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Australia's Online Sports Books Ready to Cash In on Olympics

22 August 2000

Australian Olympic authorities have inadvertently handed a bonanza to the country's online sports betting operators in the lead-up to the Olympics.

The authorities have decided to ban betting on the Sydney Olympics in the Games' home state, New South Wales. Included in this ban is the TAB, the state-run betting authority that was looking forward to reaping huge profits from the Olympics.

New South Wales is the largest of the six states in Australia and is home to almost a quarter of the country's 20 million population.

"No amount of pleading or persuading has been able to change the minds of the people in charge," a TAB official said.

"What it will mean is a windfall for the private operators in other Australian states."

As a result of the ban, sports books such as Centrebet (based in Alice Springs in the central Australian desert), Megasports and Canbet (both based in Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory) will enjoy greatly increased traffic during the Games in September.

"I feel sorry for the TAB and also the bookies in New South Wales," Centrebet's Gerard Daffy said. "We will take a huge amount of money from the Olympics, particularly when the Games fever begins to grip the country.

"Australians often bet on things they don't know much about and the Games will fall into that category.

"It's hard to know exactly how well we will do but I think we will turn over between A$10 million and A$50 million. Interest in team sports like hockey and soccer will be huge, particularly with the overseas market."

Centrebet, with an annual turnover of A$150 million, is the largest sport book in Australia. It employs 37 fulltime staff and a further 45 casuals. The firm went online in 1996 and now gets 80 per cent of its business from the internet.

"And it won't be long before that is 100 per cent,'' Daffy said. "That is the way the world is going.

"Some 80 per cent of our customers are from overseas and we get a lot of business from the Scandinavian countries.

"They have high disposable income there and wager a lot on sports like handball, soccer and ice hockey. We now have Danish and Swedish language facilities on our site and can pay winnings direct into their bank accounts the next day."

Daffy admits several smaller operators in countries near Australia, such as the island nation of Vanuatu, have eaten into his business somewhat.

"There are operators in Vanuatu and also other places in the region that are doing well for themselves," he said. "But we don't have a problem with that. There are plenty of potential clients around the world and we are not greedy.

"It has been proven in many businesses that monopolies are not successful. A little healthy competition is good for all of us."

Canbet started in 1997 and went online 12 months later.

"We are staggered by the way the business is growing," founder Richard Farmer said. "We are growing between 500 and 600 per cent a year and turned over A$89 million last year.

"At present 66 per cent of our business is online and that will only increase. Half of clients are in the United States, with the rest split between Europe and Australia."

Despite the company's rapid growth, Farmer said staff numbers are actually declining.

"That is because more and more of our business is now online and we require less people to man the phones," he said. "We are now down to 18 full and part time staff."

Tony Adams is a sports reporter for the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Australia.

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