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Online casino firm shelves USA plans, looks at Italy instead

As the online casinos debate over legalities rages in the United States, the online casinos industry is at a tricky time.

The US House Judiciary Committee will mark up a bill introduced by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R) that would ban almost all of online casinos, including bets on sporting events at online casinos and games of chance -- namely poker, which has enjoyed a boom in recent years with the proliferation of thousands of online casinos on the internet.
The online casinos legislation is still up in the air.
The bill would update the Federal Wire Wager Act, which prohibits gambling over telephone lines but may not apply to online casinos because not all Web traffic travels over phone lines. It also would force banks to block transactions related to online casinos and would empower law enforcement agencies to force Internet service providers to remove or disable links to online casinos.

With this online casinos news in mind, a giant UK online casinos betting group is to shelve its US Internet expansion plans for now, "In view of ongoing uncertainties within the U.S. legislative environment," Reuters reports this week.

The top tier British online casinos firm made the announcement while releasing its first-half operating numbers Thursday, showcasing a credible 12 percent rise in profits of GBP 151.3 million in the six months to June 30, compared with GBP 134.7 million over the same period last year.

The online casinos group has other expansion plans in mind and is preparing to invest heavily in them, however. Spokesmen said that the firm had signed a joint venture agreement with Italian betting company Pianeta Scommesse, establishing it as a government-accredited bookmaker in Italy.

"We plan to invest around Euro 100 million ($128 million) to develop retail, internet and telephone betting propositions in Italy over the next 5 years," Chief Executive Chris Bell revealed.

The firm will start its five-year Italian investment plan by paying Euro 1.3 million for a 51 percent stake in a joint venture with Pianeta Scommesse. Italy has about 770 betting shops for a population comparable to that of the U.K., which has more than 8 000 bookmaking outlets, the British company said.

The investment in Pianeta Scommesse, Italy's fourth-biggest odds-setting service, gives the firma legal basis to offer betting in the country, where total gambling sales were about Euro 28 billion last year, Chief Financial Officer Rosemary Thorne said in an interview, citing Italian government statistics.

Italy is liberalizing its online gambling market, which will increase the number of Italian betting outlets tenfold, according to Thorne. About 30 percent of the 7 000 new outlets will be dedicated betting shops, she said.

The firm said it had made further international progress in Vietnam, where it was on a shortlist of three to operate the sports lottery, and in Turkey as well.

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