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Why Did William Hill Leave Australia?

Update: 23rd Septemeber 2012

It seems that this move could have been because William Hill are considering a takeover of Sportingbet. Read The Guardian’s article for more information.

If you enjoy betting on sports, it’s almost certain that you’ve heard of William Hill. The London-based company is one of the oldest and largest bookmakers in the world. Founded in 1934, they obviously weren’t originally an online company, but they have been offering online sports wagering and other internet gaming products for several years now.

As a part of that effort, William Hill was happy to accept bets from punters in Australia on a variety of worldwide sports. But just last week, William Hill suddenly withdrew their sports betting services from Australia with little notice to their players.

Please be advised that we have taken the decision to withdraw our sports betting service for any customer registered in Australia,” said an email to Australian players from William Hill.

On a basic level, William Hill’s decision may just be seen as a way of complying with Australian law. As we’ve mentioned several times on this site, the Interactive Gaming Act of 2001 doesn’t affect your rights as an Australian to gamble online with any site you choose, whether or not they are based in Australia. However, the IGA does prohibit foreign companies from offering online gambling services to Australians. Granted, this law has been roundly ignored by foreign companies – but some do conform to it, and William Hill is now one of those firms choosing to do so.

But that still leaves the question of why William Hill would choose to withdraw from the Australian market just now. While the fines for violating the IGA can be quite steep for “illegal” operators – up to $1.1 million per day, in the most extreme cases – Australia has never even attempted to prosecute a company for violating the law. So why would William Hill now decide that Australian customers weren’t worth breaking local regulations?

The Nevada Connection

The answer might lie across the Pacific Ocean, in the United States of America. As you may already know, many states in the USA have been working to regulate online poker (and possibly other online casino games), but only one state has so far succeeded in passing such laws: Nevada, the state that is home to Las Vegas.

Nevada has just now begun the licensing process for companies that wish to take part in their online poker marketplace, which would (at least initially) only include those residing in the state. However, since many believe that state-by-state regulation in the USA could expand in the coming years, Nevada is also being seen by some as a gateway into the American market.

Not surprisingly, it’s a market that William Hill would like to have a foothold in. The company is one of dozens that have applied for licenses in Nevada. However, regulators there are believed to be more inclined to grant licenses to those companies that have not violated US laws in the past – or at least those who have shown a willingness to follow the law when they were made aware that they were breaking it. Regulators have also taken a look at how well companies have followed legal codes internationally.

For William Hill, the answers to those questions weren’t likely to be entirely satisfactory to the state of Nevada. William Hill had previously operated in the United States until 2006; while it was uncertain whether online poker or casino games were illegal, sports betting certainly was, due to a 1961 law known as the Wire Act.

How does this relate to Australia? Well, while William Hill’s previous operations in the USA weren’t a positive in the eyes of regulators in Nevada, they weren’t a critical blow to William Hill’s chances either, especially since the company had left the USA once laws became less ambiguous. But continued good behaviour would help them secure a license – and William Hill may well have felt that leaving the Australian market would show that they’re serious about playing by the rules.

Impact on Australian Gamblers

While this story is certainly interesting and complex, the affect it will have on Australian punters is quite minimal. It’s unlikely that many other foreign operators will follow suit, and there are several licensed operators in Australia offering sports wagering as well.

In fact, the only people this should affect at all are those who had accounts on William Hill. If that’s the situation you’ve found yourself in, you’ll still be able to withdraw your account balance, and we can suggest a number of other reputable online bookmakers for you to make bets with, including Sportingbet, Centrebet and Sportsbet.