The 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act caused a paradigm shift in the online poker industry. The likes of Full Tilt and PokerStars took the easy, if risky, route of remaining open to U.S. customers, while other sites elected to capitalize on a strong European player base. For a long time, the most successful of the Euro-centric companies was Playtech – proprietors of the iPoker network. Although it could not challenge the dominance of Full Tilt or PokerStars, it firmly established themselves as the most popular poker network not to allow American customers. That was until recently, when former powerhouse Party Poker managed to leapfrog iPoker, pushing them back into 4th.
While PartyPoker has been wheeling and dealing with high profile signings and big-name acquisitions, Playtech has quietly been striking their own partnerships that could have equally positive consequences. The most recently announcement collaboration is with Scientific Games Corp., a New York company who specializes in creating and honing gaming software to be compliant with official government regulations. This is significant, because is it marks the first time that Playetch has made any pro-U.S. moves since the UIGEA came into being. There is a mixture of hope and expectation that the anti-online gambling bill will fall in the next few months, to be replaced by solid regulation and licensing laws. Although the Playtech announcement makes no specific reference to the United States, it is keen to highlights Scientific Games’ expertise at providing titles for regulated and, “soon to be regulated,” jurisdictions. The financial markets certainly seem to agree, with the Wall Street Journal reporting an 11% spike in Playtech share prices.
The first collaboration between the two companies will be a brand new online casino and poker client. Sciplay, will use software developed by Playtech, employing the prowess of Scientific Games to ensure that it meets regulatory standards in various different countries. It seems likely that Sciplay will be specifically prepared for deployment in a UIGEA-free U.S. market. This new client is a 50:50 venture, allowing Playtech to create cutting edge software, while Scientific Games focus on the legal side of the operation. “This is a strategically significant alliance for Playtech which enables us to focus on what we do best: developing cutting edge technology platforms and exciting games content,” said CEO Mor Weizer.
This deal follows hot on the heels of another exciting deal. Last week, Playtech officially announced a partnership with the SEGA Corporation to create branded online casino and poker software. SEGA has a rich history in the video game industry and is responsible for countless memorable characters and games. SEGAPoker.com is already up and running, with the impending client confirmed for the iPoker network. With the UIGEA potentially on its last legs, many of the world’s biggest gaming brands are positioning themselves to return to the U.S. in a big way. Success for Barney Frank in Washington could well open the floodgates and herald a heated contest for players and publicity, and small cadre of companies vie for the huge influx of new players.