British betting firm sets record straight

FIXING THE ODDS: Sportingbet says there is no truth to a rumor circulating in the nation's dailies that it is attempting to set up an office in Taiwan and run a lottery

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tue, Feb 18, 2003 - Page 20

A British online betting company denied allegations yesterday it was setting up an office and a soccer lottery in Taiwan, contradicting reports in the Chinese-language media.

Sportingbet executive vice chairman Mark Blandford said at a press conference held in Sanhsia, Taipei County, that his company was not negotiating with the government to run a soccer lottery, or open an office in the country.

"This is not the case. We will be supplying the Taiwanese market from the UK, from our operations in London.

"Customers have to send money and open an account in the UK to do business. So, there is no aspect of gambling in Taiwan.

"The stories are unfounded. Sportingbet is not setting up an

office in Taiwan because this would be illegal."

Blandford said betting in England was regulated and his company was properly licensed, so it was not breaking any laws, even if Taiwanese did access and use their site.

Gambling is banned in Taiwan, but nevertheless thousands of Taiwanese make bets every day, through online video gaming, casinos, bingo and horse racing.

It is estimated there are betting losses of US$500 million annually in Taiwan, through online gambling on US sports via companies based in Nevada.

Blandford said there was a "huge underground supply" for Taiwanese bettors, which was being met by online operators and gangsters.

He said it was the spike in local activity during the World Cup -- held in South Korea and Japan last year -- that prompted him to come to Taiwan.

"The fact that Taiwan, with its small population of 23 million, is the world's second largest market for NBA and MLB is ample proof of the Chinese people's love of gambling and their spending power," Blandford said.

He said there were currently 500 customers who used Sportingbet in Taiwan and he hoped this would increase to 3,000 by the end of the year and double after that.

Asked if he was concerned by media reports saying his company could be investigated and its Web site blocked, Blandford said this would be regrettable.

"What we have not seen in Taiwan is censorship of the media, as we have seen perhaps in China. The route to censorship is dangerous and difficult to do," he said.

"There is an increasing trend

toward liberalization. Many governments have seen online gambling as a threat but have now changed their view because they realize it can be an opportunity."

He said when Sportingbet was founded in 1998 there were just four governments that allowed online betting and now there are over 70.

He said many countries' laws regarding gambling predated the Internet, which was bringing fresh challenges to legislators.

"The Internet is cutting across geographical boundaries and today we have online sports betting, casinos, keno, video gaming -- all in a virtual world.

"I believe the Internet will cause the rules for gambling to change and challenge government monopolies on gambling," Blandford said.

"By regulating sports gambling, governments will be able to gain by way of taxation and at the same time take the activity away from illegal operations."

Questioned as to why Taiwan dollars should go to foreign companies that avoid paying tax here, Blandford said this was "the heart of the matter."

"Sportingbet would welcome the opportunity to enter into dialogue with the various authorities and form fully regulated and taxed operations."

The company's finance director, Charles Moore said of the furor that has been generated by the press, "We never expected a response like this. This a market where we have 500 customers, not like the US where we have 400,000."

Moore said worldwide about 11 million people gambled online with a combined stake of more than US$7 billion per year.

Sportingbet claims to have 837,431 customers in 150 countries, using 11 currencies and 11 languages. It is the biggest online gaming company in the UK.