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Bookmaker PlayUp offered bets to clients who self-excluded over gambling problems

13th December, 22:05

Exclusive: Company says such bets 'would have been possible' in the past but 'we haven't actually technically done anything wrong'

The bookmaker PlayUp offered bets to customers who had asked to be excluded because they felt they had a gambling problem, Guardian Australia has learned.

Allowing people to "self-exclude" is required under the code of conduct for online bookies in the Northern Territory, where PlayUp is licensed, and also forms part of national legislation introduced to parliament last month by the communications minister, Paul Fletcher.

The new laws, which will make it a crime if a bookie fails to ban people who self-exclude, were needed because of "growing community concerns about the rapid growth and high rate of harm caused by online gambling", Fletcher told parliament last month.

PlayUp's chief executive, Daniel Simic, said that in the past it was "possible" for PlayUp to unintentionally offer bets to people who had excluded themselves because until recently the group held several licences that were run as separate businesses which were not allowed to share data with each other.

This would not breach the company's licence, he said.

Simic denied wagering industry talk that the company had a shortage of cash, telling the Guardian it was turning over more than $300m a year and was on track for a sharemarket float in the US in the first half of next year.

Originally conceived as a sports betting technology company, PlayUp was initially backed by a group of wealthy investors including Alex Turnbull, the son of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

After burning $100m tipped into it by investors, PlayUp was put into liquidation in 2016. The following year Simic bought PlayUp's assets, including the name, from the liquidators.

Last year it attempted a stock exchange float that was cancelled after the ASX raised concerns about the company's suitability for listing.

Under Simic's stewardship, the company bought a series of other bookmakers: Classicbet, Best Bet, Madbookie and most recently TopBetta.

It also holds its own licence under the PlayUp Interactive name.

Simic said that initially the different businesses operated separately, but as of last month they had been integrated into one operation.

"We just rolled them in one at a time," he said. "It's all run by one team now."

In August PlayUp's chief operating officer, Andrew Parramore, told other executives, including Simic, that the issue of gamblers who had excluded themselves from one licence continuing to bet with another needed to be fixed "ASAP" as part of the move to one operating platform.

"How do we handle clients that are self-excluded on one platform under TopBetta licence whilst actively betting on our other platform under the PlayUp Interactive licence," he said in a 13 August email, CCed to Simic and obtained by Guardian Australia.

Simic said it "would have been possible" for clients to bet on one platform while excluded from another if the information each held did not match.

"We have no way of knowing who's who if wrong data has been entered," he said.

Asked if he was aware of customers betting with one platform while excluded on another, he said: "There's one case, and it's all been resolved and settled. It's all signed under a confidentiality agreement so I can't talk too much about it.

"But it wasn't a planned issue, it wasn't a planned event. And even if so, if it was, we haven't actually technically done anything wrong.

"Each licence has got its own list and we're not supposed to be sharing data [between them] anyway. It doesn't matter who owns it."

Guardian Australia has also seen an internal email, dated 25 February, in which Parramore discussed clients which the company did not wish to bring over from Best Bet and who were owed $153,000.

"We need to manage cash flow at this stage and I'm not in a position to hand back $153K," Parramore wrote.

However, Simic laughed when asked if PlayUp had a cash flow problem, saying the suggestion was industry gossip fuelled by disgruntled former staff.

"Every time they've mentioned it, I sort it out," he said.

In a 29 November judgment, the NSW supreme court found Classicbet owed between $2.4m and $3.3m to a company called KRM (Vic), which is controlled by the wagering industry figure Kevin McCrohan, for commissions earned by introducing gamblers to the company.

But Simic said PlayUp had no liability for Classicbet's debts because he had sold the company: "It's nothing to do with me."

He hoped to raise US$40m from investors to list PlayUp on the US Nasdaq market in the first half of next year, valuing the company at about US$200m.

Source