A few weeks ago, Aston Villa announced a primary sponsorship with W88, an Asian (as described by Villa) betting company, who have offered Villa a large sum (record-breaking) to sponsor the club for the upcoming 19/20 Premier League season. But who are W88? All we have on record is that they sponsored Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City last year, and that they were founded in the Philippines, and that they run an online casino for an Asian market.
The first port of call, Villa’s Principal Partner page dedicated to W88 doesn’t have much to say either:
The Express and Star looked into this exact story a while ago when their (W88’s) sponsorship of Wolves was announced. They also made the exact same gag as I would have made with W88 also being the name of a thermonuclear warhead.
When W88 sponsored Wolves, Foss Digital found that there was no UK presence of W88 at all, which contradicts words on the Wolves website from a ‘Hilly Erhlich’ – Business Development Manager at W88 who stated that “this partnership is a major step for us in expanding our global footprint and we look forward to working with the club to engage the fans and supporters of Wolves, both in the UK and worldwide.”
Except that again, W88 do not have a presence at all in the UK and searches to the W88 website send you to web pages that are flagged by browsers as being potentially dangerous. You’d need a VPN to access W88 proper.
However, this past week has shown the emergence of two websites bearing Villa’s brand. A website for W88 and a website for sleeve sponsor BR88.
Both websites use the same template, and both websites feature the exact same copy on the company details page:
‘BR88 is the fastest growing live interactive casino site in Europe. BR88 is operated under a whitelable agreement by a company registered in England & Wales, Midnight Gaming Ltd. Our registered office is located at Studio A, New Crane Wharf, New Crane Place, London E1W 3TS. Enjoy our fantastic sports book, where we offer some of the best odds on the market, including In-play action, in a fair and secure environment. We will always endeavor to offer the highest quality of gaming experience while providing the highest possible levels of security and trust.’
Replace BR88 with W88 and you get the gist – but of interest is the name of Midnight Gaming Limited – who are operating the brands of BR88 and W88 in the United Kingdom under a whitelabel agreement. Funnily enough, all three sites mention that they are the ‘fastest growing live interactive casino site in Europe’
According to the UK’s Gambling Commission, a whitelabel agreement is where a service provider (operator) uses the brand of another company and hosts a site on their behalf. This would mean that on the behalf of both BR88 and W88, Midnight Gaming Limited are now operating betting services in the UK.
Front and centre of these webpages, if you look above, is the badge of Aston Villa (and Leicester City) – which are now being used to advertise a whitelabel agreement provided by a third party.
Or are they a third party? I looked at Companies House and found that Midnight Gaming Limited and MNG Management Limited are based at the same address – Studio A, Crane Wharf, London. I then saw that the director of both of these companies was an Hilliard Alan Ehrlich.
It’d be fair to then assume that Hilly Ehrlich, mentioned above in the Wolves press statement as the BDM of W88 is Hilliard Alan Ehrlich. Who is now operating a new company entirely to grant an entry of sorts to W88 in the UK betting marketplace via a whitelabel agreement.
A lot of red tape to get through, one would assume? Well, this guy doesn’t like red tape – as previously mentioned in an interview with ‘Poker Job Search’:
Did W88 get fed up with trying to get into the UK gambling scene and decide to operate through a whitelabel agreement? It’s unclear – and it shouldn’t be.
The news of Aston Villa’s sponsorship by W88 and BR88 was circulated quickly and the exact same press release featured across websites that ‘discuss’ sports business and gambling. It’s not unusual, but this deal is big – and there are factions that want people to know that this deal is big.
I think it should be stated that this is not an attack piece (and thus should not be read as such) on Mr Ehrlich, nor W88, nor Aston Villa – it’s just a highlight of what an incredibly odd, opaque and lucrative world that the industry of gambling and betting is. W88 sponsor Aston Villa and simply put, we don’t know who they are. Are they a betting company operated by Israeli investors using a UK based whitelabel?
And just who are BR88? As for the similarity in names – 88 has significance in Cantonese and Mandarin culture as a number of good luck. 88 is prominent even within illegal betting rings in Asian gaming markets. Unfortunately for both BR88 and W88, in Western culture, the number has a much different meaning and is linked to white supremacy.
BR88 are operated under the same whitelabel agreement mentioned above – but are discussed as a completely different entity by Aston Villa in their press release announcing their sleeve sponsorship:
BR88’s non-secure URL directs to a w88.aliquantum-gaming.com – W88 again. It also mentions an AliQuantum-Gaming, which seems to provide the gaming platform used in the UK by Midnight, W88 and BR88.
Hilly Ehrlich was featured once more in the press release covering Aston Villa’s announcement of W88 as a principal partner.
According to Ehrlich, the brand of W88 represents ‘trust and integrity’ – but that couldn’t really be much further from the truth. When UK-based Villa fans go to bet with W88 – who are they really giving their cash up to?
Is it the W88 run by Marquee Holdings LTD? Is that the same Marquee Holdings LTD that is based in the British Virgin Islands and whose details were leaked by the ‘Panama Papers’ investigation? Or is it the W88 that is run by Midnight Gaming LTD? They are one and the same right? Who knows,
The party line originally was that W88 would help Aston Villa’s profile in Asia – but it also seems that with the brand and Villa’s crest will be used to sell gambling services to UK citizens via Midnight Gaming Limited.
There have been complaints about gambling’s power in the English Premier League; but the main reason behind these complaints is not necessarily their effect on the poorer members of society, but also the opaque company networks, the odd financing rules, the murky networks and backgrounds. We fear what we cannot understand and gambling companies show no signs of letting us in on the details.
Who are W88? Who are BR88? I still don’t know.