UK-listed gambling operator GVC Holdings has pulled its Bwin and PartyPoker brands from Switzerland after apparently failing to reach a deal with a local casino partner.
On January 1, Switzerland’s new online gambling laws took effect, following last summer’s public referendum that saw nearly three-quarters of voters approve the new regime. The law allows Swiss land-based casino operators to offer online casino and poker products for the first time.
The law also requires Swiss internet service providers to block the domains of any international operator who fails to strike a partnership with a local land-based operator. Some companies have already announced such deals, including UK-listed Playtech, which signed with the Swiss Casinos Group last November, while others such as Belgium’s Ardent Group chose to buy their way into the Swiss online market.
Last September, GVC said it was having “discussions” with an unspecified Swiss land-based operator regarding an online tie-up, but assured investors that there would be no great calamity if these talks failed to produce a satisfactory result, as Switzerland represented less than 1% of group revenue.
Those talks apparently didn’t go the way GVC would have preferred, as its PartyPoker and Bwin brands began turning away their Swiss players last week. Other companies, including MRG (formerly Mr Green, recently acquired by William Hill) and NetBet, have also bid their Swiss customers a fond farewell. The Stars Group’s PokerStars brand is staying put for the moment, apparently convinced that a local partnership is imminent.
Swiss regulators won’t technically begin enforcing their new rules until July, which is when the country’s first new online licenses are expected to be awarded. The operators who are withdrawing now may still hold out hope of finding a local dance partner before that date and are thus for the moment intent on keeping their noses clean (or simply have faith in Swiss gamblers’ ability to circumvent the domain-blocking via virtual private networks).
However, there is the small matter of the Swiss regulators’ requirement that any would-be international online licensee be able to demonstrate a ‘good reputation,’ i.e. not having any dealings with Swiss punters in the five years preceding any new local partnership.
Prior to GVC’s involvement, many Bwin.party-affiliated sites were routinely singled out for scorn by Swiss regulators for their “misleading’ use of Swiss flags, coat of arms and other outward signs of approval without the Swiss government’s permission. Conveniently, that was five long years ago…