British Bookmakers Drop SMS

30 January 2002

Two of England's biggest interactive bookmakers are pulling out of deals that brought their services to mobile phones via Short Message System (SMS) services.

Victor Chandler and Coral Eurobet were the leading pioneers in using the service on a sports betting platform, but both companies have decided to cease current tests and scrap the service due to its restrictions.

The move isn't the death of betting via mobile phones, Andrew Drinkwater, an official with Victor Chandler explained, but bettors who relied on the SMS platform for getting up-to-the-minute alerts of new odds now have to find other means.

Drinkwater said the 160-character limit on the SMS platform makes it difficult to alert punters of opportunities they might be interested in taking up.

"Mobile telephony has huge potential for business like ours," he explained. "We just need to explore more exciting ways to use mobile phones and ways that are more attractive to our customers."

Industry experts predict the small number of additional U.K.-based bookmakers offering SMS services will probably follow suit.

Ed Pownall, a spokesman for BlueSquare, one of England's biggest online bookmakers, said his firm never offered the option because they felt it was going to be too intrusive for bettors.

"It just seemed like it would drive them crazy going off every half hour or so," he said. "They would probably be less likely to bet with us then."

Pownall and Drinkwater both said their firms continue to explore other wireless betting options, including WAP and PDA-enabled betting.

Eurobet launched its SMS betting service, in association with 12Snap, in May last year. It enabled users to list their sporting event preferences and receive, via SMS, betting offers for forthcoming events, with a range of preferred odds.

Ben Wood, a senior mobile analyst at Gartner, told New Media Age this week that the decision by European bookmakers to sack the service wasn't much of a shock.

"You need quite a lot of information for betting, so with SMS it's quite difficult," he said. "You need a lot of keystrokes and it's potentially quite expensive." Drinkwater said the SMS platform had its pluses, and as the WAP platform is explored further, certain aspects of the SMS service that were positive could be worked into future mobile phone systems.

"Like anyone else we are going to all different ways of delivery," he said. "A pure SMS solution has its limitation as to what we are trying to do. Messaging to encourage our users to bet will play a part in any mobile phone solution we will use in the future, but a pure SMS way just didn't suit us."

The SMS service with Victor Chandler was offered on a test basis and Drinkwater said the response from bettors was very good, but the technology had too many limitations to make it a viable option.

The company is committed to implementing the latest technology, and Drinkwater said they will stay on top of advancements, and if the SMS platform, or any other for that matter, can be used in a good way with their service, they will study the matter.

"I think we would be mad not to keep abreast of all developments that come into the market," he said. "This is a very fast moving business and we need to make use of all the technologies that are available and that may be in development."