BUSINESS

Portugal strips online gambling from 2014 budget; Hills to scrap Miapuesta brand

TAGs: Australia, Centrebet, miapuesta, portugal, spain, Sportingbet, William Hill

portugal-miapuesta-spainPortugal has decided not to include online gambling liberalization in the country’s 2014 budget proposal because the matter is too sensitive to introduce without proper debate. In October, Portuguese officials announced they would push for a liberalization of the nation’s online gambling market in order to blunt the economic impact of its European moneylenders turning off the taps. Portugal’s struggling economy – featuring a double-digit unemployment rate rivaling that of neighboring Spain – has been the beneficiary of a €78b bailout provided by the European Union/IMF/European Central Bank, but that faucet is set to stop flowing next year and Portugal’s leaders have vowed to do whatever’s necessary to avoid having to return to Brussels with hat in hand.

Portugal now intends to deal with online gambling via standalone legislation at some unspecified future date. A report by Portugal’s economic ministry a couple years ago estimated the government could extract €250m from licensed operators in the first year of a regulated market. A firm tax rate has yet to be established, but figures ranging from 15% to 25% of gross gaming revenue have been bandied about. Given the pushback the government is receiving from its citizens regarding proposed service and benefit cutbacks, the temptation will be great to opt for a higher taxation rate. However, given the continued contractions Spain’s regulated market has experienced under its 25% tax regime, Portugal would be well advised to take a more long-term view.

ADIOS, MIAPUESTA
Speaking of Spain, UK betting operator William Hill has apparently decided that the continued existence of its Miapuesta brand is no longer necessary. The brand became Hills’ responsibility via its £459m acquisition of Sportingbet earlier this year, a deal that gave Hills’ combined operations a nearly quarter-share of the overall Spanish online market. In September, Hills encouraged Miapuesta punters not to jump ship via welcome bonuses and free wager offers, but sources have told eGamingReview that the brand’s customers will now be brought under Hills’ own banner.

There’s no timeline specified for the integration of Miapuesta’s customer database, giving Hills lots of time in which to change its mind. In March, Hills CEO Ralph Topping said there would be no rebranding “for the foreseeable future” of its newly acquired Australian Sportingbet and Centrebet brands, only to declare in September that both brands would be axed and their customers folded into Hills’ group operation. But just one month later, William Hill Australia CEO Michael Sullivan – previously Sportingbet CEO – declared that the brands would be maintained after “the owners have probably found that the brands are probably stronger in Australia then they thought.” Sullivan insisted this meant everything would be “business as usual,” but that was two whole months ago, so don’t rule out an announcement before Christmas that Hills’ Aussie brands have all been renamed ToppingBet or something.

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