An array of international wagering companies including Sportsbet and Bet365 argue that distinction between phone and online services is now out of date and has failed to keep pace with the betting habits of punters.
Sportsbet said its strong focus on mobile betting has won new customers along with its broadcasting of Victorian horse racing via its website. Photo: Josh Robenstone
One of Australia’s largest wagering operators, Sportsbet, has urged the federal government to allow local bookmakers the right to promote a controversial form of online gambling in order to dissuade punters from betting with illegal offshore players.
Sportsbet riled competitor Tabcorp in October after claiming to be the largest digital wagering business in Australia following a period of strong growth.
Tabcorp has refuted Sportsbet’s claim that it has pipped the 50-year old company with its head of wagering Craig Nugent saying it remains comfortably in pole position.
“Blanket gambling prohibition does not work in the digital age,” the company said. “Consumers now expect to be able to wager on their mobile devices and over the internet but Australian licensed wagering service providers cannot legally provide this in-play product.”
Sportsbet, owned by Irish betting giant Paddy Power, has warned the government risks forcing more gamblers onto the offshore “black market” if it fails to move in step with rival jurisdictions and allow in-play betting.
In a real sense the [Interactive Gambling Act] is ‘analogue’ legislation ill-suited and ill-equipped to deal with the digital age.
Under the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act, bets on live matches that have already started can be taken in store at retail outlets or over the phone but not online. “Measures to address the increasing threat of offshore operators without addressing the root of the problem and the fundamental reason why Australians are betting offshore: access to the in-play product via mobile devices and the internet will not achieve the outcome the government is seeking. Sportsbet said the IGA review should strengthen the deterrence measures deployed by ACMA and give it powers to target offshore operators rather than licensed Australian companies.
ACMA referred British bookmaker William Hill, led by Tom Waterhouse, to the Australian Federal Police in August over the in-play betting loophole.
However, the AFP rejected investigating its controversial practice of taking bets during the live play of sports and handed the investigation back to the regulator.
Sportsbet has also called for the government to make it a legal requirement to be licensed in Australia in order to offerwagering services to Australian consumers bringing it into line with international jurisdictions.
Mr O’Farrell will conduct the review with final recommendations due to be submitted to Social Services Minister Christian Porter by December 18.
“[It should] inform operators of prohibited services that law enforcement bodies may be monitoring any attempts by their officers to enter Australia.”
The role of the Australian Communications and Media Authority was called into question by Sportsbet as part of its submission to the review.
Sportsbet said rather than trying to stem the flow of more than 2200 illegal offshore operators through ineffective means such as internet and financial transaction blocking, it made more sense to create a level playing field for licensed Australian operators.
Lost revenue offshore
The betting company says that if the government retains the status quo, more than $2.2 billion will be lost offshore in lost wagering profits by 2020 representing $100 million a year in forgone tax revenue.
“In a real sense the IGA is ‘analogue’ legislation ill-suited and ill-equipped to deal with the digital age,” Sportsbet said in a submission to the Barry O’Farrell-led review into the impact of offshore wagering. Mobile phone betting now accounts for 50 per cent of the business, compared with about 20 per cent five years ago.
Sportsbet chief executive Cormac Barry: “Blanket gambling prohibition does not work in the digital age”. In this context, improving appropriate supply is plainly the best way to cut off popular demand.”