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Will In-play Sports Betting In Australia Be Legalised?

Published by Sharon Kingsby
Published on 24 Jul 2019 by Sharon Kingsby
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While gambling is a significant part of Australian culture, in-play betting is banned. The original law banning different forms of online gambling was the Internet Gambling Act (IGA), which was passed in 2001. This law targeted Australian online gambling operators and not players; players had the choice of engaging in in-play betting at an offshore online sports book or online casino sites. We discuss whether this law will be changed in the near future.

What is In-Play Betting?

In-play betting is one of the major innovations to have hit the world of online sports books and is rapidly becoming one of the most popular forms of online betting.

Definition

In-play betting allows you to place a wager or modify an existing wager after the start of a game or sports event.

Bettors are able to place bets on multiple markets once a game or sports event starts. During in-play betting, which is also called "live betting" (not to be confused with live dealer casinos), you react to events as they unfold, and place and modify wagers based on what you see on the ground. You can place lay bets or back bets once an event has started and modify or add to your wager as the game progresses.

In-play betting is very different from other forms of betting available at online sports books, including pre-game betting and in-game betting. It is different from pre-game betting as it allows you to place multiple bets and modify an existing bet as a game or sports event unfolds. Pre-game betting is very static in that sense; you place a bet before a game starts and collect at the end if you win. You cannot modify an existing wager while the game is on.

Even between in-play betting and in-game betting there is a small and subtle, yet significant, difference.

In-play wagering happens throughout the duration of a game or sporting event. When it comes to in-game betting, things work slightly differently - sportsbook odds are likely to alter during an official disruption of play or broadcast, such as a timeout or a commercial break.

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Australian In-play Betting and The Passage of the Internet Gambling Amendment Act in 2016

The IGA of 2001 made it illegal for Australian online gambling operators to provide, or even offer, interactive real money gambling services - including in-play sports betting - to players in Australia. However, players were allowed to place bets through telephone, as it was assumed that telephonic bets involved an actual conversation with the operator.

This was a loophole that some operators were quick to exploit: the availability of advanced click-to-call technology allowed operators to automate wagering by mixing voice and data.

There is another stipulation attached to in-play betting under that law - for sports or games played over multiple days, in-play betting is allowed once play for a particular day has ended. Good examples include cricket and golf, among others.

Only services that are licensed by an Australian state or territory are allowed to provide such online wagering services to Australian customers. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) maintains a roster of licensed interactive wagering services, as mentioned in the "In-Play Betting" page of their website.

In 2016, the Australian Senate passed the Internet Gambling Amendment Bill, in an attempt to plug the loophole. It did this by redefining a telephone betting service. As per the amended Bill, a telephone call must involve a spoken conversation, therefore making it difficult to legally mix voice and data for betting.

The Internet Gambling Amendment Bill (2016) doesn't target players, which means Australian players are still free to visit an international sports betting website for in-play betting.

Reasons for Australian Authorities Banning In-Play Betting

There were multiple reasons for the banning of interactive gambling services, which included in-play betting, by the Australian authorities.

  1. The first reason of course was to ensure minimal or zero incidence of gambling-related problems among players. This was definitely a possibility given that in-play betting literally allowed a player to place bets on a game as it was happening live.
  2. At a deeper level, the lack of proper legislation had led to a proliferation in the number if illegal operators who were making a quick buck by offering in-play betting and other gambling services.

At the time when the amended law was being framed in 2016, a review by Barry O'Farrell, former premier of New South Wales, indicated that anywhere between $64 million and $400 million was gambled annually with illegal service providers.

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In-Play Betting: The Current Stance of the Australian Government

The Internet Gambling Amendment Bill has been opposed in the industry right from the time it was passed. The extensive lobbying against the bill, along with the numerous benefits that legalizing in-play betting would provide, has resulted in the Australian government contemplating a review of the ban.

There are many factors driving this development, including a report sometime in 2018 that showed that the effects of the ban were in fact detrimental, as many players were now visiting offshore sports betting sites that offered locally unregulated in-play betting to them.

The government has in fact set in motion a process to review the integrity of the Australian sports industry while underlining the need to prevent bettors from contributing to the profits of offshore sports betting and gambling sites.

Other disadvantages associated with the ban on in-play betting, included:

  1. Match-fixing
  2. Betting-related corruption
  3. Security
  4. Loss of revenue opportunities for local agencies

Should the findings of the review favor the legalization of in-play betting, there will be tremendous opposition from those parties who currently benefit from the ban.

The Bookmakers' Stance on In-Play Betting in Australia

The stance of bookmakers on the legalization of in-play betting has been polarized, depending on which side of the fence they sit on.

Right from before the passage of the Internet Gambling Amendment Bill there was intense lobbying and campaigning by local land-based incumbents, like the Tabcorp and Tatts Group to ban in-play betting. Parties in favour of the ban also included the large network of pubs and clubs that offered sports betting. These organizations were afraid that relaxing the laws against in-play betting would lead to players deserting them and jumping on to the online bandwagon.

Robbie Cooke, CEO of Tatts at the time of the passage of the amended bill in 2016, summed up the mood in that camp in a statement:

The government should be congratulated for not bowing to the extreme pressure applied to it by multinational corporate bookmakers by fundamentally and indefinitely rejecting the introduction of online in play sports-betting.

There was pressure from other quarters in the opposite direction as well. The Australian Wagering Council's policy on in-play betting was a case in point:

Permitting online in-play betting will ensure that Australian operators compete on a level playing field with more than 2300 offshore illegal operators who already offer this product to Australian customers… The IGA should be amended to clarify that in-play wagering on sporting events will continue to be permitted, and on a platform-neutral basis, but restricted to the circumstances in which bet types are authorized by the relevant state/territory regulator and the relevant national sports controlling body.

There is currently intense lobbying by online operators to legalize in-play betting in Australia. Online gambling operators have opposed the law against in-play betting right from the time it was passed. One of the reasons for the lobbying was the feeling of resentment against the Totalizer Agency Board (TAB) betting shops that accepted online bets during a game or sports event.

Sports Books with In-Play Betting for Australian Players

Despite the ban on in-play betting, there are quite a few sports books and online betting sites that are available to Australian players. One of the most popular and well-known in the Australian circles today is Betfair Australia, which is the Australian unit of one of the biggest betting exchanges in the world, Betfair, officially known as Betfair Pty Ltd.

Betfair Australia is the biggest peer-to-peer betting exchange in Australia. In-play betting at this exchange accounts for almost 15% of the wagering that happens on Australian racing. During the Melbourne Cup in 2014, for instance, $255,036 was traded in-play. In-play betting here is also sought after because it comes with no limitations on time or maximum bet placed.

In-Play Betting in Other Countries

While in-play betting is currently banned in Australia, you will find it flourishing in quite a few other countries. One country that allows in-play betting currently is the United Kingdom. A 2016 report by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) showed that up to 25% of online gamblers surveyed in the UK have placed an in-play wager. The number has gone up to 26%, as per the latest UKGC report, released in February 2018.

What Does the Future Hold?

The future of in-play betting in Australia seems to be slowly opening up thanks to the Australian government's decision to consider the possibility of throwing out the ban. What makes this a strong possibility is the fact that the decision was driven partly by the findings of an official report that showed more players were visiting unregulated websites offshore because they weren’t able to find local options.

There are two sides to the story, of course: the positives include increased revenue for the government and safe and reliable in-play opportunities to players. On the flip side, the sheer number of bets that in-play betting allows, together with the fact that you can place bets multiple times through the day on a single game or sport, makes it very easy for players to fall into the problem gambling trap.