IS this the beginning of the end for live betting in Australia?
Online bookmaker Ladbrokes has become the first bookmaker in Australia to heed the Northern Territory Government’s ban and has removed its in play betting option.
In the wake of the review of illegal offshore gambling by former New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, last month, called on the betting companies to cease in-play betting.
It appeared the bookies would fly in the face of the government, with most still offering the service.
But Ladbrokes – licensed in Norfolk Island – is the first to crack in what is expected to be a potential domino effect – especially considering the Northern Territory Government – where most of the other major bookmakers are licensed – has just moved to ban the practice.
Judge has already told bookmakers the government would soon move to close the click to call loopholes that allow online bookmakers to find a grey area in the legislation that lets punters use their mobile devices to place live bets without actually physically dialling and speaking to an operator.
“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.
Ladbrokes head honcho Dean Shannon launched a stinging attack on big boys Tatts Group and Tabcorp, saying the government caved into their interests.
“They really just made their decision on who lobbied the hardest and the loudest that being Tatts and Tabcorp,” Shannon told media.
“If you look at clients who are betting on sports around the world, they’re allowed to bet in-play.
“And I think in this day and age with people living through their mobiles and online, it makes a lot of sense for people to be able to still bet using the devices they use for everything else.”
William Hill, Sportsbet, Bet 365 and Unibet are all set to be forced to follow suit, after the Northern Territory Government’s decision.
sportsbet.com.au boss Cormac Barry last month lashed the government after it ignored O’Farrell’s recommendation 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 feared the move to ban live in play betting would just force more people to illegal off shore operators that Australia had no hope of regulating.
It is an opinion shared by Shannon.
“I think in some cases with larger punters, they will look at offshore options to go and bet which is unfortunate for Australian operators,” said Mr Shannon.
“We’d like to give our clients a full offering and not have them go offshore to satisfy their betting requirements.”
Ladbrokes will cease its in play betting offer by the end of the month.
Rohan Sundram, a gaming analyst with Citi’s institutional equities business, based in Sydney, told media the move would only be positive for both Tabcorp and Tatts Group – which does have both LuxBet and UBet licensed in the Northern Territory, respectively, but neither of those bookmakers offer in play betting.
“We continue to view the anticipated withdrawal of click to call in-play betting product by the corporate bookmakers as a mild positive for Tabcorp and Tatts, not so much from an earnings perspective but more so from a levelling of the competitive playing field, as this product innovation has helped corporate bookmakers accelerate their share gains vs Tabcorp and Tatts over the last 6-12 months,” Sundram said.