US hot sauce factory must cut smell: court

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A US judge has ordered a factory that produces the popular Sriracha chilli sauce to stop emitting annoying odours in a ruling that has left some nearby residents worried about a possible loss of jobs at the site.

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Judge Robert H. O’Brien on Tuesday ruled in favour of the city of Irwindale, where Sriracha recently relocated, saying sauce maker Huy Fong Foods must stop any operations that could be causing the odours and make unspecified changes to mitigate them.

The company had no immediate comment, but a few neighbours interviewed on Wednesday dismissed the complaints and worried that jobs might be lost if the plant is forced to close.

“I don’t want it shut down because I think a lot of people will lose their jobs,” said Marta Torres, 47.

“In two years it has never smelled as much as now, but I think it’s OK.”

Torres said the smell wafts into her home late in the day in an area where many of her neighbours like to cook with spices.

“It’s something you can deal with,” she said.

“It doesn’t bother us.”

O’Brien’s preliminary injunction was issued in response to a lawsuit filed October 21 by Irwindale, a small industrial city east of Los Angeles and home to nearly 1500 people.

It wasn’t immediately known if the food company plans to appeal.

The company has said there is no reason to close the plant now because harvest season and the subsequent grinding of red-hot jalapeno peppers – the key ingredient of the sauce – have passed.

As a result, the injunction might not have an immediate impact on the company’s production or the country’s hot sauce supply as Huy Fong continues its year-round mixing and bottling.

The judge acknowledged there was a lack of credible evidence linking complaints of breathing trouble and watery eyes to the factory.

But he said for residents the odour that could be reasonably inferred to be emanating from the facility is “extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance”.

Some residents said living with the smell is bearable.

Randall Acosta, 45, who lives in an apartment complex across the street from the factory, said the scent can be strong sometimes but it makes him hungry.

“Why are people complaining about the chilli smell when this is an industrial area?” he asked.

“There’s burning rubber down the street. There are other dangers in this city.”

The case could still go to trial, but Irwindale officials would like to see a settlement outside court and do not want to shut down Sriracha altogether, City Attorney Fred Galante told the Los Angeles Times.

“We’re going to try to keep having a conversation with Huy Fong,” he said, and find a collaborative way to address the odour problem.

Comment: Big money made on social apps as gambling and gaming collide

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By César Albarrán Torres, University of Sydney

The ban on social media gambling was legislated in 2001, through the Interactive Gambling Act and reaffirmed through a departmental reviewed released in 2013.

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The act made it illegal for Australian companies to offer real-money online wagering.

But new poker and slot apps available on mobile devices are not considered gambling because they don’t allow players to directly wager or win real cash.

Known collectively as “social casino games”, they simulate real life wagering and keep users playing, sharing, and using real money to purchase in-game currency, extra credits, expansions and gifts.

Much like other social games including Candy Crush, Words with Friends or Angry Birds, these games increase their reach via the user’s own social networks, as they constantly ask the player to invite their contacts to play.

When signing in, players are asked to accept Terms and Conditions that allow for this form of promotion. The sign-in page of the slots app House of Fun, for example, says: “This app may post on your behalf, including your high scores, games you played and more”.

Even though there is no conclusive evidence that social casino apps lead to gambling addiction, they do aid in the cultural normalisation of gambling.

DoubleDown Casino, Slotomania, Zynga Poker, Betting Billionaire and MyVegas are but a few of a myriad of gambling-like apps on Facebook that are becoming increasingly popular. Slotomania was the most downloaded app on the iTunes Store in 2012.

And industry reports reveal that the worldwide social gambling market far exceeds real money online gambling with 170 million users per month versus 50 million users per month.

But there is still a mammoth discrepancy in terms of revenue: social gambling generates $2 billion per month, while online gambling produces $36 billion.

Perth’s newest casino

 

Chumba World was developed in Australia, and uses a sweepstakes model to circumvent US regulations on online gambling. Virtual Gaming Worlds

 

Although in the strictest sense it is not yet possible to gamble through these apps, some developers are finding ways to monetise gambling-like play. Virtual Gaming Worlds, a start-up based in Perth that operates the largely popular Facebook app Chumba Casino, bases its business model on sweepstakes.

This strategy profits from a loophole in Facebook’s policies, as some jurisdictions, such as the United States, don’t consider sweepstakes to be gambling. This loophole could be an entry into the Australian market if regulations loosen up.

And there seems to be a move towards real-life benefits derived from wins in virtual gambling. This pushes the limits of gaming further into the realm of real money wagering.

The Facebook slot app myVegas, developed by PlayStudios for the MGM Grand – one of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas – allows players to cash-in their winnings in selected establishments for prizes that range from free meals to tickets for shows or swimming with dolphins.

Some of the slots available in myVegas are extensions of the casino’s branding strategies, with titles such as New York New York, Excalibur and Mirage. These use cartoonish designs that echo popular social gaming titles like Farmville and constantly invite you to add your Facebook friends to the player roster.

Other gambling-themed apps present inspirational narratives of personal achievement while interacting with the real world. Betting Billionaire promises a “chance to live the millionaire lifestyle you always dreamed of and try to become a Billionaire”.

Players achieves this by using “your knowledge of sporting events to bet big on Football, Tennis, Horse Racing, Basketball and more” and competing “against your friends to see who knows their stuff”. In the gameplay you can “Spend your winnings on the latest bling from cool cars to luxury homes”.

Like Chumba Casino, Betting Billionaire could very well benefit from the loopholes in Facebook’s policies concerning sweepstakes and profit from a large pool of would-be-gamblers.

The popularity of these apps has cultural and ethical implications in a country like Australia with a high incidence of problem gambling. And these are evident in the merging of the gambling and gaming industries.

The consolidation of the social casino industry has involved key industry players such as slot machine manufacturer IGT, which bought Double Down Interactive; WMS, which launched Lucky Cruise Social Casino, a social casino that operates on Facebook; and pokie machine giant Aristocrat, which acquired Product Madness, a top five operator of slot games on Facebook, with more than 500,000 daily active users.

Social responsibility: coming soon

The perceived risks of social casino games have raised concerns about public welfare.

Just a few days ago the South Australian premier Jay Weatherill called for new regulations on social casino products, seeking the cooperation of Apple to make it illegal to supply social gambling apps to minors. Other politicians, including senator Nick Xenophon, share the notion that social casino apps are breeding new problem gamblers.

Will Facebook become a theme park of risk? Given recent developments it is certainly a real possibility.

César Albarrán Torres does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Forge shares fall after debt rescue

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Shares in engineer and constructor Forge Group have plunged by more than 80 per cent as it revealed it had to be rescued from disaster by creditors ANZ Bank.

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Shareholders jumped at the chance to dump the stock on Thursday after the company came out of a four week trading halt.

Perth based Forge Group was facing a cashflow crisis as it sought to repay debt and provide $45 million needed before the end of December to finish building two poorly performing power stations.

ANZ agreed to increase a debt facility with Forge from $11 million to $60 million, as well as waive covenants and nearly $10 million in repayments for the next nine months.

However the bank now has warrant options over 13 per cent of Forge’s issued shares, which if exercised could dilute other shares and profits.

Forge’s shares lost $3.495, or 83.6 per cent, to 68.5 cents, having earlier fallen to 28.5 cents.

The plunge wiped more than $300 million off its market value, to $59 million.

Forge gave no indication of its problems on August 29 when it forecast continued success in the 2013/14 financial year after a $63 million net profit in 2012/13.

However on Thursday it said it expected to post an earnings loss of $85 million to $90 million in 2013/14, following a $127 million profit writedown.

Poorly performing gas turbine power stations at Mt Isa in Queensland and Rio Tinto’s West Angelas power station in Western Australia are the source of the writedowns.

Forge chairman David Craig said the scale of underperformance of the two power stations had only come to light in a short space of time, which was unacceptable to the board.

Chief executive David Simpson described the outcome as regrettable and extremely disappointing, citing poor project management among a range of cost blow-out problems.

Leadership changes have been made at both power stations, with Mr Simpson to have direct oversight of both projects until their expected completion next year.

CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy said Forge’s problems with debt were reflective of challenges being faced by the wider mining services sector.

Slowdowns in mining activity would also affect gas demand and therefore revenue from Forge Group’s power stations, he said.

However Mr Simpson pointed to the company’s contracted order book of more than $1.8 billion as reason to remain confident on its future prospects.

Job ad numbers improving says SEEK

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Jobs website SEEK says it has experienced a slight increase in advertisements in the past few months, which could see it deliver a stronger than expected earnings result this financial year.

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SEEK had been experiencing a flat to gentle decline in the number of job ads posted on its websites each month leading up to the end of June 2013.

But chief executive Andrew Bassat said the company had recorded an improvement in recent months.

“Based on the first four months of the financial year, we are observing improving trends with flat to gentle increases in ad volumes on a month-on-month basis,” he said.

That’s good news for job seekers, with the unemployment rate currently sitting at 5.7 per cent and many economists expecting it to push above six per cent next year.

Mr Bassat said a continued improvement in job ads could lead the company to upgrade its earnings forecast for the 2013/14 financial year.

The company had previously forecast growth on its 2012/13 revenue, earnings and underlying profit, which was $141 million.

SEEK shares gained 73 cents, or 5.9 per cent, to $13.13.

Meanwhile, SEEK also announced plans to float its international student recruitment business IDP Education in 2014.

The recruitment business is 50 per cent owned by SEEK, with the rest of the ownership spread across 38 Australian universities.

IDP chief executive Andrew Thompson said an initial public offering (IPO) would set the business up for future growth.

“The IPO will provide a more flexible capital structure for future growth and provide IDP shareholders an opportunity to realise a portion of their investment in the company.”