Newson: Allowing in-play betting in Australia ‘a difficult policy position’ for government

Permitting online in-play gambling in Australia has been hampered by the government’s unwillingness to draw down on political capital, thus dampening efforts to identify instances of match-fixing according to Paul Newson, Head of Advisory Practice at Senet.

Speaking on the Australia – pushing back on regulations panel at the SBC Summit Barcelona – Digital, Newson explained that in-play betting is often anchored to rates of problem gambling, despite previous reports advocating for its introduction.   

He explained: “Gambling in Australia, perhaps more so than other jurisdictions, seems to often be sensationalised in the media. I think that it draws down on significant political capital more so than many other masses. I have some difficulty with this because there are nuances of arguments which can support a policy position either way, and I’m not sure that they’ve had a sufficient hearing. 

“There was an Australian report that reviewed the integrity of sports arrangements. It found, and also recommended, that governments should consider withdrawing that ban on in-play betting. But really from an intel point of view, you can’t harvest data under the current arrangements when people are going offshore to place bets. The ability to be alert to and investigate potential wagering-related match fixing is really dampened by the current arrangements. 

“Obviously there are other arguments. Relying on problem gambling to sustain a ban is fraught with difficulty. Speaking only for New South Wales, problem gambling has been at a static and quite modest level for the last 15 years. That’s not to dismiss it, it’s a very serious issue and the appropriate policy initiatives do need to be in place and improved over time to embrace technology. But when you have player accounts, there is much more sophistication available to interrogate that information.”

On the panel, Newson was joined by Peter Cohen, Director of The Agenda Group, and Jake Henson, COO of BetMakers Technology Group. The discussion was moderated by Nathan Rothschild, Founder of Genius Group.

Cohen explained that the initial decision to ban in-play betting was largely driven by political point-scoring, pointing out that a political stalemate on reversing the ban means that the ban on in-play betting is something he ‘can’t see changing’.

He added: “The Australian states and territories developed an interactive gaming player protection model in the late 1990s which would have – if put in place – regulated all forms of online gambling, both casino and sports betting. In 2001, our federal government decided to intervene and impose a ban on interactive gaming. It was an entirely political decision. 

“In so, they put in place legislation which would have outlawed all forms of online betting until they realised that this would be a problem. They permitted online betting, but prohibited online in-play betting. 

“The only way that this can be changed is if the federal government chooses to amend the legislation which – in the short, medium and probably the long term – isn’t likely to happen because the federal government doesn’t have control over its Senate. Without that control, legislation can’t be passed unless the major opposition party agrees – which it won’t. This isn’t limited to the current government, anyone who assumes office is going to have the same issue. 

“I can’t see it changing because while the government can negotiate with the Senate, minor parties and individuals, they simply won’t use their political capital to allow in-play sports betting. They’re going to use it for what they feel is a more significant issue, such as energy policy, security etc. I just can’t see it changing, so we’re going to have to live with it the way that it is – it’s obviously not good news but I can’t see any substantial change happening.”

According to Henson, permitting in-play wagering could offer both a welcome boost to TV ratings for sport as well as a viable solution for maintaining engagement with ‘time-sensitive millennials’ – something which he explains the major leagues will have to consider in the future.

He said: “The one thing to point out is that in-play wagering is permitted in-venue under the retail monopoly here in Australia which is probably something that really frustrates the online-only operators. It’s particularly frustrating because it’s a distinct competitive advantage and the product has often been used as an overlapping for key times here in Australia – such as large sporting events, Friday night football etc. This is the time when people are there and that product is easily accessible. 

“But I think that from another industry standpoint, I think that if there is going to be more of a shift, they’ll need much more of a buy-in from the sporting codes here in Australia which I think will come about if, and when, the ratings begin to dip on TV. The obvious way to engage more users is to give them a product which creates more ‘stickiness’ with the coverage which we don’t currently have here. 

“As we know, with time-sensitive millennials, a two-hour field game is difficult to sit through, and they would like to be doing something else. In-play wagering could be a patch-up for that issue – something which the AFL and NRL are going to have to address at some point.” 

SBC Summit Barcelona – Digital is a FREE to attend virtual conference and exhibition running from 8-11 September. To register for your free ticket or find out more please visit – https://sbcevents.com/sbc-summit-barcelona-digital/

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