If there was any doubt left regarding the long-term viability of betting exchanges and Betfair.com's place as the world's leading betting exchange, it was answered Wednesday when officials with England's Department of Media Culture and Sport added the company to its Bookmakers' Committee.
The move marks the first time a non-traditional bookmaker has gained a seat on the committee, which acts as a mediator between Parliament and the industry.
A key issue for the committee every year is the push for bookmakers to make payments to the Levy Board on behalf of their punters instead of the individuals making the payments themselves.
Betfair has been called to the table by other members of the board, namely William Hill and Ladbrokes, for not paying its fair share of taxes. The two high-street bookmakers feel that the punters who lay bets should be forced to acquire a bookmaker's license.
The DCMS announcement comes at the same time a controversial court ruling is expected regarding betting exchanges. Sporting Options, one of Betfair's competitors, has challenged the Levy Board, with the support of Betfair, over the pending 42nd Levy Scheme.
Warwick Bartlett, head of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) and chairman of the Bookmakers' Committee, has also come out against the betting exchange model. Nevertheless, Bartlett is confident the exchange's presence in the group will bring, not added tension, progress to the industry.
"I don't see any problem," he said. "I welcome the addition of another representative of the industry. As far as we are concerned, it should make life easier for us. One of the main complaints voiced during the recent judicial process was that exchanges were not consulted sufficiently. Now they have a seat [and] they can fully partake in the process."
Betfair spokesman Mark Davies said officials were delighted with the news and surprisingly had heard no complaints about the decision.
"I haven't heard any opposition," he said. "It's obviously further endorsement of the impact we have had on bringing bookmaking into the 21st century."
Davies said the move also sends a clear message to others in the industry about Betfair's place among "traditional" bookmakers.
"It also strongly underlines what we have always said and what some of our opponents have tried to deny: We are a bookmaker," he said.
The new seat was created specifically for Betfair and increases the number of committee members to 13. The expanded body will meet on Aug. 13 and will have to determine policies for what exactly is a majority. When the committee was only 12 seats, a majority constituted two-thirds, or eight votes.
Bartlett said it would be interesting to see how Betfair represents interests of entire betting exchanges instead of just their business.
"The one grey area is that the seat is specifically Betfair's, and I am wondering how they will interact with the other exchanges," he said.
Betfair's support of Sporting Options in its current court battle is an early indication that the company might be able to work with all exchanges.
The DCMS also made official the reformation of the committee to account for recent mergers of betting industry bodies into the ABB. The ABB was given the four seats previously held by the British Betting Office Association and the Betting Office Licensees Association prior to their merger.
Under forthcoming legislation, the Levy Board is set to dissolve in September 2005, at which time the Bookmakers' Committee will also cease operation.
The new committee is comprise of: two seats for Coral, Ladbrokes, William Hill, National Association of Bookmakers; four seats for Association of British Bookmakers; and one seat for Betfair.