Australia: In-play betting no more – well, sort of…

As the dust settles from the Melbourne spring racing carnival, we review the current status of in-play betting in Australia.

In May 2016, the Corrs Gaming & Wagering practice group reported on the release of the O'Farrell Review into the Impact of Illegal Offshore Wagering (Review) and its proposed impact on in-play betting (read the full article here).

As one of its 19 recommendations, the Review endorsed the deferral of consideration of additional in-play betting products until the establishment and operation of a national framework that implements the legislative intent of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (Cth) (IGA).1

Readers will recall that a number of betting agencies were offering 'click-to-call' betting products which allowed bets to be placed online (for example through handheld devices) after the start of a sporting event through the use of Voice-over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology.

Advocates of the product argued that this fell within exclusions under the IGA for 'telephone betting services'.2

In its response to the Review, the Federal Government indicated that it did not intend to 'further expand the Australian gambling market through the enabling of in-play betting' and that it would introduce legislation shortly to address the use of 'click to call' technology to reflect the intent of the IGA.3

Following the release of the Review and the Federal Government response, Federal Human Services Minister Alan Tudge called for 'click-to-call' service providers to cease offering the product immediately.4 However, it appeared for a number of months that the availability of the product would continue until the IGA was amended.

SO WHAT CHANGED?

In June 2016, it was reported that the Northern Territory Racing Commission (Commission) had written to bookmakers licenced in the Northern Territory to put them on 28 days' notice to remove any 'click-to-call' services.5 On 10 August 2016, following opposition from certain industry players, The Australian reported that the Commission had made its final decision that 'click-to-call' products must be removed.6

The final letter reportedly stated that the Commission was required to comply with directions given to it by Northern Territory Racing and Gaming Minister in accordance with the Racing and Betting Act (NT), and as a result, it had been directed to prohibit 'click-to-call' products by sports bookmakers.7

A majority of corporate bookmakers are licenced in the Northern Territory, including four out of five companies that offered 'click-to-call' services.8 The letter reportedly ordered these bookmakers to cease offering the product, in order to 'head off' possible action by the Federal Government against the Northern Territory.9

In response to the directions from the Commission, operators have updated their online sites to direct customers to their respective call centres to place in-play bets over the phone (in-play phone betting is permitted under the IGA).

The rationale for strengthening the prohibition on online in-play betting seems to be the belief that the time-delay and 'manual steps' associated with making an in-play bet over the phone or through human interaction, compared to on an online platform, yields a net protective benefit for problem or at risk gamblers who could be protected from the risks associated with the lure of high speed bet placement.

Interestingly, in early September 2016, William Hill launched a new product called 'Double Down'.10 Using the William Hill app, punters who have already placed a bet on selected horse races are able to double their initial bet online after the race has commenced.11 The cost of being able to double the bet placed is 10% of the initial bet stake.12

Under the IGA, placing a bet online after the commencement of a horse, harness or greyhound racing event is not prohibited, whereas doing so in relation to a "sporting event" is. That is, in-play betting through an online platform is not permitted for "sporting events", but is permitted for "racing events".

WHAT'S THE PATH FORWARD?

On 10 November 2016, the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (IGA Bill) was introduced to the House of Representatives.

We understand that industry stakeholders were given the opportunity to comment on draft legislation and a national policy framework. Apart from addressing head on the issue of in-play betting, the IGA Bill imposes prohibitions on interactive gambling services being offered into Australia or from Australia to customers in designated countries, on abducting such services, as well as conferring enforcement powers on the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

In relation to the 'click-to-call' opportunity, as the Federal Government foreshadowed it will introduce amendments to the IGA which:

  • expansively define what is meant by a "telephone betting service", and in so doing try to prevent future 'work-arounds' like VOIP technology;
  • allow the Minister to determine what a "sporting event" is for the purpose of the IGA (this concept is not currently defined); and
  • define "in-play betting service" (again, this concept is not currently defined).

We understand that earlier iterations of the IGA Bill sought to set out, in some detail, how sporting events – in particular multi-staged events - were to be treated. Now, however, the IGA Bill adopts the position that Ministerial instruments will provide the necessary detail. The detail will be crucial to understanding when a patron may be permitted to place an online bet during, for example, a break in play during a sporting event – such as between rounds in a golf-tournament.

The IGA Bill also introduces the concept of a "place-based betting service". The legislation will allow online in-play betting on sporting events when placed using "electronic equipment" at the venue of a licensed operator – that is, by corporate bookmakers with a physical presence (e.g. Tabcorp and Tatts Group). Prior to the introduction of the IGA Bill, a number of corporate bookmakers without physical premises reportedly wrote to the Communications Minister, senator Mitch Fifield, to express concern that the availability of such "electronic equipment" would infringe the principle of "platform neutrality". They also raised the issue that this would allow bookmakers with a physical presence to provide the very same services that online bookmakers are not permitted to provide to their customers – for example by providing tablets to venue-based gamblers to allow high speed bet placement.13

There is no suggestion in the IGA Bill to extend the online in-play betting prohibition to horse, harness or greyhound racing events.

A FINAL THOUGHT

While the Review (and the Federal Government's response to it) emphatically rules out the prospect of the widespread introduction of online in-play betting for sporting events (outside of in-place betting services), it seems that a complete picture of the Government's approach will only be possible when the Minister outlines his approach to what are (and what are not) "sporting events" for the purposes of the IGA Bill.

It will also be interesting to see whether the concerns rallied by the online corporate bookmakers in relation to "place-based betting services" will be taken up in parliamentary debate.

Our Gaming & Wagering practice will report on the national framework initiatives to be introduced in future articles.

Footnotes

1 The Hon Barry O'Farrell, Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, 18 December 2015, p 152.

2 Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (Cth), section 5(3).

3 Australian Government, Government Response to the 2015 Review of the Impact of Illegal Offshore Wagering, April 2016, p 7.

4 Media Release: Consumer protections and tougher laws to combat illegal offshore wagering; 28 April 2016, the Hon Alan Tudge MP and Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield; Dan Conifer, 'Live online sports betting loophole to be closed by Federal Government', 28 April 2016.

5 Rick Wallace, 'NT reluctantly bans in-play gambling to head off Canberra' The Australian, 11 June 2016.

6 Sarah-Jane Tasker, 'Northern Territory gives in-play ultimatum to online bookies', The Australian, 12 August 2016,

7 Ibid.

8 The Hon Barry O'Farrell, Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, 18 December 2015, p 66; Rick Wallace, 'NT reluctantly bans in-play gambling to head off Canberra' The Australian, 11 June 2016.

9 Ibid.

10' Gaming Intelligence, 'William Hill Australia rolls out innovative new In-Play betting product', 9 September 2016, http://www.gamingintelligence.com/games/39676-william-hill-australia-rolls-out-innovative-new-in-play-betting-product.

11 William Hill, 'Double Down' https://www.williamhill.com.au/betting/help/double-down/.

12 Ibid.

13 John Stensholt, 'Tabcorp, Tatts could get an in-play betting free kick', Australian Financial Review, 18 November 2016.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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