The Brits Are Coming!

17 April 1998

There are some interesting developments going on in Europe as it relates to internet gaming. But, some of the most interesting developments are happening in Great Britain and Ireland where an increasing number of licensed bookmakers are going electronic. One of those is Blandford Betting which is now moving to the interactive world in a big way. Interactive Gaming News interviewed Mark Blandford to get an idea exactly what he's up to.

Blandford Betting was formed by Mark and his wife in July `84. They began with one betting shop in Malvern, England and have held a UK bookmaker's permit continuously since that time as they began building the operation. Mark Blandford told IGN, "We built entirely by organic growth to five shops and a telephone betting division. Those shops were sold to Arthur Prince Limited in 1990."

But, not one to rest, Blandford quickly built back to four more shops which he recently sold to Tote Bookmakers. (Unfamiliar readers may be interested to know that the Tote is ultimately administered by the Government in Great Britain via the home Secretary. It operates the pool betting on racecourses as well as offers British customers a range of conventional bookmaking services via telephone betting and high street betting shops.)

Traditional British Bookmakers operate either cash betting shops in the same way as any other retail type business works, and or telephone-based betting services. However, they must charge a 9% betting tax. This, in fact, two charges…6.75% is paid to the Government and, thus, is a huge source of revenue. The remainder is a levy payment to subsidize British Horse racing.

Over the past 15 months, Blandford has been exploring the opportunities offered on the internet. "I had been looking at Internet applications for gambling and the best ways to harness this media with the expertise I feel we have in this country," he told IGN. "The sale of Blandford Betting is a planned move on our part to enable full concentration on what I believe is a huge opportunity. Our objective to be one of the dominant players as online bookmaking develops."

The trading name of the Sports Betting side of the company will be He also has longer term plans to introduce other forms of gambling that they feel are suited to the Internet.

"It's so much easier for an industry to develop under a legal regulated environment in my opinion," he added. So, he began developing NetBet and began the search for a suitable location.

One of the main objectives in the search for a prospective location was to avoid the UK betting taxes yet offer customers the security of knowing they have the comfort of dealing with a genuine British-based Bookmaker. His search led him to Alderney. His inquiries revealed that the government officials of Alderney would consider the possibility of changing its laws to allow Alderney-based bookmakers to accept bets from outside the Island.

"Due to some impressive foresight by the local authorities, this developed into the grant of three Electronic Betting Centre Licences and we were one of the successful applicants," Blandford offered. "They are the only licences of their type anywhere in Britain, that is, with no betting tax yet located in British home waters and licenced to accept bets from anywhere in the world via telephone and electronic media."

The Alderney licences offer a tremendous competitive advantage over traditional UK bookmakers and are expressly for the type of international business which the medium of the Internet enables Blandford to offer. The search for a similar competitive advantage is what drove long-time Austrian bookmaker, Intertops, to the Caribbean for its internet operation.

Never heard of Alderney? Well, you're not alone. IGN got a little geography lesson from Blandford. Alderney is located in the British Channel Islands, and is the third largest. It is approximately eight miles from the French coast and is eighty miles due south of central southern English coast. It is a self-governing island which has shown allegiance to the English crown for over 900 years. Alderney has its own judiciary but defense and diplomatic services are administered by the UK. It offers full banking facilities (with no exchange controls).

As mentioned before, only three Electronic Betting Centre licences have been issued under The Gambling (Betting) (Alderney) Ordinance 1997. The cost of the licence is £50,000 per annum with an initial five-year period per licence and facilities to renew with a clean bill of health. The other main Channel Islands, Jersey and Guernsey, have no plans to issue any similar licences to his knowledge.

The law there requires that applicants must be Alderney citizens or Alderney registered companies (which need a local director). The act allows "two licences or any other such number as the committee sees fit to grant." Blandford notes that he's had indications that no more licenses will be granted for the time being until the impact can be measured for those which have already been.

The main criteria of the law include the following, in no special order:

  • Procedures to ensure no possibility of money laundering
  • Full operations on the island, to ensure employment of locals.
  • Suitability of applicants to hold a licence.
  • Relevant expertise and experience.
  • Applicants must never have had any problems with any other gambling licences held. (Preference seems to be given to those who have previously held UK type bookmakers permits and betting office licences.)
  • Suitability of proposed premises for this type of operation.

When asked about efforts in some jurisdictions, most notably the US Congress, to ban internet gambling, Blandford offered an opinion heard from many of those outside (and even within) the United States. He said, "I am not fully aware of all the issues that are involved in the prohibition of sports betting in the States as it seems from here that the position is confused by contradictory legislation. For instance, a sports bet is illegal yet the same States operate a variety of lotteries. Pool betting on the track is usually OK and off track is Ok too; but, only in certain states. Surely, some consistency in your laws would help."

Blandford also posed more rhetorical questions which come to many people's minds as they try to decipher US policy on the topic. He asked, "Why is sports betting a crime?? Who suffers as a result of it occurring in a sensibly regulated environment??? Why do some (most?) States allow some forms of gambling but not others?? What about the "freedom and liberty" aspects of your constitution have to say on this. I was brought up understanding (from the outside admittedly) that your citizens had freedom of choice and did not expect to see state monopolies relying on heavy-handed legislation to prevent competition. As a mere Englishman, perhaps you can now understand why I'm confused by it all!"

"The current position forces people to bet illegally which only benefits illegal bookies and organised crime," Blandford mused. "Our own legal position is that the authorities that have clamped down in the Caribbean/Central America have absolutely no jurisdiction over us at all. We have absolutely no American connections at all and, the last time I looked, the USA did not own the Internet (a British invention I believe)."

Blandford plans to operate via a custom-built interactive site which will be supported by a telephone service for betting. A customer services centre will deal with all non-betting functions such as opening accounts and making payments. He predicted that the site will be the most comprehensive yet easy to navigate and will have a number of unique features. They are in the final stages of development and begin beta-testing soon.

"We expect to go live by the end of May with European sports to coincide with the Soccer World Cup. The main sports we will launch with will be Soccer, Golf, Tennis, Cricket, Rugby, Snooker, Boxing and Horse Racing Our American sports division will launch next with a full service from early August to coincide with the football season. It will cover Football, Basketball, Baseball Hockey, Motor Sports and, where relevant, will cover Pro and College games. Once we are up and running customers will see a number of specials offered in various sports in addition to the popular bets."

So, keep an eye out for the British bookmakers. They've seen an opportunity to bring their profession into the 21st century and will be on the net soon.