Last week, Australia introduced the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016, which seeks to close loopholes in the original IGA that permitted Aussie bookmakers to offer online in-play sports bets via so-called ‘click to call’ voice activated smartphone apps.
But bookmakers who will suffer from this in-play crackdown believe the government has left one glaring loophole in place intended to benefit domestic operators Tabcorp and Tatts, which recently announced plans to merge into one giant betting behemoth.
The legislation introduced last week contains language that permits wagering services that “involve the use of electronic equipment made available to any customers” in retail outlets. The language is intended to allow the use of electronic betting terminals in pubs, clubs and betting shops run by Tabcorp and Tatts.
But the Australian Financial Review obtained a letter – signed by the heads of online-only bookies Bet365, Crownbet, Ladbrokes and Sportsbet – written to the government in advance of the legislation being filed, warning that the language would allow Tabcorp and Tatts to offer in-play betting via tablets distributed to customers in these retail shops.
The letter says this ‘electronic equipment’ clause will “lead to perverse outcomes where a customer who wants to engage in online in-play sports betting couldn’t do so outside on the footpath with their tablet, but could do so using an identical digital device provided to them within a Tabcorp or Tatts retail venue.”
The bookies went on to warn the government that the proposed Tabcorp-Tatts merger would already result in “a significant concentration of monopoly power” that would be further expanded via the retail in-play carveout. But, like the mythological figure Cassandra, the bookies’ warnings went unheeded and the government introduced the legislation unchanged.
The bookies’ in-play betting apps proved wildly successful until they were forced to withdraw the products in September. Sportsbet’s app was said to account for up to 15% of its betting volume, with William Hill Australia believed to be doing similar levels of business via its app.