Online in-play betting legalization finds no fans with Australian voters

australia-in-play-betting-votersLeaked poll data shows Australian voters could punish the current federal coalition government if it relaxes the ban on online in-play sports betting.

On Sunday, The Australian published details of a Crosby Textor poll commissioned by the Liberal/National government that showed 35% of voters would be less likely to vote for the coalition in this year’s federal election if the government relaxed the online in-play ban. Only 10% said they would be more likely to vote for the coalition if it allowed online in-play bets.

The poll also showed 33% of voters would be more likely to vote for the coalition partners if gambling laws were left as they are or if the government closed the loopholes that enabled Aussie-licensed online betting operators to introduce digital workarounds intended to circumvent the online in-play ban.

The poll found that a mere 21% of respondents supported legal online in-play bets while 61% stood opposed. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents believed the government should more vigorously enforce existing gambling laws via the use of fines and bans, while just 15% stood opposed. Similarly, 65% supported closing loopholes to make online in-play bets explicitly illegal, while just 18% stood opposed.

The 2001 Interactive Gambling Act (IGA) restricts in-play sports wagers to over the telephone or in-person at a licensed land-based betting facility. The government recently conducted a review of the IGA, the results of which are due to be released any day now.

Aussie-licensed online betting operators have argued that the online in-play ban is archaic and point out that the activity is widely available via internationally-licensed online operators serving the Australian market. Anti-gambling campaigners, the racing industry and domestic land-based operators like Tabcorp and Tatts Group have pushed back against any further liberalization of the Aussie online market.

Reading the Aussie in-play tea leaves is becoming increasingly difficult. In January, Alan Tudge, the assistant minister of social services tasked with overseeing the IGA review, publicly suggested that legal in-play wagering wouldn’t increase match- or spot-fixing controversies, leading many to conclude that the online ban was not long for this world.

But an unidentified federal minister told The Australian that the Crosby Textor poll revealed it was “not politically smart” to embrace gambling liberalization “at any time, let alone an election year.” The minister went on to say that the public held a dim view of the “UK and Irish bookies” and the “greedy” sports leagues pushing for an end to the online in-play restriction.

A consultant hired by an unidentified domestic betting operator told The Australian that Aussie-licensed international firms like William Hill, Ladbrokes, Bet365 and Paddy Power may have won over “some policy purist bureaucrats and a handful of advisers” on the wisdom of ending the in-play ban but these firms have failed to convince “those that matter, the elected officials” that the change would be good policy or a shrewd political play.