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Billionaire's betting exchange backs Android

Apple's a bit uptight

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Irish billionaire and betting man, Dermot Desmond, is looking to Google's Android to boost the fortunes of his core business, Betdaq, not least because it's impossible getting a gambling app in the iStore.

Betdaq is expecting mobile betting to fuel its expansion and reckons that though the iPhone has been useful to mobile take-up in general, it's Android that looks like a better bet.

Desmond's right hand man and CEO of Betdaq, Brian O'Sullivan, said: “We're very excited about the potential of the Android phones, when they take off – its the opportunity to design to a single platform that will operate across a number of phones in the market.”

Apple is an anti-gambling organisation (like the US, apart from the obvious states), and bookmakers including Ladbrokes and bwin have been rejected in the past. However, Betdaq's arch rival Betfair has just managed to get its app in the iStore – it's UK-only and uses GPS to make sure you're there.

Betfair is the market leader. To give a comparison, just before kick-off in the Germany-Ghana World Cup match, Betfair's customers had wagered £10.5m on the match winner, while Betdaq's had bet £1.6m.

O'Sullivan says Apple's stance is an obstacle that means “you can't drop the app right into the store” but Betdaq is getting on with developing and improving a series of more specifically designed products that fit the iPhone, the Blackberry and other common data phones.

Users will have to be relied on to set Betdaq as a favourite in their browser. “In the Google Android world we'll have a little bit more flexibility – having the icon at the end of your thumb on the home page of your phone is a help.

“The most difficult thing on a phone is tapping in details, so the extent you can make it so you tap the icon and it does what you want it to do the better the product is. The more you've got somebody popping up a keyboard the more difficult it is – that's a design challenger.”

He does concede the iPhone is “fantastic”, and was using one at the time of interview, but considered it most significant in “driving the overall direction of the mobile phone market”.

O'Sullivan can see bets placed by mobile jumping from the current five per cent to move towards 50 per cent over three to five years.

Betdaq is a betting exchange, and is a competitor to traditional bookmakers. It allows individuals to act as bookmakers themselves and makes money by charging a commission on winnings - a basic five per cent, but less for heavy hitters.

O'Sullivan says the expansion of mobile gaming will play to the advantage of exchanges, especially as in-play betting is the big gambling attraction at the moment. “The exchange is constantly moving in terms of price and volume on each side of the market – that ability to see the market move we believe that will be appreciated more and more, once it becomes more easier and convenient to access an exchange and access the data that an exchange provides on a mobile unit.”

Apart from the UK and Ireland, exchanges are a very underdeveloped part of the gambling market. Desmond loves the exchange business and logs on to Betdaq every day. He founded it in 2000 and it started trading in September 2001. “Its a very personal investment for him,” says O'Sullivan. “He loves sports, he loves technology, he loves gambling. He came up with idea himself, and started the company from scratch.”

Desmond's idea was to create a network of global exchanges and get the technology right to scale the operation. Betdaq is the trading operation of his Global Betting Exchange business, which is looking to supply its technology and risk management software to partners – probably operations already in the gaming world.

GBE handles 50 million sports bets to a value in excess of $7bn annually. It has a team of 50 developers and has invested in excess of $30m in the platform to date.

Desmond is ranked at No 3 in the Sunday Times list of Ireland's richest with an estimated fortune of £1.39bn. He's always invested in technology, and anticipated the dotcom slump of 2001. He backed the takeover of PKI dotcom crash and burn casualty Baltimore Technologies in 1996 for £300,000. At the height of its fortunes Baltimore was valued at more than £5bn and employed about 1,500 people. Desmond got out with a healthy return before it had been reduced to rubble in 2003.

Desmond also owns racehorses, 36 per cent of Celtic FC and a third of the Sandy Lane resort in Barbados. O'Sullivan oversaw the acquisition and development of the resort.

Desmond's investments are handled through his International Investment and Underwriting business, which he formed in 1995. Its core companies include Betdaq, Daon (a biometric enabling technology company), Intuition (an e-learning business) and Espatial, which provides advanced geospatial technologies. Prior to founding IIU in 1995, he established a number of software companies serving the financial services sector. ®

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