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27 January 2010

Aussie Casino Gossip From The Media Man, by Greg Tingle - 27th January 2010

Crown Casino is in a jovial mood this week, with celebs, big time players and whales in town for the annual Aussie Millions. Annette "Annette 15" Obrestad has already pocketed $200,000 AUD at the tables, while Dan Shak won over a million quid via the $100,000 Challenge, but that's small change compared to what Mr James Packer and co are making from all the action at Crown Limited.

The bean counters are said to be extremely pleased.

The poker may have focused considerable attention on Southbank, where US hedge fund manager Daniel Shak week earned $1.2 million by thrashing legendary player Phil "The Tiger Woods Of Poker" Ivey, but it's a filing from The Royal Bank of Scotland that has Crown chief executive David Courtney in a festive spirit. Not sure about the Queen Of England however, who would have heard the rumours with a push to change the Australia flag.

According to RBS, gambling revenues held up well in 2009 despite the global downturn, and RBS's analysts ''expect them to remain resilient in 2010''.

Such is the health of the sector, RBS expects Packer's Crown Casino to make ''accretive acquisitions'' during 2010.

''Balance sheets across the gaming sector are generally in good shape, with Crown and Tatts Group the best placed,'' states the report. ''We also believe mergers and acquisitions will become a key theme in the sector in 2010, with Tabcorp and Centrebet the most likely targets.

''Crown and Tatts are the two companies with the most significant balance sheet capacity for acquisitions in the sector.''

RBS highlighted Tabcorp (owners of Star City Casino and Conrad Jupiters on the Gold Coast) as the pick of the stocks, due to the ''potential for earnings upgrades based on operational improvements in the casino division''.

The news isn't so good for Tatts Group, the placed third of Melbourne's major gambling companies, which RBS said was its ''least preferred stock'', due to its high price-earnings ratio and the ''near-term earnings headwinds'' of lottery jackpots and the end to stimulus spending.

There is still considerable risk hanging over the industry. According to the most recent data, from 2007, poker machines make up 73 per cent of gambling turnover in Australia. Casinos contribute 11 per cent, wagering on racing and sports events 13 per cent and lotteries just 3 per cent.

Those highly lucrative poker machines are under attack from the anti-gambling lobby - take a walk through Crown and you will see responsible gambling warning signs posted on walls and machines as the industry tries to show it can self-regulate - and in October, the Productivity Commission released its draft recommendations on gambling regulation. The final findings are to be released this February.

Those recommendations include $20 cash limits on machines, moving ATMs further from gaming rooms, setting a maximum bet of $1 per spin, and limiting machines to 120 spins per hour. All would have a dramatic impact on the big players.

In a bit of a did, Collins & Spencer couldn't help but note a subtle crack at management of Crown and Tatts in the RBS report. ''The recent negative track record of both Tatts and Crown for overseas acquisitions may see both companies look to focus their respective growth ambitions on the Australian market, where they have their core competency,'' stated RBS.

The recent track record of James Packer's Crown includes the core incompetency of blowing $1.7 billion over the past two years on US and British casino adventures. (James, it's RBS that says that, not the Media Man down the road at Bondi Beach).

Sydney's Star City Casino is said to be getting things back to normal, after the unions recent high profile industrial strike action, is looking for return on investment of their $500 in the redevelopment of what was once known as "The Pyrmont Workers Club", a negative term for the once ho hum presence of Star City. The sports bar which is worth millions contains $100,000s worth of audio and visual equipment, some of which is said to have got knocked around a bit in the recent Hulk Hogan - Ric Flair staged attack at the casino. Australian casinos only wish more of the attacks were staged as apposed to being real. Australian bricks and mortar casinos, Star City, Crown Casino and Burswood have all suffered more attacks and violent incidents on premise (or in the surrounding areas outdoors) than they care to mention over recent years. Little wonder online casinos continue to give Australian land based casinos a run for their money, a trend unlikely to be curbed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's crackdown on pokies in casinos, clubs and hotels.

Not to be outdone the igaming sector sector continues to make waves in the Asia Pacific and Australian region in a week that started with commencement of The Great Australian Internet Blackout protest. A number of media, poker and gaming related websites are taking part in the week long protest and approximately 200 sites have signed up, with approximately 1000 expected to sign up this week (after the effects of a Aussie Day beer piss up die down and everyone gets back to work).

PartyGaming signed up Aussie poker icon Tony G, flying the flag for Noble Poker (and soon PartyPoker), and Tony is expected to bring the fight to fellow Aussies Shane Warne and Jeff Fenech (888 - Pacific Poker) and 2005 WSOP champ, Joe Hachem. Party's also said to be getting into spread betting, with a deal on the go involving London Capital Group that may have branding and marketing considerations for PartyMarkets, but that's a wait and see situation. Party are also rumored to be exploring pro wrestling themed online slot games starting with the late, great, Andre The Giant, with a potential tie in to Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. Sounds like a sure winner for the Australian rabid wresting and gambling fans.

European companies still see Australia as a land of opportunity, despite that dam internet filter and blacklist looming over Australian soil. Maybe the igaming firms have decided to get into Australia before the filter hits. PokerStars have signed up gaming account manager and PR queen bee, Sara Waller. Sara will be most likely working the Singapore - Australia route, with a bit of action out of Surfers Paradise. Our spies tell us Sara may be in a role similar to Rebecca Liggero's from Bodog fame, but no billionaire on her arm (not yet anyway).

Microgaming and Viper powered online casinos Roxy Palace and Casino Splendido have embarked on an online campaign into the Asia Pacific. Just how well they stack up again Microgaming's Captain Cooks Casino, an Aussie favorite, remains to been seen, but the new entrant has the new HellBoy online slot game while Captain Cooks does not (due to technical reasons).

We of course launched own www.mediamanaustralia.com website in an Art Of War maneuver to mark the Great Australian Internet Blackout. The site spots a modest amount of gaming and igaming coverage, however it covers in the region of a dozen different sectors, and is certainly ramping up on political content (thanks to hot fodder from "our friend" Senator Stephen Conroy and his master of the universe, Kevin Rudd). We only own 2 com.au websites out of fleet of 20 something sites, so what's all the fuss about Sirs Rudd and Conroy.

*The writer is the founder and director of Media Man, primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company

*The writer owns shares in Crown Casino

*The writer is a special contributor for Gambling911.com

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