rom the second the grand slam tennis tournament begins, William Hill, which is run by Tom Waterhouse in Australia, will leverage its sponsorship of the global event to boost its turnover and profile.
Its sponsorship, which is speculated to have cost at least $4 million, raised eyebrows when it was announced in October as it not only made William Hill the first bookmaker in the world to sponsor a grand slam tennis event, it came weeks after the launch of a federal government inquiry into interactive gambling, which will clarify whether online in-play betting is legal or illegal.
When it bagged the sponsorship – eight months after launching as a brand in Australia - the UK-based company said it would use the sponsorship as a key component of its global in-play betting strategy.
In-play betting is causing massive controversy in Australia. Currently, online in-play betting, which is the practice of placing live bets on sport online, is illegal, yet placing the same bet over the phone, at a community club or TAB agency is considered legal.
It has prompted a debate about whether the law should be amended to bring it in line with technology, or it should be tightened to close the loopholes on the basis online betting can be instantaneous, 24/7.
William Hill, along with a few other international operators, has powered on with in-play betting by finding a loophole in the legislation using a smart phone app. Switching the smartphone microphone on when a bet is placed online qualifies the device as a phone service in the eyes of the law.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) didn't buy this argument and reported the activities to the Australian Federal Police in July. "These new services do not appear to involve the service provider dealing with customers using a standard telephone service," it said.
In October, a few weeks after the government appointed former NSW premier Barry O'Farrell to head the interactive gambling review, the AFP said it would not investigate the potential breaches due to "case prioritization issues".
The AFP's curt response was welcomed by the likes of William Hill but viewed dimly by others. Tabcorp said in its submission: "if regulators fail to effectively enforce laws, potentially illegal activities will continue and possibly increase."
It is why the Australian Open and the recent emergence of Gibraltar-based Lottoland, will ratchet up the pressure on the government to decide which way to go – as soon as possible.