A Closer Look at the William Hill Judgment

14 February 2001
British sports betting firm William Hill, following a recent High Court ruling, has been forced to sign a license agreement with the British Horseracing Board if it wants to continue posting the Board's racing data online. This doesn't mean, however, that the issue has been completely resolved.

William Hill's attorneys are combing the decision thoroughly to see whether there are grounds for an appeal. A decision is expected by early next week.

The terms of the licensing agreement have been a bitter pill for the bookmaker to swallow. "The terms of the license were non-negotiable," William Hill CEO David Harding said, "and we've complained to the Office of Fair Trading that they represent anti-competitive abuse of monopoly on a number of accounts."

Harding listed four complaints about the contract:

  • The fee is excessive for what is essentially low value data (the list of riders) which has already been in the public domain for 24 hours before it appears on our websites.
  • That the fee is discriminatory in that it means Internet bookmakers will effectively pick up the lions share of the BHB's costs, whilst everyone else in racing benefits from the database at much lower rates.
  • They're forcing us to pay for a bundled package of information (including jockey info, weights, colors, five day entries etc.) and not allowing us to license just the info we need (list of runners).
  • They'll only grant a license for 12 months, which is too short a period to plan in high investment businesses and leaves open the likelihood that the price will ratchet up significantly.

Harding remained sanguine, however, that other Internet bookmakers have probably been faced with the same contract, and would probably join the company in its next round of legal jousting.

"In short, we've lost a skirmish on the legal definitions of database rights, but the battle about how much we, and our customers, pay for low grade data is far from lost," he said.

Officials with the British Horseracing Board were unavailable for comment.

Click here to read the judgment.