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Australia In-play Betting War Escalates as Politicians and Sports Bodies Join the Fray

Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, who accused the country’s sporting bodies of “lobbying for the gambling industry” in a “naked grab for cash.” (Image: smh.com.au)

Aussie senator Nick Xenophon has attacked a push by the country’s major sporting bodies to end a ban on in-play sports betting.

In an official statement, the senator condemned the move as a “naked grab for cash” on behalf of the sports leagues, many of whom have signed lucrative sponsorship deals with major gambling firms headquartered overseas, and accused them of “lobbying for the betting industry.

“This greedy move is all about boosting the bottom lines of the professional sports bodies and the sports betting companies with which they have licensing agreements,” complained Xenophon, who added that the “unacceptable consequence of this move would be more gambling addiction in Australia.”

Australia’s 2001 Interactive Gambling Act, drawn up before the rise of in-play sports betting, stipulates that wagers on live matches that have already started can be placed with bookmakers over the phone but not online.

Gambling companies claim that the legislation has failed to keep pace with modern technology and should be changed.

Legal Loophole

Meanwhile, UK operator William Hill has skirted this law through its Click to Call betting app, which uses voice recognition technology that allows bettors to confirm their bets using a simple voice command.

The feature launched in April, and was quickly followed into the market by copycat apps from other operators. Naturally, this has enraged Xenophon who wants to close the legal loophole.

Last month, following a referral by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the Australian Federal Police told William Hill that it would not be launching an investigation into the legality of the controversial app.

William Hill seized on this as a reaffirmation of the legality of its practices, calling it “a great outcome for Australian punters who will no longer be forced to bet in-play via illegal offshore bookmakers which pose a huge threat to both consumer protection and the integrity of Australian sport.”

Unlikely Allies

Just to confuse matters, not all sporting bodies are siding with the bookmakers. Clubs Australia, the organization that represents Australia’s 6,500 licensed sports and social clubs, said that this week that it was against online sports betting expansion.

“In Clubs Australia’s view, Australia’s licensed online wagering operators have used the pretense of competition with illegal offshore wagering providers to extract a range of regulatory concessions from governments with respect to taxation and harm minimization,” said the organization in an official statement.

“Any suggestion that further regulatory concessions, such as live in-play betting, are warranted due to competitive pressures from illegal offshore wagering operators should be dismissed.”

Xenophon has also found an unlikely ally in Australia’s biggest homegrown betting company Tabcorp, which argues that expanding online in-play betting would harm the racing industry.

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