International edition
September 20, 2020

Federal MP Andrew Wilkie and Reverend Tim Costello

Australian MP and Reverend call for sports betting and gambling royal commission

Australian MP and Reverend call for sports betting and gambling royal commission
Federal MP Andrew Wilkie and Reverend Tim Costello.
Australia | 12/06/2019

After it was revealed that one of the largest sports betting agencies is using secret algorithms, restrictions and delaying tactics to skew the competition and drive up profits.

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ederal MP Andrew Wilkie and Reverend Tim Costello have requested for a royal commission into gambling that also covers sports betting-related issues, following revelations by the ABC that one of the largest sports betting agencies is using secret algorithms, restrictions and delaying tactics to skew the competition and drive up profits.

"Gamblers use these sites in good faith, assuming they're playing an honest game," Mr Wilkie said. "But if this allegation is correct, then gamblers are being cheated.

"Not only should we have a royal commission very broadly into gambling generally, including casinos, of course, but now into sports betting as well."

Mr Wilkie has previously called for a royal commission into Crown after a whistleblower came forward with CCTV footage and allegations that foreign high rollers avoid customs inspections and exchange huge amounts of cash with no trace at its Melbourne casino.

"The picture's pretty clear that the gambling industry in this country is pretty rotten. Any sort of national inquiry should look at all aspects of it, including sports betting."

Reverend Costello, chief advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, told the ABC that "piecemeal" inquiries were not going to cut it, and a royal commission was crucial for bringing the problems to light.

"No government will ever act to reform gambling in Australia because of political donations, because of political capture," Reverend Costello said.

"Only a royal commission will actually get to the central question: How has Australia ended up with the biggest gambling losses per head in the world?"

'Truly disturbing' allegations

Former bet365 customer account supervisor James Poppleton told the ABC in an exclusive interview that the betting agency has a set of secret tactics that target winning punters.

"You can't win, those that win are stopped. Those that lose are exploited and then they develop cheating techniques as well," Mr Poppleton said.

ABC Investigations also obtained a series of documents from inside bet365 that reveal how winning customers are restricted from betting large amounts with the company.

Bet365 told the ABC in a statement that its service is provided "in accordance with its published terms and conditions and all applicable laws and regulations".

As part of those terms and conditions, it can close or suspend an account at any time for any reason.

Mr Poppleton also claimed these algorithms applied not just to winners, but those who lose as well.

"As soon as you start losing, they'll open you up to lose more and more and more, you can bet bigger and bigger amounts," he said.

"If you stop winning, you're allowed to bet more and more and more. It's the opposite of responsible gambling."

Reverend Costello said the allegations were "truly disturbing and should be investigated".

"Bet365 is using data and algorithms to maximise profits, but in doing so they are exacerbating gambling harm," he said.

"They can and should be using this data to identify harmful levels of gambling to provide help to those who need it, not exploiting people for staggeringly high profits."

Bet365 said it had "a robust responsible gambling policy in place to monitor each customer's gambling patterns and expenditure and ensure that their gambling behaviour is within responsible limits".

Mr Wilkie said Australia needed a national gambling regulator.

"Up until now, gambling in this country has been largely regulated by the state and territory governments, and they have consistently shown they can't be trusted when it comes to overseeing gambling within their jurisdictions," he said.

He believes state and territory governments have become reliant on gambling taxes so it is not in their interest to prioritise consumer protection.

"State and territory governments, on one hand, want to maximize gambling revenue and on the other hand are supposed to ensure gambling houses act properly and that punters are protected. There's a conflict of interest that doesn't work," Mr. Wilkie said.

Alastair Shields, the chairman of the Northern Territory Racing Commission, rejected the idea that the regulator had a conflict of interest.

He said he has had complaints about restrictions being placed on successful punters' accounts, but there was little he could do about it.

"Essentially, it's a contractual matter between a client and a sports bookmaker," Mr Shields said.

"That's a bit the same as if I go into a shop and the shopkeeper decides they don't want to serve me. They can decide not to do that."

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