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Bwin.Party Looks to Make U.S. Return

10 March 2012 by Devon Chappell

Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment plc, owner of the world’s second largest online poker room, may be closer than ever to returning to the U.S. market after having left it just days following the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act’s passing in the fall of 2006.

The company, who’s stock trades on the London Stock Exchange, recently applied to the Nevada Gaming Control Board for a gaming license as part of a larger effort to better position itself for the legalization of online poker in the United States – something that most people today agree will happen one way or another in the near future.

With nobody able to predict for certain the means by which online poker will first be legalized, a play for a Nevada gaming license makes a great deal of sense for the Gibraltar-based company.  If for no other reason, this is because Nevada’s state legislator has already officially legalized online poker within the state, though no licenses have yet been awarded to any company – and while there is always the possibility of a federal bill that will regulate online poker, most people think state-by-state legalization is the more likely outcome.

Bwin.Party was created in the spring of 2011 when Bwin Interactive Entertainment AG merged with PartyGaming plc.  The resulting company became a dominant force in online gambling around the world.    Its online poker room, PartyPoke,r is today the second largest of its kind, and the company itself is the largest online gambling company to be traded publicly on any the world’s exchanges.

Before its merger with Bwin, in early 2009, PartyGaming took steps that helped make it possible for the company to seek licensing in the states today.  They basically avoided prosecution for providing online gambling to U.S. citizens by settling with the feds and agreeing to pay a fine that totaled over $100 million.

The settlement was forward thinking on behalf of PartyGaming because had they been prosecuted at that time, their chances of getting licensed in the states when online gambling is legalized would have been significantly hurt.  The move to settle and pay such a large fine indicates how important the company felt the U.S. market would be once legalization eventually became a reality.

Bwin.Party’s Chief Operating Officer Jim Ryan recently discussed with PokerNews the possible impact that U.S. legalization of online poker could have on his company.  He remarked on the potential for a “very meaningful liquidity pool”, but did suggest that it would be difficult to regain the massive market share PartyPoker had before the UIGEA drove the company out of the U.S. market in 2006.

One reason that Ryan and his partners at Bwin.Party are hesitant to make boisterous claims about dominating the U.S. market is probably due to just how competitive the battle for licenses is expected to be.  There are tribal interests, state lotteries, other online outfits and land-based operations all seeking what will certainly be a limited number of licenses awarded by the states.

In fact, some states may keep companies like Bwin.Party out of the process all together.  New Jersey is currently in the process of considering legislation that would permit Atlantic City casinos to offer online gambling to residents of the state.  This legislation clearly aims to protect the state’s land-based casino operations while also creating an opportunity for an increase in tax revenue.

Despite the approach that New Jersey is currently considering, everyone agrees that there will be plenty of opportunities for companies like Bwin.Party to benefit from the legalization of online poker.

At the moment, the Nevada Gaming Control Board holds the cards that will determine whether Bwin.Party will be able to offer real-money gaming to Nevada state residents.  But with so many other states considering online gambling programs of their own, one can expect to see Bwin.Party soon applying for additional licenses in other states too.

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