The government of Australia looks poised to ban all gambling advertising across all forms of media if it follows a scathing report compiled from a parliamentary inquiry into the subject.
Over 30 recommendations are presented in the report, and several of them are focused on advertising and other ways to protect vulnerable persons. A committee on social policy and legal affairs in the House of Representatives took an in-depth look at problem gambling in the country, specifically among online gambling participants. One thing that makes the harsh assessment of the situation even more eye-opening is that the Australian government does not even allow for online casinos and licensed gambling is restricted mostly to sports and race betting.
Australians lose more per capita to online gambling than punters in any other country – while the government took in AU$1.60bn in taxes in 2022. Online gambling participation surged during the pandemic and continues above pre-pandemic levels.
Phazed-in Blanket Ban on All Forms of Gambling Advertisements
Among the proposals in the inquiry are an outright ban on all gambling advertisements in the country including those delivered over social media or other online portals directed at Australian players as well as all traditional media including newspapers, television, billboards, or any other message delivery system. Small local radio stations would be exempt until 2025 and dedicated racing channels would remain exempt.
The ban would be implemented in four steps over the next three years.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government, with the cooperation of the states and territories, implement a comprehensive ban on all forms of advertising for online gambling, to be introduced in four phases, over three years, commencing immediately.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese indicated that the government will take all of the recommendations under advisement.
Albanese said on ABC Gold Coast radio: “We need to deal with online issues, we need to deal with social media issues, we need to deal with it comprehensively across the board.”
Committee Chair, Peta Murphy, said in the summary, “Australians outspend the citizens of every other country on online gambling. This is wreaking havoc in our communities. Saturation advertising ensures our future losses. Only online wagering service providers (WSPs), major sporting organisations and media gain from the status quo. This inquiry heard evidence from gamblers who lost and were encouraged by WSPs to gamble more; and from those who won and were prevented from gambling further. Any business model which encourages harm deserves to be closely scrutinised.”
The title of the inquiry was changed about a month after it was adopted by the committee in late 2022 and an invitation to comment was changed to include “people with lived experience of gambling harm to participate,” which indicates the direction it had been headed from nearly the beginning. One month later the written comment period ended.
The final working title is: “You win some, you lose more” and the introduction to the inquiry report is titled as follows: “Inquiry into online gambling and its impacts on those experiencing gambling harm”.
The report can be read in its entirety or downloaded in separate segments here.
Membership of the Committee was comprised of the following:
Committee Chair and Members
Ms Peta Murphy MP
Australian Labor Party, Dunkley VIC
Mr Pat Conaghan MP
The Nationals, Cowper NSW
Ms Kate Chaney MP
Independent, Curtin WA
Ms Mary Doyle MP
Australian Labor Party, Aston VIC
Mr Sam Lim MP
Australian Labor Party, Tangney WA
Ms Louise Miller-Frost MP
Australian Labor Party, Boothby SA
Hon Shayne Neumann MP
Australian Labor Party, Blair QLD
Ms Jenny Ware MP
Liberal Party of Australia, Hughes NSW
Mr Keith Wolahan MP
Liberal Party of Australia, Menzies VIC
The inquiry allowed “both sides” of the issues to be presented and gave opposing views provided by researchers, consumer advocates, and stakeholders, including those in social gambling realms which some parts of the inquiry defined as “targeting children”.
While some researchers have indicated that any causality between social gaming and real money problem gambling or between advertising and gambling harm is “tenuous at best”, some strong arguments were presented on the “prohibition” side of the equation with scholarly research to back them up as well.
In trying to determine whether or not to make changes to the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, the MPs came up with a list of possible changes needed to social gaming, loot boxes, and “skin gambling” that may look like better casino training for children by exposing them to responsible gambling measures as employed in various jurisdictions for real money gambling. These include the following:
- Display the odds for winning each prize
- Provide loot box contents at a fixed and reasonable price so players do not need to chase desired items
- Fix odds of loot boxes so that different odds cannot be offered to different players based on their playing or spending patterns
- Fix sets of prizes
- List prizes and prices in real money terms
- Include an age verification system
- Allow players to track expenditure
- Allow players to self-exclude from games
Pushback on Total Gambling Ad Ban
Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA) represents the country’s largest real-money gambling operators, In a statement, the trade organization called on the government to take a more balanced approach than an outright ban. The ban recommendation did not include evidentiary reasoning according to the group’s CEO, Kai Cantwell who stated in an industry response:
“RWA members, along with broadcasters and major sporting codes have publicly acknowledged that there is a growing desire in the community to see less gambling advertising..
“However, blanket bans, even in a phased roll-out, are short-sighted, ineffective and are not the answer.”
Cantwell continued, “We know that strict changes – like blanket bans and banning inducements, such as bonus bets – often prove ineffective in addressing problem gambling, with Australians instead turning to illegal offshore markets as they seek out these options.”
Would Federalized Regulation Open the Door for Online Casinos?
In Australia, gambling is regulated and licensed at the state level, not federally. Under the current law and system, although online casinos would be completely legal today if licensed in a state or territory, none have taken it upon themselves to do so. However, no federal law exists to discourage residents from gambling offshore – they are free to do so if they choose to.
It’s unclear if the committee’s recommendation to change the regulation and licensing to the federal level would encourage stronger advocacy for the licensing and regulation of online casinos or further complicate it for prospective operators as all of the opponents of online casino gambling would remain in play with a slightly different power dynamic, and any advocates would face the same opposition as they do at the state level along with a unified voice if the national mood of politicians were to be against it.
A Single Federal Online Gambling Harm Ombudsman?
The inquiry suggests that a single minister should handle gambling harm mitigation at the federal level. It also suggests that there should be new taxes levied on existing operators to fund gambling harm specifically, a public education campaign on gambling harm reduction, and a harsher crackdown on unlicensed offshore operators. A ban on deposit incentives or inducements such as bonuses would come into effect if all recommendations were put in place.
Source: Australia mulls gambling ad ban after report, iGaming Business, June 28, 2023