In a bid to regulate the rapidly growing $3 billion a year sports betting industry, the Federal government last week announced a series of wide-ranging changes. These changes include the banning of online betting on live sport, at least until after the federal election in any case.
Additionally unlicensed foreign bookmakers have been barred from taking bets from Australians.
The reforms are expected to bring an end to online bookmakers’ ability to offer punters credit.
In the short term, foreign-owner bookmakers like Ladbrokes, William Hill and Bet365 will be more than likely forced to shut down live betting systems offered through their phone apps and websites.
However, the government did leave open the possibility of in-play betting via the internet in the future. They indicated their intention to revisit the issue after the election, once measures aimed at blocking offshore operators and protecting consumers take effect.
Pubs, Clubs and traditional operators Tatts, Tabcorp and the racing industry are encouraged by the short-term ban on in-play betting and are keen to see it made permanent.
The mainly foreign-based corporate bookmakers will suffer a hit to both revenue and growth due to the short-term ban, but will naturally be optimistic that the government has not finalised its position.
William Hill, Bet365, Ladbrokes and others have been pushing for full liberalisation of in-play which enables punters to bet while games or races are in progress. This would open up a lucrative new stream of revenue that analysts predict would almost immediately boost overall online gambling spending by as much as $1bn a year.
Currently, these companies side-step the telephone-only restrictions on live betting by using systems that allow betting with the click of a button while using voice-over-internet technology to make a “phone” call in the background to meet the letter of the law.
By shutting this loophole and deferring its final position until after the election, the government is effectively trying to shield itself from a back lash by pubs and clubs, and other opponents of in-play betting, before polling day. It will also give vocal anti-gambling politicians like independent senator Nick Xenophon, little to grandstand about.
The government’s move comes after former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell completed a report commissioned under the Abbott government. The full outcome of that report is awaited later this month and it is expected that the government will follow his recommendations fairly closely.
It is also understood the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 will be amended to make it clear that it is an offence for a foreign operator to take bets from people in Australia and the regulator, the Australian Media and Communications Authority, will be given additional powers to enforce this clause.