Turkey concerns send Sportingbet shares down

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On the basis of a law passed by the Turkish government on 28 February 2007, the Austrian online bookmaker BWIN decided to withdraw its range of online gaming products from the Turkish betting market.

BWIN explained that whilst the new law does prohibit online games of chance, there was a chance that at some point in the future private operators would be granted licences to operate in the country. Bwin currently generates about six per cent of its gross gaming revenues in Turkey.

On 26 March 2007 the beleagured e-payments company Neteller announced to the market that in light of the recently passed legislation in Turkey it had decided to implement a voluntary phased withdrawal of the payment services related to online gambling that it currently offered to the Turkish market.

On 11 April 2007, PartyGaming announced that in light of the passing of legislation "which prohibits certain forms of online gaming from being offered by any unauthorised domestic or foreign company to citizens in Turkey", it would take all reasonable steps to ensure that customers in Turkey were denied access to any of its gaming sites.

When announcing its unaudited results for the second quarter ended 31 January 2007 on 28 February 2007, Sportingbet stated that it had agreed to acquire the business and assets of Maslin Properties Ltd, the Group's Turkish marketing partner, for an initial consideration of £3.5m and deferred consideration of up to a further 35.3m Sportingbet Plc shares wholly dependent on the performance of the Turkish business over the next two years. The £3.5m initial consideration is to be satisfied by the cancellation of a debtor owed by Maslin Properties Ltd.

The initial consideration will be payable immediately upon completion. Up to 35.3m Sportingbet Plc shares may be payable in the two years to 31 December 2008 should the Turkish business meet certain performance targets;

"Maslin Properties Ltd is the Group's Turkish marketing partner and owner of the domain name, superbahis.com. Maslin Properties Ltd has worked with Sportingbet since 1998 and currently employs 47 people conducting marketing, web design and Turkish customer services. In the year ended 31 December 2006 the assets being acquired generated a profit before tax of £3.8m and are being purchased on a working capital neutral basis and therefore have zero net asset value. The transaction is expected to be enhancing to earnings immediately."

Analysts are now looking to see whether Sportingbet will follow the lead given by Neteller, BWIN and PartyGaming and puts its Turkish operations on hold. Failure to do so, may leave the company open to criminal sanction and might jeopardise any chance which it has of obtaining a Turkish betting licence in the future. Shares in Sportingbet ended the day down 5% at 61.25p.

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