ONLINE POKER: Tabcorp signals interest in online poker trial

Tabcorp management have stated they are hoping Australia will legalise online poker so that it can proceed with plans to venture into the Internet gambling sector. “Piloting tournament poker would be an area that should be profitable for us," the company’s CEO and managing director David Attenborough said.

If laws change, Tabcorp will leap at the chance to trial online poker and cash in on the booming but controversial area of playing poker on the Internet.

Attenborough said the company had surveyed clients a couple of years ago and found that up to 50 per cent of customers had tried online poker but it was unknown how many continued to play the game.

Australian-based gambling companies are currently not allowed to offer online poker, but Australians are able to play on illegal offshore websites. An attraction of online poker for gambling companies is the margins they can earn, as they don’t have to spend on overheads for a physical space.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy recently released an interim review of laws covering Internet gaming, which proposes several changes including trialling tournament poker and allowing betting on the Internet as a sport or event is in progress.

Attenborough said it was “sensible” that Internet betting on live sports was allowed as people could already do it via the phone, in its retail outlets or through international websites.

“It’s just not good for the customer to be betting online, the game kicks off, then a little sign comes up and says if you want to now have the next odds that are offered you must pick up the phone,” he said.

It’s unclear whether changes to the laws will be passed by Australia’s lawmakers, with the conservative opposition saying it did not support “watering down” of the laws.

As reported in The Australian, Tabcorp is one of Australia’s largest gambling companies and is seeing strong growth in gambling revenues through its online sector. The company stated in a recent third quarter trading update that wagering turnover via the Internet was up 16 per cent on year at USD $488.7 million, and in the first half was up 19 per cent on year at USD $1 billion. Wagering through the company’s retail outlets is the main source of turnover, which is also growing.

Attenborough also said the company was preparing to launch its Internet television, or IPTV, offering in coming months. “It’s the next generation of the way people will bet so we are making sure we’re at the forefront of bringing that to market.”

Despite Australia’s retail sector struggling as consumers save more of their money rather than spend, Tabcorp has seen its wagering revenues grow. In the third quarter wagering revenue grew 4.5 per cent on year to USD $374 million, and for the first half grew 2.8 per cent on year to USD $823 million.

“I think customers are spending because they’re actually enjoying the variety of what’s on offer,” Attenborough said, pointing out the company had invested “an awful lot of money” in its retail offering.

• Additional reporting, Wall Street Journal

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