An Irish Endeavor for Betfair

6 September 2006

In moves that signify major steps toward further acceptance in the Ireland, Betfair last week inked deals with the Irish Football Association (IFA) and Horse Racing Ireland (HRI). The impetus behind the agreements, however, was not a recent scandal involving betting on Irish football, as reported by numerous publications.

The company revealed on Aug. 30 that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the IFA and agreed to a three-year, 4.5 million deal euro deal with HRI.

The MOU with the IFA specifies that the association is now allowed to request customer and betting information from Betfair if there is suspicion of match fixing. The deal went through on the heels of allegations of irregular requests surrounding a league game between Armagh City and Glenavon in April. Several publications reported that the MOU was a direct result of the scandal, but Alex Eade, the company's international public affairs officer, has indicated otherwise.

"What is written is not correct," Eade explained. "The information sharing agreement that Betfair recently signed with the IFA, an MOU, was not made in the response to any specific instance or a desire to be accepted into a market where we already operate and have many customers. It is simply the continuation of our policy to enter into these types of agreement with all sporting bodies on which we offer betting markets. These agreements, which are unique to Betfair, help us uphold one of the tenets of the new gambling legislation about to come into effect in the U.K., which is to maintain the integrity of sport."

The HRI agreement, Eade said, "was simply willingness from Betfair to 'do the right thing' and contribute to the industry from which it benefits, in this case Irish Horse Racing. The deal promises 10 percent of our gross profit and again is unique in that we will be paying the HRI a proportion of profits made from all customers betting on Irish racing, whether they are from Ireland or not."

Eade said the deals are not exclusive, although he pointed out that "no other bookmaker signs MOUs with sporting bodies to protect the integrity of sport because they don't have the necessary technology or information available." He added, "The HRI deal is unique because it includes money from non-Irish bettors on Irish racing."

Betfair has a total of 22 MOUs with sporting bodies around the world and similar racing "product fee" deals in the United Kingdom and Australia. The company has over 1 million registered users and has never accepted bets from U.S. residents.

Continental Europe

Betfair is licensed in the United Kingdom, which many argue, under Articles 43 and 49 of the European Commission Treaty, should allow it to offer its services in other EU countries. The company's management believes that if social policy objectives are to be achieved, customers of betting operators need to be encouraged as far as possible to bet with regulated operators.

Supporters of an open European interactive gambling market argue that preventing customers from betting with the acknowledged brand names of other European jurisdictions merely encourages them to bet into unregulated markets. They also maintain that no European government can successfully block all betting operators worldwide because the operators proliferate and can be found on the Web (through sites like Google) far more quickly than governments can update their watch lists. Therefore, they say, governments that seek to ban properly regulated operators do exactly the opposite of their stated goal of protecting society; they instead undermine social policy.

Rob van der Gaast has a background in sports journalism. He worked for over seven years as the head of sports for Dutch National Radio and has developed new concepts for the TV and the gambling industry. Now he operates from Istanbul as an independent gambling research analyst. He specializes in European gambling matters and in privatizations of gambling operators. Rob has contributed to IGN since Jul 09, 2001.