Betnow wins Balderton funds for text-to-bet. Addicts beware.

Betnow, a London-based mobile gambling service, has won a healthy first round of funding (specific amount undisclosed) from Balderton Capital and angel investors. Betnow allows users to text SMS messages to 89808 and place bets on football, golf, horse racing, dog racing and tennis matches in plain English. The bet is interpreted by a natural language engine, while most mobile gambling portals are WAP or Java based (e.g. Ladbrokes). This means placing a Betnow bet will likely be even easier and faster than normal. Payment is via the mobile contract ora bank account with winnings collected from a customer’s local Post Office branch. Balderton’s portfolio also includes Betfair, Bebo and Zopa. The founders are Vodafone veterans Robert Urwin and Mike McCartney plus former Home Office IT developer Malcolm Slater.

A Juniper Research white paper released in October put mobile gambling as being worth $1.3 billion in 2007 and $26 billion by 2012. The UK is a hotbed of mobile gambling already, along with many other European countries where SMS services continue to boom. I couldn’t find more recent research but a study in 2005 found traffic to mobile gambling sites was rocketing in the UK by 367 per cent year on year sparking concerns about addiction.

Mike Arrington of TechCrunch US believes that Balderton may regret the investment “if the business gets a bad reputation.” This may be the case. If the technology works, Betnow could well take a sizeable chunk of the market. But if I know the UK press they will go after the government for not reigning in gambling companies or funding enough gambling addiction programmes. They probably won’t go after Betnow. Afterall, too many UK journalists like a punt as it is.