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THERE are three constants in life.
Death, taxes and upheaval within the Australian online bookmaker industry.
In a fertile land populated with citizens that gamble more per-person than any other country on the planet, Australia has attracted the world’s biggest bookmaker companies, all vying for a slice of the very juicy pie.
At the onset of the internet in the 90s, gambling began its evolution from something Australians could only do after filling out betting cards in pubs and dedicated outlets to something they could partake in from the couch at home.
When little-known Australian Matthew Tripp purchased a Darwin-based company called Sportsbet, he convinced the Northern Territory Government to grant him a bookmaker license.
When Sportsbet found its footing online three years later, an industry was born.
In this guide, we are going to take a look through the checkered history of all the wheelings and dealings within the online bookmaker industry.
Want to know more about all of the big bookie merges, sales, changes and startups that have made the industry what it is today?
Let’s take a look through our past in a detailed timeline of the events that mattered.
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As of May 26, 2019, sign up bonuses at Australian betting sites are banned, with the Government clamping down on what bookies offer the public, with many claiming bonus offers encourage problem gambling.
These new rules fall under the National Gambling Framework which was implemented following a review of the Interactive Gambling Act in Australia, which is the legislation that governs Australian gambling.
While many online bookmakers still have some promotions available to customers, these usually are only available, barring a few exceptions, to existing account holders only.
See ya later UBET, we hardly knew ye.
A little over a year after the multi-billion-dollar merger between Tatts Group and Tabcorp, the Tatts’ retail sporting brand, UBET, has been one of the first casualties of the move.
The struggling UBET brand, which was established in 2015, had more than 1300 venues across South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
As of March in 2019, all UBET branding across the country will be replaced by Tabcorp’s flagship betting brand, the TAB, while UBET’s online customer base will officially be turned over to TAB’s online database after the 2019 spring carnival.
A little over 12 months after it hit the scene, the brainchild of Australian bookmaker entrepreneur Dean Shannon, Neds.com.au, was sold to GVC Holdings, the parent company of Ladbrokes.com.au, for an initial total of $68 million.
The deal marked the second time Shannon, the Executive chairman of Neds, had established an online bookmaker to sell to GVC Holdings after doing so in 2013 with Bookmaker.com.au.
As of November 23, no decision had been made on the future of the Neds brand, but Kenneth Alexander, the CEO of GVC Holdings, intimated his new acquisition would continue on as is at least in the short term
“Neds is an exciting business, with talented people and enables us to further grow market share through two differentiated brands,” Alexander said.
After being purchased by Canadian giant The Stars Group, CrownBet and WilliamHill Australia were officially merged together under the BetEasy brand in July.
The announcement came after Sportsbet took legal action to stop the company from using Sportingbet as the new brand and succeeding in blocking the move.
BetEasy was the original brand used by its founder, Matthew Tripp, before he sold a share in the company to Crown Resorts and re-branded to CrownBet.
It was the sale that the industry saw coming for a long time.
Crown Resorts, riddled with controversy and problems over the last 24 months, officially sold CrownBet to Canadian gambling giant, The Stars Group.
The move was mooted months before the sale was complete, when Crown Resorts sold its stake back to Matthew Tripp, who then sourced out The Stars Group as a new investor.
While its intentions to marry CrownBet with its casinos across the country was promising, Crown Resorts failed to make the investment work. While not official, it’s believed that the Supreme Court’s rejection of CrownBet’s digital deal with Clubs NSW in October, 2017, was the final nail in the coffin.
For the sum of $10 million, TopBetta announced in June, 2018 that it had purchased DyanmicOdds — a growing data-feed company.
Topbetta CEO Todd Buckingham said the acquisition would help his company continue to grow in the ever-changing landscape of online sports betting.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to continue to develop and enhance the current technology stack that helps punters make bets, and bookmakers take bets,” Mr Buckingham said.
In April, as CrownBet was shedding it’s weight on the back of its sale to The Stars Group, DraftStars was sold to PlayUp.
DraftStars was CrownBet’s innovation, based off the success of US Daily Fantasy Sports companies like FanDuel and DraftKings.
Down goes Luxbet.
After a comprehensive review of its online products following the big merger with Tatts, Tabcorp made the call to pull the website, which was struggling to turn a profit and compete with the bigger players in the industry.
“The review has determined that Luxbet is no longer aligned with the long-term strategic interests of Tabcorp and as a result, Luxbet will be closed,” a statement on the Luxbet website said.
This was a big one.
After months of bitter battles in the highest courts in Australia, an $11 billion merger between Tabcorp and Tatts finally got the green light.
The Australian Competition Tribunal re-reviewed the deal after the Federal Court ruled the watchdog had erred in three areas of its initial judgement earlier in the year.
The merger was fought every step of the way by CrownBet and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which both appealed the Competition Tribunal’s original decision to approve the merger, on the grounds that the merger would create an unhealthy dominance in the market.
In October, 2017, the Australian bookmaker industry was shaken by the introduction of Neds.com.au.
The brainchild of Dean Shannon — the man behind Ladbrokes.com.au and Bookmaker.com.au — Neds hit the scene in the weeks before the Melbourne Spring Carnival, promising a revolutionised betting service.
Despite technical issues in its opening weeks on some of the big Spring Carnival race days, Neds found its groove quickly amid a big marketing and advertising investment and successfully earned a significant share of the Australian online betting market.
In April 2017, TopBetta swooped on Aussie bookmaker, MadBookie.
The Sydney-based TopBetta announced that it would continue to run both online books separately.
Given MadBookie had a database of over 15,000 members and established a turnover of over $80 million per annum, TopBetta CEO Todd Buckingham was bullish about his company’s investment.
“To acquire a ready-made, active database like Mad Bookie’s under this arrangement makes a lot of sense in an industry that has high customer acquisition costs, and we will certainly be on the lookout for similar deals should they arise in the future, both here in Australia and Internationally,” he said.
In a rather strange series of circumstances, William Hill Australia announced early in 2017 that it had re-launched Centrebet.com as a premium service.
After the domain had mysteriously re-appeared back on the internet, punters took notice and WilliamHill made the announcement a fortnight later, saying that Centrebet.com would now “offer punters the highest available limits on Australian metropolitan horse racing and major sporting events, as well as a guarantee to provide the best fixed odds available.”
The re-emergence would not last long. Centrebet was closed yet again in 2018 when The Stars Group purchased William Hill Australia and its properties, sending its players to BetEasy.
After making a series of purchases throughout the preceding 24 months, WilliamHill finally announced its ultimate plan — dumping brands Sportingbet, Centrebet and TomWaterhouse and migrating all players under the global WilliamHill brand.
The move was staggered out throughout the year:
Upon announcing the decision for the mass migration in January, 2015, WilliamHill Australia CEO, Tom Waterhouse, said it would give the bookmaker more flexibility to work closer with global racing and sporting bodies.
“The change to William Hill will give us a recognised and respected international brand with which to compete at the highest level in Australia’s competitive market,” Waterhouse said.
“William Hill Australia has completed a significant improvement phase over the last 18 months.”
After diminishing returns and an ever-increasing and consolidated marketplace, UK gambling giant Paddy Power made the move to shut down its IASbet.com brand in Australia, migrating players to Sportsbet.com.au.
IASbet.com was bought out by Paddy Power in 2009 during the company’s excursion into the Australian online bookmaker market. After purchasing Sportsbet just weeks prior, Paddy Power purchased International All Sports for $40 million.
IASbet was established by Aussie bookmaker icon Mark Read and was one of the country’s fastest-growing brands at the time of the takeover.
ANOTHER betting firm that duped Australians out of plenty of money was Canbet, which had global links all over the world, with its Australian business having an office in Melbourne. It also had two Australian directors Peter Lord and Graeme White.
The company was licensed by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission, with the Victorian regulator at the telling this scribe that they had no jurisdiction over Canbet.
Ultimately, while never confirmed, it is believed Australians lost in excess of $1 million AUD to the company, which was also being found to offer unauthorised bets on Australian horse racing and greyhound racing without approval.
The Interactive Gaming and Sports Group was the official owners of Canbet until its Australian-houdini act in the first half of 2014.
Matthew Tripp, the former head of Sportsbet, reappeared from his contractually-obliged exodus from the bookmaker industry to buy Betezy.com.au for a reported $10 million.
The Betezy brand had endured a turbulent past, including an investigation by the Australian Tax Office.
Soon after the purchase, BetEzy was changed to BetEasy.com.au and the developments came thick and fast from there:
Want to know what happened to CrownBet? Scroll back up this page.
The curious case of BetEzy, which became BetEasy, which became CrownBet, which eventually became BetEasy again, is the perfect example of the turbulence seen within the Australian bookmaker industry.
Ladbrokes, one of the UK’s (and the world’s) biggest gambling brands, made its long-anticipated push into the Australian market in 2013 after paying $22.5 million for Bookmaker.com.au and Panda Gaming — both owned by Dean Shannon.
Ladbrokes, the oldest sports betting company in the UK, had taken its time in reaching Australian shores, but on the back of Paddy Power and WilliamHill’s success, muscled its own way in.
A few months after purchasing Sportingbet, WilliamHill completed its Australian sweep with the purchase of TomWaterhouse.com.
The initial deal was worth $34 million, but Waterhouse was promised a secondary payment of $70 million if performance marks were reached. They were.
William Hill CEO Ralph Topping and his team had been in fierce negotiations with Waterhouse, who initially wanted $100 million up front in the sale.
“I’m impressed by Tom Waterhouse and his team who are passionate and entrepreneurial,” he said.
So impressed was Topping that Waterhouse was eventually signed on as a major part of the deal himself, becoming CEO of WilliamHill Australia.
The big boys were coming out to play.
In March of 2013, William Hill completed their acquisition of Sportingbet, paying a hefty $660 million price tag.
The move shook the Australian bookmaker industry to its core and solidified the UK takeover of the market.
William Hill CEO at the time, Ralph Topping said the time was right for his company to make a mark in one largest licensed betting markets in the world
“The Sportingbet Australian business offers us a well-recognised brand, an experienced team and a market-leading position in a highly competitive market,” he said.
Sportingbet’s CEO Michael Sullivan assured punters “there will certainly be no change for our clients, who will continue to be offered the huge range of markets and service that they have become accustomed to”.
Sports Alive is barely remembered in the Australian gambling scene, but you would recall they were the company vowing to take on big punters.
The corporate bookie was licensed by the ACT Gambling Commission, before going bust in 2011.
How did Sports Alive get into financial troubles? Well it must have been going on for a while before the public were made aware of it, because it first came to the regulators attention when it was found the company was not keeping punters’ money in a segregated account, instead those funds were being used for the general creditors of the company.
It was eventually found the company defrauded Aussies out of $3.7 million and traded for over two years while insolvent. Complicating this situation even further was that state-owned Tote Tasmania had a $5 million investment into the company.
The Melbourne-based betting company eventually closed its doors on August 25, 2011, with the timing leaving many bettors who had futures bets placed on the AFL and NRL winners with the company out of pocket.
In an effort to become the biggest betting provider in Australia, Sportingbet made an ambitious move and purchased rival bookmaker Centrebet for $183 million.
Andrew McIver, the then CEO of Sportingbet, said the purchase was a key component of its plan to establish itself in the market.
“This acquisition is a major step forward as it accelerates the group’s strategy of increasing its exposure to regulated markets and of geographic diversification,” McIver said.
“We will become the leading corporate bookmaker in the fast-growing Australian market.”
18 months after it purchased 61% of Sportsbet, Paddy Power knew it was on to a winner and paid $132.6 million for the rest of the company.
The deal capped off one of the most amazing stories in the history of the Australian online bookmaker industry after Sportsbet went from bankrupt to being worth $338 million in the space of six years.
The deal was finalised and the buy-out was complete in February, 2011.
Patrick Kennedy, the then CEO of Paddy Power, described Sportsbet as “a cracking business”.
“The team has made great strides in marrying the best of both Sportsbet and Paddy Power,” he said.
“This is a good deal to acquire the remaining shares early, which will allow us to drive development and investment and secure full participation in the upside of the business.”
The final deal was reported to have netted Tripp $50 million, while other key investors were also made into multi-millionaires.
Tripp was forced to see out an industry-exodus in a non-compete clause.
One has to sit back and wonder about those poor souls who sold Sportsbet in the first place.
Seven years after the sale went through, Matthew Tripp’s product is still a success as Sportsbet continues to be a leader in this industry.
The original — and probably still the most successful — UK invasion of the Australian bookmaker industry took place in 2011 when Paddy Power made its presence felt in the burgeoning market with the purchase of Sportsbet.com.au.
The Irish betting giant initially acquired a 61 per cent stake in the bookmaker worth $200 million over three years.
At the time of the sale, Sportsbet had more than 260,000 registered members and with Matthew Tripp at the helm, was leading the charge in the corporate online bookmaker takeover of the industry.
Sportsbet’s then CEO, Tripp, said he was pleased with the Irish takeover because it gave the company greater access to international events.
“This is a great opportunity for our valued customers,” Mr Tripp said.
“Now our members will access a broader range of products, including more bet types on more sports.”
The 51% stake was only the beginning of the story.
While the story of Australian bookmakers begins long before this date, the first purchase of Sportsbet is the spiritual beginning of the topsy-turvy industry we know today.
In 2005, a Darwin-based bookmaker known as Sportsbet was struggling.
The company was on the edge of bankruptcy, had eight staff and was struggling to pay the bills and keep its debtors at bay.
In stepped a 31-year-old Matthew Tripp.
With $250,000, Tripp purchased Sportsbet and went about re-shaping the company.
“We had one IT guy and a couple of phone operators and that was Sportsbet,” Tripp once said of the business he took over.
Six years later, everything changed.