Sat, Jun 18, 1:42pm by Staff Writer
In the midst of increased regulatory focus by the Australian government on certain online sports wagering practices, U.K.-based international operator Ladbrokes recently decided to prohibit all customers located in the country from the controversial in-game betting option.
Ladbrokes announced the move on June 14, becoming the first offshore online sports betting enterprise to voluntarily comply with requests from federal regulators. The in-game betting service will no longer be made available to Australian-based customers by the end of June.
Also known as “live” or “instant” bets, in-game wagering allows customers to place wagers on sporting events as they are happening. Odds are adjusted and posted on the fly, in response to continually changing game conditions like time remaining, score, and a whole host of other factors. Punters following along with the game action can wager on the final result midway through, or place bets on other items like the upcoming play or individual player statistics.
Critics of in-game betting contend that the practice encourages compulsive gambling, permitting a much higher volume of wagers on a single contest, potentially prompting punters to chase their losses as a result.
In March, the Abbott government directed former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell to compile a report on current trends within the online gambling industry, and his data cited in-game betting as a point of concern. Seeking to safeguard consumers, as well as domestically owned and operated online sports betting concerns Tabcorp and Tatts Group, the government soon issued a nationwide ban on in-game betting which would remain in place until the upcoming national elections.
In May, Social Services Minister Alan Tudge sent a letter to several offshore operators – including Ladbrokes, William Hill, Sportsbet, Bet365, and Unibet – which stated that in-game betting violated the “intent” of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.
As written, however, the current law doesn’t explicitly prohibit the practice of in-game betting, and until Ladbrokes announced its voluntary decision to cease offering the service in Australia, offshore operators openly flouted the government’s ban. In order to do so, the sites exploited a loophole in the Act which allows in-game betting over the phone, simply installing the “click-to-call” function on their primary platform. Players need only click a special button on their screen to open a direct phone call to the betting shop, before placing in-game wagers as normal.
In a statement announcing the company’s decision, Ladbrokes called the move a “show of good faith,” but players will still be permitted to place ordinary phone calls in order to wager during a live game.
Commenting on the government’s insistence that in-game wagering be halted within Australia, Ladbrokes’ Australian Chief Executive Dean Shannon pointedly remarked on the protectionist philosophy behind policy:
“They really just made their decision on who lobbied the hardest and the loudest that being Tatts and Tabcorp.”
Tabcorp and Tatts Group are the only Australian operators of online sports betting services, and both companies have repeatedly expressed their concerns over increased competition from offshore operators like Ladbrokes. With platforms that do not currently offer in-game wagering, both companies have seen their market share encroached upon by the five major international operators which have expanded significantly throughout the Australian market.
Rohan Sundram, a gaming analyst for Citi, sent a memo to clients informing them that the government’s ban on in-game betting would serve to directly benefit both Tabcorp and Tatts Group:
“We continue to view the anticipated withdrawal of click to call in-play betting product by the corporate bookmakers as a mild positive for Tabcorp and Tatts, not so much from an earnings perspective but more so from a levelling of the competitive playing field, as this product innovation has helped corporate bookmakers accelerate their share gains vs Tabcorp and Tatts over the last 6-12 months.”
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