA now has on its books over 335 licensees held by some 250 operators, and in 2009, the remote gaming sector paid Euro 19 million in gaming duties, up from Euro 15.6 million the previous year, he revealed.
Portanier emphasised Malta's commitment to EU principles of free movement of goods and services between member nations as a member of the EU and the Eurozone.
Keeping abreast of dynamic technology developments is one of the important challenges that Malta faces as a jurisdiction in the fast-moving world of Internet gambling, and resources are devoted to this, he said. His staff also monitors selected player blogs and forums to keep abreast of developments and player perceptions, he revealed.
The LGA has been in detailed consultation with the online gambling industry on the Mediterranean island over the past few months, Portanier revealed. It has accelerated its turnaround time by 27 percent after stakeholders raised the issue of the backlog in licence processing, and the LGA has now set itself a target to speed up the processing period by 40 to 45 percent without compromising on standards and thoroughness.
It is just one aspect of a range of issues in which the regulator is involved which includes EU liaison, player disputes handling, advising legislators on technology and legal regulatory issues, licensee compliance and the consolidation of the legal framework.
"We are taking issues on in an organised and continuous manner...taking baby steps, if you like... to make sure issues are addressed fully and real improvements result," he said, adding that on the compliance front alone the LGA has "pulled" some 30 licenses in the last three months.
However, the LGA has traditionally maintained a rather low approach to publicising its activities, and this is perhaps an area that requires immediate attention to dispel player community perceptions that the regulator is not sufficiently active or fast in addressing player complainants and taking action against questionable licensee actions.
A more transparent and publicly active stance is clearly governed by legal constraints, but there is certainly room for improvements in the manner in which the LGA communicates and what it reveals.
Since its acquisition by land games producer Novomatic last year, the Austrian sports games provider Greentube has broadened its business approach and shows every sign of becoming a significant tier one competitor in the online casino software sector.
Manager Alfred Hofer said that the deal with Novomatic included a 3 year management contract, and that the involvement with the land giant brought with it great opportunities to produce Internet versions of top land games, broadening their appeal and the choice for online players.
Greentube will continue to produce its popular animated sports games, but these are now complemented by casino games like The Alchemist, Quest for Gold, Bugs n Bees, Fruits and Sevens, Ramses II, Mermaids Pearl, Magic Princess and Golden Sevens.
New releases imminent are Sic Bo, Baccarat, two Video pokers, 5 new slots - one a progressive jackpot offering.
A South African software company based in Johannesburg was attracting a lot of attention at ICEi, offering a truly turnkey, multilingual, multi-currency service with a large range of no- download Flash games and platforms across all major online gambling activities - casino, poker, sports betting, bingo, lottery and scratch cards, along with full marketing and administrative backend technology.
Head of sales and marketing Daniel Kustelski said the company had been in existence for the past seven years, developing a large proprietary range of products which it sells to other companies as a 'boutique' games, white label or turnkey supplier. The company was growing, with some 200 employees, he revealed.
One of the licensees, Play8Gaming.com was featured on the stand, along with some impressive examples of Jackpot Logic’s games expertise such as Dragon's Realm, Jackpot Artist, Blackbeard's Bounty, Superstrike and Disco Dash. Its latest game is titled Krugers Millions which is actually 20 games in one, depending on which characters the player chooses. Based on the mythical buried treasure of a former president of South Africa, the game has an international appeal with its quirky characters and absorbing game play.
The company has a games inventory of some 20 products, and will be releasing bingo, backgammon and poker soon.
3D slots specialist Betsoft - an online gambling show regular - displayed its latest slot release Enchanted, a good-looking game with a magic forest - fairies and wizards theme, along with older games like Slotfather, Heist, Once Upon a Time, Barbary Coast and Fortune Teller.
The OddsMatrix white label sportsbook provider has been making competitive waves recently, reporting a continuous string of new signings with companies like Chilibet, NoIQ, Setanta and others - in total 18 companies.
The latest to sign up are two new sports betting operators - sports betting portal BeteXpress and online poker operator BestBet, who have launched the OddsMatrix fully managed sportsbook that is integrated with the GamMatrix gaming management platform to provide a fully managed turnkey sports betting service.
New arrival Plus-Five's sales director Ian Remmer was kept busy telling ICEi visitors about this Maltese licensed and UK based company, which offers full service white label online and mobile gambling service, using a broad range of third party suppliers integrated with a full financial and administrative management systems.
Working in conjunction with AliQuantum Gaming, Plus-Five is addressing a real demand at the cost-effective end of the white label market, offering poker, skill games, casino, sportsbook, bingo and even chess from third party suppliers. Suppliers include Aberrant in Canada, Mirada and Bet2Go.
Remmer said the company is small and nimble, with a strong focus on personal attention to its clientele.
Aliquantum's Andy Jones said: “We decided that we could do better, and after a lot of hard work and negotiation with software suppliers, payment and other service suppliers, we will launch our first white label this (January) month."
Whilst not yet a threat to major b2b companies like 888's Dragonfish, Plus-Five has an interesting range of services and games that will appeal to some operators, including slot games like Luck of the Irish and Goldrush, and comical scratchcard offerings like Rolling in Dough and King of the Jungle.
Martin Reiner's live dealer gambling provider Visionary i-Gaming has become a regular at the big industry shows and this year it showcased its new version of the popular Blackjack Early Payout game and Multihand Live Blackjack. Visionary continues to sign up licensees for its live dealer product, providing strong competition to the likes of Vuetec (Reiner's former employer), CWC, Live Poker 888, Entertasia and a growing list of small but active companies in this sector.
Playtech's massive business collaboration with Scientific Games was much in evidence on three inter-related stands at ICEi. showcasing the unique attributes of Playtech’s B2B gaming software and comprehensive portfolio of products melded with Scientific Games' ability to provide added value, turnkey solutions to government-sponsored (B2G) and commercial (B2B) gaming operators.
Highlights of the combined displays included:
• Sciplay, Scientific Games and Playtech's new internet joint venture offering an extensive library of creative and innovative game content for download and internet applications, including for poker, casino games, instant games, sports betting, skill games, bingo games and casual games to the lottery and player.
• Operators were shown a sophisticated and comprehensive content/terminal/management system offering for government and commercial operators, demonstrating how they can integrate and cross-promote instant ticket, traditional lottery, internet, video lottery and sports betting systems on one platform with far greater functionality.
• Scientific Games' subsidiaries, The Global Draw and Games Media showcased new product offerings, including machines using Playtech's subsidiary Videobet technology, bringing centralised reporting, slot accounting tools, real time alerts, configurable game settings, game updates and game shifting ensure total, as well as a sophisticated player loyalty and bonus system for effective, targeted marketing efforts.
Playtech also used the show to announce its latest deal, a strategic relationship to provide e-gaming solutions to Sportech plc. Playtech has agreed to make a GBP 10 million investment in the shares of the pools firm which will represent 9.99 percent of the enlarged issued share capital.
This proposed investment is part of the GBP 29.2 million capital raising by Sportech to fund its acquisition of Scientific Games Racing ('SGR'), the US-based pari-mutuel and venue management business division of Scientific Games Corporation for up to $83 million.
Playtech and Sportech intend to work together to provide Playtech's e-gaming, software products and services to the SGR and Sportech businesses, targeting their combined customer base, notably SGRs global gaming platform and Sportech's internationally recognised pools betting platform. Sportech has significant benefit opportunities regarding its core football pools business which is now strengthened with the addition of SGR's horseracing gaming operations, that has a presence in a wide variety of international jurisdictions.
Playtech's exhibit at ICEi featured Videobet terminals, interactive TV gambling and some of the 21 new game offerings launched recently on the market that included additions to the Marvel Movies superhero themed series such as Blade, Fantastic Four, Elektra, X-men and Daredevil.
The remainder of the games consist of 9 download offerings and the rest instant-play, with the lineup comprising Happy Bugs (5 reel 20 pay-line), Cute and Fluffy (5/25), From Russia with Love (5/25), Fairy Magic (5/15) and Lucky Blackjack and Multiplayer Roulette. Arcade games are represented by Darts, Final Score, Hold'em Showdown and Pinball Roulette. Many of these games are duplicated in the instant gaming suite, along with six scratchcard games that include Football Mania, Love Match and Beetlebingo, where wins of up to $215 000 are achievable.
More Playtech action came from the EuroPartners announcement this week that the casino line Europa -Titan - Tropez would be launching Roulette Royal and Club Roulette interactive television gambling in 10 different languages from Playtech studios on show in Copenhagen recently.
The accomplished Latvian games developer CTXM, which counts many of the leading software providers as its games clients, was justifiably proud of its impressive recent deal to supply Japanese giant Sega's new online gambling venture with an extensive suite of games.
Its release of a successor to the popular Freaky 3D Slots series was on display in the form of the new Movie 3D Slots Series. Preview copies showcase a gangster theme in the first slot, which has outstanding graphics, rich animation and the title Gangs of New York, with an iconic story line and multiple game features, 3D effects and rich animation, all enhancing the level of player experience and game immersion.
“Our aim is to diversify our players’ experience,” said Udy Yosha, CEO of CTXM. “Last autumn we launched the Freaky 3D Slots family that, as well as high level graphics and 3D effects, introduced some unique game play elements, thus providing a new gaming experience to slot players, which helped our partners to increase players’ immersion and overall playtime.
"The Movie Slots Family and New York Gangs 3D Slots are an additional step towards increasing the monetisation of our slots. Bringing a diverse gaming experience to players will be a cornerstone of our game development strategy this year.
“Our 2010 strategy also includes new game development and further extension of our existing games portfolio on mobile platforms – in 2009 we extended our casino games portfolio for the iPhone,” added Victor Stepanov, COO of CTXM. “As the iPhone’s market share is continuing to increase we will continue to do so this year. Furthermore, we see emerging market opportunities provided by Google Android as well as the Blackberry - these platforms will definitely be a part of our game development strategy in 2010.”
The popularity of online bingo has continued to soar, creating lucrative opportunities for b2b providers like 888.com's Dragonfish, which hosted a large stand at ICEi.
Powered by 888-Dragonfish-Globalcom software the latest releases include 18 instant side games, with slots that include Piggy Payout, Fortune's Prophet, Mermaid's Pool, Doctor Love, Big Top Bucks, Cupid's Arrow, Double Up Ducks, Easter Island, Gets The Worm, Secret Garden, Luck Blossom, Pirate Princess, Pharaoh's Luck, Jewel Journey, Savannah Sunset and Gamma Girl, along with Single Zero Roulette and the scratchcard game Frolikken Frogs.
Dragonfish recently inked and agreement with the Greek operator Lex Online Entertainment Limited, a subsidiary of Centric Multimedia SA, for the provision of online casino and poker, too. The offering is aimed at territories in the South and Eastern European market, an area where there is significant potential for online gaming, a company spokesman said.
The two brands, Lexpoker.com and Lexcasino.com will launch in a variety of languages on a software platform provided by Dragonfish along with back office technology, fraud and risk management, e-payments processing systems and full customer support.
Gabi Campos, Managing Director of Dragonfish, said: “Dragonfish has a strong track record in launching localised gaming solutions tailored for emerging markets. We believe that Centric Group’s online gaming investment and local market knowledge, combined with Dragonfish’s comprehensive online gaming operation infrastructure, skills and experience, creates a partnership that has significant potential for Lexpoker.com and Lexcasino.com to become leading players in the South and Eastern European markets.”
The Swedish online gambling software developer NYX Interactive was keen to talk about its alliance with Amuso and Cashball, where the goal is to create an integrated network of online bingo and casino sites based on the NYX account.
This broad-based entertainment network would also feature formats such as TV quiz shows to attract players. The network is set to go live in the UK in 2010 and could be partnered with the rising ranks of new media partners.
Art director Mikael Pettersson showed InfoPowa over new games like Shake n Bake, Super Lucky Charm and Dragon King, a fantasy Asian themed game that is proving to be very popular on licensee sites.