An insight into the types of people who bet on sport comes by reading a selection of an almost incomprehensible number of bookmakers’ online forums. In the sports pages of The Irish Times, the topic of live betting is consistently the top rated entry. In some forums, the terms live and prop are interchangeable. We live betting: the use of a bookmaker’s mobile phone software to select and bet on sporting events in real time, with the latest updates and line-ups highlighted. Prop betting: the ability to bet on outcome (live or prop) of a sporting event, without an attendee’s knowledge.
The differences between the two types are as plentiful as they are stark. Live betting is synonymous with real-time, where the software is being used to continuously update the odds and choose the ‘gambling roulette’ of the sporting event as it is taking place. Prop betting is associated with the more traditional betting market, the ability to bet on outcome (live or prop) of a sporting event but without an attendee’s knowledge, or involvement.
Operating as an internet bookmaker, primarily on platforms such as Playtech’s (which is an industry sponsor of Irish racing) PaddyPower and Ladbrokes’ (which is not), these firms are engaged in a process which they have perfected over the years. Before the advent of on-line gambling, betting was in most cases conducted in person by either the punter, or a group of punters or ‘croupiers’ at the bookmakers’ premises. Bookmakers were able to offer this product, usually in the form of ‘exotic’ sports, based on the idea that they controlled the consumer interface – the process by which the punter selects his selections and in turn, selects the product.
So why have bookmakers moved to introduce mobile phone betting as a sideline, in the face of legal challenges and other regulatory threats? There is an obvious answer to this, and that is to ‘capture’ or better still, lock in their existing customer base. But there is an alternative explanation, which is more sinister. It is that they are engaging in a form of rent-seeking, and this is an inescapable feature of all forms of ‘wagering’, especially when the activity is limited to the very minimum number of units involved.
Let’s take the case of PaddyPower as a typical example. In 2007, a group of men, who worked for the firm, were arrested and charged with defrauding the firm of approximately €100,000 by failing to pay them for wages. The bookmaker placed a €1 bet on this activity and later withdrew the payout when the men were arrested.
On the face of it, the bookmaker had abided by the rule that the bookmaker has no duty to the punter, that is, a punter is a sucker and therefore entitled to nothing. But the truth is a little more complex.
The Official Descriptions Act in Ireland, which came into operation in 2006, imposes strict rules on the descriptions used for betting products. Products are subject to a strict set of terms and conditions on what is acceptable, what is not, as well as restrictions on advertising.