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Sunday, 11 June, 2000, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Odds on for online betting
Online betting
Betting has never been so easy with online services
By the BBC's Rebecca Pike

With Euro 2000 under way, online betting sites are expecting their biggest few weeks ever.

New technology is enabling people who might never have gambled before to do so from the comfort of their own homes - without paying betting duty.

It is encouraging more women and young people to get involved - and threatening to put the smaller bookies out of business.

WAP phone
WAP phones are making betting even easier
Bloxham's bookmakers is one of the last bastions of a great British tradition. It is a place where punters of old come to relax - in an exclusively male environment.

But, like so many independent bookies, its future is uncertain.

According to the manager, Timothy Grey-Davies, the problem is that its customer base is slowly disappearing.

"As the elder customers die off we are not replacing them with others; and those younger people that are betting are computer-literate - they basically sit in front of their computers and have a bet."

Services overwhelmed

Online beating is expected to take off over the next few weeks, during Euro 2000.

This is exactly perfect for Euro 2000. The younger guys, they just want to click a button

Bluesquare's Ed Pownal
It's been dubbed the first major "e-sporting event", after the Grand National, which saw many internet betting sites overwhelmed.

This time round they are more prepared. At in the City of London, the computers have been upgraded to cope with the expected demand.

The company's spokesman, Ed Pownall, said: "This is exactly perfect for Euro 2000. The younger guys, they just want to click a button."

Bluesquare prides itself on the eccentricity of the bets on offer: including whether or not Posh Spice and Baby Brooklyn will appear in the crowd.

Like several other companies, it is developing an interactive digital TV site, so punters will not even have to tear themselves away from the game if they want to take a bet.

By 2002, gambling is expected to be worth around $2 bn a year (1.3 bn). To stay ahead of the game even the big names are having to adapt to a new breed of younger, often female, punter.

Real dangers

Ladbrokes, one of the big three High Street names, recently set up a tax-free internet site and are investing heavily in WAP-phone technology, which will enable people to make bets on the move.

According to Ladbrokes' spokesman Sean Boyce, punters have never had it so good.

"At the moment it's a case of punters making hay while the sun shines because the new technologies, the new competition from offshore, has created a marketplace where very competitive rates are being offered."

Smaller bookmakers are concerned about business
But there are dangers. The easier it gets, the more people will develop problems.

Paul Bellringer, spokesman for the charity, GamCare, says: "The growth of internet gambling is quite a concern to us as it is for governments.

"There are now around 700 internet betting sites in operation. It's bringing hard gambling activities straight into the home. So all the safeguards of terrestrial gambling are bypassed."

These issues and the question of whether to reduce betting duty are currently being looked at by the government.

Its conclusions will be published later this year. Until then though, having a flutter will continue to become easier and cheaper than ever before.

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See also:

06 Apr 00 | Business
Odds favour offshore betting
21 Mar 00 | Budget2000
Review into betting duty
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