Mobile Betting In The Chips
By Carlo Longino, Thu Feb 10 20:15:00 GMT 2005

New-style bookmakers are gleefully rubbing their hands in expectation at growing mobile gambling spending. But not everyone is so excited.

The Guardian cites a research report saying mobile gambling will be an almost $20 billion-per-year industry by the end of the decade, and reports that mobile phones are quickly supplanting the Internet as punters' tool of choice. One particular aspect of mobile gambling that's expected to fuel its growth is the ability to make "in-running" bets -- wagers made after the events have started.

In addition to gambling offerings from operators as well as traditional bookmakers, a new style of bookie -- the betting exchange -- is emerging. It's tech-saavy and has no offline presence such as betting shops, but most importantly, it only matches up gamblers' bets. Exchanges don't act as traditional bookmakers, it's more like eBay for bets, where the company provides the infrastructure and holds the money, and gamblers essentially bet against each other rather than the house. This is the most controversial aspect -- gamblers can bet against certain outcomes, as well as for them. So, for instance, if one person bets that a soccer team will win, there's a matching bet against a team. Adding mobile access to an exchange gives gambling and instant and personal edge: if you're watching a game or race, and something catches your eye, you can throw your money down via the handset, and wait for another person to take your bet as the action unfolds.

At least in the UK, gambling legislation is behind the times, and a parlimentary group is investigating new laws, suggesting that sport governing bodies have a say in the type of bets offered, and making it mandatory that bookmakers and exchanges make it possible to trace suspicious betting patterns. One leading exchange, Betfair, already has information-sharing deals in place with a number of sport ruling bodies, including a recently signed agreement with soccer's UEFA, following a match-fixing scandal in Germany, as well as suspicious betting on a December UEFA Cup match.

It's not that mobile betting causes match-fixing, far from it. Corruption existed before mobile gambling, and will continue to exist. But the concerns that mobile technology makes it easier must be pacified, or the opportunity to create those giant revenues could disappear. Again, this is an area where the industry must be proactive to protect its business. This means blocking children's access and answering concerns that the anytime, anywhere access a mobile provides allows users a chance to manipulate the odds in their favor. Indeed, Betfair argues that its system allows for a more transparent process, and perhaps linking someone's bets to their mobile phone could make it easier to crack down on and track down cheats.