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Should Australians Bet on Trains?

As we’ve talked about in the past, one of the big issues facing Australian bookmakers in the future is the integrity of the events people are betting on. Betting on the winners of major sporting events? This generally is not considered a problem, since match-fixing on that level would be extremely expensive for those who might want to put a result in their favour, not to mention dangerous for the players or officials involved – and even if a plot were put into place, there’s no certainly of success. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but rather that the combination of safeguards that are in place, the difficulty of the act and other factors make such scandals more likely to be uncovered before they happen.

But smaller events have recently come under more scrutiny in Australia. Many officials have expressed a desire to ban or limit gambling on local and regional football leagues, as these leagues have fewer resources available to protect the integrity of their games. Meanwhile, others have questioned just how far Australia should go in allowing “micro-betting,” including bets on the results of individual balls in cricket, or a single point in tennis. Some say these are the kinds of events a player could be persuaded to fix even without throwing an entire match, and it would be nearly impossible to detect. That’s why when reforms are expected to allow in-play betting at online bookmakers, these sorts of bets still won’t be allowed.

Wagering of this type isn’t limited to sports, however. For many years, betting on political or entertainment events has been a popular pastime, though few punters choose to bet more than a dollar or two on such things. Now, a new form of micro-wagering is starting in two Australian cities: betting on the classic dilemma of whether or not your train will arrive on time.

The Dangers of Manipulation

Some transport ministers have expressed concerns over such bets, however. They fear that a gambler who desperately wants to win a bet might take steps to deliberately delay trains in order to hit an under bet. Bettors might even work in groups to create situations that work to their advantage; this might even happen without any conscious efforts by the punters to coordinate their efforts, as hundreds of people do various small things to add seconds here and there to train times.

Speaking to ABC Radio’s PM, Victoria’s Minister for Gaming Michael O’Brien said there should be regulations to prevent such betting.

There’s a prospect that if there was sufficient money at stake, people might be encouraged to undertake activities that could affect the punctuality of trains,” O’Brien said.

As always, perception is an important issue, too. Some have pointed out that even if nobody is actually doing anything to slow down the trains, the fact that money rides on the outcome could lead many to question whether gamblers were actually having an effect on train punctuality. Train operator employees in Melbourne have already been banned from wagering on train punctuality in part because of this perception.

The problem would be greatest when the on-time figure was close to the target. In the example we mentioned earlier, the target was only beaten by 0.2%. Punters would only have to find a way to delay 200 trains across the course of the month in order to win their under wagers.

Defending Their Bets

Indeed, these are the same protections often used by bookmakers on political wagering, so called micro-betting in sports, and any other event in which it wouldn’t be difficult for punters to find a way to influence the outcome. By limiting the size of bets, the incentive to try and win at all costs is also limited. After all, it’s hard to imagine anything a person might have to do to hold up hundreds of trains being worth winning a $10 bet. Instead, these bets are simply a way to get casual bettors in the door by giving them something entertaining to wager on, as well as a clever way of making headlines for Sportsbet.

In the end, nobody wants to see punters slowing down trains or convincing a bowler to bowl one wide just to win a bet. But as long as proper limits are put in place, betting on whether the trains come on time should be a harmless way for bettors to vent their frustrations about public transit – a popular activity throughout the entire world.