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William Hill shuts down Australian betting website

5 Jun 2012

By Chris Sieroty
British bookmaker William Hill plc has shut down its online sports wagering business in Australia, likely to protect its pending application for a Nevada Gaming license.

The London-based company was unavailable for comment Monday, but in an e-mail to customers reported by Australia's Sports Book Review, William Hill said, "Please be advised that we have taken the decision to withdraw our sports betting service for any customer registered in Australia" and asked its Australian customers to request account withdrawals from the cashier through the "My Account" section of the website.

Australia's Interactive Gaming Act of 2001 makes it illegal for any company to provide casino and poker games to Australian residents. Violators can be penalized with fines up to $1.1 million a day. No company has ever been tried for violating the Australian law, but William Hill's decision to pull out of a jurisdiction where it's not in full compliance with local gaming laws comes as the Nevada Gaming Control Board prepares for an initial hearing Wednesday on the company's purchase of three Nevada sportsbook operators.

David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said pulling out of Australia might very well be connected with the company's desire to do business in Nevada, where failure to comply with laws elsewhere could jeopardize a license.

"Clearly this is a priority for them, Nevada," Schwartz said.

The gaming company spent more than $53 million in 2011 to acquire American Wagering Inc., parent of Leroy's Horse & Sports Place, Brandywine Bookmaking LLC, parent of Lucky's sportsbooks, both in Las Vegas, and also Club Cal Neva Satellite Race and Sportsbook division in Northern Nevada.

In April, The Guardian newspaper in London reported William Hill's application could be delayed due in part to concerns over the company's joint venture with Israeli-based Playtech, whose founder Teddy Sagi spent nine months in jail for bribery and fraud in 1996.

In a recent conference call, William Hill CEO Ralph Topping acknowledged Nevada gaming regulators have expressed an interest in its relationship with Playtech, and required the Israeli company to provide more information.

If recommended by the three-member Gaming Control Board, the Nevada Gaming Commission would discuss William Hill's gaming license application on June 21.

Sports betting continues to be popular in Nevada, which is the only state with legal sportsbooks allowing gamblers to bet on a full range of events and leagues, from the National Football League to the Barclay's Premier League.

Nevada's casino visitors bet more than $2.8 billion on sports last year, the largest amount in the last five years. Gross gaming revenue totaled $140.7 million in 2011, or 4.9 percent of the amount wagered.

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