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IBAS marks 10 years as it looks for future funding - Betting Business November - Saturday 1st November 2008

Intervening between aggrieved punters and annoyed bookmakers sounds like a thankless task, but IBAS has been doing it for ten years now. Simon Banks reports.

The Independent Betting Arbitration Service (IBAS) is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month. Formerly part of the Sporting Life’s Green Seal service, IBAS is now a fully independent company, limited by guarantee.

IBAS chief executive Chris O’Keeffe told Betting Business how the service has changed from those early days and said that IBAS was busier than ever, but that did not necessarily mean that there were more disputes. He explained: “Bookmakers display our logo on their advertising so I think punters are more aware of us now, also there has been a massive increase in betting turnover so it is hardly surprising that we are receiving record referrals.”

O’Keeffe added: “Last year we had 3,500 requests to arbitrate, but only ruled on 2,000. Many of the enquiries were frivolous but the main reason we reject cases is because punters have not fully utilised the bookmaker’s own dispute resolution process.”

O’Keeffe emphasises that IBAS should be a last resort before legal action: “Since the Gambling Act came into force gambling has been bought into contract law and gambling debts are now recoverable by law, so disputes could end up in court. We exist to try and make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Football is now the sport which generates the most disputes, in particular in running and online. In 2007 football accounted for 34 per cent of complaints, compared to 29 per cent for horse racing. In 2004 online betting accounted for just 8 per cent of disputes while last year that figure had grown to 22 per cent.

“More detailed analysis reveals that betting in running is the most disputed matter. Betting in running is by its nature a high-risk transaction in a fast-moving environment, where settlement can be contentious, and speed of bet acceptance and independent validation are critical. Offering adjudication in this category is one of the new challenges facing IBAS.”

O’Keeffe believes that prevention is better than a cure when it comes to betting disputes: “We have campaigns before major sporting events like the World Cup or the European football championships in order to try and educate punters and operators so that we can minimise the number of disputes that arise.”

However O’Keeffe now wants operators to take their responsibilities more seriously. He said: “It has now become a licensing condition that operators have a dispute resolution process in place. We want them to focus on fulfilling their legal obligations under the Act.”

During the ten years of IBAS’ existence the body has been transformed, both in terms of structure and personnel. “IBAS has quietly and efficiently continued to modernise its structure, carrying out much work to ensure its adjudication procedures are in line with the key objectives set out in the Gambling Act, including ‘that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way’.”

As for the future, O’Keeffe hopes to place IBAS on a firmer financial footing: “We are lobbying for a more stable funding arrangement. At present we are funded by various trade associations and SIS, but not on a statutory basis. We need to have something in place so we guarantee that we can offer the same high level of service for the next ten years.”

ANALYSIS Regardless of the Gambling Commission’s requirement for a third party arbitrator, IBAS is a very important facility for bookmakers now that we are in the days of the legally enforceable gambling contract and deserves financial support from the industry.

If it doesn’t get it, then the Commission will do what it is threatening to do to other precariously funded semi-regulatory bodies and bring it in-house, likely at a great expense to the industry.

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