Mon, Feb 14, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Britain unprepared for mobile phone gambling


Jim Evans places bets on football matches and horse races through his mobile phone, spending about US$80 a month. Because of his hectic lifestyle, he spurned the betting shop and logged off internet gambling.

Evans, 32, who works in the mobile phone industry, switched to mobile gambling from internet gambling as soon as it became available. "I find it more convenient to gamble on the phone because I travel a lot and can take it everywhere," he says.

Once he had registered and set up an online account -- which can take a day -- Evans could download his preferred Java-enabled gambling application on to his Orange mobile, browse games and the odds, and place bets. The money is immediately debited from his account.

So forget the hype about super casinos proposed in Britain's new gambling bill -- mobile phone gambling looks set to trump them all, providing an addition to many consumers' mobile entertainment package.

A new report by Juniper estimates that by 2009, mobile gambling services will generate revenues of more than US$19.3 billion, nearly one-third of all mobile entertainment revenues. And that's a conservative estimate. "Given the ubiquity of mobile handsets, and the desire of many [gambling] providers to exploit this, then potentially the resulting sales could be substantially higher," the report says.

Java-enabled graphics, color-filled screens, technology that invoices on the monthly phone bill, and 3G networking combine to provide a service that rivals traditional gambling methods.

The report says: "More than 90 percent of the population in the UK and US have at some time played a lottery in its traditional paper form. Coupling this huge market with the immediacy and penetration of the mobile phone is a logical and lucrative proposition."

Sports betting, already popular, is set to surge on the mobile platform. "It may offer the opportunity not only to allow players to place a bet about the outcome of a particular event, but also to dynamically bet through their handset as to the outcome of particular events within the game."

Its success depends on the availability of GPRS or 3G for most mobile users, but at the rate this technology is advancing, this seems likely, the report says.

However, as only 14 percent of UK adults partake in casino gaming (including slot machines), this area of the market is likely to remain a niche. While complex graphics will allow consumers to play games such as poker, roulette, craps and black jack, either for fun or for money, "regulatory proscriptions are likely to hinder or prevent the launch of casino-style services in many countries."

Current proposed gambling legislation has divided industry experts. The government says reform is essential: "Almost all relevant British gambling legislation predates the internet. Nobody had such a powerful communications system in mind when that legislation was being enacted."

Most of the bill, the government says, regulates remote gambling -- on mobile telephones, the internet and interactive television -- which specialists suggest 800,000 adults per month participate in.

"Our controls on commercial gambling are being undermined by technology," a spokesperson says. Once the bill is made law, a gambling commission will award remote service providers with licenses after conditions are met.

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