I received an e-mail today with the headline, ‘Exchange Users to require a Gambling Commission licence after all’.
Having once suggested that I would run naked down High Holborn if such a change were effected, I had half a hand on my belt. Following hot on the heels of the news from Australia that Racing Victoria Limited has reverted from a Gross Profits Tax to a Turnover Tax following Racing New South Wales’s victory in the High Court – a decision too depressing on so many levels (not least of which, the medium-term future of their racing industry in the face of competition from other products) for me to have so far succeeded in summoning the will to put pen to paper about it, to be honest – I feared the worst. Could it really be?
And then I looked closer. And closer. And close as I get, I can’t see for the life of me how it is anything other than a technical change which will do nothing more than increase the admin burden for those already licensed. Unless I’m much mistaken, it won’t add an iota to the on-going, decade-long argument about whether some of Betfair’s customers should be licensed – not, at least, the ones that anyone who either wants or doesn’t want them licensed is worried about.
To explain: the requirement behind what was described to me by a journalist as ‘the triumphalist headline’ appears to be that those licensed bookmakers who use Betfair as a means by which to conduct some of their business have to get a new licence to reflect that peripheral, hedging, part of their trading.
Those who have always argued that “Betfair’s customers should be licensed” want people who are very serious punters to the extent that they look (at a glance) like they are basically acting like a bookmaker in business, licensed as if they were. The debate, therefore, has always been around whether people who use Betfair can conduct a business by virtue of their use of Betfair alone. Betfair argue not; the BHA, William Hill, and Olswang (senders of above-mentioned e-mail) – argue yes, they are.
The change heralded by the e-mail requires people who are already licensed as bookmakers to have a new licence to cover their business activity on Betfair. It doesn’t do anything about the ‘professional punters’ whom Betfair’s opponents in this argument want to capture as if they were bookies.
But Betfair has never disputed that some licensed bookies use them. They’ve argued (1) that it is superfluous to have that set of people required to have an additional licence; and (2) that it is impossible to be in business if you use Betfair alone.
Sure, they’ve lost the first argument, which means that that sub-section of their customers (and not Betfair themselves) have an admin burden today that they didn’t have yesterday. But the real debate is around the second point, and far from this change being ’a vindication of [the bookmakers'] campaign against “unlicensed layers”‘, it doesn’t appear to affect that section of people at all. Indeed, I can’t see what has changed – other than the requirement for already licensed bookies suddenly to apply for a second badge.
The e-mail states that, “Many traditional bookmakers will see this as an important victory,’ but it’s hard to see why. Far more accurate would appear to be the phrase that precedes it: “This may appear a narrow, esoteric point of detail”.