Forget partnering with bricks & mortar properties and getting approved for transactional waivers, that stuff is so 2013. In 2014 selling online gaming sites in multi-billion dollar deals is apparently the new hot thing this summer.
The latest rumor of a potential blockbuster online gaming sale comes via Bloomberg, who is reporting that bwin.party may be looking to sell some or all of the company according to two unnamed sources within the company. Bloomberg’s sources went on to say, that bwin.party “has hired Deutsche Bank AG to consider its options,” and one of the sources added that a decision will be made “within two months.”
For their part bwin.party has stated they “have no plans to breakup or sell the company,” and are calling the rumors nothing more than media speculation.
Where have these rumors come from?
There are likely several reasons for the speculation surrounding bwin.party.
The recent sale of PokerStars to Amaya Gaming has likely perked up bwin.party’s ears, rekindling potential dollar numbers that were bandied about during the online poker IPO era in 2005.
With the sale of PokerStars to Amaya, partypoker and the rest of the operators in the US should see the #1 online poker site in the world [PokerStars] join them in the US market by the end of the year. An absolute game changer.
There is also the recent, and somewhat contentious board shakeup at bwin.party, following Jason Ader’s purchase of 6% of the company, and subsequently being described as an “activist investor” when he called for many changes.
Finally, the slow start in the US market (New Jersey) has almost certainly given bwin.party executives and shareholders reason for concern. Not only has online gaming underperformed in New Jersey in terms of revenue, but online gaming expansion has also slowed in other states around the country, perhaps giving overseas companies pause about what the potential of the US market.
The reentry of partypoker into the US was supposed to be a moment of resurgence for the company following the nadir period post-UIGEA, where partypoker was essentially lost in the wilderness searching for the promised land, but thus far it has done little to boost the company’s bottom line, and despite sitting atop the New Jersey market bwin.party has not been dominant by any stretch of the imagination.
Did the PokerStars sale create a precedent?
I want to revisit the sale of PokerStars for a moment, as I feel the sale of PokerStars to Amaya Gaming could potentially kick off a period of mergers, consolidations, and sales in the industry, as companies in the different gaming sectors try to compete with the new Amaya / PokerStars, and may see creating their own super-corporation as the only option.
We could be looking at the start of a period that will see brick & mortar casinos not just partnering with online providers but merging with them. We’re also likely to see B2B and B2C online providers do the same (as was the case with Amaya and PokerStars) creating mega-corporations capable of handling every aspect of a company’s gaming needs.
The reason this could occur is that there is no longer a fear that online and land-based gaming will cannibalize one another; plus the current model is a lot like shooting yourself in the foot, as partners are essentially competitors in the US market.
What I mean by this is that with the way the market is currently setup in the US we have (particularly in New Jersey) a situation where each partnership is running multiple, competing online gaming brands. So while they may not be cannibalizing their bricks & mortar casinos, they are in fact cannibalizing one another in the online sphere.
For instance, the partnership of Borgata and bwin.party has two online poker rooms on their network, NJ.PartyPoker.com and BorgataPoker.com. Yes, these sites share liquidity and for all intents and purposes are in cahoots with one another, but they also run separate marketing campaigns and are in direct competition for players and revenue.
The better NJ.PartyPoker.com does the better it is for bwin.party, even if that means taking players away from their partner BorgataPoker.com. In a perfect world they would like to take players from WSOP.com or Ultimate Poker, but it’s not a perfect world.
The situation between another high-profile partnership, Caesars Entertainment and 888 Holdings, is even worse, as their online poker rooms, WSOP.com and US.888Poker.com, aren’t even on the same network. 888 and WSOP.com are closer to direct competitors than partners.
Now, if Caesars was to purchase 888 (complete hypothetical) there would no longer be a need to run two separate marketing campaigns, or to compete with yourself for players, everything would be done in house, as there would be no direct competition between multiple brands on the site; all of the profits go in the same pocket.