Ruling threatens offshore betting

A Court of Appeal judgment has closed a legal loophole allowing offshore bookmakers to advertise bets in the UK through Teletext and, by inference, the Internet.

The decision will have dramatic ramifications for the UK betting industry, which is moving increasingly online and offshore to avoid betting duty.

Yesterday (Tuesday), the Court of Appeal reversed a landmark decision by the High Court in July that allowed Gibraltar-based bookmaker Victor Chandler International (VCI) to advertise its bets in the UK on Teletext.

The High Court decided Section 9 (1) (b) of the Betting & Gaming Act 1981 – which prohibits the circulation in the UK of “advertising or other documents” relating to bets with offshore bookmakers – did not apply to Teletext, and therefore the Net.

The High Court ruled an ad on Teletext did not constitute a document but was “merely transmitted information”.

Labrokes International – from Gibraltar – and SportingBet.com in the Channel Islands have been exploiting the loophole to run online operations and ad campaigns.

Now the Court of Appeal says the Act must take account of technological advances and the ads held on VCI’s computers and Teletext must be regarded as documents, and therefore banned in the UK.

Unless VCI appeals successfully to the House of Lords, offshore Net bookmakers risk prosecution if bets are offered to UK customers, according to Charlie Swan, a partner in media law firm Simkins Partnership.

Swan says: “I can’t see any big difference between the Net and Teletext.”

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