Anti-gambling campaigners despair at liberation of advertising in Australian state

Despite the Australian success of online betting exchange Betfair, and the liberation of the advertising market for gambling companies, opponents continue to gripe about the state of Victoria's quiet about-turn on internet gambling and are preparing to fight its spread in the community, reports The Age newspaper.

The most densely populated state in Australia, Victoria has offered its own licence to set up a regulated betting exchange gambling regime similar to that pioneered by the state of Tasmania, where Betfair is licensed. The new Victorian wagering licence is likely to generate tenders from the existing licence holder Tabcorp, Intralot, Tatts Group and Betfair, and comes comes at a time when the racing industry is struggling to fund itself.

The Age reports that Betfair's Australian debut in 2006 sent shivers through the racing industry because punters can bet on horses to lose, causing speculation that this could increase the incentive to fix races.

But after the Western Australian state government earlier this year lost a High Court case to block Betfair from that state, other Aussie states were forced to accept the reality of the betting exchange. The company's three-year clean record of transparency has also allayed concerns about race fixing.

The Victorian government recently invited companies to tender for the right to run wagering in the state after 2012. The betting exchange licence is bundled with the wagering licence.

Anti-gambling campaigners say they understand the "internet gaming genie is out of the bottle", but are calling on the Government to ban all advertising for the new betting exchange - a move Gaming Minister Tony Robinson immediately rejected. Robinson said the holder of the Victorian wagering licence would need to maintain high standards of integrity.

"The Government believes that betting exchanges, like totalisers and bookmakers, should be able to advertise, provided the advertisements conform to the Government's responsible gambling principles," the Gaming Minister said. He said a betting exchange would only be authorised to operate on joint venture events with the Victorian racing industry, including thoroughbreds, harness and greyhound racing.

InterChurch Gambling Taskforce chairman Mark Zirnsak said: "The introduction of a betting exchange in Victoria will increase the levels of problem gambling. We want to limit its penetration in the Victorian community."

Opposition racing spokesman Denis Napthine said he supported betting exchanges but criticised the Victorean government for introducing them at a time when retired judge Gordon Lewis had found criminal activity rampant in the racing industry. "Betting exchanges give criminals a real opportunity to be even more active in Victorian racing," he said. "Allowing a betting exchange without addressing the corruption and integrity issues raised by his honour Gordon Lewis is totally unacceptable."

Dr Napthine said the introduction of a betting exchange was a significant expansion of gambling in Victoria. "Make no bones about it - this is increasing the variety and availability of gambling in Victoria and here is a government that has cut funding to problem gambling."

However, Betfair's Australian chief executive Andrew Twaits said most studies found that betting exchanges did not noticeably affect problem gambling. Betfair's policies, which include a range of responsible gambling facilities, reduced the likelihood of problem gambling, he said.

"The government, the racing industry and the sports industry are far more relaxed about our place in the market now," he said. "We have nearly three years under our belt operating in Australia and the sky hasn't fallen in."

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