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Australian regulator orders audit of bookmakers Sportsbet, Bet365

(Reuters) - Australia's financial crime watchdog on Thursday ordered an audit of Sportsbet, the country's largest online betting house operated by Flutter Entertainment, and British gambling firm Bet365 to assess their compliance with financing laws.

External auditors must report within six months whether the firms are well placed to identify and mitigate money laundering and terrorism financing, conduct risk assessment, and have necessary oversight, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) said.

The push for compliance by regulators comes as online betting has exploded in Australia since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when physical gambling shopfronts were forced to shut due to lockdowns.

Highlighting that the appointment of a regulator-authorized auditor is not an enforcement investigation, a Sportsbet spokesperson said the move comes after a periodic compliance assessment of the firm between 2016 to 2020.

"Since then, we have enhanced our program and practices, including conducting an independent review. Sportsbet continues to invest heavily in AML/CTF (Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act) compliance and in our people, processes and systems."

While Australia's gambling industry has been scrutinized in recent years due to alleged money laundering by its biggest casino operators, online betting has also come under the scanner as its prevalence boomed.

AUSTRAC in September opened an investigation into Britain's Entain Plc, which owns about one-sixth of Australia's online betting market via the Ladbrokes brand, after an extensive supervisory campaign covering the corporate bookmaking sector.

Bet365 did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Shashwat Awasthi and Roushni Nair; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Shailesh Kuber)