The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued a draft objection notice proposing to revoke two collective bargaining notifications lodged by the Australian Wagering Council Limited (AWC).
Notification allows businesses to seek protection from legal action for engaging in certain conduct that may breach the Competition and Consumer Act, if the conduct is in the public interest. If the ACCC had not intervened, protection for the AWC and its members to collectively bargain with, and collectively boycott, the National Rugby League (NRL) would have automatically commenced on 27 February 2014.
The AWC on behalf of Bet365, Centrebet, Betstar, IASBet.com, Sportingbet, Sportsbet, Tomwaterhouse.com, UNIBet, Betfair, and Ladbrokes proposed to collectively bargain about the terms on which the sports betting companies share wagering revenue and information with the NRL. The AWC also proposed to enter into arrangements that would allow the group, or a subset thereof, to agree to only negotiate with the NRL through the AWC, or to collectively refuse to deal with the NRL (which would constitute a collective boycott).
The NRL is the sole supplier of the rights to offer wagering services on NRL events. Betting agencies typically share a percentage of their revenue from wagering on NRL events with the NRL, and also agree to provide information pertinent to maintaining the integrity of the game (for example information about betting on matches) to the NRL.
“The ACCC has always recognised that collective arrangements can be mutually beneficial when participation is voluntary on both sides of the negotiating table,” ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper said
"In this case, however, it is difficult to see how collective bargaining will lead to the public benefits claimed by the sports betting companies. Moreover, the arrangements could facilitate coordination between the betting companies, which could have an impact on competition,"
“Furthermore, a collective boycott could remove the NRL’s ability to negotiate individually with the betting agencies if that is their preference," Dr Schaper said.
“Collective boycotts are more likely to be appropriate where there is a significant disparity in bargaining power between the bargaining group and the target, or where the target is less willing to participate in collective bargaining and the failure to collectively bargain would result in inefficiencies or other public detriments.”
“The ACCC does not consider that the AWC bargaining group is in a weak bargaining position to negotiate with the NRL, nor has the AWC provided information to suggest that a failure to collectively bargain would result in inefficiencies or other public detriments,” Dr Schaper said.
The ACCC will engage in further public consultation about both notifications before making a final decision.
Businesses may obtain protection in relation to collective bargaining conduct that might risk breaching provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 by lodging a collective bargaining notification with the ACCC. Once lodged, protection for the notified conduct begins automatically 14 days after the notification was validly lodged.
The ACCC may object to a collective bargaining notification containing a cartel provision if it is satisfied that the likely benefit to the public from the conduct will not outweigh the likely detriment to the public.
Further information regarding the notification and copies of the objection notice are available from the ACCC's website http://registers.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/6031 or by emailing the Adjudication Branch at email@example.com
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