TAB, US firm in Internet gambling venture

An American company has bypassed betting organisations in the US and Australia in order to enter a joint venture on the Internet with the New Zealand TAB. The move will undoubtedly help to focus Internal Affairs' attempts to get to grips with electronic gambling, which by some estimates is costing the government more than $194 million a year at present.

An American company has bypassed betting organisations in the US and Australia in order to enter a joint venture on the Internet with the New Zealand TAB.

The move will undoubtedly help to focus Internal Affairs’ attempts to get to grips with electronic gambling, which by some estimates is costing the government more than $194 million a year at present.

The TAB has struck a five-year deal with the Australian smartcard, security and gaming specialist Coms21, which in turn has a shareholding in the Miami-based Internet World Information Network (IWIN) and its Australian branch (IWINA). The three entities aim to make Internet betting available to punters worldwide by the end of the year.

IWIN has expanded beyond its original Internet access and hosting business to run Alpha Sports Games, a series of online games based on guessing sports results. Although they offer prizes of up to $10,000, the games are free to play and are supported by sponsorship.

Alpha Sports Games have been launched in Australia and may turn up in New Zealand hotels later in the year. But it was IWIN’s desire to enter the conventional betting business which saw it turn to the TAB.

“They were looking for a place in which they could develop this scheme and it was pointed out to them that the New Zealand TAB probably has one of the most integrated betting systems around, now that it’s got sport and racing,” says TAB chief executive George Hickton

“We offer a full sports book, which most of the Australian TABs don’t offer. If you want a full service online betting activity, then apart from some of the English bookmakers, we’re probably the only people in the world that can do it now.”

Hickton says the fact that the TAB “had the drive to get our product offshore” was also a factor in the deal, and the TAB would be able to set up online accounts for offshore punters just as it did with telephone bets.

Hickton says Coms21’s smartcard expertise would not be used in the inital phase of the betting project.

“I’d see smartcard development being almost a separate project, and that’s the ability to develop loyalty projects and that sort of thing, and to provide our account holders with greater mobility than they have at the moment. I’d see that as a second phase.

Hickton says IWIN and Coms21 “are providing the Internet access points for us--effectively they’re handling the financial transactions part of the business and we’re handling the betting part. So they’re developing systems which will allow people to open an account with the New Zealand TAB in a secure manner.

“Anybody in the world will be able to open an account--we already have people who open accounts with us on a telephone basis, and obviously the Internet site will allow us to expand that.” Hickton says the scheme is “a joint venture, so we own our bit and they own theirs”.

He says the TAB will stick to its core business of offering odds on sports and racing events, but he does expect that the service will attract new customers.

“Oh yes. Certainly we see it as a way of providing our products internationally, in a secure environment, which is the key thing.”

Budgets have not yet been finalised, but Hickton says there is “not a horrendous cost to get the thing up and running. It’s more a process of us working through the look and feel of it and deciding how to develop its marketability. We don’t have to build new systems.”

Coms21 was founded in 1981 and became a public company in 1994. It develops and manufactures Key Control, a “turnkey” solution based on microprocessor and smartcard technology, which the company says has applications in fields from gaming to banking and passport and immigration control “and other areas where information integrity and security are paramount”.

Meanwhile, the government is processing submissions on the country’s gambling laws.

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