It will be interesting to see how long it takes the
National Rugby League to sign an agreement with Betfair to secure the same
deal the AFL announced this week. There will be some who criticise the AFL’s decision,
but it represents a practical response to the reality of sports betting in
Australia today.

Betfair is here to stay, regardless of whether or not
the Tasmanian Government grants Betfair a licence to operate. It
already has a substantial betting turnover on horse racing and sports events in
Australia and if you doubt that
look up their website on a Saturday afternoon.

Indeed, during the week its “holds” more than match those
of the NSW, Victorian and Queensland TAB’s and its
sports betting business has witnessed sustained growth this
year. It is also backed by the Packer-controlled PBL, which has
taken equity in its Australian operations.

The AFL has not only bowed to reality, it has taken a
sensible approach to protecting the integrity of the game – and securing much
needed revenue – as far as it is possible to do so. The NRL and other major sports bodies,
such as Cricket Australia and Football Federation Australia, will surely follow soon.

The real advantage the AFL has gained from the agreement
with Betfair is full control over its “intellectual
property” and the right to determine what type of betting products
Betfair offers on AFL matches, which I believe is the best aspect of the
agreement. There are some forms of betting that have the potential for
manipulation. The agreement will allow the AFL to limit the possibility
of that happening. It also gets the right to access information about
betting trends.

In addition, the AFL has been guaranteed an annual
licence fee from Betfair. Until this agreement, and one
reached with TAB Sportsbet, revenue from betting on
AFL matches was a pittance.

I have some reservations about betting on
football matches, but that’s a debate opponents lost a long time ago. It’s
here to stay.

It’s interesting that the AFL, and not the NRL, was the
first to reach an agreement with Betfair and that PBL was clearly a key
player in the agreement being reached. Is that a forerunner to PBL and the Nine Network
retaining at least a share of the AFL television rights when they are determined
in the near future?