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JV with French media company disclosed in latest trading update

The major Vienna-listed online gambling group Bwin Interactive Entertainment AG has joined other public companies reporting a relatively quiet third quarter, but the trading update included interesting news of a joint venture designed to make the most of the anticipated liberation of the French online gambling market.
 
Bwin is to team up with French media group Editions Philippe Amaury (Amaury Group), which numbers among its publications the daily sports paper L’Equipe; daily newspaper Le Parisien; the France Football magazine and the cycling publication Vélo Magazine, the l’Équipe TV station and Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) a sporting event organisers for epics like the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix cycling races, the Paris-Dakar rally, the French Open and the Paris Marathon. The group additionally boasts the largest sports related online sites in France (www.lequipe.fr and www.leparisien.fr).
 
Subject to the legislation anticipated in France at the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010, Amaury and Bwin intend to develop the French online gaming market under a new brand. Further details of this partnership will be published in due time before the launch of operations.
 
Third quarter trading reflected the seasonally quiet period in Europe, with live betting starting to move turnover away from conventional sports betting, resulting in a 1 percent drop in margins - around Euro 7 million - below expectations in this area for the company. Gross sports betting revenues rose 7.7 percent to Euro 51 million, as margins dropped to 7.4 percent from 8.5 percent.
 
The performance of online poker network activities through subsidiary Ongame and own brands PokerRoom and EuroPoker also performed disappointingly, and the company intends to combine its interests into Bwin Poker during the first quarter of 2009 in order to cuts costs and boost efficiency and brand recognition.
 
Q3 gross gaming revenues were up 11.2 percent to Euro 95.9 million. Quarterly net gaming revenues were up 10.9 percent to Euro 83.7 million, and adjusted EBITDA dropped to Euro 9.6 million during the quarter.
 
The gross gaming revenues generated from the poker, casino and games sectors amounted to Euro 22.8 million (Q3 2007: Euro 20.7 million), Euro 16.9 million (Q3 2007: Euro 14.4 million) and Euro 5.2 million (Q3 2007: Euro 3.9 million) respectively. This represents increases of 10.5 percent for poker, 17.5 percent for casino, and 33.8 percent for games compared to Q3 2007.
 
In the quarter under review, Bwin reported own work capitalised (e.g. in-house software) in the amount of Euro 2.5 million (Q3 2007: Euro 1.0 million) and Euro 1.3 million in other revenues (Q3 2007: Euro 900 000). Exchange gains accounted for Euro 1.1 million of this amount.
 
Marketing expenses for Q3 2008 came in at Euro 29.5 million (30.8% of gross gaming revenues) - down significantly compared to Q2 2008 when Euro 37.6 million was spent. For the year as a whole, the company anticipates marketing expenses equivalent to around 31 percent of gross gaming revenues.
 
Customer bonuses amounted to Euro 9.4 million in Q3 2008 - unchanged compared to the same period the previous year (Q3 2007: EUR 8.5 million or 9.9 percent of gross gaming revenues).
 
Marketing expenses (including bonuses) per new active customer (CPA) amounted to Euro 210.1 in Q3 2008, up 6.9 percent compared to the same period the previous year.
 
Bwin recorded a quarterly loss after tax Euro 7 million, some Euro 2 million higher than the Q3 loss last year.
 
The 2008 nine month figures for the period January to end September, showed a record rise in gross gaming revenues of 20.6 percent to Euro 303 million. Gross sports betting revenues were up 26.7 percent to Euro 170.9 million with sports betting margins of 8.0 percent, slightly lower than last time's 8.4 percent. Nine month NGR is up 18.1 percent to Euro 263.6 million, and the company made after tax losses of Euro 2.7 million, higher than the Euro 800 000 recorded over the same nine months last year.
 
Bwin reported a player base of 1 685 000 active (up 22.7 percent) and 736 000 new active (up 29.2 percent) real-money customers. Despite the large number of newly acquired customers, compared to the first nine months of 2007 Bwin reported only a slight fall of 1.7 percent in gross gaming revenues per active customer to Euro 179.9 (Q1-Q3 2007: EUR 182.9).
 
The rather lacklustre quarter prompted the company to predict a significant improvement in 2009, with gross gaming revenues expected to reach the Euro 430 million to Euro 445 million level and EBITDA of at least Euro 100 million, thanks to planned reductions in operating and marketing expenses. Bwin also anticipates to reap rewards from its investment in technology, marketing and brand building. Cost cutting will reach Euro 40 million in operating and marketing expenses during 2009 and the company will focus on growing its existing markets.
 
Including 60 freelancers, the number of staff as of the reporting date 30 September 2008 was 1 448 employees - an increase of 31.9 percent compared to levels at September 2007. However, this number will decrease next year as the cost-cutting program takes effect.
 
Expenses for third-party services such as external software maintenance and programming, consulting, Internet charges, information services, and expenses for legal services, auditing and consulting rose from Euro 13.9 million in Q3 2007 to Euro 15.0 million in Q3 2008. This was attributable to the expansion of the online gaming range and increased PR activities. During the coming year there will be a noticeable reduction in this area, management predicts.
 
The seven weeks of the new quarter indicate an improving trend, with average daily gross gaming revenues up 25 percent compared to the quarter just past.



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