BetMGM Gets Ducks in a Row Ahead of Nevada Online Poker Launch BetMGM Gets Ducks in a Row Ahead of Nevada Online Poker Launch

Entain brought BetMGM Poker NV a small step closer to reality last week after the company urged Nevada regulators to recommend issuance of a license for its partypoker software, and the regulator obliged.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) voted unanimously at its meeting last Wednesday to recommend that the UK-based gaming conglomerate’s subsidiary in the US, Bwin.Party, be issued an interactive gaming service provider license.

A decision on whether that should happen will be left to the Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC), which meets next on May 16.

BetMGM is a 50/50 joint venture between MGM Resorts International and Bwin.Party.

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Rumors that Entain and MGM could launch a Nevada online poker room together, under a platform powered by Entain’s partypoker software, and compete with WSOP NV have persisted for years, but it could finally be happening. Consider that executives with MGM appeared before the NGCB on April 3 asking for its license to be extended for a 14th time. They agreed, and so did the NGC when it met two weeks later.

Both Entain and MGM need interactive service provider licenses in order for BetMGM Poker NV to launch. Assuming the NGC issues Entain the license when it meets in mid-May, there won’t be anything on the regulatory front holding the JV partners back.

Platform Could Still Be One Year Away

BetMGM Poker NV took a step forward, but there are still many steps to go.

MGM officials told the NGCB and the NGC that the JV partners were working on a series of small projects associated with sports betting. The company said it plans to get the sports betting projects done first — and poker would be the very next project.

An attorney for Entain told Nevada regulators that the company has “no plans” to the license anytime soon.

“We don’t have any plans,” said Simon Zinger, group general counsel at Entain. “I understand that’s a license that that we’ve had on the books for a period of time and there are no plans at the moment to use that license.”

Zinger later added, “I think the question as to whether something could be or may be offered [in] Nevada is a ways off in our thinking. It’s not being thought about at the moment.”

Entain got approval for a two-year provisional license in 2019, when the company was then known as GVC Holdings. It received a three-year extension in 2021.

MGM, meanwhile, got its first interactive gaming license for BetMGM back in November 2012.

Questions Raised About Massive UK Penalty

The meeting was also an opportunity for Entain to do some damage control.

Last November, Entain agreed to pay a penalty of £585 million ($729 million USD at the time) to settle alleged bribery offenses committed by its former Turkish subsidiary. A judge in the UK approved the settlement, part of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with UK prosecutors, in December.

Attorneys and executives for Entain spent more than an hour trying to make the case that the company’s culture had changed and that anything nefarious was firmly in the past. Interim CEO Stella David and board chairman Barry Gibson flew in for the meeting in Las Vegas. Still there were concerns about Entain’s past actions.

“The payments on the DPA, without a doubt those were eye opening to say the least in terms of what a fine could be,” Hendrick said. He asked the company’s counsel if they could explain how the Turkey issue wouldn’t reflect poorly on Nevada regulators, should they approve a license for Entain.

“What the DPA and the resolution shows is actually the company’s commitment to resolving issues,” said Erica Okerberg, counsel for Entain. “It shows not only that they’ve taken efforts to step outside of the past issues but that they’ve taken responsibility for it in this case.

“They’ve taken responsibility for actions that were from 2011 to 2017. They’ve accepted that and they’ve found ways to resolve that in good faith, not only with the actual DPA resolution but also finding ways to fulfill that throughout their company to assure that doesn’t recur in other jurisdictions.”

During the meeting, Entain board chairman Barry Gibson told regulators that the company had exited about 140 gray markets since 2019. Zinger later clarified that Entain was indeed not in gray markets, but considered three markets where igaming legislation was in the works as “regulating” and not as gray markets. Those markets are Austria, Brazil, and Finland.