Hold the phone! Bookmakers use fake phone calls to dodge the law

Bookmaker William Hill is asking Australian punters to pretend to make phone calls, to get around laws prohibiting in-play betting on the internet.

In-play betting involves bets being placed on a sporting event after play has begun. In Australia, in-play betting is legal in person or over the phone, but is prohibited over the internet, and that includes smartphones.

The rationale behind this restriction is to slow down the betting rate and provide some form of human interaction in the process. Online in-play betting has the potential to allow a huge volume of bets to be placed in a short period of time; some have dubbed the practice the poker machine of sports betting.

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Australian bookmakers have long tried to have this restriction relaxed or removed altogether, with no success. But earlier this year, William Hill and their subsidiary Tom Waterhouse rolled out a new live betting option called “Click To Call”. They believe they’ve finally found a way around the restriction and they’re pushing it for all it’s worth.

The method is simple: if in-play betting is legal via a phone call, then why not incorporate a phone call into the process… or at least, pretend to. William Hill argues that by enabling a microphone from your computer browser, or using their smartphone betting app which automatically places a call when you place a bet, they’re satisfying the “phone call” requirement and the bet can be placed.

Never mind that the microphone doesn’t actually have to be turned on, or that you don’t actually have to say anything when your smartphone places that call. It’s all about the perception.

William Hill aren’t alone in this. Ladbrokes and Bet365 rolled out similar “innovations” earlier this year as well. But when someone lodged a complaint with ACMA, both Ladbrokes and Bet365 suddenly changed their tune. Bet365 introduced a voice component to their fake phone call process, slowing it down considerably. And Ladbrokes scrapped theirs altogether.

ACMA then passed the complaint on to the Australian Federal Police; because William Hill’s website is hosted in Australia (whereas Bet365 and Ladbrokes are hosted in Britain), they fall under the AFP’s jurisdiction. Their investigation continues.

But William Hill is persevering. More than that, their Australian CEO Tom Waterhouse (yes, he works for them now) recently gave this interview to the Daily Telegraph where he talked up the new technology, saying that he knew they were on to a good thing.

“The product is obviously legal and we’re 100 per cent confident,” Waterhouse was quoted as saying.

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And that’s interesting, because this whole strategy seems predicated on the ability of your computer or smart phone to make a phone call as part of the betting process. Without the phone call, it’s illegal.

And that’s where William Hill and Tom Waterhouse have slipped up.

I downloaded the William Hill betting app to my android smartphone. Here is the list of permissions the app requires:

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And here, for the purpose of comparison, is the list of permissions required by the 13Cabs app:

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There’s one thing the 13Cabs app asks for, right up front, that the William Hill app completely ignores, and that’s the ability to make phone calls.

The William Hill app can NOT place a phone call. It pretends to; it even says it’s dialling and then that the call is connected. But it does NOT have the ability to do so.

Even more blatant are the instructions on the William Hill website for setting up your browser to mimic making a phone call. Right at the start, they tell you this:

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The William Hill website advises you to plug your headphones into the microphone jack, to fool the browser into thinking there’s a microphone connected. It’s obviously impossible to make a phone call with headphones instead of a microphone… just is it’s completely impossible for the bookmaker to know that a microphone is actually connected.

Without a phone call component, William Hill’s “Click To Call” in-play betting feature is patently illegal. It only remains for the AFP to come to the same conclusion.

One thought on “Hold the phone! Bookmakers use fake phone calls to dodge the law

  • August 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm
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    In play betting should be banned outright. It makes cheating much easier and more probable. Sportsbetting itself will corrupt sport; it is only a matter of time. Many years ago one sportsman wrote:
    “I could fill pages of races I have taken part in and athletics meetings I have attended, but if you want my experience of the honesty or other wise of persons competing and taking part in these sports. Well, my opinion is, and I may say it is perfectly plain to be seen by any one who likes to look, that wherever there are betting men and bookmakers at athletic meetings then the running is dishonest. … There is not one quarter of the so-called amateur athletes who try to win… Finally, my opinion – and, as I have already said, I have had twenty-three years’ experience, is that the whole system is rotten. The same system applies in cycle racing, only more so.”

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