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AWC disbands following in-play betting setback

Thu, Aug 18, 11:45am by Staff Writer

In a sudden reversal of fortunes, the Australian Wagering Council (AWC) – the most prominent lobbying organization representing offshore online gambling enterprises – will cease to function in its current form following a conclusive legislative defeat and the withdrawal of key members.

The AWC previously consisted of founding member Sportsbet, owned by Irish online gambling titan PaddyPower, along with U.K.-based Ladbrokes, William Hill, Bet365, and Betfair, plus Malta-based Unibet.

In April, the Australian government moved to ban online gambling sites from offering so-called ‘in-play’ betting, or wagers placed in real-time during a sporting event, rather than beforehand.

This prohibition on in-play wagers, which are estimated to provide AU$500,000 per week in revenue for offshore online sportsbooks, was roundly supported by Australia’s largest domestic enterprises Tabcorp and Tatts Group. Both companies have seen their market share steadily eroded by the AWC member companies.

Ladbrokes withdrew from the organisation after complying with the government order and ceasing to offer in-play betting.

Despite launching an organized lobbying push in response, attempting to sway key legislators and overturn the policy decision, the AWC ultimately failed to reverse the in-play betting ban. When anti-gambling figure Senator Nick Xenophon navigated his way to the position of ‘kingmaker’ in the newly elected parliament, the debate over an in-play betting ban was effectively silenced.

In response to the group’s inability to achieve key legislative objectives, William Hill recently decided to remove itself from the AWC altogether.

According to Ian Fletcher, the chief executive officer of the AWC, these recent developments have caused the group to reassess its current level of viability.

In an August 17th interview with The Australian, Fletcher detailed the factors which led the AWC to disband, pointing particularly to William Hill’s decision to exit:

“(It) made the Australian Wagering Council less representative than I would like. I suggested that we use the William Hill departure to consult on a wider, renewed trade body,” he said.

“Other members agreed with that analysis, and also agreed that we would use the rest of the year to consult on a refreshed organisation. We are doing that actively, but we are now only six weeks into that process, so it’s just too soon to talk about where those conversations are heading.”

Fletcher vowed that a restructured version of the AWC would continue lobbying on behalf of Australia’s many offshore online gambling companies:

“We remain at the forefront of those calling for a new national regulatory framework, including issues like advertising.”

Many industry experts warned that the AWC’s days were numbered back in April, when the group advised members to openly flout the government’s call for voluntarily withdrawal of in-play betting services within Australia.

As legislators worked to craft the foundation of an eventual law, the majority of AWC members continued offering in-play betting services by exploiting a loophole which allowed the wagers to be placed via telephone.

By integrating a ‘click-to-call’ function on their websites, William Hill and other offshore bet shops allowed Australian punters to continue placing in-play wagers, despite having been warned on multiple occasions to cease and desist. This decision to openly defy the Australian government prompted many anti-gambling legislators working on behalf of the Xenophon Team to redouble their efforts to maintain the in-play betting prohibition.

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