Betfair Could Be on the Verge in Victoria

24 May 2006

British betting exchange Betfair is confident that it will soon gain permission from Racing Victoria Limited to begin posting the racing fields for horse racing events in Victoria, the only remaining Australian state whose racing events are off limits to Betfair customers.

The group has been unable to post the racing fields for Victoria Racing due to an amendment to Victoria's Racing and Gambling Acts in November 2005 requiring all betting firms to first receive permission from Racing Victoria. A Betfair spokesperson said the company has had many meetings with Racing Victorian and that it expects to gain approval to publish Victorian racing fields following another set or meetings this week.

The Victorian government's amendments to the state's Racing and Gambling Acts in November were designed to preserve integrity and a sustainable product fee. Under the rules, all parties wishing to publish Victoria's racing fields and accept wagering on racing events are required to file applications for approval. Interim approval was given in November 2005 to licensed corporate and on-course bookmakers and Australasian totalisators through the end of May 2006, but not to Betfair, which did not satisfy initial integrity concerns.

At the time of the amendment's passage, it was speculated by many in the racing and betting industries as well as in the media that Victoria's new requirements called for "integrity" evaluations as a means to prevent betting exchanges like Betfair from taking action on Victorian Racing. Despite this, one of Betfair's primary spokespersons in Australia has always remained confident that his company would be able to satisfy Racing Victoria's integrity concerns and eventually gain permission to publish the racing fields.

"We're happy with the progress we've been making," Andrew Twaits, Betfair's director of corporate and business affairs told the Australian. "We've had a number of meetings with RVL over the last few months and made a lot of progress addressing the integrity concerns they've got. At the moment we're looking at how the relationship might work in practice on a day-to-day basis with members of their integrity department.

"We're having another set of meetings with them this week. Sometime the following week, I would have thought we'd have dealt with everything we need to. We're do far down the track I would think the meetings should happen in rapid succession."

Meanwhile, Racing Victoria's race fields administrative unit has been processing applications from 18 wagering service providers and hundreds of individual interstate bookmakers. All of these applications are slated to appear before the RVL board for final approval on June 1.

"We respect the process," Twaits said. "It has taken a long time to get to this stage. Even if there are some doubts about the validity of the law, we fully intend to comply with the spirit of it and to develop a good working relationship with Racing Victoria."

He added, "To Racing Victoria's credit, they haven't asked us to roll over. They haven't told us to comply or 'see you later'. They've been quite accommodating in the discussions we've had with them."

One recent development that may have made Betfair's plight in Victoria a little easier is the resignation of Robert Nason, a staunch opponent of Betfair, as CEO of Racing Victoria.

The day after Twaits' optimistic comments appeared in the the Australian, however, the Herald Sun quoted Racing Victoria Chairman Graham Duff as saying that the issue of licensing Betfair was not on the agenda of Racing Victoria's June 1 board meeting and that it is premature to suggest that the company would gain approval to publish Victorian racing fields within the next month.

Racing Victoria was last under the spotlight on April 18 when it proposed that part of its race fields policy would include applying a 1.25 percent fee on the turnover of out-of-state bookmakers (betting exchanges included, assuming they obtain approval) in exchange for the right to publish the racing fields. Several firms objected, including Sportingbet Australia and Sportsbet, arguing that the fee should be based on profit rather than turnover. It has been reported, but not verified, that the fee has since been reduced to 1 percent.