‘Predatory’: Government failing to stem deluge of gambling harm despite credit crackdown

Credit cards can't be used for gambling from today, but is that enough?

Credit cards can't be used for gambling from today, but is that enough? Photo: Getty

Millions of Australian kids must be protected from gambling giants “rewiring their brains” with ads promoting smartphones as the new pokies machines, a leading advocate warns.

Tim Costello, spokesperson for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, has accused the Albanese government of failing to prevent an explosion in wagering losses, saying a ban on using credit cards for online betting won’t stop the deluge of “predatory” gambling ads on sports.

The ban came into effect on Tuesday and has been spruiked by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland as part of the government’s support of “strong consumer protections”.

But Costello said the government has yet to respond to a bipartisan parliamentary inquiry that had called for phasing in an outright ban on gambling advertising almost a year ago.

“Any reform that does not include an advertising ban is a fail,” Costello said.

“It’s a fail to the Australian public who have made up their minds – they’re sick of children being groomed with ads by largely foreign sports betting companies making profits.”

The new pokies

Australians lose an estimated $25 billion to gambling a year and the most recent research has spotlighted a massive increase in consumers saying they have been influenced by ads that have become ubiquitous across broadcasting amid the global gambling gold rush.

Flutter Entertainment, the corporate giant behind Sportsbet, FanDuel and Betfair, spent $US881 million ($1.3 billion) on advertising in the past March quarter alone, records show.

The investment is being fuelled by the rise in smartphones as gambling devices in Australia and other nations like the US, where sports betting has been increasingly legal since 2018.

Fears about the resulting losses were highlighted recently in an Al Jazeera expose into the sports betting market in the United States that sparked a strong reaction among advocates.

Bill Browne, director of the democracy & accountability program at the Australia Institute, said gambling companies advertise because it works.

“They normalise gambling and prompt people to bet who otherwise wouldn’t have,” Browne said.

“Australia Institute polling research in 2022 found that 71 per cent of Australians agreed with a ban on gambling ads, six times as many as [those who] disagreed with a ban.

“That makes a ban on gambling ads almost as popular as the existing ban on tobacco advertising.”

Costello said companies want phones to become the next pokies machines and are using marketing to rewire the brains of children into becoming the next generation of gamblers.

“About 85 per cent of 10-year-olds know the logos of these companies,” Costello explained.

“The only test for government here is: Will they protect kids? And the only answer to that – if it’s yes – is a sports betting advertising ban.”

Government silent on ad ban 
Rowland said on Tuesday the government is committed to a “robust legislative framework” for gambling, spruiking the national exclusion register and recent disclaimer crackdown.

“We will have more to announce in due course,” Rowland said.

But there is scepticism that the Albanese government will commit to a fully fledged ban on gambling advertising in its eventual response to the parliamentary committee from 2023.

The inquiry called for a four-phase plan that would eventually outlaw gambling ads, starting with a ban on social media and then ratcheting up towards major broadcasters of sports.

Rowland said on Tuesday that the government is still considering its response to the inquiry.

Costello said the government was reticent to take on the bettors for fear of upsetting major broadcasters, who are increasingly relying on gambling ads to prop up ailing TV revenues.

“The vested interests making money from this are pointing the gun at the government’s head and reminding them it’s an election year,” Costello said.

“They’re terrified of Seven, Nine, Ten and Foxtel.”

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