The coverage and impact of Australian bookmaker campaigns continues to be under the spotlight as part of an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the industry’s societal impact.
In a session beginning on 4 April at 8:30am AEST (10:30pm GMT, 3 April), legislators heard submissions from four operators, two sports leagues, government departments, and two trade associations, including Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA).
Representing the betting industry were Entain, Flutter Entertainment’s Sportsbet, Tabcorp and The Lottery Corporation – the latter being Tabcorp’s former lottery and keno subsidiary ‘Tatts’ , now divested as a separate company – and the RWA.
Chair of the Committee, Peta Murphy MP, explained: “On Tuesday, we will question Sportsbet, Tabcorp and Entain (operator of brands Ladbrokes and Neds), and the peak industry body Responsible Wagering Australia, about whether industry is doing enough to limit the harm of online gambling in the Australian community.”
‘Too much advertising’, argues Tacorp
Tabcorp’s CEO, Adam Rytenskild, and Entain’s Regulatory Strategy and Safer Gambling lead, Steven Lang, appeared in front of legislators to represent their respective companies, which, like other stakeholders, made a submission ahead of the hearing.
In Tabcorp’s submission, Rytenskild took aim at ‘foreign bookies’ in the Northern Territory, criticising the campaigns of its rivals Entain – in particular the Ladbrokes and Neds brands and Flutter’s Sportsbet.
An inconsistent patchwork of regulations means that said ‘foreign bookies’ in the Northern Territory are ‘less regulated and pay less taxes/fees than Australian TABs’, Tabcorp asserted.
It is currently unclear what Rytenskild informed the Committee, but in its prior submission Tabcorp asserted that there is ‘too much advertising’ in Australia, particularly pointing to a proliferation of online marketing, in which the heritage brand has called for the creation of a single national regulator.
Rytenskild asserted in Tabcorp’s submission: “There has been a limited response from governments to the increase in gambling advertising and the recent betting industry trends and the acceleration of online betting trends from the forced shutdown of retail venues during COVID-19.
“Our research also suggests that most Australians believe the Federal Government needs to act. For example, 66% of Australians support having the Federal Government regulate gambling instead of State/Territory Governments to ensure there is a consistent approach across Australia.”
The CEO again added that the future success of the National Consumer Protection Framework (NCPF) will be hindered by the absence of a single national regulator and what it perceives to be excessive online advertising, highlighting one ‘foreign bookie’ in particular.
“The foreign bookie Sportsbet is the largest advertiser by far,” he said. “In the first half of 2022, they spent almost double what other operators spent on advertising.
“The impact of gambling advertising is three-fold. First, there is a strong link between advertising and an increase in gambling activity.
“Second, foreign bookies have been targeting customers of pubs, clubs, and the local Australian state-based licensee with aggressive advertising and inducements, especially when retail venues were forced to close during the pandemic Third, the community thinks there is too much gambling advertising.”
Entain – in defence of the status quo
In stark contrast, Entain argued that current government regulations in Australia are ‘appropriate’, warning that ‘unproportionate frameworks’ risk exposing consumers to black market threats.
The company also stressed its own safer gambling standards, adopting policies informed by work with national and international academics and researchers, but reiterated that strong regulatory backing is still required to minimise the dangers posed by unlicensed firms.
“These illegal offshore gambling providers do not pay Australian taxes, do not pay product fees to Australian racing and sporting controlling bodies and significantly do not offer protections for their Australian consumers,” Entain argued.
“It is therefore important that any future regulations are balanced and clearly evidence driven. As a first step, this involves ensuring that existing regulations are monitored and researched to assess whether they have achieved their safer gambling objectives.”
Also countering Tabcorp’s arguments, Entain asserted that there is no active targeting of underage consumers via advertising, acknowledging that whilst gambling advertising has the potential to cause harm, there is a robust regulatory framework in place as well as extensive self-regulation by the industry.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Lang informed the Committee: “There’s no place in our industry for any advertising targeting children. We don’t do any advertising that is designed to do that, but we certainly accept the current rules have resulted in some unintended children to gambling advertising.”
The paper also outlined that Lang shut down the notion of affordability checks, stating that setting a limit appropriate to all ‘is going to be impossible’ due to differing levels of affordability and sustainable spending across various players.
A tougher gig for Sportsbet?
According to Australian media reports, Sportsbet CEO Barni Evans received some flak from Murphy when asked whether the firm actively stops people from betting.
The MP apparently asserted that Sportsbet only prevents players from placing bets when they have been ‘consistently winning’, the Herald asserted, as opposed to blocking bettors for safety or responsibility reasons.
In its pre-hearing submission, Tania Abbotto, Sportsbet’s Sustainability and People Officer, asserted that the firm had played a ‘positive role’ in the development of safer gambling policies in Australia.
However, the firm also offered a number of recommendations to legislators, calling for the adoption of a data-led approach to customer safety and interventions which has advantages over wide-ranging product-based restrictions and ‘subjective monitoring’ of player behaviour.
The sportsbook also called for the inquiry’s scope to be extended to cover land-based and retail betting as well as online wagering, for a limiting of payment methods for gambling – specifically restricting crypto-payments – and for further exploration of a sustainable advertising approach.
“Balancing the needs of those who gamble responsibly with the necessary protections for those who are at risk of harm or are experiencing harm, requires a holistic approach,” Abbotto concluded.
“There have been significant reforms in online wagering regulation, many of which are not yet fully implemented. It is critical these measures be properly evaluated for their effectiveness, and due consideration be given to which elements are retained or changed, as part of any future reforms.”