Farewell to Bookies

10 April 2000
Eliminating the bookmaker has become the goal for several new websites, all of which promote giving betting control to the punters. Customers can bet on a wide range of subjects, from obscure sports to obscure entertainment, and more. In this way, the sites are hoping to attract a wider audience--including women and casual bettors--than traditional bookmakers.

One of the first such sites to launch is Ibetcha.com, and they recently opened their virtual doors to the North American market. Punters can place or accept wagers on just about anything, or accept a bet proposed by the Ibetcha creators.

It's easy to find a bet that will appeal, with bets divided into five categories: sports, entertainment, news and finance, offbeat bets and local. Plus, they list the top ten popular bets, which today are:

  1. Detroit Pistons vs. Miami Heat
  2. Stanley Cup Championship
  3. "Millionaire" Fever
  4. The On-line Hip-Hop Awards 2000
  5. Closing price for Microsoft stock on April 21
  6. The French Open Championships
  7. The Cherie and Tony Blair Pregnancy
  8. Daytime Emmy Award for Talk Show Host
  9. Lennox Lewis vs. Michael Grant
  10. Kennedy conspiracy books

Because punters are only betting for fun, the Ibetcha.com business model is based on advertising, stickiness and e-commerce, a company spokesman said. Revenue will be generated from cooperation and joint venture agreements with companies like Broad Band Studios, whereby Ibetcha will eventually launch a similar "Ibetcha ITV channel" for interactive television. A similar deal with Cellular Magic SA will take Ibetcha to the wireless world.

BetSwap.com, a U.K. site, is launching April 7, and offers similar betting opportunities. While punters will initially be playing for fun, real money play should start in May, explained spokesman Graham Courtney.

Although initial betting is with virtual money, punters will have a chance to win some real money. The punter with the most virtual money in his or her account on May 8 will win £5,000 (nearly $8000.) Plus, customers' winnings will go into their account to be used for future bets, Courtney added.

Potential bets could be mind-boggling, since the site will accept any kind of bet from anywhere in the world. Should punters' imagination fail, the site will also suggest possible bets for punters to choose among. As for earning its keep, the site will likely generate funds by charging a 2 percent commission on each wager. A chat site is also planned.

Another U.K. site, Flutter.com is also launching this month. There, punters can choose from a variety of bets--ranging from how much coffee the boss drinks to politics and sports--and place real money wagers.

Not only can punters place bets (or "flutters," as the site calls them) on any event listed on the site and choose outcomes and set odds, they can also access news and chat forums covering the betting topic and even e-mail their friends about bets.

The Flutter.com site is promoting its service with a free Grand National Sweepstake available to anyone who registers. Currently, the pool is worth nearly £34,000.

Both U.K. sites boast tax-free betting, the bane of all British bookmakers. British bookmakers are required to charge a 6.75 percent duty on each wager. By removing the bookmaker from the betting mix, punters can bet tax free.

The U.K. government, which requires all bookmakers to be licensed, indicated that both BetSwap.com and Flutter.com operate within the law. "We are satisfied that they are complying with existing laws," a Home Office spokesman told The Times Online. "Instead, it's the individual that's breaking the law. It's illegal for anyone to open a book, although it's perfectly legal to accept it." The spokesman indicated, however, that these punters were unlikely to ever be prosecuted.

A fourth site, BettingCorp.com, is also preparing to offer real money wagering without the bookmaker. The site, due to launch in June, will be licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission in Quebec.

The site will focus on events in the U.K., Australia and South Africa, with local content provided, explained Michael Lobel, a company spokesman. Wagers from bettors in Canada and the U.S. will not be accepted, however.

BettingCor p hopes to eventually take its services to interactive TV and cell telephones, that is, if the necessary licenses are obtained.

Of course, with this many similar betting services launching so close, bookmakers might want to lay odds on whether the new betting sites will last. Courtney, for one, doesn't see his BetSwap site as a threat to bookmakers. The question is, what do the bookmakers think?

Vicky Nolan joined the IGN staff in October 1999. She's best known for inventing fire, the wheel and swiss cheese. She can be reached at vicky@igamingnews.com.