Loophole: Live sport bets can be made via mobile phones. James Packer. Photo: Pat Scala
Tom Waterhouse, chief executive of bookmaker William Hill’s n arm. Bookmakers are lobbying to legalise a controversial in-play betting product. Photo: Louise Kennerley
Comment: The bad business of casinos
Bookmakers and the casino regulators, backed by peak sports bodies, are pushing hard for the legalisation of live online sports betting in , against the advice of the government’s own sports integrity unit about the increased risks of corruption that come with in-play gambling markets.
Live sport bets online, including those made after play starts and micro-bets on a contingency in a game are currently banned under the legislation. But they are permitted in TABs and, controversially, over mobile phones, in a loophole which has been exploited by bookmakers to get around the ban.
The sector is set for a shakeup this year with the federal government considering a review of the Interactive Gambling Act, led by Barry O’Farrell and delivered just before Christmas. At the same time, independent Senator Nick Xenophon has presented a bill to Parliament seeking to ban in-play betting, credit betting and micro-bets.
Mr Xenophon, a longtime campaigner on gambling issues, told Fairfax Media it was striking that the regulators were among those pushing for in-play betting. “It seems the regulators don’t care if people are bankrupt and their lives ruined,” he said.
Eyeing a lucrative growth market that is currently benefiting offshore providers, key players in the industry including James Packer’s Crownbet, board members of the state-based casino regulators, the free-to-air television industry and even the n Sports Commission are lobbying for the legalisation of online in-play betting.
In Europe, where in-play sports betting is legal, up to 75 per cent of all sports betting activity happens after events begin.
“There are strong arguments that reducing offshore betting and providing online betting opportunities onshore will be beneficial from an integrity perspective,” said The n Sports Commission in its submission to the O’Farrell review, noting the need for more revenue sources for strapped national sporting organisations. “Wagering operators in are regulated, invest significant resources themselves into monitoring suspicious betting activity, and are required to share data with sport controlling bodies to aid sport-led investigations into suspicious betting.”
Crownbet and Betfair go further, arguing for a complete ban on foreign-owned bookmakers, and the blocking at ISP level of offending sites. “Offshore operators which choose to ignore the IGA (and other n laws) are able to offer a more fulsome and competitive suite of wagering products to n residents. The most obvious example is that offshore operators freely offer in-play sports wagering online,” Crownbet told the review.
William Hill, the owner of Tom Waterhouse’s bookmaking business, won a victory last year when the n Federal Police declined to investigate it after a referral from the n Communications and Media Authority over its use of a loophole allowing punters to bet live on sports via their smart phones.
Not everyone is in favour. The National Integrity of Sport Unit says there has been a deterioration of the “global sports integrity environment” since 2011, which it blames on the “unprecedented expansion of the size and accessibility of … totally unregulated sports wagering markets”.
“This has served to heighten incentives to corrupt sports events, including by organised criminal networks, resulting in a litany of corrupted sporting outcomes around the globe,” it told the review, arguing that any change to the laws would have implications for sports integrity without a parallel investment in strong anti-corruption measures.
Advocates for harm minimisation, including Mr Xenophon and the group Financial Counselling , are deeply troubled by the impacts of problem gambling, and say the ease of losing enormous sums of money with online gambling makes it particularly dangerous, whether provided by offshore or n bookmakers.
“It’s driven by greed,” he said. “This issue won’t go away. I predict there is an increasing number of ns concerned about this, particularly the harm to young men. I would like to think if the Coalition thinks it will lose votes by not being in line with community expectations, that might prompt the government to work hard on this.”
According to the NISU, ns are among the world’s biggest gamblers, with total sports betting expenditure in 2013-14 alone estimated at $4.6 billion, and online sports betting $2.75 billion.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Communications said the government was considering the review and would release the report and the government’s response this year. Mr Xenophon’s bill has been referred to the Environment and Communications Senate committee.