The ink is barely dry on William Hill’s acquisition of Sportingbet’s Australian operations, but Hills’ outspoken CEO Ralph Topping is already out speaking his mind on the local government’s proposed revisions to the Interactive Gambling Act (IGA). Topping suggests the fear of opening up the market to include online poker and casino games, plus the proposed ban on in-play and ‘spot’ wagering – not just online but over the phone and at the betting wicket, as well – will serve only to drive Aussie punters into the digital embrace of international online bookies not subject to Australian regulations.
The Australian quoted Topping saying that the justification behind the proposed in-play ban – that it would help eliminate match fixing – was “one of the most uneducated comments that can be made about sport and its integrity.” Topping said “there has been none of that happen” in Hills’ UK home market, where the world’s number one sporting league operates and bookies offer a full palette of wagering options. “The best way you can regulate a business and control it is to have legitimate bookmakers involved.”
Topping scoffed at the notion that the proposed IGA revisions would be able to stuff the online gambling genie back in the bottle. Topping pointed to futile attempts by Italy and France to IP block unregulated sites, and said the best way to combat unregulated operators “is to legitimize what happens in our market and allow it onshore and allow responsible participants to have an audit trail on that market.”
Topping took a shot at UK rival Ladbrokes, who recently played down rumors that they’d made a $200m offer to acquire a stake in independent Aussie bookmaker Tom Waterhouse. Despite rivals like Bet365, Betfair and Paddy Power already having a presence in Australia, Topping said there were “long odds against” Lads coming down under, and even if they did, “my own view is … they would make a hash of it.” Meow…
Topping also had harsh words for the moves by Bet365 and Tom Waterhouse to pimp betting odds during live sport broadcasts. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Topping saying he wanted “to watch football for football. If I want odds, I can get that from somewhere else. We advertise at half-time in games [in the UK] but I would not think [in-game odds] is something we could consider.”
As for Hills’ new Aussie operations, Topping insists there will be no rebranding “for the foreseeable future.” Sportingbet CEO Michael Sullivan will continue to run the Australian business, just as Hills’ American business is run by American Joseph Asher, the former head of Brandywine Bookmaking, which Hills acquired in 2011. (However, Hills is rebranding all its US properties under its own name.) Regardless of what name the business operates under in Australia, business is expected to be good. Analysts at Merrill Lynch estimate Australian sports betting turnover will top $4.5b in the current financial year, producing $410m of revenue for the betting industry. That revenue tally is expected to hit $513m in another two years.