The UK’s biggest online gaming group turned up the heat on its rivals today by freezing them out of its flagship PartyPoker website.
PartyGaming said it was no longer prepared to allow players of websites owned by rivals such as Empire Online and Coral Eurobet to gamble at the same tables as clients of PartyPoker.
It has launched a new platform exclusively for its nine million customers, adding features that include blackjack and the chance to bet on the colour of the cards as they are dealt.
PartyGaming said the move did not weaken its relationship with Coral and other allies, but shares in FTSE-listed Empire slumped 30% as investors feared a major loss of customers.
It comes at a turbulent time in the sector with both Empire and PartyGaming shares now worth less than when they floated in the summer.
PartyGaming fell as much as 10% today to value the company at less than £3bn (€4.3bn) for the first time – compared with a listing price of £4.64bn (€6.75bn) in June and a peak of more than £7bn (€10.1bn).
Investors have expressed concern about the prospects for online poker and took fright at comments attributed to Empire boss Noam Lanir that the market showed little growth over summer.
PartyGaming said the new platform will enable PartyPoker customers to have a single account so they can play brands such as PartyBingo and PartyCasino from next year for a shared purse.
The launch impacts on Empire, Coral Eurobet, Multipoker and Intertops – all of whom help to direct traffic to the poker websites of PartyGaming.
These firms will continue to have full access to the other poker systems run by PartyGaming, including tables for beginners and punters wishing to lay small bets.
Richard Segal, chief executive of PartyGaming, said: “Today’s development is an important step towards cementing together the inherent strengths of all the Party brands and is in the best interests of our customers and shareholders.”
Empire said it was “too early” to assess what impact this may have on its financial performance in the short term.
It told investors of its success in directing customers to its own Noble Poker platform, which it acquired in the middle of last month, with less than half of all new players coming through its Empire Poker brand.
Empire said today that it added 24% more customers during the three months to September 30, while net gaming revenues of $31.4m (€26m) were 71% higher than the same period of last year.
But the group saw slower growth in poker compared to revenues from casino, which attracted 153% more customers in the third quarter compared with last year and 58% more than the previous three months.