GBGC CEO Warwick Bartlett gives a global overview of the growth of in-play and explains its prominence in sports betting today

In-play betting has been the key innovation within internet sports betting over the last decade. In-play betting taps into the gambler’s inherent wish to be able to bet when they believe they can see how events will unfold (rather than having to make a guess before the event has started) and can get one over on their bookmaker.
There is certainly an element of truth to this gambler’s belief about in-play betting which is borne out by the fact that the gross win margin for in-play betting is generally lower than that for pre-match sports betting. During last summer’s World Cup, for example, Unibet achieved a pre-match margin of 20.7% compared to a much lower margin of just 6.7% for in-play betting across the tournament. 

Working the system 

But whilst it might be a lower margin form of betting, the fact that in-play encourages a high churn of winnings means that it has become an essential service in any sportsbook’s portfolio. Just look at the recent efforts by both William Hill and Ladbrokes in Australia to get around the current ban on in-play betting. Both bookmakers’ ploys have their roots in the ‘old-fashioned’ phone call. William Hill’s click to call uses a mobile phone’s microphone combined with voice recognition technology to allow customers to place in-play bets, whilst Ladbrokes’ QuickCall feature ‘digitally synthesises’ a customer’s voice to place a bet.
The legality of these workarounds has yet to be established and seems certain to be challenged. But it is entirely understandable why operators want to try them out as a way of offering their customers in-play betting when you consider the size of the market involved. 

GBGC calculates that the global in-play sports betting sector was worth US$6.83bn in gross win in 2014, an increase of nearly 84% on the previous World Cup year of 2010. By the time of the next World Cup year, 2018, GBGC forecasts that global in-play sports betting will be worth $8.51bn. At that point, in-play betting will account for 35% of global internet sports betting. Europe and Asia will account for the vast majority of this market because regions like North America and Oceania do not currently pull their weight when it comes to the development of in-play betting as a share of their overall internet betting markets, mainly for regulatory reasons rather than a lack of demand from gamblers. Of course, the 2018 forecast figure will be higher if Australia, with an existing internet betting sector of more than $ 1.2bn, makes any moves to rescind its ban on in-play betting in the intervening years. 

The need for sports data 

One of the factors that has enabled the growth of in-play betting has been the ability to collect and disseminate both sports data and odds quickly. In-play betting’s reliance on sports data could be one of its weaknesses in the coming years. The prospect of ‘betting rights’ and sports organisations demanding fees in exchange for data rights could further hit the profitability of in-play betting, which is already a relatively low-margin product. The recent financial results from Q1 2015 show the operators’ profitability being hit by increasing taxes (including VAT), compliance costs and marketing expenses. They can ill afford the burden of another form of “tax” on a growth area like in-play betting.

This article first appeared in eGaming Review Issue 133 (June 2015)