Edition #8: Early signs of harm from gambling

Illustration of 2 commuters on a train. On the left is a bearded man with green glasses, standing and holding on to a rail at the top of the train with one hand. He is looking at his mobile phone with the other. He is wearing a red, white and blue striped scarf. On right right is a man seated and facing forward, wearing a red beanie with white stripes and black glasses. In front of him is a laptop, which he is looking at.
Illustration of 2 commuters on a train. On the left is a bearded man with green glasses, standing and holding on to a rail at the top of the train with one hand. He is looking at his mobile phone with the other. He is wearing a red, white and blue striped scarf. On right right is a man seated and facing forward, wearing a red beanie with white stripes and black glasses. In front of him is a laptop, which he is looking at.
Illustration: Steven Moore

Gambling advertising – trying to re-route the train

At the beginning of May this year, the federal government announced it was placing further restrictions on gambling advertising. In short, banning gambling ads from live sporting broadcasts that occur any time between 5 am and 8.30 pm. These new bans follow a procession of restrictions introduced piece by piece by federal and state governments, the advertising industry itself and sporting bodies, starting in 2012 with state and federal government discussions over broadcasting live odds during a game.

Currently, gambling advertising during broadcasts of TV sport is only permitted in breaks in play, such as half-time. Promotions during play occur only incidentally, such as when cameras pick up signage at grounds or on team jumpers.

All aboard

Ten years ago, gambling advertising was not the issue it is today, largely because there was very little of it. State governments ruled the regulatory space, and here in Victoria, there were tight restrictions relating to wagering and pokies. TV and radio advertising for gambling was largely TattsLotto ads and the odd glimpse of gambling in the background of ads for racing carnivals or the casino as an entertainment complex. Pokies venues could have a sign out the front saying ‘pokies’ and that was it.

All that began to change in 2008 after the High Court ruled companies elsewhere in Australia had the right to offer gambling over the internet on events in other states. From there, it was a short step to broadcast advertising. The advent of smart phones and their apps significantly boosted the potential market.

The budgets devoted to gambling advertising reflect the strong competition between companies to grow the market and capture market share. At more than $236 million nationally (excluding sponsorship and in-program content), the spend in 2015 was over 500 per cent more than in 2012, and it has continued to rise.

The advent of smart phones and their apps significantly boosted the potential market.

Community concern about betting and sport

Part of the secret to getting new customers is getting people to bet on sports they follow and are familiar with. Racing, except for the Melbourne Cup, has far fewer followers than the football codes. So, in the space of six years, ads to bet on Australian Football League and National Rugby League games, plus cricket and tennis matches, are everywhere.

There has been a public response. Many adult fans of these sports object to them becoming products for gambling. They follow the games and the teams emotionally; it is about love of the game, not the odds. Gambling advertising is perceived to threaten the essence of what it is to be a fan.

Many adult fans of these sports object to them becoming products for gambling.

This is the question of normalisation. Advertising has the potential to turn gambling into a ‘natural’ part of sport. Of particular concern is its impact on children, whose ideas about what sport is and means are still being formed. For many parents, the advertising runs counter to how they want their children to experience and learn from sport.

Foundation-funded research backs up these concerns, finding that ads are having a normalising effect on children’s attitudes, and naturalising gambling as a part and purpose of sporting events.

Regulatory brakes and buffers

In many ways, sports betting and the advertising that promotes it, has become a runaway train, largely driven by competition to grow markets. Carriages giving momentum to that train include the arrival of the 24/7 digital economy, the explosion in TV advertising revenue flowing through to sporting bodies, and a rush of new companies into the market, especially UK and Irish bookmakers after 2011. Bookies have also added their own carriages in the shape of continually expanding ways to bet on sports, far beyond winners and losers, or winning margins.

The regulatory brakes and buffers for this train need continual updating. States and territories were set up to regulate and control gambling and gambling advertising in their own jurisdictions. Online gambling is covered by the federal government’s Interactive Gambling Act, which is dated 2001. The Act prohibits advertising of illegal gambling products, but says nothing about advertising the ones that are legal. In this sense, the train's brakes and signals are due an overhaul.

Online gambling is covered by the federal government’s Interactive Gambling Act, which is dated 2001.

The new ban on advertising during live sport is part of a larger body of reforms for stronger consumer protection the federal government is bringing to online gambling, partly via legislation, partly through directions to self-regulation and partly via cooperation with the states and territories.

Young people in their mid to late teens and early 20s have not really known a period where gambling advertising was not a part of experiencing sport. These new restrictions will inhibit exposure of underage people to gambling. However, we live in a world of multiple, overlapping media – social media, narrowcast online media, and all the traditional forms. Having been switched off on some parts of the track, advertising will continue to hurtle along on others. Shows about sport and shows generally on broadcast media will still feature a lot of gambling advertising – maybe more, as advertising dollars taken from live sport are spent there instead.

Young people in their mid to late teens and early 20s have not really known a period where gambling advertising was not a part of experiencing sport.

The market competition is fierce and the impetus for growing the market is far from over. The debate about normalisation and the appetite for policy reform will no doubt continue.

Further reading

Federal government Fact sheet on Gambling Advertising changes May 2017

Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering and government response

Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation submission to Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering

Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation response to the Australian Association of National Advertisers discussion paper on the development of a Wagering Advertising and Marketing Communication code

Deans, L, Thomas, SL, Derevensky, J & Daube, M 2017, ‘The influence of marketing on the sports betting attitudes and consumption behaviours of young men: implications for harm reduction and prevention strategies’, Harm Reduction Journal, vol. 14, no. 5, pp. 1–12.

Hing, N, Sproston, K, Brading, R & Brook, K 2015a, Review and analysis of sports and race betting inducements, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Melbourne (pp.10–12).

Pitt, H, Thomas, SL, Bestman, A, Stoneham, M & Daube, M 2016, ‘“It's just everywhere!” Children and parents discuss the marketing of sports wagering in Australia’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, vol. 40, no. 5, pp. 480–86.

Pitt, H, Thomas, SL, Bestman, A, Daube, M & Derevensky, J 2017, ‘Factors that influence children’s gambling attitudes and consumption intentions: lessons for gambling harm prevention research, policies and advocacy strategies’, Harm Reduction Journal, vol. 14, no. 11, pp. 1–12.

Thomas, SL, Pitt, H & Bestman, A 2016, Child and parent recall of gambling sponsorship in Australian sport, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Melbourne.

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