Aussie Online Gambling Firms Seek Fair Competition

Government regulations obstruct competition with offshore rivals, claim major betting companies

Having in mind the restrictive Australian online betting laws, a number of major online betting companies complained this week that they are disabled by the regulations and cannot compete with offshore rivals.

Some of them, such as Sportsbet, Betfair and Tabcorp, submitted suggestions to the federal government's review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, with an aim to improve the regulations and, consecutively, the position of online betting companies operating in the country.

In its submission, Sportsbet opines that the regulations should allow Australian-based websites to offer 'in-the-run' betting: 'Betting after an event has commenced is available over the phone and in retail outlets in Australia. With Australian-based websites prohibited from offering betting in the run in online, Australians are choosing to place bets through unregulated overseas websites.'

Also, Sportsbet claimed that the issue is simply an issue of platform neutrality, explaining that this form of betting already exists over the phone and in TAB retail outlets.

'Sportsbet urges government to address this issue as a matter of urgency and allow betting in the run online with Australian registered wagering operators.

'This would achieve the stated goal of platform neutrality, remove a major disadvantage to licensed Australian online wagering operators and allow Australian consumers to bet in the run safely.'

In conclusion, Sportsbet expresses belief that the IGA has been largely ineffective and that it has not reduced problem gambling, noting that Australians still spend around A$1 billion annually on online gaming through unregulated offshore sites.

In regard to Betfair's submission, it also urges the removal of the restrictions on online in-play betting and online interactive games, at the same time suggesting that sensible and practical regulations would be able to more effectively deal with the questions of responsible gambling and integrity in sport.

The company also states: 'Further, Australian consumers of these services would be afforded enhanced consumer protection, tax revenues would remain in Australia and can be used to fund problem gambling programs and research projects, and Australian operators will be able to compete with offshore gambling operators on an even playing field.

'One key reason that the IGA is presently ineffective is that it failed to regulate services, and instead focused on the methods by which those services are delivered (e.g. telephone, internet) and therefore became antiquated on a rapid basis.'

Tabcorp's submission seems to be quite similar to the other two, suggesting changes in the regulations that 'will also enable domestic operators to compete on a level playing field where player protection standards can be assured.' It also proposes to establish a national code of conduct for wagering and sports betting, which will cover marketing, credit betting, the offering of financial inducements to open an account and to convey messages of responsible gambling and self-exclusion.

Another appeal to the government was sent by the Internet Industry Association, which has also filed a submission, claiming that online problem gambling should be dealt with at the PC and smartphone level, and that, instead of transferring the responsibility to internet service providers problem gambling should be managed at the point of service access.

In its submission, the trade association asserts: 'The IIA believes that the point of consumption, that is, the end user's device, is the only effective and technically feasible way of controlling access to content on the Internet.

'In particular ISPs are given a gatekeeper role and are required to give effect to the Act's 'designated notification scheme' upon receiving notification from the ACMA,' the association opines, and opposes to such responsibilities. It claimed that the government should opt for a regulated online gambling licensing model with strict requirements on licensees.

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