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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ACHIEVING THE FULL BENEFITS OF VIRTUALIZATION

http://tinyurl.com/yjvco2e

To maintain a competitive advantage, IT organizations are turning to virtualization solutions built around pools of flexible server and storage resources that can meet dynamic business requirements. However, to implement a holistic data center virtualization strategy, these organizations need a unified, end-to-end solution based on a powerful, reliable, and scalable IT infrastructure.

The Brocade Data Center Fabric (DCF) architecture provides a strategic foundation for implementing this type of holistic data center virtualization solution. It provides the "enabling" layer for server and storage virtualization with the built-in intelligence required for high-performance virtual environments—along with unique Adaptive Networking services and multiprotocol capabilities.

Key aspects of this holistic virtualization strategy include:

  • Data center connectivity
  • Server connectivity
  • Storage fabric extension
  • Centralized fabric management
  • Professional services
  • Best-in-class solutions

Brocade works closely with the leaders in storage and server virtualization to ensure the highest levels of integration and reliability in the virtual data center.

Feds Must Leverage Data Center-Class Networks to Maximize  Flexibility, Efficience of Virtualization

Feds Must Leverage Data Center-Class Networks to Maximize Flexibility, Efficience of Virtualization

If industry predictions are correct, the evolution toward virtualization will create a profound shift away from long-standing information silos to higher performance, more scalable and efficient network operations, government-wide. To achieve this goal federal agencies must somehow juggle all of their current demands – including consolidating outdated, disparate technologies, mobilizing workers and ensuring IT security and continuity of operations – within stiff budgetary constraints. Find out how.

» Read this white paper now!

Q&A: Preparing the Data Center for Virtualization and Cloud  Computing

Q&A: Preparing the Data Center for Virtualization and Cloud Computing

The first objective is to provide quality of service to virtual machines that is consistent with what we have been able to provide in manually configured, single-application environments. The second objective is to provide persistence of connectivity so that when a virtual machine moves between compute nodes, the connections and resources within the network will automatically follow the virtual machine to its new compute location. And the third objective is to provide tools for monitoring the performance levels being delivered and reporting back to end users so they can be sure they're actually receiving what they're paying for.

» Read this white paper now!

The State of Data Center and Network Infrastructure

The State of Data Center and Network Infrastructure

Data centers and networks are under tremendous pressure to deliver higher performance. Read new data from this TechWeb survey of 220 IT pros to see IT spending trends, networking plans for 2010, key business and technology issues impacting the network, as well as key considerations when evaluating next generation networking features.

» Read this white paper now!

Best Practices for Virtual Infrastructure Management

Best Practices for Virtual Infrastructure Management

The flexibility that virtualization enables can lead to outages if network connections don't travel along with VMs, or if they create unexpected demands on physical resources for which IT may be unprepared, thereby causing degradation in user performance. These best practices will help you prepare a network that meets virtualization challenges.

» Read this white paper now!

Facilitating a Holistic Virtualization Solution for the Data  Center

Facilitating a Holistic Virtualization Solution for the Data Center

An organization's ability to improve agility, reduce costs, and improve efficiencies hinges on building a powerful, flexible IT infrastructure that gives employees the tools and information they need to react quickly to changing market conditions. Brocade extraordinary networks provide a scalable, reliable, and high-performance foundation to save money and extend virtualization throughout the data center.

» Read this white paper now!


Friday, March 26, 2010

Seven ethical questions

By Mark Gibbs March 22, 2010 02:00 AM ET


Network World - I have recently found myself pondering business ethics. In case you're wondering, ethics are defined as "standards or codes of behavior expected by the group to which the individual belongs". Thus, business ethics are concerned with how organizations behave with respect to the culture in which they exist.


The ethics of counter-hacking

So, you, dear reader, are a cog in the machinery of your organization and how you think about ethical issues and what you do about them has a huge impact on how your organization behaves. With that in mind, here are seven questions to probe your ethics:


Question 1: You open an e-mail to find a huge file of your company's HR data that was sent to you in error. You can see how much everyone makes, their performance reports … everything that is pertinent to their employment. So, do you a) take a quick skim through before notifying the sender; or b) close it immediately and notify the sender? Is it wrong to look even if you keep the information to yourself?


Question 2: You find that you can examine people's expenses claims and you see that your boss is cheating for a hundred or so dollars per month: Would you a) report him if you wouldn't face any consequences; or b) report him, consequences be damned, or c) forget about it?


Question 3: Now assume the false claims amount to thousands, not hundreds of dollars: What do you do now? If your answer is different to your answer from question 2, explain.


Question 4: In these tough economic times many people are desperate to get a job. Is it unethical to intentionally and significantly underpay a highly qualified candidate?


Question 5: You "know" you are underpaid. You can pad your expenses and get away with it and in the grand scheme of things, your overbilling would be virtually negligible. Is this wrong? If it isn't, why not? If it is wrong, why?


Question 6: You discover that a service provider has violated their terms of service and should have refunded some small portion, say a few dollars, of what they charge your organization, but they don't make a correction on their bill. If you say anything, it's going to be a huge fuss and could make your life difficult. Do you a) keep quiet or b) make a fuss. If you keep quiet because it's only a few dollars then how much would it have to be before you took action?


Question 7: You are part of the team looking for a new CIO. You are down to three candidates and, given the importance of the job, you have the candidates' backgrounds investigated by a private investigator to see whether there is any "dirt" on them. Is it ethical to probe their backgrounds like this? If you were the candidate, would that change your answer?


Non-ethics related bonus question: You have had the candidates investigated and find that: The first candidate used opium in college, drinks excessive amounts of whisky every day, usually sleeps until noon, and is known to have had two mistresses.

The second candidate has been linked to crooked politicians, chain smokes, drinks 10 Martinis a day, has also had two mistresses, and regularly consults with astrologers.

The final candidate is a vegetarian, doesn't smoke, rarely drinks alcohol, is a decorated war hero, and hasn't hadn't any mistresses.

Which candidate would you choose and why?

Gibbs ponders in Ventura, Calif. Send your answers to backspin@gibbs.com or comment online. 

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.



Thursday, March 25, 2010

Forrester: Uncertain future for SAP's NetWeaver

Forrester: Uncertain future for SAP's NetWeaver

March 22, 2010 05:01 PM ET

DG News Service - SAP customers shouldn't rely on the vendor's NetWeaver technology stack for all of their middleware needs in the future, according to Forrester Research.

"The fact is for the last several years SAP has been falling behind in creating a comprehensive platform and maintaining [it]. This has caused a lot of heartburn among clients," said Forrester analyst John Rymer during a teleconference Monday.

SAP used to have a desire to compete head-on in middleware with rivals Oracle and IBM, but not anymore, Rymer added.

While there's a chance SAP will try to "resuscitate" NetWeaver development in an effort to catch up to those rivals, "the likelihood of this happening is very low," Rymer added.

It's more the case that SAP will follow one of two scenarios, he said. The first would see it align itself strategically with a Java-centric middleware partner, such as IBM, as well as with Microsoft and its .NET technology. There's little chance the Java partner would be SAP's longtime nemesis Oracle, he added.

But SAP will most likely "adopt a vendor-agnostic stance in Java," continue working with Microsoft, and also embrace open-source middleware options, according to Rymer.

SAP customers should still use NetWeaver to extend their SAP business applications, but avoid using it for complex, enterprisewide middleware projects, he added. "We think you ought to look at other providers," Rymer said. "We don't think SAP is going to step up to those requirements over the long haul."

But SAP, in fact, has full confidence in NetWeaver and big plans for it, spokeswoman Shabana Khan said via e-mail.

NetWeaver is "the foundational technology to our solutions," she said. "And as the foundation for orchestration in three areas: 1. lifecycle management, 2. master data management, 3. business process management. These are the markets we will go after as standalone but also in support of SAP applications."

"NetWeaver is our platform and will be our platform going forward -- and there is an incredible amount of innovation we intend to continue to bring into it," she added.

SAP plans to provide additional detail on its plans for NetWeaver at its Sapphire conference in May, according to Khan.

Meanwhile, SAP is attempting to win with projects like 12Sprints, a group collaboration and problem-solving tool that lets users pull in data from a wide range of systems and sources. "This sort of software, this set of ideas, is wide open," Rymer said. "Oracle and IBM aren't yet dominant in this category."

Monday's event was one in a series Forrester is holding this week for clients following a tumultuous period at SAP marked by customer discontent over support costs, flagging software sales and a rash of high-level executive changes, including the recent appointment of co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe.


SAP is regrouping as the weeks tick down to Sapphire, and final preparations are made for the long-awaited broader rollout of Business ByDesign, its SaaS (software-as-a-service) product for the midmarket.

The company is trying to innovate through means such as agile software development practices, embracing in-memory computing and building out a range of SaaS extensions to its on-premises ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications.

SAP is also trying to build stronger connections between its software modules, as part of a "long-term focus on end-to-end processes," said Forrester analyst Roy Wildeman, who also participated in the teleconference.

Tighter integration will provide SAP with cross-selling opportunities, but also presents an emerging challenge for customers, Wildeman said. "What it means for folks is that code is going to get even harder to customize. As software becomes more integrated, charting all the dependencies ... can be a project every time a system change is required."



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CSNews Exclusive: 7-Eleven CEO's Appearance on 'Undercover Boss' has Lasting Influence

CSNews Exclusive: 7-Eleven CEO's Appearance on 'Undercover Boss' has Lasting Influence

By Barbara Grondin Francella

March 23, 2010 - NEW YORK -- A week or so after Joe DePinto's February appearance on CBS' "Undercover Boss," in which he worked incognito in several stores, at one of the chain's bakeries and on a delivery truck, Jim Brown, CEO of 7-Eleven Stores in Oklahoma, which is not affiliated with 7-Eleven Inc., told his local newspaper the program was "like an hour-long commercial," though interesting to watch.

7-Eleven's franchisees contacted by CSNews Online had a more enthusiastic response to the program, in which DePinto worked with coffee hostess Dolores Bisangni during rush hour at a high-traffic store, drove with Igor Finkler delivering fresh foods, and worked an overnight shift with a young employee who did not look at his job as a step on a career path.

Joe Rossi, president of the Franchise Owners Association of Chicagoland, thought DePinto "handled himself very well. Considering the size of the company, it was nice for everyone to see his face and his personality."

Rossi characterized the appearance as beneficial to 7-Eleven and its operators. "People got a feel for how hard all of the employees work in different areas of the company," he said. "Additionally, for our customers to see the commissary and the fresh product being delivered to stores daily was a subtle but powerful message regarding our foodservice operation. Joe's compassion with Dolores' [kidney ailment] was also great and one of the key things my customers have commented on."

Like other franchisees contacted, Rossi believes "Undercover Boss" accurately spotlighted 7-Eleven stores, especially in the way each store has its own personality driven by associates on the front line.

The challenges and opportunities of being a 7-Eleven operator were truthfully portrayed, Rossi said. "The issue with overnight people not feeling like they have a future plays into the long-held stereotype of the convenience store clerk," he said. "This is changing as clerks become a great breeding ground for future store operators and corporate staff."

Mike Triantafellou, president and CEO of Gibsonia, Pa.-based Handee Marts Inc., a 7-Eleven licensee (now called Domestic Master Franchisee) for 41 years, said the number of inquiries the chain has received from potential franchisees increased dramatically following "Undercover Boss."

Triantafellou believes the show portrayed the company's and CEO's commitment to "servant leadership" accurately and positively. "After watching the first two episodes with the CEOs of Waste Management and Hooters, and seeing some of the negative policies and actions that were portrayed, I was delighted to see that 7-Eleven's hour was filled with positives and focused on our people," the retailer noted.

DePinto backed up his words and mission with the generosity he showed the employees featured, he added. "It was quite apparent to me that his appearance was not for fame, fortune or publicity, but based on a true desire to experience a small part of what our franchisees and employees live through daily and to take those learnings back to Dallas to further improve an already outstanding organization. A big challenge that was evident was to make sure policies that we believe are already established are properly communicated throughout the organization and executed."

Consumers unaware of the chain's fresh food and coffee offerings will now consider stopping at 7-Eleven, Triantafellou said. "The show also helped improve the marketability to potential employees for our entire industry."

Bill Huffman, president of the Columbia Pacific Franchisee Owners Association, told CSNews Online DePinto appeared to be personally moved by the 7-Eleven employees he met. "However, in the segment about throwing away doughnuts, there was some blame-shifting going on," he added.

Still, the show helped cement the image of 7-Eleven as an American icon, Huffman said. "In my 31 years of running 7-Eleven stores, the only time I have had customers talk to me more about a nationwide event involving our stores is when we were very involved with Jerry Lewis during the Labor Day Telethon -- that was a long time ago," he said. "In today's economic times, the American public gets a charge out of seeing the CEO screw up the coffee. I must have had 50 customers ask me why Joe didn't visit our stores. As recently as Tuesday of [last] week people have brought up 7-Eleven and 'Undercover Boss.' I have a young woman who is my coffee host at one of my stores. After watching the episode, she understood the importance of her position."

However, the episode didn't completely capture the experience of many 7-Eleven franchisees and store employees, Huffman said. "The stores Joe worked in were high-volume stores. The Long Island store that sells 2,500 cups of coffee a day does more coffee volume in a week than my two stores do in a month."

Many franchisees still run a "mom and pop" operation, he noted, with little room for associates to advance. "But having said that, my field consultant started her career as a part-time clerk in a franchised store, so advancement can happen. To operate a store using the 7-Eleven business system requires more labor hours than a lower-volume store can afford. Had the filming been done in a lower volume store America might be asking, 'How can one person do all that?'"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Online gambling: up for the Cup 08/03/2010

Online gambling: up for the Cup 08/03/2010

Stephen Carter

Online gambling: up for the Cup

WHILE eGR nailed its crystal-ball-gazing colours firmly to the mast last year by predicting 2009 to be the year of the product, the range of potentially critical factors at play for the sector as it enters 2010 means we're hedging our bets more widely this time around.

It's probably a fair assumption that if a straw poll of the industry was taken on the factors likely to play the most transformational role for the sector in 2010, regulation would top most people's lists

But as reflected by the current hesitancy of private equity to invest in the sector until the US market opening becomes a reality, this is not something the sector can invest in and prepare for with any degree of certainty. Hence we can expect to see the B2B strategies pursued as a hedge against protectionsim by 888's Dragonfish, PartyGaming and now Paddy Power and Bwin to be stepped up in 2010.

By contrast, this summer's football World Cup in South Africa not only represents by far the single most concrete commercial opportunity for the egaming industry this year, but also a focal point for the most significant period of development for Europe-facing sports betting platforms since the birth of the online gaming industry.

By way of example, Gala Coral is known to be in the midst of a complete rebuild of its sports book platform by ex-Orbis staff at Geneity ahead of this summer's tournament, while Ladbrokes has just re-launched its online sports book, declaring plans to live stream more than 30,000 sporting events on its site during 2010.

The overall boost to betting activity reaped by the industry from the month-long event kicking off in Johannesburg on 11 June will inevitably hinge on results, with gross win potentially hit hard by too many predictable results in the group stages, and in the case of UK-facing sports books, an England win, which could cost the bookies millions.

However, the industry's exponential growth since the last World Cup in 2006, along with the convergence of the increasingly dominant live-betting offerings with match timings means operators are confident this World Cup will "break records in terms of turnover and new clients", according to Sportingbet's head of sportsbook, Marc Thomas.

He explained: "The vast majority of our customers are based in Europe so the times of the matches are exactly when they would expect to be betting. As we found when the World Cup was held in Japan and Korea in 2002, betting at 6am is not a natural thing for most of our punters."

However, while the World Cup is set to boost active bettor numbers by more than 20% above normal levels during the quarter in which the tournament falls, according to H2 Gambling Capital (see box out opposite), a measure of how far operators' retention and loyalty programmes have advanced since the last World Cup in Germany in 2006 will be how many of these active customers they manage to keep live and betting with them once the tournament is over.

"There is a highly attritional nature to online sports betting, and the choice to a punter sitting in whichever country is now massive. Our platform is geared to offer as many bets as possible around as many different games as possible. Then the challenge for us and the rest of the industry once the World Cup is over is to get these people betting on the major European leagues as these come back on-line in August," says Thomas.

However, the explosion in markets, products and technologies underway in the online sports betting space is not restricted to the sports books turning over the largest volumes of in-play transactions in the European market, which include Bet365, Sportingbet and Bwin.

The availability of fully managed white label sports books from providers such as OddsMatrix, Global Betting Exchange and more recently Playtech is driving the take up of betting platforms among standalone poker rooms and casinos aimed at increasing revenues, stickiness and cross-selling capabilities during the World Cup and beyond.

Operators launching in recent months include Chili Gaming, 32Red and Titan Poker, with a strong pipeline of more sites scheduled to go live before the tournament. This product diversification into sports betting, particularly by poker rooms, is reflective of the competitive pressures non-US poker and multi-channel operators are finding themselves under from PokerStars and Full Tilt's US-liquidity fuelled marketing onslaught in Europe, with the two expanding their share of global poker traffic from 50% to 60% over the last 12 months, according to December data from monitoring site PokerScout. 

On the marketing front, Stephanus Tekle, senior consultant for leading European sports marketing consultancy Sport+Markt highlights that the betting bans which will still be in place in key European markets such as Germany and France when the tournament takes place will present operators with challenges. "This has already caused a few problems in terms of sponsorship and probably will force the betting companies not to use the classical advertising tools," said Tekle, with the affiliate channel set to retain its importance in these markets. 

Indeed, while it's a little early for Europe's operators to show their marketing hand for fear their ideas could be replicated by the competition, early indications are that the marketing arms race among online operators which occurred around the last World Cup will be less all encompassing this time around. 

Unibet, for instance, which holds high-profile football team and league sponsorship deals in Spain and Poland, revealed last August it was to keep marketing spend stable at 35% of gross win in the second quarter of 2010 ahead of the tournament. Chief executive Petter Nylander explained: "We will be doing what worked well for us for the European Championships last year; building up the client base and brand credibility, and then reactivating the client base when the event comes around. It's much more cost efficient." 

So the World Cup looks set to provide a welcome boost to gross win for the industry, which suffered in the second half of 2009 from an unfavourable run of Premier League football results and UK horse racing cancellations. 

However, it should also be seen as part of a broader expansion of sports betting into new verticals, constituencies and geographies, as operators prepare to do battle in what is set to be a critical year for both protecting and building market share. 

 

One door closes… 

Of the factors eGR sees as playing a defining role for the sector in 2010, regulation certainly has the potential to be the most transformative, but also by far the most difficult to predict. 

In the US, for instance, an opening at intrastate level under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act during 2010 currently looks on course to occur ahead of any legislation arising from Barney Frank's and Robert Menendez's proposed federal bills to authorise gaming interstate. 

This has prompted leading California internet gaming lawyer Martin Owens to set odds 2/1 in favour of California passing a bill to authorise poker within its borders during 2010. A spur to the California legislature considering this proposal has been provided by the state being "near desperate for revenue", as it fights to extricate itself from a looming US$24bn hole in its budget by the end of the current financial year in April. 

Consequently, Bwin, William Hill, Playtech and Ladbrokes are known to be among the egaming businesses which have met with lobbyists, legislators and potential licensees regarding operational opportunities in the US state. Greek lottery provider Intralot's investment in California-based software provider CyberArts is also seen as aimed at positioning itself for a run at the California intrastate poker operating contract, should this be put out to competitive tender in 2010. 

However, California-based Owens injects a cautionary note, warning this could all be knocked off course by factors unforeseen at this present time, warning that "politics at the state level can be incredibly convoluted", and that "2010 is an election year, which means that many incumbents will want to hit the 'reset' button on their respective virginities." 

Similarly, over in Europe, while private operators' push for access to markets under Article 49 of the EU Treaty looks set to yield significant openings over the year ahead for private operators in France, Italy for bingo, poker cash games and casino, and possibly Spain, three developments just this month re-emphasised the often precarious regulatory footing on which the industry has to do business. 

The first of these was that the opening of the French online sports betting market looks unlikely to occur until after the World Cup due to the draft bill being held up in the French Senate. 

Second, it emerged that Belgium plans to implement a dot.country model for online poker. And finally, UK Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe announced plans for a new licensing system for all operators targeting the UK, ostensibly to more effectively control problem gambling and to generate income for the UK horse racing industry. 

On this, Julian Harris, senior partner of UK-based gambling law specialists Harris Hagan, told eGaming Review: "This [decision] was heavily influenced by both by the dwindling number of operators holding UK licences and by the prospect of generating revenues similar to those achieved by the Italian Government through their new licensing system." 

Taxation was not among the issues covered in initial studies by the government department with oversight for gaming in the UK, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). 

However, James Hollins, leisure analyst at Hollins Stewart, said: "It is unlikely to be overly punitive, in order that a sensible taxation level can be applied in order to ensure that operators secure licences and that illegal offshore gambling is prohibited." 

The proposed changes requiring primary legislation and the fact that a new government will take office after the UK general election this year means no new regulatory licensing or regulatory regime in the UK is likely to emerge until 2011 at the earliest. 

A consultation period during will also give operators both in the UK and overseas the opportunity to contribute their views on the plans to DCMS over the course of this year. 

Landmark European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgments in cases between private operators vs state-enforced monopolies are also due in the Netherlands, where Betfair and Ladbrokes are challenging De Lotto's right to act as the EU Member State's sole legal supplier of online gaming, sports betting and lottery products, and in Germany, between Carmen Media Group and the regional government of Schleswig-Holstein. 

Private operators will be hoping that Bwin co-chief executive Norbert Teufelberger's prediction in his column for eGR late last year that the ECJ's support last year of Portuguese betting and lottery monopoly Santa Casa da Misericordia was just a temporary setback for private operators in the EU holds true. 

As Harris points out (see box out on p38) much of the outcome for private operators in the ECJ judgments due in 2010 will hinge on the Court's interpretation of the proportionality issue, for instance how much restriction of private operators' right to offer services between Member States is justified in order to safeguard consumers from perceived risks such as fraud and money laundering. These judgments will have hugely important implications for both private operators and state monopolies in Europe. 

But with concrete market openings ahead in France and Italy, and developments in California suggesting the US could start opening on a state-by-state basis during 2010, this year promises to deliver more than last in terms of actual regulated entry into valuable egaming markets. But the inherent uncertainty of the terms and timing of legislation means the sector will necessarily be circling all promised opportunities on this front over the year ahead with cautious optimism. 

 

Bolt-ons or power marriages? 

Given the flurry of acquisitions across the sector towards the end of last year, it's perhaps unsurprising that the third and final factor eGR sees playing a critical role for the online gaming industry in 2010 is consolidation. 

While the consolidation play perhaps took longer to emerge than widely predicted, given the sector's early stage of development and strength in the recession relative to others, this finally started to unfold in September with Bwin's buy of Italian poker site Gioco Digitale. 

December saw Greek lottery systems provider Intralot buy a 35% stake in poker software provider CyberArts, ostensibly in preparation to tender for the contract to provide the poker operating platform in California, should the state legislature pass an enabling bill in 2010. 

Betclic, Bet-At-Home and Expekt parent company Mangas Gaming also moved for Everest Gaming, lending it liquidity and positioning in the French and German poker markets. 

In the casino provider space, Playtech fought off rumoured competition from Dragonfish to land games and open platform provider Gaming Technology Solutions (GTS) for an initial €10.8m (see analysis on p28). Finally, Dragonfish moved for Wink Bingo in a deal valuing the business at up to £60m, giving 888 around 9% of the UK bingo market, according to the group's chief executive Gigi Levy. 

US horse racing also got in on the act in November, racecourse owner and betting operator Churchill Downs buying online wagering site YouBet with the acquirer stating the main reason for the deal as enabling it to benefit from growth in online betting on US thoroughbred racing, currently accounting for less than 14% of all horse race wagering activity in the territory. 

Following these deals and with the sector showing demonstrable growth, analysts are predicting further bolt-on deals in both the B2B and B2C spaces aimed at driving revenue and earnings growth.

But sector analyst Nick Batram of KBC Peel Hunt suggests the huge complexities around long-mooted industry-transforming deals, including Bwin-PartyGaming, PartyGaming-Ladbrokes, Ladbrokes-888, counts against these transactions happening during 2010. 

Batram says: "The scale of these challenges should not be underestimated. It is possible that we will see a major deal in 2010, but we should not expect a feeding frenzy of large-scale transactions."
However, Batram adds that a spur to these deals happening this year may come from actual, rather than promised regulation in the US. "This could see significant deal activity if land-based companies were to seek to acquire online expertise," says Batram. US casino groups Boyd and MGM Mirage are known to be supportive of internet gaming, if licensed and regulated at the state level.

And while the sector faces the same difficulties as other sectors in accessing debt markets, promising news came in the form of PartyGaming's announcement in its December trading update that it had secured a £35m three-year bank facility on favourable terms of 6%.
 
In addition to enabling Party to perform a potential cash-and-shares acquisition of up to £80m, this also represented a vote of confidence in the gaming sector based on its proven ability over the last year to demonstrate growth amidst challenging conditions.

 

2010 and beyond 


Thus while this summer's football World Cup looks set to provide a welcome fillip to sector revenues and a focus for the growth and penetration of sports betting into new verticals, constituencies and geographies, how the two crucial underlying trends of regulation and consolidation transform the sector by year's end is far harder to call.  

But as last month's overview of the industry's first ten years proved, the industry has consistently proved itself resilient and fleet of foot in adapting to the shifting foundations on which it sometimes has to do business. There's little reason to think 2010 will be any different.

 

Posted: 08/03/2010


Monday, March 22, 2010

Running on AIR: 10 great office apps you can grab right now

Running on AIR: 10 great office apps you can grab right now

There aren't many robust business applications powered by Adobe's new rich Internet application platform yet, but we found a few gems you can download right now

September 8, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The release of Adobe's AIR runtime platform was supposed to inspire the development of sophisticated business applications to take advantage of its media-rich capabilities.

AIR is a tool to build rich Internet applications that can be connected to your desktop and use Adobe's Flash player. Some six months after the release of AIR 1.0, what little there are of these applications -- we're talking things you can really use to help your productivity -- remain mostly limited to simple widgets or work-in-progress prototypes.

Keep reading, though, because we've found some good ones. Almost all are free or free to try before buying.

But why aren't there more?

"What's curious is that the mainstream population hasn't fully latched onto the AIR concept quite yet," said Ronald Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink. "There aren't as many AIR-based enterprise applications as there should be. Perhaps it's just the complexities of introducing a new language, as well as a development paradigm. Adobe has huge in-roads with the creative part, but not as much with enterprise application developers."

James Governor, a principal analyst at RedMonk (of which Adobe is a client), said AIR "will receive a boost through a partnership with SAP Business Objects. Other third parties, such as BMC, are also standardizing some of their console technology on an AIR front end to Business Objects analysis and reporting tools. Some modern health care software players are also building on AIR. The fact that AIR is being bundled in these new markets indicates it can become an ecosystem play, which is always a great way to tackle the enterprise."

Besides partnerships, a compelling application is needed, experts agree. "As long as Adobe keeps pushing the platform, and as long as they continue to show the merit of moving to a new approach for distributed application development, someone will build the 'killer app' that will move this whole industry forward," Schmelzer said. "It might come from the major enterprise app developers -- SAP, Oracle, etc. -- putting forward an AIR version of their UI. Once that happens, things will snowball."

Adobe plans to roll out its own potential killer app: an AIR version of Web-based word processor Buzzword. "Our objective is to develop the Buzzword AIR version so that a user's documents will synchronize between the Web and the desktop without user intervention or management," said Tad Staley, a senior evangelist at Adobe.

Sounds great. When is it coming out? Unfortunately, "we can't say publicly, but we are actively working on it now. It's our highest priority," said Staley.

Nevertheless, here are 10 AIR apps that have the best potential for use in the office that you can download and try now.

No. 1 — Doomi and MiniTask

Doomi's creator plans to add the capability to sync with cloud  computing services.
Site description: Doomi's creator plans to add the capability to sync with cloud computing services.

These two are simple to-do list apps. But you shouldn't expect either to offer a multitude of ways to organize and prioritize tasks, or other enterprise-level to-do management features. The idea behind both is to allow you to spend more time doing your tasks rather than managing them.

As Felix Raab, one of the developers of MiniTask, sums it up: "MiniTask is an alternative to complex and bloated task management systems; it lets you organize tasks really fast and stays out of your way."

"Doomi is designed to be dead simple, easy to use, and look damn good on your desktop. It doesn't really do much else than what you would expect it to do; I think that's why so many people like it," said Doomi's creator, John Giannakos.

Still, Giannakos plans to add more features. The most intriguing will be syncing Doomi's to-do list data with cloud computing services.

No. 2 — Klok

Klok is a tool intended to be used by individuals who have a need  to track the time they spend on projects, tasks or anything else, for  that matter.
Site description: Klok is a tool intended to be used by individuals who have a need to track the time they spend on projects, tasks or anything else, for that matter.

Klok is intended for freelancers and consultants who need to track their time spent working outside of the office. Before starting development of Klok, Rob McKeown had evaluated other free time-tracking applications but found them frustrating to use. "I wanted the simplest possible way to indicate what I work on throughout the day and have it automatically translate that into a time sheet, without any intervention," he said.

He decided to build Klok using AIR because he wanted an application that didn't need an Internet connection to be used. "Many of the time-tracking applications that are freely available are all Web-based," said McKeown. "The fact that [AIR] doesn't require an Internet connection allows anyone to use it at any time."

He plans to expand Klok so it can also be used by small businesses that have multiple consultants working on the same projects. Version 2 will have a pluggable data-access layer that will easily allow synchronization with QuickBase for QuickBooks.

No. 3 — scripKeepR

ScripKeepR lets you archive human-readable documents into a  database so you can search through them and re-create them as files if  need be.
Site description: ScripKeepR lets you archive human-readable documents into a database so you can search through them and recreate them as files if need be.

This nifty app lets you archive documents to an SQLite database for later search, retrieval and reproduction. ScripKeepR can be handy if you are writing multiple documents and need to organize them in some basic way or need to manage lots of snippets of code.

Anything stored through scripKeepR is reusable. "With its search ability, it allows me personally to find matching database entries or scripts and easily choose them to display or re-create as exact copies of the original files that were dropped to store in the first place," said Chris Seahorn, the creator of this AIR app.

The latest version was made way back when the AIR platform was still in its beta infancy. Seahorn is now updating scripKeepR and will distribute its source code to the public because he would like to see his app improved and added to by others. "It really needs to be opened up to allow users struggling with [accessing] SQLite [through] AIR to use it as food for thought," said Seahorn.

No. 4 -- Portfolio Viewer

Portfolio Viewer is a Flash-based desktop application for tracking  the performance of your financial investments.
Site description: Portfolio Viewer is a Flash-based desktop application for tracking the performance of your financial investments.

One of the most powerful functions of Portfolio Viewer is its ability to import investment transactions in Quicken and Microsoft Money formats. So it's easy to quickly get things set up and running.

"With AIR, the powerful graphical capabilities of Flash produces a greatly enhanced user experience with animated charts and transitions," said Pete Michel, creator of Portfolio Viewer. "Some of this is possible with other technologies, but not with the same lightweight, cross-platform runtime that AIR offers."

With the exception of a few bug fixes and minor enhancements, there has not been a lot of work done on Portfolio Viewer lately. But its user base has been very enthusiastic, and, thus, quite a few feature requests will be implemented in the next release. Look for a new, major release in the next couple of months.

No. 5 -- BI Widgets on AIR

With BI Widgets users can quickly and easily search and access BI  content and create personal dashboards on their desktop. BI Widgets  connects to one or more BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.0 systems  through standard Web services.
Site description: With BI Widgets users can quickly and easily search and access BI content and create personal dashboards on their desktop. It connects to one or more BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.0 systems through standard Web services.

Developed by Business Objects, BI Widgets on AIR pushes business intelligence (BI) information to your computer through various desktop widgets. It serves as a front-end client for leveraging Business Objects' own BI delivery platform.

This is a prototype/concept app that was created based on ideas suggested by customers and partners of Business Objects, and by the company's internal teams. However, there are currently no plans to produce a final, official release of BI Widgets on AIR, but Business Objects said it's considering it. For now, the company encourages users to download and try this app, and provide suggestions for it and other feedback.

No. 6 -- Ora Time and Expense

Ora Time and Expense -- a small application for tracking and  generating timesheets, expense reports and invoices -- was the winner of  Adobe AIR Developer Derby Best Business HTML Application.
Site description: Ora Time and Expense -- a small application for tracking and generating time sheets, expense reports and invoices -- was the winner of Adobe AIR Developer Derby Best Business HTML Application.

Ora Time and Expense is a simple AIR app you can use to create and keep track of time sheets, expense reports and invoices. Document formats supported include HTML, Excel, CSV and XML.

The app features a timer that will track the time you spend on a task and then log the duration to a time sheet. Sales receipts can be scanned with a webcam, and they will be automatically attached to expense reports.

No. 7 -- AgileAgenda

AgileAgenda will automatically set the start and end dates of each  of your tasks based upon the available information such as task  priority, resource availablility and estimated durations. In addition,  it has some intelligence about what the current date is and how that  relates to the schedule.
Site description: AgileAgenda will automatically set the start and end dates of each of your tasks based upon the available information, such as task priority, resource availablility and estimated durations. In addition, it has some intelligence about what the current date is and how that relates to the schedule.

This project scheduling manager dynamically adjusts schedules to changing conditions that play out across a project's life cycle: start and end dates for tasks are automatically generated based on information you provide, such as priority and resource availability. Data is in standard XML format, and it can be exported to PDF and shared through the Web.

Presently in beta, AgileAgenda will also include a developer API, allowing third parties to create applications that integrate with the Web services at AgileAgenda.com.

A companion app, AgileTracker, adds time tracking to AgileAgenda.

No. 8 -- Kinetik

Kinetik is an ERP application that provides customer needs  analysis and is reportedly compatible with most of the databases and  operating systems in the market.
Site description: Kinetik is an ERP application that provides customer needs analysis and is reportedly compatible with most of the databases and operating systems in the market.

This AIR-rified take on an ERP application suite offers access to a variety of tools and information tied to the running of your business, through a series of application modules. The software includes modules to manage billing, accounts receivable, accounts payable and banking accounts. For an extra fee, developer Alivebox will custom-make modules for customers with specialized business management needs.

Alivebox boasts that, because most of the nitty-gritty number-crunching happens on the server, the AIR-based Kinetik client app doesn't require a PC with heavy-duty specs in order to run well.

Kinetik is reaching the final development stage of Version 1.0, with a release expected in a couple of months. Plans are already in place for Version 2.0, which will also handle accounting, production and payroll.

No. 9 -- Pronto

Pronto is a Flash framework that delivers a unified communications  experience to users in a single dashboard.
Site description: Pronto is a Flash framework that delivers a unified communications experience to users in a single dashboard.

Pronto mashes together e-mail, online collaboration, secure instant messaging, RSS feeds and video communications. "Think about your desktop -- you probably have an e-mail client, an IM client, maybe a VoIP client and then something to play media, like iTunes. We wanted to bring all these things together, and most importantly, we wanted to deliver that to any desktop," said Jon R. Doyle, vice president of business development at CommuniGate Systems. "Pronto brings all forms of communications together with a framework that allows expansion or new applications to snap in."

Pronto 2.5 is due toward the end of the year. It will allow users to create and share video clips, and include an API so third-party developers can build application modules to run within Pronto itself.

No. 10 -- The WagerWidget

WagerWidget with one click lets you view the lines, spreads and  over under across three of the most influential sports books in the  world.
Site description: WagerWidget with one click lets you view the lines, spreads and "over/under" across three of the most influential sports books in the world.

Designed for sports fans, fantasy leaguers and sports betters, the WagerWidget obviously doesn't fall under the category of a "serious" business application, but it can be handy for managing your office betting pool. Sports and leagues covered are the NFL, MLB, NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball, NBA and NHL. As odds update, you can spot discrepancies by half-points. An analysis feature built into the widget can also help you find the best odds.

The WagerWidget has been made to run on several platforms (including Facebook and iPhone), with the AIR version being the latest. "We decided that AIR was worth porting to because it gave the WagerWidget's existing code base the ability to run as a native desktop application on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, all from the same installer," explains David Steinbrunner, one of the developers of the WagerWidget.

Future versions of the WagerWidget may include odds conversion tools and more sports types.

Howard Wen reports for several technology publications.

Read more about networking and internet in Computerworld's Networking and Internet Knowledge Center.


Wanna Bet?

Wanna Bet?

At $40 billion a year in the US, gambling is already bigger than movies and music combined. Guess what's going to be the real killer app on the Net?

By Evan I. Schwartz


Legend has it George Washington banned all games of chance at Valley Forge. His orders, of course, did not deter the men. When the general turned his back, they would fight boredom and bitter cold by playing a simple game called toss-up. Pairs of players would throw fistfuls of halfpennies into the air. The soldiers who called heads would gather all the coins that landed that way, while their opponents got the ones that landed tails.

The fact that he couldn't stop such activity drove Washington nuts. But at night in his bunker, the future US president organized clandestine card games with some tight-lipped officers for more serious cash. Overall, he broke even - at least that's what he claimed in his ledgers.

The father of our country had the typical duplicitous American attitude toward gambling: most of us enjoy indulging what has been called a universal urge. But we don't want other people doing it, especially not in our faces. None of us appreciates the sight of people pissing away their paychecks. And all the sleaze and cheese that's traditionally associated with such pursuits turns us off - or at least that's what we claim in public. This professed disdain is why most legal gambling in the United States has been relegated to remote areas such as riverboats, Indian reservations, and hotels in the middle of the desert.

But even in this limited form, gambling is huge. More than US$500 billion will be wagered legally in the United States this year, according to International Gaming & Wagering Business, a New York-based industry journal. Roughly 8 percent of that is kept as net winnings by Nevada and Atlantic City casinos, racetracks, bingo parlors, state lotteries, Las Vegas sports bookmakers, and the like. That makes legal gambling a $40 billion industry - easily bigger than the domestic motion-picture business and the recorded-music industry combined.

For better or worse, cyberspace is gambling's next frontier. And why not? Transposed to the Net, gambling could be everywhere and nowhere at once. You could belly up to the crap table in secret whenever you want, without having to put up with the other fools doing the same. Since many of the online gambling establishments are shadow companies headquartered offshore, your own private cybercasino might offer the perfect shelter from the taxes the government imposes on you when you win. And since it could be done anonymously, you could avoid the shame your friends and family impose on you when you lose.

"It's a vice that will drive masses of people to interact in virtual worlds," says David Herschman, co-founder of Virtual Vegas Inc., a Santa Monica, California, company that runs a gaming den on the World Wide Web. "In some ways, the ability to be hedonistic virtually is better than doing it in real life."

But will cybergambling offer an equal thrill? For now, Herschman's online casino (http://www.virtualvegas.com) tries to simulate the excitement of gambling - without real betting. Lurid graphics, adapted from the company's CD-ROM games, enable players to compete against the house for points in games such as blackjack and roulette. The entertainment options include viewing PG-rated photographs of beautiful women and making believe you are a judge in a Miss Metaverse contest. Once the bandwidth of the Web increases, Herschman aims to re-create the whole Vegas experience, with the hope of being well positioned for the day when online wagering is legalized.

Others aren't waiting for such changes in the law. Several entrepreneurs are mixing the global reach and low cost of the Internet with the lax legal climate of certain Caribbean locales, where hiding money from the US tax and legal system is a major industry. The potential result: any desktop or laptop could be a gambling terminal - US (or any other) law be damned.

Most of the attention in this quest has been focused on one Warren Eugene. Since declaring himself "the Bugsy Siegel of the Internet" this past spring, Eugene has been attracting press attention to his plans for an Internet casino that accepts real cash, Wired from the bank accounts of thousands of members worldwide. A ninth-grade dropout from Toronto, Eugene claims to have made a fortune selling Nintendo games and running 900-number services such as Dial-a-Psychic. He wants to parlay this bundle into a gambling empire. In the months before his August start date for betting, he claimed that 7,300 people had registered on his Web site (http://www.casino.org), which operates in the Caribbean from the Turks and Caicos Islands, Nassau, and St. Martin. "It may be breaking a few laws here and there," concedes Eugene. "But who is it going to bother if people sit in their homes gambling?"

Well, the FBI, the IRS, the Justice Department, and state attorneys general - to name just a few possibilities. US laws, including the Interstate Wire Act, prohibit anyone in the gambling business from taking bets over a network - including the Internet - that crosses state or international borders. But if you are situated offshore, the chances of being prosecuted under these laws are remote, especially if you are a foreign citizen, according to Nelson Rose, a gambling expert and professor at Whittier Law School in Los Angeles. The government's extradition of Manuel Noriega was the rare case of a foreign national being brought to justice in the United States, Rose notes.

Still, while it may be hard to police, gambling on the Net has its dangers. If such operators set foot on US soil, Rose adds, "their assets can be seized." Eugene downplays such risks. He says he wrote a letter asking for clarification on the issue and sent copies to the attorneys general of the several states he perceives as liberal on gambling: New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Nevada. Those who responded "weren't favorable," Eugene admits. He says he'll go ahead with his plans anyway. "Judging by their tone," he explains, "they are not going to prosecute me or extradite me." Herschman, however, believes otherwise, warning that Eugene is "stepping in the fire, and I think he's going to get burned."

For people like Eugene, the potential revenue is worth that risk. If at-home gambling on the Internet and interstate phone lines is legalized, it would add $10 billion to the net winnings of the industry overnight, estimates Jason Ader, a gaming analyst at Smith Barney, a New York brokerage house.

One company based on the island of Antigua, Sports International Ltd., believes that figure would quickly grow to $30 billion. Formed in the late 1980s by a bunch of guys from Philadelphia and other parts of the US, Sports International operates an offshore service for betting on sporting events via telephone.

Technically, it is illegal to accept sports bets over phone lines that originate in the US. But such laws are seldom enforced; sports bookies are more likely to go broke than go to jail. And Sports International can claim an air of respectability. Somehow, the company has managed to register itself in the US as a publicly traded, over-the-counter stock.

And the fastest-growing part of Sports International business is its Web site (http://www.netaxs.com/people/sportbet), where the standard Las Vegas odds get posted for events such as the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, and big boxing bouts. Customers place their bets with a few clicks of the mouse and wire their money - $300 minimum - to debit accounts held in Caribbean banks. Winnings are supposedly written as cashier's checks and express-mailed back to the bettors. So far, Sports International has opened well over 1,000 accounts, says market-ing director Michael Browne. And sometime this fall, the company plans to open its Global Casino on the same Web site, with Vegas-style, real-money games such as blackjack, roulette, craps, and video slots.

As a result, net winnings this year should more than double, from $2.4 million in 1994 to $6 million, he says. Browne claims that no US law enforcement officials have contacted the company. He says he's not worried. "There's no problem with us being a sports book here in Antigua," he says, adding that questions about US laws are not his concern.

Not yet. But cybergambling could well become a conflict like pornography on the Internet. And when politicians realize that money flowing offshore could be routed into the taxable US economy, they may start talking tough. Browne expects the opposite to happen in this case. He thinks certain regions of the US will loosen their gambling laws when they smell easy tax dollars. And why shouldn't the laws be changed? "You have an industry that was stigmatized as corrupt a long time ago," Browne says. "But it's really no different from the stock market. Just look at teams as if they were companies. The Jets are IBM and the Giants are General Motors."

Yet another Internet gambling company is taking that approach - literally. Instead of acting as an online bookie, taking whatever bets come in and wagering against the customers, a company called Global Gaming Services Ltd. plans to match up sports gamblers against each other. Just as you can't buy a share of stock unless someone is selling one, you won't be able to bet $1,000 on the 49ers unless someone else is willing to put the same amount on the Dolphins. "Our software creates a stock market in sports wagers," says the company's chief technical director, Kerry Rogers, a marketing entrepreneur who grew up in Las Vegas. Global Gaming, Rogers adds, would simply act as the matchmaker and middleman, taking a flat 2.5 percent cut on all action.

In searching for a place to locate his new business, Rogers chose Belize, a Central American country on the Caribbean. The reason: of all the other Caribbean governments he contacted about the venture, the Belizeans were the only ones who didn't require a bribe. Instead, Rogers claims, he convinced them to change their laws - modeling them on those of Nevada - with the expectation that making the country an online gambling mecca would be good for the local economy.

Technologically, Global Gaming's system seems the most advanced. The company's Web site (http://www.vegas.com/wagernet/waghome.html) simply advertises the company's service, which was slated to open in mid-September under the name WagerNet. But to play, you must wire money - $1,000 minimum - to a bank in Belize. Then, for $100, you must purchase a start-up kit, including special software, a card reader that attaches to your PC, and a smart card that holds your security and account information. "It works as a private network attached to the Internet," Rogers says.

So far, he claims that 4,000 people have registered - half from the US and half from elsewhere. Like his fellow online gamblers, he thumbs his nose at US laws. "What are we going to do - build new prisons for sports bettors?" he says. "It doesn't make any sense."

Ah, but gambling laws have never made any sense. Throughout history, gaming regulations have had nothing to do with logic and even less to do with the principles behind whether gambling is good or bad for society. If such laws made any sense, why would lotteries be illegal in Nevada? The truth is that the regulation of gambling has always had everything to do with money, self-interest, and political expediency. The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay colony enacted the New World's first laws against gambling. But the same people funded the sailing of the Mayflower by holding lotteries back in England.

Since then, gambling has come in waves. By George Washington's time, most of the 13 colonies held some form of lottery. The funds helped pay for the building of new settlements as well as for construction at Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth university campuses. But by the mid-1800s, most of these lotteries were banned after scandals turned public opinion against them. Harvard, for instance, couldn't come up with the money to pay a grand-prize winner, who incited a minor riot.

A second wave of gambling arose during the country's move westward, in the frontier saloons of rough-and-tumble Dodge City and gold-crazed San Francisco, where slot machines were invented.

But scandals, corruption, sports fixes, and a general public outcry eventually turned the tide against gambling once more. And by 1909, when gaming was outlawed in Nevada (it was legalized again in 1931), almost all gambling was banned everywhere in the country.

We're now in the midst of gambling's "third wave," says Whittier Law School's Nelson Rose, twisting Alvin Toffler's socioeconomic framework to fit one of humankind's oldest pursuits. According to Rose, this wave started rolling in the 1940s when Bugsy Siegel and bands of gangsters began building a strip of garish casinos in Las Vegas. Cash-strapped governments got into the action by legalizing racetracks in 21 states, with more to follow in the coming decades. Since then, the culture of gambling has been gradually transformed into a quasi-respectable business. Thanks for that goes in large part to Nevada's Corporate Gaming Act of 1967, which enabled publicly traded companies to own and operate gambling facilities; public companies can't afford to be perceived as corrupt. At the same time, states had legalized lotteries. Add to that the opening of Atlantic City to casinos in 1976, the watershed Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, and the current spate of federal exemptions allowing riverboat gambling in certain locales, and you have what amounts to a mad rush to turn wagering into one of America's premier industries.

"Gaming is now part of the entertainment industry," says Smith Barney's Jason Ader. Every major brokerage house now has analysts covering the sector. Just five years ago, there were only 12 public companies in the gambling business. Now, says Ader, there are more than 100. At that rate, there should be close to 1,000 companies five years from now. But even gambling can't grow forever - Ader sees a reversal of sorts. He predicts that the field will shrink down to 20 or 30 major players within a few years, due to consolidation within the industry and the strange dynamics of gambling.

Gaming is governed by a strong law of diminishing returns. Atlantic City is a case in point. When Resorts International opened the first casino there in 1978, it instantly became the world's most profitable. Twelve more casinos followed fast on its heels.

The lucky 13th was Donald Trump's gargantuan Taj Mahal, which was forced into bankruptcy a little more than a year after it opened in 1990. Not one has been built since. The same thing could happen in cyberspace. The early pioneers could become fabulously wealthy. Then the market could quickly become saturated.

Or worse, corrupted. A wily hacker could quite plausibly discover a flaw in the software and compound winnings to his or her account, in effect stealing the payout from the real winners. Herschman, of Virtual Vegas, says he needs to see improved security on the Internet before he begins dealing in real money. "Hackers will bust open the system and keep hitting the win button," he predicts. "It may give the industry a bad name."

Then there is the matter of trust. In a real casino, for instance, you can see the blackjack dealer insert a finite number of brand new decks into the card tray. But what's to stop a virtual casino from fixing the order of a bottomless sequence of cards? "They could put a secret algorithm in the program to pull more 21s when the house gets behind," notes Ader.

But the real sleight of hand will most likely be in fooling the government, not the customers. Even if it remains illegal, emerging technologies will make gambling on the Internet all but undetectable by law enforcement. Encryption, for instance, will make it possible to hide the contents of illegal transactions from federal wiretappers. And the advent of digital cash will enable the wagering of small amounts - from 50 cents to $5 - with all the anonymity of real George Washingtons.

"Electronic cash allows you to hide the money," says Eugene. "I won't even know who it's from." Concludes Herschman: "The technology has outgrown the regulations."

And the technology is growing in many directions. Besides bringing gambling to homes through telephone and computer networks, some entrepreneurs are pushing for gambling via interactive television.

One such company is Carlsbad, California-based IWN ("I win") Inc., a subsidiary of NTN Communications Inc., the maker of many interactive TV games, such as QB1 football. IWN has developed software that allows television viewers to use their remote controls to place bets on live horse races. The game, called Triples, is now being tested in Cerritos, California, over the GTE mainStreet interactive cable system. Right now, people play only for points. But IWN President Colleen Anderson says the company will test a real-money version of the game for Windows-based PCs, called HomeStretch, in Connecticut this fall.

Connecticut is one of seven states that permit what's known as "account wagering" on horse and dog races. (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky, and Nevada are the others.) Players typically set up debit accounts with a licensed racetrack or off-track betting facility and place their bets over the phone by voice or, in some cases, with their touch-tone keypad. Anderson believes the computer and the television provide much more efficient ways of doing this. Those devices can display the gobs of information, such as the racing form, that bettors need. Plus, the television allows you to watch the race after you place your wager. The company's network of computers will not only credit and debit accounts accordingly when the race results are posted, but will also charge transaction fees for both the wager and the information.

Currently, fewer than 100,000 people in the seven legal states participate in account wagering. But with this new technology, Anderson sees "millions of people doing interactive gambling." She notes that horse racing and other "parimutuel" gambling (an industry term for games in which the odds change based on how other players bet) is currently a declining business with an older clientele. She sees the new technology freshening the parimutuel business with younger players.

That's precisely what some industry observers are worried about. Associate Professor Howard Shaffer, director of the Division on Addictions at Harvard Medical School, believes that gambling is "a serious public health issue," especially among the young who find ways to play lotteries, bet on horses, and wager on sporting events. He fears that new technologies, such as the Internet, will lead to widespread gambling among minors, even though all the operators of cybercasinos say they will not open accounts to bettors who are underage. Home computers and gambling, he warns, are a frightening combination.

"Computers make us feel in control and organized," Shaffer says. "Those feelings appeal to the sense of control and mastery that pathological gamblers exhibit. They begin to believe that they have control over the outcome of a chance event."

In this respect, Shaffer says, "gambling can make smart people dumb." Shaffer points to a recent analysis, which examined data from studies of 8,000 gamblers in the fifth through twelfth grades, and found that roughly 6 percent of those kids met the criteria for pathological addiction to gambling. Symptoms include lethargic, depressed, and unsatisfied attitudes that can be alleviated only by betting higher and higher amounts. The study showed that an additional 12 percent of those kids exhibited a smaller set of adverse symptoms, such as distraction from family, work, and school - and piles of debt.

It's this kind of criticism and analysis that drives gaming entrepreneurs bonkers. "The immorality of gaming is a myth," says Anderson. "The government is in it. The church is in it. Charities are in it." Warren Eugene and David Herschman are similarly indignant over such issues. "A lot of people think sex and alcohol are immoral too," Herschman says. Adds Eugene: "What your country needs is a good enema."

Maybe so, but you can't argue with the math. Anyone who knows something about probability knows that gamblers are doomed to failure. You can play the lottery every week for 10 lifetimes and chances are you still won't hit the jackpot. Statisticians have been known to point out that the act of buying a ticket doesn't measurably increase your chances of winning.

The greatest misconception about gambling is that the house makes money off you only when you lose. But in all forms of gambling, the primary way the house reaps its profits is by paying the winners slightly less than the true odds. In roulette, for example, you obtain a chance to double your money by betting either black or red. But the odds are actually a bit higher than this 2-to-1 payout. Occasionally, the ball lands in a green nook - and all chips are called. As author Harold Vogel points out in his book Entertainment Industry Economics, this often-hidden margin is what provides the casino with its "edge," the track with its "take," and the lottery with its "cut." Even when you win, you lose a little.

Despite the dismal odds, it could be inevitable that cyberspace becomes the next frontier that's paved with gambling dollars. If so, it seems likely that gambling on the Net won't simply be contained to traditional games, like blackjack, horse races, and football. Perhaps the day will soon come when people can sit down at their personal computers, open their digital wallets, and obtain odds on just about everything: they could compete for cash in live-action videogame tournaments or wager on real-world events such as who will become the next president and whether certain legislation will pass or fail. And the bets will affect the outcomes of those events. Smith Barney's Ader projects that gaming in the US could be a $100 billion industry if it were available on demand to anyone at any time. That works out to $400 per capita - which translates into net losings of $1,600 per year for the average family of four.

But as it was in the original 13 colonies and the Wild West, ubiquitous wagering may last only so long before it does itself in. An unregulated company in the Caribbean could lose its shirt, pull the plug on its computer, and go dark without paying the winners. Or the law of diminishing returns could set in, and the proliferation of gambling could once again lead to its reduction. Like George Washington, most Americans are of two minds when it comes to such things. We could reach a point when the public once again says enough's enough. Nelson Rose has an exact, if totally unscientific, prediction for when this current wave will crash: 2029. But he's not willing to bet on it.


Evan I. Schwartz (evan@cis.compuserve.com) is a Boston-based contributing writer for Wired. He wrote "People Are Supposed to Pay for This Stuff?" in Wired 3.07.

Digital radio set to compete with 3G phones for 'killer applications'

Digital radio set to compete with 3G phones for 'killer applications'

By Saeed Shah
Monday, 10 March 2003

Digital radio is set to be used as a cheaper and more efficient method to provide some of the services that 3G mobile phone operators had touted as their "killer" applications.

Digital radio is set to be used as a cheaper and more efficient method to provide some of the services that 3G mobile phone operators had touted as their "killer" applications.

The 3G players paid £22.5bn for their licences and need to make a return by charging premium prices for sophisticated new services, but digital radio licences were free and transmission costs are a fraction of those of a mobile phone network.

It is understood that there are now talks going on between digital radio companies and 3G network operators and the handsets manufacturers. A digital radio chip could be inserted into a 3G phone, allowing the technologies to be combined. However, digital radio's cost and technological advantages for some services may mean it is used as an alternative and competing technology.

A digital radio signal is capable of delivering much greater amounts of data to large numbers of consumers, at speeds of up to 240 kilobits per second, compared with 3G's typical 64 to 128 kb/s. The technology is suitable for some of the streaming broadcast services, such as video clips of football matches, promoted as unique selling points by 3G operators.

Simon Cole, the chief executive of UBC Media, the market leader for digital radio data services, said: "We provide an opportunity to them [mobile operators] to broaden their offering.... [but] if someone wanted to go to war with telecoms companies, they could. If telco's do not sit up and have this conversation, radio people will go ahead [with services] anyhow."

John Hall, the chief executive of Radioscape, a digital radio software company, said: "If 3G were planning to make money out of broadcasting large amounts of footage, there's an overlap [with digital radio]."

Radio technology is a much more efficient way of broadcasting the same information to large numbers of consumers, as it costs no more and takes up no greater capacity to send the information to one person or one million. By contrast, 3G phones may only be able to simultaneously broadcast rich video content to a few hundred users at a time. Where radio suffers is that it cannot offer a service "on demand" to consumers and it is one-way traffic – unlike a phone network, which is a two-way medium and has a built-in paying mechanism. That is why it makes sense to combine digital radio with telecoms services but this need not be a 3G phone – a less advanced mobile or a fixed line could be used as the "return loop".



Gambling Online And Offshore - Internet Betting Takes Off In The UK

Gambling Online And Offshore

Internet Betting Takes Off In The UK

by Gail Robinson

Online gambling looks set to be one of the huge growth areas of the next two years. Research company Datamonitor estimates that online betting and gaming revenues will reach a staggering $10 billion by 2002. The interactive betting services are looking to attract a new audience - they want the kind of people who don't frequent betting shops but are nevertheless keen on sport to have a flutter online. Gambling online is a whole different kettle of fish - it's anonymous, you're not made to feel stupid because you don't understand how an each way bet works and it's convenient. The two biggest potential growth markets are the middle classes and women.
March 13, 2000

Recent research suggest that women are at the forefront of the Internet gaming revolution with one in five being tempted by online betting. Alistair Assheton, the General Manager of the online gambling business VIP explains, "we believe that people put off by the atmosphere of bricks and mortar bookmakers, such as women, will come to us for an enjoyable and straightforward experience."

The UK certainly seems to have got the gambling bug - 70 per cent of the population plays the National Lottery. The gambling web sites are desperately hoping they can persuade these occasional gamblers to place a few bets online. Currently only around 11 per cent of British adults place bets, so you can see the potential growth in the market is huge. A recent survey revealed that one in seven British adults would find the Internet the most appealing way to make a bet, largely because it's private, it's more convenient and it's less embarrassing.

The Internet also opens up huge international markets. Ladbrokes already offers betting in Cantonese, Italian and Spanish as well as English and sees Western Europe, the Far East and Australasia as the key international markets to develop. Meanwhile, William Hill offers betting in 19 currencies and is catering for the North American market with its ice hockey and basketball betting services.

Back-End Technology

If you're thinking of entering this market, be warned there's not a huge range of back-end solutions available for high volume Internet betting operations. OpenBet from Orbis is one of the most popular systems and is used by both Blue Square and Ladbrokes. OpenBet is an end-to-end solution for maintaining high traffic gambling and gaming web sites that allows you to create multiple sites using the same system.

The system works on two-tiers, the Gambling Engine and the Gambling Framework. The Gambling Engine covers the customer accounts, registration and identity validation, electro payment, event management, liability management and monitoring, administration and reports. This engine is capable of handling millions of plays each day and hundreds of thousands of account holders. On top of this is the Game Framework, which supports games developed in most web browser technologies including HTML, Java, JavaScript and Shockwave.

The system is currently being used to handle sports betting, casinos, pools betting, lottery games, fantasy competitions and finance games. Blue Square has been impressed by the system, MD Damian Cope commented, "OpenBet gives us a real-time clear view of the activity on the site and our liability. By using it were able to launch the site within the timescales we had set and it has been very reliable - no unscheduled downtime."

Another popular solution is ITSS supplied by Interactive Gaming & Wagering. This software is currently being used by the VIP sites as well as casinos GameDay and Fair Deal. This solution offers 128-bit SSL encryption and totally secure credit card processing, while the ITSS common wallet solution allows players to hold just one account whilst playing casino games, football games and many other sports.

In The UK

The promise of tax-free online betting is a powerful driver for the UK market. When you place a bet in your high street bookmakers you're charged an extra 9 per cent - 6.75 per cent of this is tax and then the traditional bookmaker's charge on top brings it up to a total of 9 per cent. Most online gambling sites charge no tax or levy at all. They get around the tax problem by basing their business offshore; for example Ladbrokes International is based in Gibraltar, VIP in the Dutch Antilles and William Hill International in Antigua. John O'Reilly, managing director of Ladbrokes International succinctly sums up the situation, "you wouldn't locate the hub of your e-commerce business in an environment as fiscally unfriendly to online gambling as the UK."

Offshore has its problems though; under UK law any online gambling business that doesn't charge tax is only allowed to advertise its services online. Ladbrokes has got round this problem by choosing to pay the tax bill on its Bet.co.uk site itself for a limited period rather than charging its customers. This means Ladbrokes has been able to promote the service with a big launch campaign and ads in the daily newspapers. Cunningly, once you're at the Bet.co.uk home page you'll find a prominent link to the international Ladbrokes site at www.ladbrokes.com. William Hill is offering a similar deal at www.williamhill.co.uk, and as soon as you hit the home page an audio message directs you to the international site at www.willhill.com for permanent tax-free betting.

The British Chancellor Gordon Brown is expected to crack down on any tax-free betting advertising loopholes in April's budget. It seems he's worried by the Ladbrokes and William Hill approach. And he's every right to be a bit upset; the Government stands to lose a huge source of revenue. The market is pushing for a reduction in gaming duties. The Irish Government has already cut its gaming duty from 10 to 5 per cent in an effort to keep betting onshore. Ian Barlow, the Chairman of the British Horseracing Board Tax Committee supports this view, "the thing to do to counter offshore betting would be to lower the gaming duty."

The situation is even trickier in the US where gambling legislation varies from state to state. At one end of the scale you've got Nevada where pretty much anything goes and then you've got Massachusetts at the other end, where any company that allows a citizen of Massachusetts to gamble could have their assets frozen. In November 1999 the Kyle Bill was passed through the US Senate and this aims to prevent Internet gambling. However any law is going to prove tricky to enforce when most of the online betting companies are based outside of the US.

Big Rollers

Ladbrokes and William Hill are the two biggest names in the UK bookmaking business and both have staked a claim on the international market.

Ladbrokes has two sites; the UK focussed Bet.co.uk and the international site, www.ladbrokes.com. Ladbrokes is currently paying the deductions for its punters on the Bet.co.uk site, but that generosity won't last forever. Bet.co.uk is seen as a soft introduction to the world of betting and currently focuses on football. It's designed to appeal to the gambling novice and is full of background stats, facts, news and tips on how to fill out your online betting slip.

The international Ladbrokes site offers tax-free betting for the UK and international market in many languages and currencies. Football, horseracing, greyhound racing, golf, tennis and American football are all featured and casino games should appear later this year. John O'Reilly, managing director of Ladbrokes International, sees the sites as playing two different roles, "Bet.co.uk is a very soft introduction to betting, it makes betting easy. We're trying to attract an audience who are mad keen on sport but don't want to go into a betting shop."

William Hill takes a similar two web site approach. The UK site (www.williamhill.co.uk) offers tax-free betting for a limited period and allows you to gamble on boxing, cricket, golf, greyhounds, horse racing, motor racing, rugby and football. The international site, at www.willhill.com, is the full tax-free offshore business and it caters for the UK and international gambler offering betting in a whopping 19 currencies. The online casino is also popular and runs 25 games including poker and blackjack. The offshore business is based in Antigua, while the .co.uk side is run from Athlone in Ireland.

Coral is another well-known name in the UK gambling market and it handles tax-free betting from its Eurobet site at www.eurobet.co.uk. The site has been running since 1995 from its offices in Gibraltar, however Eurobet only became part of the Coral Group in December 1999. The site can handle five currencies and is available in five languages. A wide range of sports is covered including football, Formula 1, tennis and rugby. There's also an online lottery game that's linked to the Irish Lottery draws.

Alongside the famous high street names a whole batch of new online only gambling businesses have sprung up. VIP is one the longest standing and has been in business since 1996. VIP runs several sites including its new football site, www.vipsoccer.com, a general sports site at www.vipsports.com and an online casino at www.vipcasinos.com. Football is the most popular section for UK gamblers, although VIP is currently seeing the bulk of its business coming from North America. Alistair Assheton, VIP's General Manager, recognises that VIP has some way to go to establish its brand name however he's bullish about the new launch, "we're going to be throwing plenty of resources at growing the VIP Soccer brand in the UK."

Blue Square (www.bluesq.com) claims to be the largest betting site in the UK and until the Budget on March 21st it's offering tax-free bets. The site is impressive but we await eagerly to see what the company does after the budget - will it have to move offshore to continue operating? The future seems relatively rosy for the company though - deals are afoot for an interactive TV-based service and for a WAP phone based betting product.

In October '98 Sporting Bet (www.sportingbet.com) became the first British-based tax free Internet betting service to launch. The head office is in Alderney in the Channel Islands so the service is fully regulated under British law but remains tax-free. The site currently offers a choice of international currencies and caters for popular US sports such as baseball, basketball and NFL Football as well as good old British favourites including horse racing, cricket and soccer.

However the gambling site that enjoys the best online promotion has to be Galaxy World Casinos (www.galaxiworld.com). There's a link from the Playboy home page (www.playboy.com) direct to Galaxy World. Bunny girls lead you round this Antigua-based site, which includes slot machines as well as card and roulette games.

Regulatory Bodies

In theory these gambling sites are regulated by the countries they're based in, however there's also a global trade association for the interactive gaming industry - the Interactive Gaming Council at www.igcouncil.org. Members of the organisation are obliged to follow the IGC's code of conduct. The code covers areas such as privacy, data protection and the protection of minors. The IGC also has a dispute resolution service for customers that get into any kind of disagreement with an online gambling site. Vice Chairman of the council Albert Angel explains, "we believe that the best way to ensure that consumers are protected, children are kept from accessing online gaming sites and those with gambling problems get the help they need is to craft a comprehensive regulatory framework." Look out for the IGC's Seal of Approval on member's sites.

Where's The Market Heading?

If you think online gambling is big on the Internet, watch out because the market is going to go mad once digital TV hits its stride. Some analysts are predicting a 50 per cent digital penetration by 2003 and in a recent survey 12 per cent of British adults said they would be more likely to bet if they could do so using interactive TV, so you can see why it's such an important area for these companies.

Ladbrokes has already got several fingers in the digital TV pie. The company has a stake in Two Way TV and has signed agreements with Telewest and Cable & Wireless to offer betting services to their digital customers. Ladbrokes plans to launch its Open Betting service to coincide with the start of the next football season and will quickly follow that launch with an array of sports betting services and a Vernons Pools product. Ladbrokes' big development is its 'betting at the speed of thought' services which promises to offer live on-screen betting during TV programmes which relates to the action you're viewing on-screen (for example you could but a live bet on whether or not Beckham is going to score from the penalty spot).

The other key area for online betting services is Internet-enabled mobile phones. As Ladbrokes' John O'Reilly explains, "betting is always time sensitive, people always want to bet just before the match or race begins. That's why betting over mobile phones is a killer application." We can expect the first WAP-enabled betting services to hit mobile phones by the end of the year.

So does this all mean the end of the high street bookie or bar room betting? It certainly looks like they're on the way out; some experts are predicting that half of Britain's betting shops will shut within five years. It's certainly true that betting shops attract an ageing audience and that audience is not growing. But those diehard gamblers that like to deal in cash will still want to spend their Saturday afternoons in the smoky atmosphere of a real bricks and mortar bookmaker.


Gail Robinson is a freelance Internet writer based in the UK.