Cheers to the new hero of Aussie gambling
It was a bright spot in the otherwise bleak Aussie gambling scene. Peta Murphy, chair of a committee in Australia’s House of Representatives, grilled SportsBet CEO Barni Evans on the practice of limiting and banning bettors that are winning. She said she personally knew of someone affected by this, and it became quite apparent from both her knowledge of the issue and the unrelenting manner in which she pushed for answers. You can watch the clip of this Aussie gambling debate here.
The exchange began with a rather innocuous question by Ms. Murphy, asking if SportsBet stops people from being able to bet or access their accounts if they’re using promotions or arbitrage to ensure that they always win. The CEO responded with a long and carefully-worded statement that listed off many reasons they can take action against a user. In the middle of it he said that “if a bettor is seen to be using privileged information, and is therefore distorting the market and affecting the prices that other people can bet on, then we’ll intervene”.
He would fall back on this line many times after she pressed him for more details, much to her clear displeasure. It was quite evident that he was starting to become uncomfortable and evasive, especially once she responded asking what if it wasn’t privileged information and the bettor was just simply good at math. This quickly became the center of the debate, with the Aussie gambling CEO desperately trying to steer the debate away or derail it altogether. And according to Ms. Murphy, others on the committee also seemed to agree with her assessments.
Perhaps the most interesting part was when he repeated the phrase that a bettor using information that might not be accessible to everyone else could harm the other bettors. He’s both positioning himself as defending the majority of bettors and also trying to paint all of these winners as a kind of inside trader, while wisely not committing to it by qualifying it with ‘might not be accessible’. Later on however, he unwittingly contradicted himself by saying he had teams of experts who could determine if a bettor was using inside information.
She continued to press on, so he then took it a step further by simply stating that if a user is distorting the market then they would take action. That’s quite a striking admission. Especially since ‘distorting the market’ is such a vague phrase and came with no real clarifications or even any examples. In theory, anyone who bets a significant amount could distort markets. But it is very telling that they are only focused on sharp bettors. It’s not just limited to the Aussie gambling world either, as seen here with UK operators, and is a widespread practice elsewhere across the world too.
In other types of markets, the sharps would be doing a favor by helping to create more efficient markets. It seems these sportsbooks don’t want efficient markets, they would prefer purposefully imbalanced markets that allow them to extract even more money from recreational bettors. This all seems rather predatory, and ironically *they* would be the ones distorting markets. In this light, their claims that they’re limiting or banning sharps to protect the rest of the bettors is false and even a bit insulting. Recreational bettors would be getting fairer odds on average, in more efficient markets. This also may help to explain why he was trying so hard to (falsely) pit the recreational bettors against the sharps.
I made it a point to write this because it is important to praise our officials when they are doing the right things, and not just criticize them for when they do the wrong things, as in this recent Aussie gambling reform debate. We need both kinds of feedback in order to have better and more efficient governance. This is a very consequential time for the Aussie gambling industry, and the global industry as a whole. Australia and the UK are among the most advanced nations when it comes to gambling, so I sincerely hope that the US and others are paying close attention.