The most recent Amaya earnings call featuring second quarter results led with big news. Former CEO David Baazov resigned from “all positions” and departed the company. That may or may not have been followed by a collective company-wide sigh of relief.
Baazov had been weighing the company down for months with everything from the investigation into insider trading charges to his intention to buy Amaya. The unknowns surrounding those fluid situations were troublesome for the company in many ways, including the company’s efforts and movements in the American market.
With Baazov gone, Amaya can truly move forward.
The Burden of Baazov
There was a time when Baazov was the best thing to happen to Amaya. As chairman and chief executive officer, he took the company public and grew it into a conglomerate that was ready to take on the gaming world. And it was well on its way to doing just that.
But something happened along the way that may have been Baazov’s own doing. Whatever he did at the time of the Amaya acquisition of Rational Group (PokerStars and Full Tilt) in 2014, it prompted an investigation by the securities regulatory authority in Quebec. Suspicions and an investigation led to the AMF filing five charges against Baazov, including communicating privileged information and influencing or attempting to influence the market price of Amaya securities.
Baazov denied all allegations and declared his intent to “vigorously contest these accusations,” but months later, the charges remain pending against him, brother Josh Baazov, and friend Craig Levett.
Meanwhile, Baazov declared in February of this year that he wanted to buy Amaya. He planned to make an all-cash offer to acquire full ownership of the company, along with a group of anonymous investors. The informal offer never translated into a formal offer, despite Amaya establishing a special committee to examine the offer.
The lack of stability in the top management tier of Amaya, along with serious charges pending against Baazov, put the company in a tough spot. As of March 28, Baazov did volunteer to take a leave of absence. But the paid leave and extra costs (attorneys, auditors, etc.) were a drain on the company and left everything in limbo. The entire situation was at the mercy of Baazov.
Related: Top 6 David Baazov Jokes
Finally, last week, Baazov resigned and departed. There was no mention made of the bid for Amaya or the AMF charges, only a note from the board of directors to thank Baazov for his contributions. Boom. Bye.
Rafi Ashkenazi, former CEO of Rational Group who had been named as the interim Amaya CEO in Baazov’s absence, was named as the official successor. Amaya had been happy with his service over the past few months and looked forward to Ashkenazi’s “continued success in leading the execution of Amaya’s strategy.” And when Ashkenazi took to the call, he was optimistic about new online gaming markets, including in the United States.
Instead of the company focusing time, energy, and resources on a potential buyout or takeover of the company and insider trading charges against its CEO, Amaya can move forward with a full and complete focus on growth. Of course, Baazov still owns shares in Amaya, but that is likely being discussed in order to close the door on that part of the partnership as well.
Positive Q2 Report
The real purpose of the earnings call was to discuss earnings, obviously. The second quarter results were generally positive, according to Online Poker Report’s summary. Revenues were up 10.2% year-on-year, net earnings and customer deposits were up, and long-term debt was down.
Poker revenue was down slightly year-on-year, from $216,053,000 in Q2 of 2015 to $215,622,000 in the same period of 2016. Revenues in markets like Spain were down, but Italy, UK, and France revenues were up. Overall, the European Union made up 63% of its poker revenue, and Amaya closed in on 71% of the entire global online poker market.
Ashkenazi noted that the PokerStars VIP program changes implemented earlier in 2016 showed “no negative revenue impact from high revenue players” but did demonstrate that “bankrolls from recreational and casual players are lasting longer.” In addition, the recent PokerStars Card Hunt promotion was so successful that it will become a permanent part of the online poker software.