A Comprehensive Guide to the World of In-Play Betting
Before we examine how In-Play betting was born, it is important to set the scene within the industry leading up to those heady times of the mid-1990s, when the sports betting industry was radically reinvented for a number of reasons.
Prior to this point, betting was generally undertaken in betting shops across the UK. These were male-orientated places, somewhat grubby and for many, many years, the only sports that people would bet on with any regularity was horse racing and greyhound racing.
At this time, the only other sort of sports betting was the football pools, which were particularly huge in from the 1960s through to the start of the 1990s.
Up until 1992, the sports betting industry remained very much high street based, with the majority of bets placed on horse or greyhound racing, but the event that was the kick start for change took place not within the realms of sports betting, but in sports television.
Up until this point sports television, and particular football matches, had been a series of ad-hoc games shown live throughout the season on ITV and BBC and the ever popular Match of the Day programme on a Saturday night. However by 1992, a brand new satellite TV channel was interested in acquiring the rights to top level football. That was BSkyB, later to become Sky Television.
The genius of BSkyB was to recognise that to drive interest in their satellite platform as an alternative to terrestrial television, they had to offer something unique. By acquiring the rights to show two live games from the top division every weekend, BSkyB started what would become the football boom.
It did not take long for betting companies to realise that this sweeping change in how football was being presented, offered them an opportunity to break into the huge, but up until now, virtually unexploited market for football betting.
However, at the start of the 1990s soccer betting needed change but the changes didn't happen very quickly. The betting industry had legislation in place about how punters could bet on the game that proved to be very restrictive. You could only place single bets on live games shown on TV for example, and if you wanted to bet on a match not being shown live, it had to be part of a Treble bet or more thanks to the Minimum Trebles rule.
It was clear that the betting industry was changing in the same way that the BSkyB deal had changed how soccer was being presented in the UK.
How did in-play betting start?
The BSkyB TV deal saw bookmaking sites realise that football was now becoming a far more interesting sport to bet on than it ever previously was. Over time, the rules that were so restrictive when it came to soccer betting were slowly relaxed over the years and by the mid 1990's, the very first in-running betting option was launched, allowing punters to bet on a game being shown live on TV as it was happening.
Although called "in-running", this was the very first in-play betting and at the time, was hugely innovative.
Up until this point, computer software development and processing power wasn't really up to the task of allowing punters to bet on an ever-changing match scenario, where odds needed to be continually adjusted to reflect the changing nature of the game. It was only the software and hardware developments of the 1990s, that facilitated sports betting companies to even contemplate offering this service.
The third factor that helped in-play betting start to gain a foothold was the massive expansion of the Internet from the mid 1990s through to the Millennium. As increasing numbers of people went online, sports books realised that the digital age heralded not the end of sports betting, but simply an opportunity to offer sports betting the likes of which had never been seen before.
Sports betting websites proliferated at this time and alongside some of the popular names from the high street now moving into the online realm, such as William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes and Fred Done (now BetFred), a whole new genre of online-only bookmaking sites sprung into existence (and continue to do so today) such as Bet365, Betway, Paddy Power and Betfair.
Of course, the pressure to attract customers saw many of these companies attempt to innovate new and creative ways of betting. While many of these innovations were based on pre-match betting markets, a significant number of these innovations were aimed at the burgeoning in-play betting market.
How has in-play betting been developed and which companies are the big players in the industry?
The development of in-play betting was the culmination of the development of four key things. First was the increase in online betting sites and the increasingly different types of markets they wanted to offer, then there was the huge increase in customers via online services and especially from the burgeoning mobile phone/tablet user. The third issue was the continuing popularity of football and increasingly higher number of games being broadcast each week and lastly, the final key issue was the development of mobile WiFi technology.
Over time in-play betting has moved from being a simple couple of bets you can make while a live match is in progress, to being an industry that covers a vast range of sporting events, all of which you can get on without even seeing the action unfold if you prefer.
The change in the in-play betting industry was a rapid one, as computer processing power and software developed to handle an increasingly complex number of situations, so betting sites were able to upgrade their in-play service to include more markets on an event and more events across a wider range of sports.
With the development of WiFi technology, other developments, such as the ability to live stream events has also seen a huge increase in what betting sites can offer customers via in-play services.
We've moved in less than two decades from an in-play service offering just a few bets on one live sports event only, to the ability to bet on tens of thousands of events in-play every week, with live streaming services allowing customers to watch thousands of sporting events online, via mobile devices as well as on their desktop.
Over that time some companies have emerged as the key players in the in-play betting industry within the UK.
- Bet365 Sport - Without doubt the market leader when it comes to live betting. The service features heavily in their advertising before key sports events (particularly soccer matches) and their live betting service and live streaming of events is unparalleled in the UK betting industry today.
- BetVictor - Formerly Victor Chandler, although they don't promote their in-running betting as extensively as Bet365 in advertisements, their service is polished, easy to use and covers a very wide range of sports events. It also has a useful text commentary service available for those who want to keep abreast of a sporting event without eating up bandwidth using a live stream.
- William Hill - One of the most recognisable names in the UK betting industry also has an excellent in-play betting service that features a wide range of sports, all of which are easy to navigate through to find your preferred in-running bet to make quickly. William Hill also offers excellent live streaming services and a wide range of in play markets on each sports event.
What makes in-play and in-running betting so popular?
There are many different reasons as to the incredible popularity of in-play betting at the present moment, some of the key reasons are:
- Accessible - You can bet in-play now from your desktop computer or from anywhere via your mobile phone or tablet. With in-play betting this means you can react to things happening in your event immediately and make decisions regarding future bets quickly. That wasn't possible just a few years ago.
- Quick - Many sports betting enthusiasts don't have the time to spend hours researching each individual bet. in-play betting is fast and immediate and fits in perfectly with a busy lifestyle. With software making placing an in-play bet so easy, it is a supremely quick way to wager. In-play betting also offers the chance to place a bet and have the outcome decided very quickly without having to wait hours, days, weeks or even months for the outcome.
- Available - In-play betting used to only be available when a match was in progress, but now it is available pretty much 24/7, 365 days a year thanks to the ability to bet on events taking place all over the globe. So whether you want to place an in-play bet at 2pm or 2am, there will be an event in progress you can bet on.
- Fun - Many sports enthusiasts have found that having a bet on the game as they watch enhances their enjoyment of the sporting event in question considerably. This has also swelled the number of people that enjoy sports betting in general.
- Strategic - All bets are subject to chance of course, but with in-play betting, especially for serious punters, there is a strong strategic element to the betting. If you are watching a tennis match and you see one player seemingly hit the wall, could you back the opponent to win at longer odds? If an unfancied football team is surprisingly on top of their shorter odds opponents, can you use that to your advantage and get a longer odds in-play bet on them scoring the next goal? By watching an event, you can make strategic decisions based on what you see to help inform your next in-play bet.
- Affordable - All the top betting sites do not place a lower wager limit on in-play betting, so whether you ware wagering $100, $10, or just even $5 on a bet, you can do so. This makes in-play betting easy to afford for all levels of punter.
- Varied - The final thing that makes in-play betting so appealing is that it is now available across a huge range of sports from all over the world. Gone are the days when you could bet on just one sport in-play, now you can bet on a huge variety of different sports and markets within these sports, at the touch of a button from your smartphone, tablet or computer.
What sports offer in-play and in-running betting?
There are a huge number of sports that offer live betting. Indeed almost any sport that can see bets placed in the pre-match market, can see bets placed on them in-running.
Some sports however are more popular than others when it comes to in-play betting and the most popular in-play betting sports available globally include:
- Ice Hockey
- American Football
- Horse Racing
- Greyhound Racing
- Table Tennis
Some sites (such as Bet365 Sport, Coral, Betfair, William Hill, SkyBet and Paddy Power) offer the ability to bet in-play on horse racing and greyhound racing, and with Bet365 if you place a bet with the company you can view a live stream of the race you have bet on to watch the events unfold. Some sites may have minimum bet requirements to watch the stream.
What does the future hold for In-Play betting?
Perhaps the most exciting thing for in-play betting enthusiasts is that this is very much still a relatively new industry and as technology and software is updated and improved, there is the high probability that the in-play betting industry will continue to grow, offer new markets and new sports to bet on and perhaps even better value odds, long into the future.
Further advancements could see punters able to formulate their own betting market, with the odds calculated by the software so punters could place exactly the bet they want immediately.
The sky truly is the limit in the in-play betting industry and it looks to have a very bright future indeed.
Although that isn't necessarily the case in one particular part of the world. In Australia, live betting laws forbid bets being made on an event after it has begun, unless the bet is made via the phone, or in person. Not very "live" is it?
What does this mean for in-play betting in Australia? Let's find out.
In-Play Betting Worldwide - The Situation in Australia
Australia's current laws on live betting mean that betting in-play on events as customers in the UK can do as outlined above, is impossible. It is not legal to log into your sports betting account and place a bet online when an event is in progress in Australia.
If a company did offer that to customers, then it could face a fine of $1.2m per day.
Currently, the situation in Australia is somewhat mixed. There are a number of bookmakers, ostensibly those that have strong in-play betting markets based elsewhere in the world, such as Paddy Power and William Hill, that are strongly pushing for Australian legislators to legalise live betting so that it includes live betting via mobile.
These companies have been backed in their campaign by a minister for the Northern Territory. They argue that by not offering in-play services to Australian citizens, the government risks losing up to around $100m a year in taxable revenue as Australian punters move to place their in-play bets with companies operating outside of Australia.
On the other hand, other established bookmaking companies in the already crowded Australian betting industry, argue that allowing live betting would likely cause more harm than good to the industry. Tatts Group, for example, argue that there is "scant evidence Australians have embraced the [In Play] betting method by pouring money into illicit offshore websites".
In essence, what we have in Australia now is akin to a betting industry civil war, with the UK-based companies seeking to establish a big presence in the Australian betting industry, and backed by the Northern Territory, by seeking to remove what they perceive as outdated legislation regarding online live betting. Whereas companies that have been within the Australian betting system from the outset, as well as many important individuals within the government, feel that opening the system to allow live betting could do more harm than good.
This came to a head recently when William Hill announced that they were going to offer their customers a "Click to Call" internet phone call service, that they claim is entirely legal in Australia, to offer in-play betting on sports events to Australian customers.
Australian in-play betting via your microphone - it's genious!
With this new service, William Hill and Sportsbet customers will use their Internet connection to place a ‘call' to the bookie and place a bet, in-play, in-running, live, whatever you want to call it, cleverly using their smartphone or tablet microphone and not even have to talk to the customer service representative.
William Hill's backers feel that since the customer is calling the company to place an in-play bet, although it is using Internet-based technology (similar to Skype) to do so, it is in effect the same as a traditional telephone call and thus, perfectly legal in Australia.
However, its opponents such as Tabcorp and Tatts, dispute this, arguing that it is simply a different method to placing a bet online, which is deemed illegal in Australia.
There are those that believe that William Hill have "openly flouted" the law in Australia and that British companies aggressively pursuing the removal of the restraints on in-play betting are doing so for profit-motives only, not for the benefit of the Australian punter or for the benefit of the industry within Australia as a whole.
As a result, the Australian Government faces a tricky situation when it comes to review the Internet Gambling Act and decide whether it is going to allow unrestricted live betting, or to keep what it believes are safeguards in place to protect the industry and customers.
It is a decision which is vital they get right to secure the future of the Australian gambling industry, which has been in something of a decline in recent times with most companies reporting a significant drop in profits.
Get it wrong and more companies could follow the example of Betfred, who withdrew from the Australian market after just seven months trading citing it was an already overpopulated market.
In-play betting could reinvigorate the industry by allowing companies to offer a new method of betting, but is the legislation a gamble that the Australian Government is willing to take?
Is a resolution in sight for Australian live betting fans?
In truth, there could be, or there may not be. It all depends on what the federal government conclude when they finish their review of the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act.
The fierce lobbying of the government from both sides of the in-play debate have cast long shadows over the whole process. However, what is certainly true is that in the 15 years since the initial Act was passed, some of the legislation contained therein, is now outdated and in drastic need of an update so that companies are absolutely clear about what is, and what is not allowed in terms of in-play betting.
At the very least, sports betting companies operating in Australia should expect greater clarity as to the rules regarding in-play betting, but whether one side will get exactly what they want, remains as elusive and confusing as ever.