Jim Armitage: Bwin looks like a good bet for a cheap flutter
Outlook A gambling industry practitioner chides me for being sniffy about his industry. The technology behind these games, he says, has changed exponentially, and is evolving as rapidly, in its own way, as our tablets and smartphones.
You can see his point. Think about the explosion of in-play betting on sports events. Much, if not most, of this is now done on the move and incredibly smoothly.
If you don't invest in new products and a better playing experience, your punters rapidly disappear to your rivals. Analysts say Bwin was the classic example of this. Peel Hunt's Nick Batram says its sluggishness in spotting the move to mobile hit it hard.
He adds the example of 888. It realised that its punters were getting fed up with being taken to the cleaners by pro or semi-pro poker players – known as "sharks" for the way they prey on the small fry. So its tech nerds created algorithms which screened out players with the bigger teeth. Now, instead of losing £100 in a week and quitting in a discouraged huff, the small fry will hopefully hang around for a few weeks and drop £200.
However, if you're looking for a stock-market flutter in online gambling (I refuse to use the sanitised word "gaming"), Bwin offers more potential upside, Mr Batram argues. Partly because it was so huge in the US before Prohibition, partly because it's ready to go with joint deals with bricks and mortar giants like MGM and Boyd casinos. But mainly because, while its peers, 888, Playtech and William Hill have had a storming good year with their share prices, Bwin hasn't.
There are plenty of reasons why. Europe has been a regulatory mess, it's had to scale back in low-margin eastern European countries and the merger that created it has proved – predictably – hard to implement. So, for potential investors, risks abound. That's gambling for you. But, if all the cards fall in its favour in the US, and particularly after its 6 per cent share price fall following yesterday's trading statement, Bwin looks pretty cheap.
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