In the midst of persistent public discussion and media interest the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform has released its report into Advertising and Promotion of Gambling Services in Sport. The Report has been released early following a five month inquiry by the Committee. 

The Inquiry was prompted by continuing concern about the intrusive amount of sports betting advertising.  Three key concerns emerged during the Inquiry:

  • indirect marketing and its possible effects, including normalisation, on children and vunerable people from a high level of exposure;
  • the 'pervasive nature of the promotion of sports betting'; and
  • the integration of sports betting into sporting commentary.

These key concerns were reflected in the majority of the Committee's nine recommendations, which, in keeping with the public sentiment, favour increased regulation of the gambling and sports betting industry. However, there was some respite for the gambling industry with the Committee recommending that the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Advertising for Sport Betting) Bill 2013 not be passed. 

Notwithstanding the majority of the Committee's recommendations favoured increased regulation of the industry, anti-gambling campaigners have criticised the Committee for not going far enough on reform, claiming in particular that the measures will do little to stop gambling advertising during commercial breaks and breaks in play.  In their dissenting comments, Committee chair Andrew Wilkie and Senators Di Natale and Madigan, cited this as a "fundamental weakness" and contended that some of the recommendations need to be "significantly strengthened".  

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon was also critical of the committee for not going far enough, commenting that "children will still be vulnerable whenever they watch a footy match, because of the avalanche of gambling advertising during breaks in play". 

Overview of  the Recommendations

Concern: Indirect marketing to children and young people

The Committee made a number of recommendations intended to minimise the impact of advertising and promotion of gambling on children and young people. Specifically, the Committee stated that its recommendations were aimed at:

  • preventing the normalisation of gambling;
  • minimising the amount of advertising indirectly reaching children;
  • ensuring the in-ground experience is appropriate for families; and
  • understanding the long-term effect of a high level of exposure to gambling advertising on children and their future behaviour.

Recommendation

The Committee recommended a governmental review (including public consultation) of the current exemption of gambling advertising for sporting programs.

The Committee considered the current broadcasting restrictions in place to ensure gambling and sports betting advertisements are not shown in programs likely to have a substantial audience of children.

Over the course of the inquiry, the Committee considered why the exemption to this restriction should be made during sporting programs. Interestingly, the Committee referred to data indicating that AFL is one of the top three television programs watched by children under 14 years. The Productivity Commission was of the view that the exemption was inconsistent with the "general principles concerning exposure to gambling by children".

The Committee considered that it was an appropriate time to undertake a review given the current level of community concern coupled with the large increase in gambling advertising during sporting programs. Accordingly, the Committee recommended a review of the exemption.

Recommendation 

The Committee recommended further research be undertaken in relation to the long term effects of gambling advertising on children, and in particular, the normalisation of gambling during televised sport.

The overarching concern of the Committee was the promotion and advertising of sports betting and the influence it may be having on children and young people.

The Committee was concerned that highly visible indirect marketing and the integration of promotional activities with sporting broadcasts created a blurring between advertising and the game which, among other possible side effects, could have a normalising effect on children. The Committee heard submissions that the use of sports stars or media personalities contributed to children having difficulty separately advertising from neutral content.

While acknowledging these concerns and that research conducted since the last report did not "assuage" those concerns, the Committee also recognised that more research was needed into the long term effects of gambling and sports betting advertising on children, their future behaviour and whether it could increase their risk of problem gambling. The Committee noted the Government's creation of the Australian Gambling Research Centre and recommended that it be responsible for the further research.

Recommendation

The Committee recommended a review (including public consultation) of the amount of betting promotion at sporting venues (including on uniforms) to determine whether it is appropriate for what is marketed as a family friendly environment.

Recommendation

The Committee recommended an urgent review of the availability of merchandise to children featuring sports betting logos or names.

Over the course of the inquiry, the Committee heard evidence from the gambling industry that there was no intention to directly market sports betting advertising to children. Mr Cormac Barry, Chief Executive Officer, Sportsbet and Chairman, Australian Wagering Council gave evidence that the high level of sports betting advertising reflected a "battle for market share within the sector" and was not aimed at creating "new betters". The Committee acknowledged that it was not the intention of either industry or sport to market directly to children. However, it was concerned with the impact the high level of advertising and other forms of marketing had on children and their exposure to it.

The above recommendations reflect the Committee's concern with the high level of indirect marketing on children, such as marketing in the form of signage at venues, sponsorship visible on banners and goal posts, fan jerseys and general gambling advertising. In particular, the Committee noted the placement of sports betting promotion across the uniforms of senior players which do not carry any responsible gambling messages.

Concern: the "pervasive nature of the promotion of sports betting"

A key concern of the Committee was the "pervasive nature" of gambling advertising. While the Committee was particularly concerned with children, young men and problem gamblers, it also stated that it supported an approach to gambling that took into consideration the whole of the population.

The Committee considered the ease of access to mobile phone applications to place bets and increasingly pervasive advertising tactics, including partnerships between bookmakers and major broadcasters and the standard practice of embedding sports betting with sporting commentary. The Committee was concerned that this all played a part in socialising gambling so that gambling was seen as part of the sport.

Mr Shane Mattiske, General Manager, Strategic Projects, National Rugby League (NRL) acknowledged that the "lines were a little blurred". Mr Mattiske went on to comment that the NRL have now put in place new arrangements to ensure "a clear distinction between the commentary team and the promotion of sports betting". The Committee also heard conflicting evidence from Professor Samantha Thomas who contended that both adults and children found it difficult to distinguish between sporting commentators and wagering promotion and that adults and children believed the promotion was part of the match.

The Committee also considered the reliance of sporting codes on gambling related income streams and whether this created a potential conflict of interest in respect of the sporting codes ability to regulate gambling within their code. Accordingly, the Committee made a number of recommendations that aim to: 

  • review the impact of gambling on the population as a whole;
  • ensure individuals are aware of the possible harm caused by gambling;
  • minimise harm through nationally consistent responsible gambling messages; and
  • address new and emerging technology and its effect on problem gambling;

Recommendation

The Committee recommended a governmental review of the gambling industry's self-regulation regarding the promotion of gambling products to an audience which includes children and legislative intervention if the industry does not make appropriate changes.

The Committee stated that it welcomed the Government announcement to ban live odds promotion during televised live sport and noted its willingness to further intervene should the need arise.

The Committee noted that there were other industry codes (such as the Australian Association of National Advertisers' advertising and marketing code) which do not currently apply to gambling products. Accordingly it was appropriate to review these other codes to assess whether further intervention was desirable.

Recommendation

The Committee recommended that the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Advertising for Sports Betting) Bill 2013 not be passed.

Considering the government is currently working with commercial and subscription broadcasters to amend their existing industry codes of practice to address the promotion of live odds, the Committee was of the view that the effectiveness of these measures should be evaluated before passing any legislation.

Recommendation

The Committee recommended a nationally consistent responsible gambling message be agreed to work as effectively as possible as harm minimisation measures.

With regards to harm minimisation, the Committee was of the view that a nationally consistent responsible gambling message was needed. The Committee acknowledged that it would be impossible to compete with the current level of sports betting advertising. Nevertheless the Committee wanted those harm minimisation measures to work as effectively as possible and recommended consistency in relation to:

  • size and placement of the message;
  • duration that the message appears on screen;
  • the use of colour; and
  • the inclusion of a reference to the likelihood of losing money.

Recommendation

The Committee recommended that further research be undertaken in relation to the effect of mobile phone applications on problem gambling (including what are the most effective harm minimisation features and how these can be best incorporated).

Dr Christopher Hunt from the Gambling Treatment Clinic at the University of Sydney gave evidence to the Committee on the effect of new and emerging technology and the ease of access to mobile phone applications which allow individuals to place bets "more frequently that they would have previously".

Dr Hunt pointed out that the ease with which individuals are able to place bets on mobile applications without having to re-enter credit card details made it difficult to keep a record of losses.

The Committee acknowledged that further research was needed in this area.

Concern: sports integrity

Recommendation

The Committee recommended the development of appropriate tools and resources for amateur sport to increase participants' awareness of the risks and threats posed by gambling on amateur sporting events.

Recognising that amateur sport is not well resourced or equipped to address integrity issues, the Committee suggested that the government, in consultation with stakeholders, develop appropriate tools and resources targeted for amateur sports.

Next steps

With 27 June 2013 as the Parliament's last sitting date, there may be a legislative response.

Posted by Judith Miller on Tuesday 18 Jun 2013