Australia’s communications regulator is probing bookmakers’ recent efforts to circumvent the country’s ban on online in-play sports betting.
Under Australia’s 2001 Interactive Gambling Act, punters looking to place in-play sports betting can do so only via telephone or in person at a betting shop. Then, late last month, William Hill Australia launched its ‘click to call’ feature, which uses voice recognition technology to enable Aussie punters to place in-play wagers from their mobile devices without the need to make a traditional phone call.
Hills was followed more or less immediately by Ladbrokes Australia’s ‘QuickCall’ feature, which also digitally synthesizes punters’ voices to make a live bet on the punter’s behalf. Lads humble-bragged that their system was “easily the most convenient way of placing a bet on a live sporting event that has ever been available with a bookmaker.”
However convenient or creative these workarounds might be, their legality has yet to be determined. On Thursday, The Australian reported that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) had received complaints about the new betting apps and that these complaints were “under consideration.”
Sen. Nick Xenophon, a habitual gambling scold, said he planned to write the ACMA to demand a formal investigation be launched. Xenophon claimed that Hills and Lads were effectively “giving the middle finger” to the 2001 law and Xenophon didn’t rule out pushing for a legislative rewrite to clarify that such workarounds are illegal.
European betting firms that have taken root in Australia have long pressed for an end to Australia’s online in-play ban. A quick glance at any earnings report from these companies shows that in-play wagering has grown to eclipse pre-game betting in nearly every market in which the practice is permitted. The previous federal government flirted with the idea of revising the 2001 law to allow for online in-play betting and also poker but never followed through on its plans.