Australia's Alternative to Betting Exchanges?

14 February 2006

A joint venture between Racing Victoria Limited (RVL) and the Victorian Bookmakers Association (VBA) could give online betting exchanges in Australia a run for their money.

The partnering companies are developing a project called Bookie IP, which despite reports to the contrary, is not a betting exchange, according to Director of Racing Operations RVL Stephen Allanson.

The distinction lies in the exclusivity of the betting service. Allanson described it as an Internet wagering channel that facilitates transactions between registered Victorian bookmakers and registered betting clients, but only those people.

"More importantly," Allanson said, "the fixed prices that are offered by the bookmaker are the same odds that are available to patrons who attend the racetrack. Also a bookmaker who offers his service via the internet must be in attendance on course offering a service to on course patrons."

RVL has been at the forefront of the movement opposing betting exchanges in Australia, especially recently licensed Betfair. It even went so far as to deny Betfair's request to publish Victorian race fields, despite granting that right to numerous other betting service operators.

Prior activity aside, Allanson said the Bookie IP project has nothing to do with Betfair being granted a license to operate in Australia. In fact, the project was introduced five years ago.

Allanson said the Victorian government approved the development of an Internet betting service in 2001 to keep up with the changes in technology. At that time, RVL and the VBA began researching the feasibility of the project. The VBA tried to make a go of it, but made no progress. It was re-ignited in 2005 with RVL taking on total management responsibility and VBA providing the link between RVL and the individual bookies that will use the system.

"The idea was born by allowing bookmakers to avail themselves to new technology to service their clients and the internet is the natural progression from allowing them to accept wagers via their RVL approved telephone which records all wagers that are placed with bookmakers via that communication channel," Allanson said.

Now that legislation has allowed Australia to welcome betting exchanges, and with major brands establishing themselves in the region, RVL is aware that it faces hefty competition. Nevertheless, it will not aggressively advertise the project. While remaining conscious that it needs to establish a customer base to stay afloat, the group is relying on the hope that there may not be people ready or willing yet to use a betting exchange.

"We are fully conscious that this service needs to have all the ingredients necessary to be a serious competitor with other wagering providers," Allanson said. "At this point of time a full marketing strategy has not been determined but we are confident that this project will enable Victorian Bookmakers to be far more competitive in the off course market place."

Pending various approvals from the Victorian government, which may postpone the launch of Bookie IP, RVL and VBA hope to be fully operational by the 2006 Spring Carnival, which runs September through November.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.