888 Chief says Italian prospects good

Internet gambling group assembling potent partnerships

In a conference call Tuesday 888.com chief executive Gigi Levy outlined the potent partnerships his company has assembled in the burgeoning Italian online casino market, flagging agreements with Endemol, Bwin and more recently Microgame SpA.

Levy outlined the hard yards put in by his group in building an Italian presence, and revealed that Bwin and Microgame together dominated the market in Italy with a 50 or more percent market share. The internet gambling exec also revealed that more deals are in the pipeline.

In contrast, Levy said that despite initiatives into the newly liberalised French market, this region was not the primary focus of 888. This was mainly due to market drawbacks such as heavy taxation on operators and the absence of casino and bingo action at present in the games allowed by the regulator.

“When you look at France, that is probably a very bad combination for us,” he said. “It is only sports and poker. In sports, our offering is not really relevant at this time. With poker, we have not yet entered the market; we want to see how it works out. The taxes are high so the ecosystem is under pressure, there is no casino; no bingo....”

Gigi also reviewed the company’s position in the United States, admitting that he has been involved in talks with the US Department of Justice, and that he was encouraged by the positive [HR2267] recent developments in that country, where 888 is discussing possibilities with as many as 10 possible US partners.

He drew attention to the 888 b2b deal with the interactive division of Harrah’s Entertainment, pointing out that as far as he was aware this remained the only significant deal signed with an American entity so far.

The Harrah’s deal has resulted in a requirement for the approval of the Nevada Gaming Board, and the investigation by that body into 888.com’s suitability remained in progress, he revealed, adding that it was a sensitive process but that it was hoped the results would be released before the end of 2010.

In related news, the Reuters news service reported Tuesday that 888 had been approached by unidentified rivals seeking a merger following last week's tie-up between Austria's Bwin and Party Gaming .

The merger puts pressure on other companies in the sector to strike deals or risk losing out as online gambling laws are relaxed across the world, the news agency commented, adding a quote in which Gigi Levy said:

"This puts us in a position in which we are one of the best assets in the field - we got a few phone calls immediately from various people. Everybody in the industry is looking and saying 'who is the best one to merge with if we need to?'."

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