David Clifton: Licensing Expert – UKGC updates its position on in-play betting

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David Clifton

In its Corporate Business Plan for April 2016 to March 2017, about which I wrote in May – see http://www.sbcnews.co.uk/features/comment  – the Gambling Commission made clear that:

  • amongst its strategic objectives was to empower and protect consumers and to raise standards across all gambling sectors to ensure safe and fair play for consumers and wider public confidence in the integrity of gambling markets and
  • amongst its priorities for the current year was to increase its “focus on putting consumers at the heart of regulation” and to “work to give consumers further confidence that betting is crime-free and markets are not rigged”.

Those objectives and priorities will no doubt have been firmly behind the newly published “In-play (in-running) betting position paper” that can be accessed on the Commission’s website or at http://cliftondavies.com/

It is not a wholly new position statement in that it updates a previous paper published in March 2009 that, according to the Commission, has been reviewed in order to reflect changes in the market, technological advances and its experience in regulating the industry to date.

Firstly, in terms of definition, the position paper explains that in-play betting (also known as in-running or live betting) is betting while the event in question is actually taking place, for example, placing a bet on a horserace while the race is being run, or on a football match whilst it is being played.

This form of betting takes place mainly, but not exclusively, on sporting events. It is predominantly an online activity with bets being made via the internet using either a betting exchange or a traditional bookmaker’s website, but it also takes place in betting shops or over the phone.

The good news for the expanding number of betting operators who offer in-play markets is that what comes across loud and clear from the new position paper is that the Commission does not consider that in-play betting presently poses any significantly greater risk to the licensing objectives under the Gambling Act 2005 than other forms of gambling.

This should reassure the significant numbers of consumers who bet in-play. The Commission cites:

  • its own 2015 gambling participation survey as showing that 25% of online gamblers had bet in-play within the preceding four week period and
  • data collected since November 2014 from operators supplying the British market, that show that in-play betting accounts for over a third of online betting gross gambling yield.

However, the Commission takes the view that in-play betting does potentially raise a number of issues that could impact on the licensing objectives under the Gambling Act 2005 in the following respects:

  • fairness and transparency of the betting (such as speed of feeds or use of ‘bots’), although it considers that in-play betting does not appear to generate specific risks to the licensing objectives as long as bettors are sufficiently aware of their position and the respective positions of other bettors and the betting operators,
  • integrity of the betting, although it does not consider that in-play betting requires further regulatory controls beyond those already applied within its wider efforts to maintain integrity in sports betting, and
  • risk of harm within the betting medium, although it does not consider that someone who bets in-play is automatically at increased risk of harm from gambling. However, it expects that licensees will monitor all bettors for signs of risk as required by the LCCP.

These areas will continue to be monitored for fairness and openness as part of the Commission’s overall betting compliance programme, and the Commission has made it clear that it will take the particular characteristics of in-play betting into account in its wider work on integrity in sports (and other) betting and gambling related harm.

Particular comments in the position paper that will be of interest to operators include the following:

  • the Commission does not consider it necessary to prevent some bettors from using technology to gain an advantage from computer software programs or faster connectivity speeds, provided it is made clear to all bettors that this is possible,
  • although some studies have shown that placing a high number of bets can be an indication that a bettor may be at risk of harm from gambling, the Commission does not consider that someone who bets in-play is automatically at risk of harm from gambling,
  • although ‘courtsiding’ (where a spectator at a live sporting event takes advantage of the delay between the live action and TV or data feeds to use or transmit information from that event for the purpose of gambling) may breach the entry terms and conditions of the event, the Commission does not consider that it constitutes an offence of cheating under section 42 of the 2005 Act. It should nevertheless be noted that information requirements in this respect are imposed by Information Provision Annex 3 of the Commission’s Remote Gambling and Software Technical Standards (“RTS”),
  • the Commission does not believe it necessary or practical at this stage to set out standards for time delays in processing any bets, including in-play bets, and
  • despite some countries (including Australia) prohibiting in-play betting online and other concerns about the effect of in-play on sports integrity (including those raised by the European Parliament), the Commission maintains its position that restricting or prohibiting the markets offered by licensed betting operators on sports integrity grounds is “not warranted at this time”. Such an approach is consistent with the finding in last year’s Asser Institute study that there is no correlation between in-play betting and instances of betting-related match-fixing that would justify a prohibition of this type of betting.

However, the above comments should not be regarded in isolation. The risks to the licensing objectives from in-play betting must at all times be appropriately managed by operators pursuant to their own specifically designed policies and procedures, the effectiveness of which should be regularly monitored and reviewed.

Another reason why betting operators should not be complacent is that the position paper makes the point that next month’s RTS review will focus on a number of particular information requirements that the Commission clearly considers warrant specific consultation, including in relation to the use of software aids (including bots) and how a bet request is handled in circumstances where a price change occurs before it is accepted. It will therefore be very important that the industry responds effectively to all such concerns as are raised when the RTS consultation has commenced.

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David Clifton – Director – Clifton Davies Consultancy Limited

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