Sean Callander has an extensive background in sports and poker journalism, publishing and management. He’s been around the gambling arena since poker began to take off in Australia. Over the last few years he’s been working on trying to educate our politicians on online poker, in-play betting and other parts of the Interactive Gambling Act. However, he’s run into quite a few struggles and quite a lot of ignorance. On this episode, he shares his insider knowledge and his thoughts about the future.
Punting Insights You’ll Find
- The quickly changing betting landscape and how it effects you.
- Why casinos don’t have any vested interest in helping the lobby groups.
- One example of why the battle is a difficult one.
- What needs to happen for online gambling (and in-play gambling) to be legalized.
- When the biggest changes will be coming.
- What separates professional poker players from the rest.
Sean’s Closing Tip:
” Betting on what politicians think can be a pretty bullish thing. “
Episode 028: Sean Callander on Poker and In-Play betting
Welcome to Betting 360, your number one source for horse racing and sports betting insights. Coming around the bend is your host David Duffield, with another expert view to give you the winning edge.
David: Hi this is David Duffield, and welcome to another episode of the Betting 360 podcast. My special guest today is Sean Callander, he’s the cofounder of Monarch Media, and pokermedia.com.au, and he’s got a pretty interesting background in sports betting and poker industries. And he’s also got some pretty good insights to share, as he’s part of what you might call a lobby group that’s doing some work in Canberra in an effort to get in-play betting and online poker legalised. So he can give us an update on where things sit there, and the likelihood of success, so let’s have a chat with Sean.
David: Thanks for joining me today Sean.
Sean: David great to be with you.
David: Yeah, excellent to have you on the show. And I just wanted to start by letting the listeners know a little bit about your background. If you can just give us a bit of a run through of the roles you’ve had in the industry, and the companies you’ve worked for, and also founded.
Sean: Sure. Well I’m a hard working sports journo, that’s my background. Came up through the cadetship in the UK, worked at the Croydon Advertiser in the southern suburbs of London, up to the Daily Mail. And when I came back to Australia I worked for the Fairfax Group for a number of years, and then lastly with the Australian Football League. I worked on the Footy Record which was a bit of a dream job as you can imagine, and so spent 3 very satisfying years there. And in 2006 along with my now business partner Steven Doyle, we decided to go out on our own, and Steven’s background in management and mine in publishing, we formed our own publishing business called Monarch Media.
And early on we identified that there was an opportunity in the game as poker was starting to take off, there was no real poker media here to speak of. And we found it was a niche big enough for us to operate a small business, but not big enough that there was a lot of competition. So over the past 7 years that business has served us really well, we set up Bluff Australasia magazine, which we merged into international organisation called Poker News. And yeah things were flying along in that area until we had some legal pressures, due to the way the Interactive Gaming Act is structured. But we’ve sort of maintained a commitment to poker going forward, we’ve gone off into other areas now, but it’s always going to be very close to our hearts, and you know hopefully we can make a go of it again soon.
David: Yeah you mentioned the legal pressures and the legislative changes. Do you want to just expand on that a little, because I think a lot of our guys who are racing and sports may not be aware how quickly the landscape changed.
Sean: Well, you know the poker industry to start with it’s incredibly diverse. It’s, you know the guys who play at home, it’s people who play in pub and club leagues around the country, which number in the hundreds of thousands. It’s playing cash games or tournaments in casinos, and for a lot of people it’s playing online. So it’s an incredibly diverse industry, and as such it makes it difficult to sort of pull it all under one umbrella. But from a business point of view, the most relevant piece of legislation for us is the IGA, or the Interactive Gaming Act. And under which it’s illegal for offshore providers to offer their services to Australian customers, but it’s not illegal for Australian customers or players to play on these sites.
And as you can imagine that’s a difficult space to operate in. The offshore sites do offer their services illegally, they don’t pay any taxes or profit turnover fees or anything like that to the Australian Government. As such the players here don’t have the protection that other punters have in you know, through corporate sports books or TAB’s. So it’s a very tricky piece of legislation that’s now vastly outdated, as technologies have advanced over the past 12 years since the laws were brought in.
So you know our major focus now is looking at that IGA, and looking at ways it can be brought up to date for to look after everyone. It’s got to work for the players, and it’s got to work for the operators, but where it’s been a very long road to hoe that’s for sure.
David: Yeah and you’re right there at the coal face now. Would you describe a lot of your current activities as basically a lobby group? I know you spend a bit of time in Canberra.
Sean: Look it’s really difficult to define. Because from the perspective of the, casinos don’t really care. You know they’re obviously covered by state laws, and they do have arms-length involvement with the online sites, through running satellites for tournaments and such. But you know they’re not a major player in a lobbying space. And of course the offshore operators aren’t in a position that they can lobby actively because they’re breaking the law.
So, we’ve over the years developed, built a relationship within the department of communications broadband and the digital economy, bit of a mouthful. And certainly at a departmental level there’s sensible people, you know I think that they can see the inequities in the way the laws are structured. You know there’s probably I think up to 800 million dollars a year goes offshore in terms of illegal books, online casino, online poker. So there’s a great revenue base there for a Government to certainly get a hold of and exploit.
So that’s really the angle we’ve been taking is that, there’s hundreds of thousands of people that have online poker accounts in Australia, it’s widely recognised as a game of skill, so it’s happening and you’re losing the revenue, and the potential to harness this as an industry. And from our side of it you know we see that from a business point of view, there’s great opportunities if it is legalised. So that’s really the basis of our discussions, where you run into a bit of brick wall is when you go into the ministry and you know then you’re dealing with politicians. Who as we know, depending on the prevailing wind can change their minds pretty readily. Some of the commentary that came out before the election in the poker sites was wildly inaccurate, and unnecessarily alarmist.
That the Coalition were going to come in and basically black ban it, and it’s just simply not the case. I think it’s a long way down the list of priorities for them, and you know we’ve positioned ourselves that when we do get a hearing, and we’re confident we will get a good hearing quite soon, then we can put forward a really strong case, and basically the reasons that I outlined. That is a, we estimate that it’s probably worth up to about 80 million dollars a year in terms of revenue for the country, and you know that’s not to be sneezed at. If done properly and with proper liquidity in the player pools, and you know properly structured and regulated, I think it could be a really important and healthy part of the gaming landscape in Australia.
David: And just to give people an idea of what you’re up against at times, tell us about the time I think it was a politician or an advisor possibly, who was fairly aggressive towards you before you’d even had a chance to speak at a meeting, and just advertised his ignorance about what little understanding he had.
Sean: Well, this example gives you an idea of what we’re up against. And it was actually the first trip we made to Canberra, and we just spent the morning with the guys in the department, and you know which I said has been really fruitful, right the way through. And we met a couple of members of the ministry in the afternoon, and one of them had a copy of our magazine and slammed it down on the desk and said, ‘how do you live with yourself by promoting these machines?’. And we sort of looked at each other and said, ‘well how do you mean machines?’, and he said ‘oh isn’t your magazine about poker machines?’ So we had to get out a deck of cards, and explain to him you know what it was that we were about and the differences.
But you know that’s the level of, I won’t say intelligence, but you know the level of difficulty that you can have sometimes in talking to people. And that’s another example of just, something as simple as you go to the US and poker machines are called slot machines, and whereas in Australia the connotation of poker and poker machines is very closely connected. And something as simple as that can make our job so much harder. So there’s been some battles, but I think over the last 2 or 3 years we’ve been able to educate the key people, and so they know what we’re about now.
David: And what’s the process from here, what needs to happen for online poker to be legalised, and also just touch on the in play aspect. Because most people listening to this would be sport punters, and we’ve been waiting a long while for in play to be legalised, and it’s always been close but not close enough. So just talk us what needs to happen, and how that effects in play.
Sean: Well I suppose the lobbying efforts and how the process plays out in the political sphere are two different things. But we’ll just keep the lobbying efforts up, we’d certainly like to get before minister Turnbull, and you know and run through the opportunities with him. And get, you know just to get the ball rolling with the new government. As I said before it’s a long way down the list of priorities for them, and you know gambling doesn’t play too well in certainly getting elected. But once you’re in there I think, you know we’ve got as I said some good arguments in terms of the revenue base there, so from that point of view we’ll just keep ticking along. The big change is going to come when the new Senate comes in July of next year.
So we’ll no longer be a hostile senate, in terms of the number of the Greens and Labor members in there. We’ve got a meeting coming up early next year with the Palmer Party, and with Mr Palmer. And that’ll be interesting because they are one group that aren’t on the record in terms of where they stand on issues related to gambling at a Federal level. And so with their support theoretically the numbers would exist in the Senate, and we should be able to make some of those advancements. In terms of the in play betting, it would seem if there was reform to the Interactive Gaming Act that it would all be sort of put together into the one bill. So I think at that time when things like online poker do come up for consideration, that logically the restrictions on other parts of the industry through that act would be addressed at the same time.
So I think you know not to say that it’s you know certainly over the line, but I know that the, some of the key players that are the likes of William Hill, are in there lobbying very hard at the same time. And so I’m sure that they’ll make their case, and when we get to a point where we can get a bill before the parliament, hopefully we’re in reasonably good shape.
David: So if you’re a betting man Sean, what would you set the under over age as far as time frame goes?
Sean: Oh geez, betting on what politicians think could be a dangerous thing. I’m pretty bullish David, you know I’d say probably a better than $1.60 favourite that we’ll get this over the line at some point. It mightn’t be at the first shot, but I just think it’s a no brainer. It’s revenue that’s being lost to the country in one sphere, and it’s a revenue opportunity in another. So I think, I’d like to think that the Coalition guys will be a little bit more pragmatic when it comes to that presentation, and we can work through the issues of you know, is it going to be perceived as more gambling in the landscape of gambling in Australia. Well it is, but at the same time it’s already happening, so I’m confident that we’ll get there at some point.
David: So to move on from legislative stuff, just about poker as a game. You know it’s renowned as a mix of maths, and luck, and psychology. What is it about the game that appeals to you?
Sean: Look I suppose it really goes back to my days living in England, where you know card nights as part of the pub community were pretty common, and so it was something I hadn’t really grown up with. But just before I came back to Australia a show called Late Night Poker come on in the UK, and I think the appeal of it was equated a bit to golf. It’s very easy to learn the basics, but it’s a game that you can never really master because there’s enough luck in that’ll keep you on your toes, but it is a genuine game as skill at the end of the day. And you know on that basis you know you can play with mates, you can play online, you can you know play at the top end of the professional side of things, and it’s just a great challenge.
And you know it can be something you don’t have to take terribly seriously, but if you want to get serious about it there’s some great opportunities there. And yeah I just think it’s a great challenge for people, you know you can see a lot of sportsman go into it after they retire, because it’s got that real strong competitive element to it. And it’s, yeah it’s just a great game to play.
David: Have you watched Warney play, is he any good?
Sean: I have watched Warney play on a number of times. And it’s interesting you know I’ve caught up with him a few times in Vegas, and of course none of the Americans have any idea who he is. And you’ll sit down at a table with a random Aussie, or South African, or Pom, and ‘oh Warneys here’. But I think where he’s struggled in his early days in poker, is he was only playing in the very biggest, hardest tournaments. And so it probably took a while for him to get his head around it. But I know he has a lot of home games, and through his involvement the 888 guys, he hosts a lot of tournaments, and certainly plays online when he can. So he’s far from the worst, he’s improved dramatically over the past few years. He’s got a good relationship with Joe Hachem, and I know he works very hard on his game with Joe. And yeah Warney’s a great example of a sportsman who just likes that competitive edge that comes with poker, and can never get on top of it, but he’s able to mix it up with the best players in the world.
David: Yeah what do the best players in the world have in common, and what makes someone like Joe Hachem a world champ?
Sean: It’s a really tough question, and we’ve come across, you come across all types in poker. You know there’s guys that are incredibly wealthy, who have the bank roll that they can sit down in massive cash games. And then you get guys who are just gamblers, and treat poker as such. And then you get guys like Joe, who brings a real strict methodology and mindset to it. And I don’t consider Joe to be a gambler at all, you know he’s conservative by nature, you know family man, he’s got four kids. And so you do come across all types, but there’s certainly a mix of the real hard core gamblers who you know, can burn through their bank roll once every six months and start over again.
Or you get people that come out of business with a lot of money, who have a more dedicated and just a safer mindset about playing the game. So yeah you really do come across all types and different ages. Young kids coming out of the online poker, to the old guys who’ve been playing since they arrived in Australia. And you know men, women, young guys coming out of pub poker, who mix it up with the best. So, and that’s one great thing about it, that there’s no restrictions in playing the game. You can come from any background, and level of skill, and still challenge yourself.
David: Good stuff. Alright we’ll leave it there for now, and I appreciate your contribution today, and also for the AFL this year. A lot of guys gave us plenty of good feedback on the write ups and the analysis there, and for the lobbying work that you’re doing, both for online poker and for in play. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of guys wishing you all the best, and that you achieve the success there, because that’ll be a win for all of us.
Sean: Yeah and I’ll certainly keep you in the loop as best as possible. But I think you know, it’s in the mainstream media you don’t often get a real good indication of what’s going on, and most of it tends to be pretty negative. But yeah there’s a lot of people in there batting hard, and yeah hopefully we can get it over the line.
David: Yeah it’s a lot more positive outlook than most other stuff we hear, so I’m sure everyone will be happy to hear that.
Sean: Good stuff Dave, thanks for your time.
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