Off the Wall

The Federal Court is expected to issue a decision this week that may have far reaching consequences for rugby league - even though the decision itself will relate solely to the racing industry.

Online betting on rugby league is escalating - accompanied by quite an extraordinary level of sponsorship of league teams, and adverting on radio and television broadcasts of NRL matches.

That is why the NRL should be watching carefully the Federal Court decision on the right of the racing industry to decide the fee paid by corporate bookmakers (including on line betting agencies).

The racing industry extracts substantial revenue from the TAB, and on course bookmakers.

Basically racing prize money comes from the TAB distribution. But corporate/online bookmakers are generally based in the NT, or Tasmania, where they are out of the reach of state governments, and the racing industry, desperate to gain product fees from them.

Online betting agencies that operate on horse racing also generally operate on NRL matches. Rugby league, and to a lesser extent, the AFL, is the big growth area when it comes to sports betting.

But that is where it gets interesting - the two major TAB operations, UNITAB and TABCORP, also run sports betting operations - online, by phone and pub/club/agency betting.

While UNITAB and TABCORP hope Racing NSW (the statutory body controlling racing) wins the court case and is allowed to charge fees for information on race fields etc (i.e. for betting on racing events) they will equally be concerned if a positive judgement leads to sporting bodies gaining higher, and defined, fees as well.

If the court gives the racing industry the right to charge Betfair etc a fee based on turnover then surely the NRL/AFL etc will have to consider demanding a similar arrangement?

At present financial support for rugby league as a result of betting on matches seems to be confined to a modest product fee, and sponsorship arrangements. Individual clubs have agreements with betting agencies under which they get a commission or a fee for clubs members and fans who they sign up.

If we are going to have to put up with betting agencies featuring on game telecasts and broadcasts, and commentary, as well as on players gear, we might as well get a fair return from it for the game.

I am not a lawyer, but if racing is allowed to charge a fee based on turnover, then surely other sports can do so as well?

The proliferation of betting on NRL matches, and the growing involvement of agencies in sponsorship, advertising etc, is not without its problems, and challenges.

Clubs have rushed headlong into deals with betting agencies, but the question remains, have they sold themselves, and the game short?

And are they relying too much on an area governments are inevitably going to target, as are anti-gambling lobby groups?

If we are to put up with the risks associated with gambling on rugby league - and the risk of player involvement in betting on matches - we deserve to get the same level of product fee etc the racing industry is seeking.

If anyone thinks that betting on NRL matches has not grown enormously, if not out of control, then go online to the TAB owned operations and look at the number of betting options that are available on tonight's Storm v Sea Eagles match!

If the racing industry has a win over the corporate betting agencies this week, rugby league needs to waste no time getting in the queue for a bigger slice of the action as well!