The government department overseeing Australia’s online gambling review has hinted that the process will result in the legalisation of online in-play sports betting.
Sports betting in Australia is estimated to be worth $3 billion annually and the market is growing 20 per cent a year.
Last week Alan Tudge, Assistant Minister for Social Services, told the Daily Telegraph that he didn’t think legal in-play wagering would exacerbate the match-fixing controversies that have overshadowed this year’s Australian Open tennis tournament.
Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act (IGA) restricts in-play bets to over the telephone or in person at betting shops. But numerous operators, led by William Hill Australia, have come up with technological workarounds that allow in-play wagers to be placed via mobile apps.
Recognising that technology was trumping the law, the government commissioned former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell with reviewing the IGA. O’Farrell has reportedly delivered his report to the government, but its findings won’t be made public until next month.
Tudge told the newspaper that legal in-play betting wouldn’t lead to greater opportunities for match- and spot-fixing because Australian-licensed bookmakers would be required to report suspicious betting patterns to the government. Tudge said anyone intent on fixing a match would likely patronise any number of “southeast Asian sites” where they would be outside the Aussie government’s scrutiny.
While far from conclusive, Tudge’s comments strongly suggest that the government has decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em (and tax the hell out of it).
The in-play betting question has divided Australia’s gambling stakeholders, with international operators, the Australian Wagering Council, sports leagues and some state governments in favour, while clubs and pubs, domestic operators like Tatts and Tabcorp and anti-gambling advocates stand opposed.
In-play is one of three key issues that the O’Farrell review of online gambling tackles. The controversial system of credit betting where bookmakers licensed in the Northern Territory can offer credit to punters unconstrained by the myriad laws that other finance providers operate under, is also under examination.
O’Farrell’s review was also asked to consider ways to staunch the flow of Aussie betting money to international sites holding licenses issued in jurisdictions other than Australia. These unregulated offshore bookmakers who wade into Australian sports without providing licensing fees to the relevant sporting bodies are estimated to be collecting over $800m a year from Aussie punters.
Suggested remedies have included the use of IP-blocking, although an association of tech giants (read Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter etc. who make up the Digital Industry Group Association) warned the government of the “fundamental flaws and significant difficulties” of such efforts.
So, which way will the government jump?
According to Rick Wallace from The Australian, the smart money is on a solution that pushes any decision on in-play beyond the next election, but comes down hard on restricting credit betting and restricting access to offshore betting shops.