DESPITE pleas from the corporate bookmakers and large scale Australian sporting bodies – and an expectation that change was in the air – the Federal Government has come down hard on online in-play betting, closing loopholes the bookies were exploiting to allow live online wagering on sports.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge last week released the well overdue review of illegal offshore gambling by former New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell, which was completed in December.
And Tudge said he expects the in-play betting to cease.
The crackdown will last until at least the Federal Election, as the Turnbull Government comes down hard on the bookies – but it appears many are still offering the in-play betting options, in defiance.
He said the government would soon move to close the loopholes and called on bookies to take it on themselves to stop the practice.
“We are of the view that they have been in breach of the intent of the law, if not the actual law,” Mr Tudge said.
“We do not intend to further expand the online betting market.
“We think there’s enough problems with gambling already, before giving people the ability to bet on every moment of every sport across Australia from your living room.
“I would hope they cease today because we have made clear they are at least operating against the spirit of the law, if not against the actual law.”
Betting on live events online in Australia is illegal, but several online bookmakers have utilised what they call in-play or click-to-call betting options, allowing punters to bet on live events through their mobile devices, without phoning an agent, provided their microphone is turned on.
Providing the option is understood to carry a penalty of up to $1.8 million per day, but the Australian Federal Police already abandoned calls for an investigation into William Hill’s use of the product last year.
Bookie representative the Australian Wagering Council has panned the government’s report.
“Perhaps the gravest omission, and the real missed opportunity, is the apparent abandonment of Australian sport and sports integrity,” chief executive Ian Fletcher said.
“Australians will continue to use the power and freedom the internet gives them to make choices about what they bet on, when they bet and how they bet.”
sportsbet.com.au boss Cormac Barry went even harder, lashing the government over the decision to accept 18 of the 19 recommendations from Barry’s report, but ignore the call to relax the constriction on in-play betting.
“I think its a win for the lazy, traditional monopoly wagering operators in Australia who are more interested in protecting their monopoly than giving consumers what they want,” Barry said.
“It is a sad day for Australian consumers and I think the big winners today are the illegal offshore operators who will be able to continue to operate uninhibited.”
He said click-to-call was a response to public demand but said wagering operators would work constructively.
But the concern is the continued “archaic” ban would just force more punters off shore, with estimations Australians already spend some $400 million with illegal international gamblers, unable to be regulated by the government.
The government has made a commitment to take tougher action against unlicensed offshore wagering operators, including the creation of new civil penalties.
This includes working closely with banking institutions and credit card providers.
One of the key features of the O’Farrell review was a hope to have a national approach to online gambling, rather than the current piecemeal approach from the states.
He recommended a national policy framework to provide “consistent, enforceable rules about advertising of online gambling”.
Mind you, with the Federal Election almost a moral to be held in July, there is almost no chance any legislation will be changed.
And the report has already been criticised for not addressing the prevalence of gambling advertising, permeating through almost every broadcast sporting event.
The continued ban of in play betting does help the racing industry, according to Racing Australia chief executive Peter McGauran.
During the review, he felt the move to legalise the practice would cost the racing industry millions.
The decision gives Tabcorp and Tatts, who were both against the live betting practice a leg up.
“I think its good to see the government actually providing clarity on where those boundaries will be set going forward,” Tabcorp chief executive officer David Attenborough said.
“And what’s important in competitive markets is you need to have clear boundaries so all players can operate within those boundaries.”
The in-play betting option is only a small portion of the betting market, but it was obviously identified as a potential growth spot for the online bookmakers – that’s not so much after all this.