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My Pitch - Betview October Edition - Thursday 15th October 2009

IBAS chief executive Chris O’Keeffe argues that when it comes to settling disputes between bookmakers and their customers, justice can often be better achieved by the judgement of an independently placed betting expert than through a costly process of litigation.

When IBAS was established in 1998 the betting industry was operating in a different age in terms of its products, customers and cultural standing. The focus was very much on the retail sector with few operators having any form of online gambling business while betting exchanges were not even on the horizon.

This past decade has seen spectacular expansion in betting opportunities; an example of this is the 80 markets now available on a single football match without considering the hugely popular betting in-running aspect.

Clearly the industry now operates in an era of great diversity, sophistication and perceptibility but with that new social standing comes greater responsibility and customer satisfaction and trust are now, under the ‘regulator’, essential elements in a successful bookmaker/customer relationship.

Registration with IBAS allows bookmakers to demonstrate to customers that they are following the industry best practice and complying with the new licensing conditions.

During this period of rapid change IBAS has become an authoritative adjudicator offering its services across a broad range of betting mediums.

The service has now moved far beyond its initial remit of retail betting to include online, exchanges, off-course greyhound stadia, charitable lotteries, pool betting and gaming machines.

The new gambling regulations make independent adjudication a legal requirement. The new regulatory environment has also brought greater scrutiny of IBAS: its role in adjudication, its independence and the way in which it operates.

Today IBAS is more relevant to dispute resolution and prevention than ever before, a fact which was recognised by the Gambling Commission when they entered into an information sharing agreement with IBAS earlier this year.

Just issuing rulings would be a gross over-simplification of the work and the role we fulfil in this ever-important strand of the industry. With gambling contracts now legally enforceable IBAS’s profile changes dramatically with the Government’s commitment to promoting alternative dispute resolution methods other than the use of the courts.

Although I await with genuine interest caselaw being established in betting, I have always been of the view – with all due respect to our learned friends – that in this unique industry litigation will in the main be lengthy, costly and uncertain while justice can often be better achieved by a betting expert with the ability to consider the facts and interpret the bookmakers’ rules than a contract lawyer unfamiliar with the complexities and nuances of betting.

The dispute resolution procedures offered through IBAS will generally be more flexible, simpler and therefore potentially faster and, dare I say, more efficient than the courts. This year the Service is turning around cases on an average of 32 calendar days. Obviously it is not in our interests to prolong cases but a number of highly complex disputes will necessarily be prolonged. As part of the evolutionary process we are currently considering where the proper limits of our involvement in dispute resolution lie.

This has been prompted by the rise in referrals citing the explicit consideration of contract law and account management and disputes which are not related to identifiable betting transactions. The legal profession will need to debate the intricacies of law while the conduct of a bookmaker’s terms and conditions in regard to how they administer their account procedures will be a regulatory matter more proper to the Gambling Commission.

With one of the key objectives of the Gambling Act being the provision that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way clearly the justification for an organisation like IBAS become obvious and essential to ensuring the integrity and respectability of the industry.

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