It came as a surprise to many when Intertops announced this week that it would no longer accept new U.S. players. American customers with existing accounts could continue to bet for the time being but new accounts were being refused. It’s uncertain why the company made this decision, but someone I spoke to at Intertops said it was a strategic decision that needed to be taken for the future viability of the company. Without coming out directly and saying it the impression I got from the conversation was that Intertops will likely go the way of Bodog and split its operations between U.S. and Rest of the World (ROW) customers. Intertops currently holds a license in Antigua as Continental Ventures Ltd. and they also hold a license in Kahnawake as Thinkquick Ltd. The company was always known as International Gaming & Entertainment Ltd. so why the name was changed to Continental Ventures is uncertain. The license in Antigua was renewed in 2009 but is set to expire in November of this year. When asked if the company will be renewing that license the contact said he couldn’t answer that.
Other contacts from Intertops that I’ve spoken to in the past made it clear that they want to expand their ROW business since Europe and Asia have far more potential than the United States. It’s likely that poker will be legalized and regulated stateside sometime in the near future but the Revolution Gaming Network (of which Intertops is a skin) has no chance of getting a license. Sports betting, however, will not be coming to the U.S. market anytime soon and even if the state governments are successful at overturning PASPA sometime in the future those states will almost certainly use a company like Caesars or Penn Gaming to run the sports betting product and not a foreign entity – particularly one that catered to the U.S. market in the past. It could be for that reason that Intertops may want to split the business. Germany is in the process of deregulating its internet market and a large percentage of Intertops’ customers are German. Similarly France, Belgium and the Netherlands will soon be looking for potential licensees as well and numerous Asian markets will be likely decentralizing as well. To get a license in any of these jurisdictions, it is quite possible they’ll demand that the company have no connection to the United States. So by splitting the business Intertops can restructure its operations such that the ROW business only has non U.S. customers while the Mohawks can run the American customer business from Kahnawake, as Bodog has done.
Intertops’ history is interesting indeed. The company first started taking bets in England in the 1980s as a land based and telephone sportsbook and moved to Austria in the early 1990s. Intertops took its first online bet when a young entrepreneur, Simon Noble, convinced the owner that the World Wide Web was the future of gambling. The owner, Detlef Train, agreed to give Noble, along with others some money to start up the online business and it was an immediate success. Customers from around the world signed up but the company had to charge a minimum 10% tax on all bets as was required by Austrian law and the amount increased depending on the amount won. Realizing they could never compete with this tax requirement, the company moved to Antigua which had just started accepting remote gambling licenses and North American accounts started rolling in. The company became known for small minimum limit requirements (many companies at the time had $20 or higher minimum wagers) as well as its novelty bets. Their offer on the first installment of Survivor got Intertops front page headlines in the New York Times, L.A. Times, U.S. Weekly and numerous other publications. Intertops’ odds of who would win the show were also regular features. Intertops catapulted this success to offer numerous other novelty bets and the company became a staple in the press for unique bet offers. And in the process the sportsbook grew dramatically. By 2002 the company had managed to attract 500,000 customers and 20 million wagers. Noble was seen as a marketing genius and was made CEO of the company.
While the company was flourishing, Train apparently wasn’t content to stay on the sidelines and began making marketing decisions for the company that the new management felt could ruin its success. Train stuck to his guns so the new management initiated a shotgun clause in their contract to buy Train out but the owner was able to match the offer and forced Noble and others out. The company while still successful hit a brick wall after Noble’s departure and the press releases became few and far between, particularly in the United States. The company is definitely successful and was a welcome option when other sportsbooks like Pinnacle and The Greek pulled out of the U.S. market but it never reached the potential of its early promise.
As for the poker product, Intertops has changed regularly. They were part of Party Gaming until Party decided to move all skins under their own brand name, they then moved to Cake Poker then to Merge Poker and most recently Revolution Gaming. Revolution has a combination of licensees, some that accept U.S. customers and some that don’t so it would be easy for Revolution to split up the licensees along those lines should it ever become a requirement.
Intertops certainly has the money and players should not be concerned about the recent news but U.S. players can expect to be ‘rebranded’ in the coming months.