Ladbrokes has been making huge plays in terms of attempting to replicate their success in other markets, primarily their domestic UK betting area, and one country that has always been a primary focus since entering the market back in 2013 has been Australia. The country is home to some of the most passionate sports bettors in the world and it was clear for all to see that Australia was on the rise in terms of spending – something that any betting company would be keen to play a part in by delivering their own offering.
Ladbrokes itself was initially accused of being behind the times and, more importantly, behind the hype when they finally entered the Aussie market. This took place back in 2013 when the company acquired the Australian operator Bookmaker.com.au in an AU$22.5 million deal. As the UK’s second biggest bookmaker at the time, the company went all out to acquire Gaming Investments, a company that owns a number of different properties running from sports betting itself to the likes of Panda Gaming, an online marketing company based in Brisbane that specialises in the sports betting and gaming industries.
The company was seen as being late to the party primarily because the majority of its local competitors, including the likes of Bet365, William Hill and Paddy Power, had already invested heavily in the Australian Gambling market. This was driven at the time by bookmakers looking to diversify from the UK market following the announcement of a fifteen percent online gambling tax, with the bill to be footed by the operators themselves rather than the punters. William Hill, for example, spent 2013 acquiring well-known names such as the Australian operations of Sportingbet and Tom Waterhouse.
If there is one thing that any bettor in Australia can be sure of, it is that the local market is among the most strictly regulated in the world and it is these regulations that have led to Ladbrokes announcing that live betting will be coming to an end through its online platform. Live, or in-play betting, sees punters placing a wager on the outcome of an event while the event is taking place – for example at half time in a soccer game or during a horse race where one of the leading contenders has fallen or been pulled up. This style of bet is sought after by those that are looking for a minor edge and the bookmakers rely on technology and quick thinking to ensure that their published odds reflect the up to the minute changes in the standing of any given event at a certain time.
Regarding the rules, Australia’s 2001 Interactive Gambling Act (IGA) stipulates that while live betting on events is currently legal, they may only be placed and accepted either in person in a betting shop or over the phone. While the IGA was originally conceived with online gambling in mind, it made no stipulation for such bets to be placed online. While fifteen years on many see the IGA as already being outdated to a certain extent, it is something that the biggest names will need to adhere to for the foreseeable future if they want to stay in business.
The specific rule is not without its detractors and Ladbrokes is not alone in arguing against it specifically. Both Bet365 and William Hill also rank among the bigger names in Australia sports betting to have voiced concern over the availability of the service with one of the main points of contention being that it is outdated to claim that there is a major difference between online and telephone communications in the modern age. As noted, these live bets are permitted when phoning the bookmaker, but are explicitly prohibited in terms of being placed online.
Rather than opening the rulings up for discussion, local authorities have instead pushed ahead to reinforce their position of ensuring that the current rules are adhered to. Indeed, new laws have been passed to make sure that the bookmakers are sticking to their end of the bargain and the Northern Territory has become just the latest jurisdiction to explicitly order bookmakers to ensure that live betting products are not available online.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the government has also gone out of its way to open a dialogue with authorities in Norfolk Island to ensure that the ban is enforced in the region. Norfolk Island is of course the location of Ladbrokes’ Australian operations and is sure to be closely monitored as the laws continue to develop.
In response to the more intense scrutiny, Ladbrokes has stated that the live betting product will be pulled from online availability by the end of the month in a show of good faith and it will seek to ensure that players looking to place in-play bets will be directed instead to its phone betting service, which can be reached throughout Australia at 1800 LADBROKES.
While the modifications wait to come into effect, Ladbrokes continues to be one of five overseas betting operators that offer the live betting service, with punters able to use a mobile app to place their bets any time after a sporting event has commenced. It is also joined by William Hill, Sportsbet, Unibet and Bet365 in being ordered by the Northern Territory Racing Commission in being told to stop offering the service in order to ensure that future operations are not disrupted by action from the authorities.
It is not the first time that Ladbrokes has been in the news for its live betting services either, with the company only having reintroduced live betting to its product portfolio back in December 2015. A legal challenge to the suitability of the product was carried out by the Australian Media and Communications Authority, a national regulatory body that used similar legislation to that which has led to the current shutdown of the service. At the time, the legal challenge was unsuccessful although many commentators pointed out that the service was clearly illegal given the content of the 2001 IGA. However, it is fair to say that the failure of the legal challenge was far from conclusive and it was actually William Hill that contested the ACMA’s action, battling it successfully. Rather than getting involved directly, Ladbrokes instead simply opted to reactivate the service – something that has since proven to be the incorrect decision.