Australian cops reopen investigation of in-play betting apps

australia-federal-police-betting-appsThose controversial in-play sports betting apps are back in the crosshairs of Australian authorities, according to local media reports.

On Sunday, The Australian reported that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) were re-examining the legality of bookmakers’ in-play betting apps, despite having announced last October that they weren’t interested in pursuing an investigation of the betting products.

The reversal was reportedly sparked by a Christmas Eve complaint by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) against as yet unidentified bookmakers. The AFP likely came under added pressure following the recent allegations of match-fixing at the 2016 Australian Open tennis meet.

Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act (IGA) permits in-play wagers only over the telephone or in person at betting shops. Last year, a number of Australian-licensed bookies – including William Hill, Ladbrokes, Bet365 and most recently Paddy Power’s Sportsbet – launched in-play betting apps that utilized voice recognition technology, which the bookies insisted observed the letter of the law.

An AFP spokesperson said the ACMA complaint was being evaluated while cautioning that there was “a range of technological and evidential challenges associated in proving elements of offences under the [IGA] beyond reasonable doubt.”

A William Hill spokesperson said it didn’t believe its in-play app was the subject of either the ACMA’s complaint or the AFP investigation. But The Australian quoted Alan Tudge, the government minister who oversees the country’s gambling industry, saying “at the very least, the wagering companies appear to be breaching the intent of the [IGA].”

The government is in possession of a review of the IGA – the focus of which is on in-play and online betting in general – that it has yet to release. Just last week, Tudge had broadly hinted that the government was leaning towards ending the online in-play restriction by observing that match-fixers were unlikely to use Aussie-licensed bookmakers to pull off their crimes.

With the Australian Open now over for another year, bookmakers are taking the opportunity to push back against the media narrative that betting operators are the chief culprits for tennis becoming (allegedly) corrupt beyond redemption.

Coral spokesman Simon Clare told the Financial Times that blaming the betting industry for tennis’ faults was “an illogical response” given that bookmakers are the biggest victims of fixed matches. Reps from both Ladbrokes and Hills echoed Clare’s comments.

The widespread negative publicity hasn’t put a dent in bettors’ willingness to wager on tennis, as Ladbrokes reported betting turnover up 45% so far this year, while Coral’s tennis handle is up 50%. Hills’ communication director Ciaran O’Brien said it “takes a lot to put people off … it’s right for people to trust in the sport.”