NT Minister must act

Richard touched on the role of the regulator in his article earlier the week. Since that piece was published, we have been swamped with stories and examples from punters who have turned to the Northern Territory Racing Commission (NTRC) for “fairness”, only to have their claims completely rejected.

Bookmakers licensed in the NT include: Bet365, Betchoice, Betezy, Betstar, Centrebet, Luxbet, NT TAB, Sportingbet, Sportsbetting (Hamish Davidson), Sportsbet and Tom Waterhouse.

The NTRC is established under the “Racing  and Betting Act NT“.

Included in the  powers and functions of the commission are the following:

(c) do all such things as it considers necessary or desirable for the proper regulation and control, in the interests of the public, of betting by and with bookmakers.. and
(d) do all such acts and things as it considers necessary or desirable for the proper regulation and control, in the interests of the public, of bookmakers, horse-racing, trotting and greyhound-racing..

Under the Racing and Betting Act, the commission also has four “objects“:

(a) to promote probity and integrity in racing and betting in the Territory; and
(b) to maintain the probity and integrity of persons engaged in racing and betting in the Territory; and
(c) to promote fairness, integrity and efficiency in the operations of persons engaged in racing and betting in the Territory; and
(d) to reduce any adverse social impact of betting.

NTRC

The NTRC pledges to provide fairness and integrity to all persons engaged in racing and betting.

Here are just two examples that have been forwarded to us from punters who have had issue with a NT-Licensed bookmaker:

1. RE: Removal of the minimum bet rule and the subsequent changes to terms and conditions at Bet365.

Complainant states:

“Surely it is unethical, not to mention discriminatory, to allow and support practices where “unintelligent” bettors are able to lose infinite sums of money to “bookmakers” yet punters with any modicum of intelligence/ display of profitable behaviour are weeded out to the point of rendering the placement of any bets a futile exercise? Fairness would dictate that if “bookmakers” are free to completely restrict profitable customers then they should also be compelled to restrict those who actively display at risk behaviour and lose large sums? However, we both know such a suggestion is folly and will never occur. Is it really that unreasonable to expect “bookmakers” to allow smart bettors to bet to win $1k on racing selections as a fair balance when they freely those who don’t bet with such intelligence to lose infinite sums of money, potentially putting unknown stresses on their own personal finances and those of their families?

Small scale sole operator bookmakers are expected to bet punters of all levels of intelligence for certain amounts in all jurisdictions as a part of their licensing. Is it really fair that large scale, global conglomerates are given a free pass to shirk such requirements when in reality they are the ones with the customer base, liquidity and hence the ability to profitably and fairly balance the “smart money” with the not so smart money?”

The notion that bookmakers have a responsibility to provide a fair and reasonable service to all comers is not new and has been a traditionally enshrined observance for bookmakers of all times, hence the reasoning behind such notions being enshrined in legislation and licensing requirements throughout virtually all jurisdictions. The allowance of the below is a complete affront to such and completely destroys any notion of fairness in the “battle” between punter and bookmaker insofar as the bookmaker is now completely put in a position where the only outcome will be the taking of punters’ money. This is not only unfair, it is also completely unethical.”

My only realistic expectation is to seek some review of the balance between bookmaker and bettor given the skew that the allowing of such changes puts on this relationship, or if not review at least that such concerns are weighed up whenever changes to regulations are proposed. Nobody can deny the right of a bookmaker to operate in a profitable manner but the allowing of changes such as those I have queried clearly shifts the balance from operating profitably to allowing and encouraging bookmakers to operate in a greedy and unfair manner. Something that responsible regulation has, and always should, seek to repudiate.”

NTRC response:

“The removal of the Minimum Bet Rule and the placing of restrictions on a client’s account is not a valid dispute as prescribed in Regulation 17. Despite this the Racing Commission is able to make the following determination pursuant to the wider provisions of Section 85 of the Racing and Betting Act.

The Northern Territory Racing Commission recently removed the requirement for On-Line Sports Bookmakers Licensed in the Northern Territory to stand to lose pre‑determined amounts on wagering transactions. This decision acknowledges the structural differences between on-course and on-line bookmaking. The Commission is aware that some members of the racing media and a large number of punters are disappointed with the Commission’s recent decision. In response to these concerns the Commission is making this statement and providing a more fulsome rationale for its action through release and posting of the full Decision of the Commission on its website.

The former Minimum Bet Rule was introduced in response to complaints from account holders over capping of fixed odds win wagers with punters in some cases restricted to win miniscule amounts, and to align the obligations of on-line bookmakers with those on-course. The technical realities of internet operations made it so that rather than stake clients to the minimum required under the Rule, many Sports Bookmaker Licensees simply closed the accounts of those who regularly benefited from the Rule.

Assessment of brand and reputation risk fall to respective Licensees to determine and it is for them alone to decide how best to attract and retain clients. Customers are free to take their business to other operators or wager into the Pari-mutuel pool at any time or where possible take advantage of wagering services provided by On Course Bookmakers. It is the belief of the Racing Commission that going forward a commercially realistic balance with respect to alternative available wagering product will be struck to the benefit of the broader gambling public.

With regards to bet365 specifically the Racing Commission has acknowledged the disproportionate level of disputes levelled at this bookmaker and has requested they attend the monthly Commission meeting in September. The bookmaker has been asked to inform the Commission of their risk management and account closure practices.”

2. RE: Removal of bonus winnings on a subsequently restricted account at Bet365.

Complainant states:

“One day I was attempting to place a horse racing bet of $300 and was restricted to around $3. I then saw that I received an email from Bet365 notifying me that restrictions have been placed on my account.

Around two weeks later, Bet365 made a transaction on my account “Bonus Balance Removal” and removed around $800 from my account – what I assume to be an initial bonus bet of $200 and associated winnings.

When I state that they placed restrictions making it almost impossible to turnover the required amount, they say, as per their conditions that they are not required to accept any bet. The latter term makes it near on impossible to fulfill the first term. I believe this represents grossly unfair conduct.

I understand that I had 90 days to turnover a certain amount to ensure winnings from bonus bets can become withdraw-able, but how can Bet365 take this money away after severely restricting my account before this period expires?

I would like Bet365 to either a) return the winnings portion of $XXX ($XXX that was removed, minus the $200bonus) to the account or b) return the full amount ($800) to the account and allow it to be turned over with bets at a reasonable level.”

NTRC response:

“This dispute does not relate to a specific wager not paid to the client, it relates to restrictions being placed on the account by the bookmaker and also the difficulty encountered by the client in utilising free bets because of the restrictions as a result of being able to meet turnover requirements.  Also, winnings relating to turnover requirements have been removed.

The bookmaker has stated that they “…acknowledge that restrictions placed on Mr X’s account would have made it difficult to reach the $1200 turnover figure however we reserve the right to decline all, or part, of any bet/wager requested at our sole and absolute discretion”.

The Courts and Racing Commission have long held the relationship between a bookmaker and their client as one “…founded in contract law”. Commissioner Timney in his decision of L v Sportingbet (13 February 2013) held at [30]:

30) The striking of a wager between a bookmaker and a punter is an agreement founded in contract law.

The bookmaker has acknowledged the placing of restrictions on the account made it hard for Mr X to meet the turnover requirement however it did not prevent him from doing so and Mr X in opening and operating the account with the bookmaker has accepted the terms and conditions, albeit ones that may be considered harsh or restrictive

The bookmaker has invoked their reserved rights to enforce the terms and condition of the promotion which included the turnover requirement and expiration clause as well as their right to refuse all or part of any wager. These rules have been approved by the Racing Commission and more importantly accepted by Mr X when he opened and operated the account. The Racing Commission is not empowered to intervene in such an event to undo a contractual arrangement between parties that has seemingly been applied to its letter.

Mr X, it is the determination of the Racing Commission that the bookmaker has applied the accepted terms and conditions correctly and has no case to answer in relation to this dispute.”

————————————-

On both occasions, the fallback explanation of the NTRC seems to be that “the bookmaker has applied the accepted terms and conditions correctly”.

It’s clear that the NTRC are placing licensees desire to generate greater profits well and truly ahead of their objects of maintaining fairness and integrity for all participants. They are approving Terms and Conditions that are simply unfair.

There is no doubt that bookmakers can turn a profit by betting both winners (a reasonable amount) and losers. Their profits might be reduced, but since when is a bookmakers license a guaranteed license to print money? If they cant make enough profit to sustain their operations here, then go back to the UK or hand back the license.

Two other aspects of the NTRC’s responses cause great concern.

  • “Customers are free to take their business to other operators” – NTRC

This seems an open invitation for successful punters to take their business to one of many offshore operators targeting Australians. Surely, this poses a huge integrity risk?

  • The punter “has accepted the terms and conditions, albeit ones that may be considered harsh or restrictive” – NTRC

The NTRC have approved these T and C’s – thus the NTRC are condoning “harsh” and “restrictive” measures. That’s enough for me.

Given the powers, functions and objects of the NTRC, Fair Wagering Australia believes the commission is completely and utterly failing in it’s obligations under the Racing and Betting Act.

As our complainant from above notes:

“The allowance of (severe restrictions, no min bet) is a complete affront … and completely destroys any notion of fairness in the “battle” between punter and bookmaker insofar as the bookmaker is now completely put in a position where the only outcome will be the taking of punters’ money. This is not only unfair, it is also completely unethical.”

“Nobody can deny the right of a bookmaker to operate in a profitable manner but the allowing of changes such as (removing the minimum bet rule) clearly shifts the balance from operating profitably to allowing and encouraging bookmakers to operate in a greedy and unfair manner. Something that responsible regulation has, and always should, seek to repudiate.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

We say:

The NT minister responsible for overseeing the commission, Hon David William Tollner MLA, must act to ensure the NTRC is indeed ensuring fairness and integrity are maintained for all participants.

Apart from acknowledging receipt of queries to his office, the Minister has failed to respond to questions from Fair Wagering Australia.

Maybe its time we all sent him an email to convey our thoughts:

Hon David William Tollner MLA

email: Minister.Tollner@nt.gov.au

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