Australians will have a shot at a world record $2bn jackpot after an international lottery bookmaker Lottoland was granted a domestic licence to operate for the first time.
The company’s entrance into the Australian market was timed to coincide with Wednesday’s record US Powerball draw, valued at US$1.5bn (A$2.1bn) and counting, but gambling researchers are concerned the company’s “lotto betting” model could introduce peril into an area traditionally regarded as one of the safer avenues to gamble.
The Gibraltar-based startup, granted a five-year licence on Monday by theNorthern Territory Racing Commission, does not sell tickets to the official draw, but rather has punters bet on a particular set of numbers showing up.
It is officially registered as a bookmaker in the territory, where lotteries are listed as a sporting event.
The format allows the company to entice punters with promotions usually employed by online wagering companies or by poker machines, such as free lines, bonuses, double jackpots and last-minute tickets.
Associate professor Samantha Thomas, a gambling researcher at Deakin University, said Lottoland’s format was an entirely new model for Australian lotteries.
“Lotteries are generally seen a soft form of gambling, that not many people develop problems with. The concern for me is this company seems to add a new dimension to it,” she said
“We know from research into gambling harms that accessibility, availability and multiple options create risk factors for harmful gambling.”
She said people had been so caught up in the chance to win a massive jackpot that they might not have considered that Lottoland was potentially “changing the dynamics of the way in which we access and play lotteries”.
The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation said the format was too new to know what effect, if any, it would have on problem gambling, but said increased accessibility was generally “a risk factor”.
The extra features enabled by the online model had parallels with the “in-play” wagers offered by sports betting companies and there was “some evidence” that in-play betting in sporting events potentially increased risks because it increased the excitement.
Online sports betting is thought to have surged in Australia thanks to online and offshore operators, with gambling help clinics in Melbourne and Sydney reporting a doubling and tripling in the numbers of people being treated for addiction.
In August, the Financial Counselling Association called for “urgent” regulations on the types of inducements online betting companies could offer.
The Multi-State Lottery Association in the US has estimated the odds of winning the grand prize in Thursday’s draw at more than one in 292.2m.
After US taxes were collected, an Australian who won the entire US$1.5bn pool would take home about US$880m. It is unclear whether the winnings would be considered “foreign income” and taxed again in Australia. Domestic lottery winnings are exempt from tax.
The draw will take place at 2pm AEDT on Thursday.
Lottoland could not be reached for comment.