From the 12th August 2021, poker machines in the ACT have been shut, lights out, as a result of the lockdown. However, as we have been confined to our homes for the last couple of months, perhaps more dependent than ever on social media and TV, we have been barraged day in day out by gambling ads.
Much has been made of the profiteering out of JobKeeper over the course of the pandemic –billions of tax-payer dollars paid to companies with rising revenues, and millions paid out in executive bonuses. One industry that has profited greatly from Australia’s experience of the pandemic has been international corporate bookmakers, gaining tens of billions of dollars in market share during the past year, including some, like Australian based Tabcorp who made a profit and collected JobKeeper.
The billions being made in this industry is not surprising as research from the Australian Gambling Research Centre (Jenkinson et al. 2020) found that last year almost one in three participants in a survey of 2,000 people opened a new online betting account during the Covid-19 pandemic.
People did not just come to this decision to open an online betting account out of thin air. While life has been confined to the few walls of the suburban home or apartment, people were (and still are) inundated with sports bookmakers advertising to them. Research funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (Russell &Hing 2020) confirmed this, reporting that gambling marketing online was prolific during and after the initial lockdown in March last year, resulting in operators increasing market share as well as betting activity amongst existing customers. The SMH reported the gambling industry spent AU$271.3m on advertising last year (Harris 2021)
The advertising has become so bad that in September this year, Tabcorp chief executive officer said the Federal government should impose greater restrictions for TV gambling ads – particularly during prime-time to protect children and teenagers. He warned that a switch towards online gambling during the pandemic has brought about a need for greater government intervention (Harris 2021).
The Free TV Code prohibits gambling and betting commercials from being broadcast in any program classiﬁed as G or lower between 6am and 8.30am and between 4pm and 7pm, as well as during any program broadcast between 5am and 8.30pm that is principally directed to children.
However, a loophole permits such advertising during commercial broadcasts in a news, current affairs or sporting program, which means that viewers, including children, are still exposed to gambling advertisements during these timeslots.
It should also be noted that it doesn’t matter what time of day or night, live or not, any sporting footage has gambling advertising embedded in it – the games are shrouded in gambling advertising round the sports grounds and on the jerseys of our favourite players.
This all needs to change.
The ACT Gambling survey (Paterson et al. 2019) conducted before the pandemic, surveyed 10,000 ACT residents and found 10.3% of the ACT population were classified as at-risk gamblers. Strong associations were found between increased levels of risk on the Problem Gambling Severity Index and particular gambling actives, such as casino table games (41% at risk; PGSi > 0), sports betting (39%), informal games (34%) and EGMs (31%).
Those who bet on sports and special events were more likely to be male (80.2%), more likely to be below the age of 45 (80.7%), more likely to be born in Australia (77.1%), more likely to be single (30.3%), more likely to be employed full-time (78.0%) and more likely to earn over $125 000 (22.5%) than those who do not bet on sports and special events.
So when we watch the gambling ads on TV, they pitch to - white Aussie males, below the age of 45, single (with mates), hard workers, who are motivated by wealth or high earnings.
The research results clearly demonstrate their marketing works. Unfortunately what they don’t tell you or your children in the ads, is that approx. 40% of those men experience adverse consequences of their sports betting.
Evidence on the content of the advertising suggests that we increasingly see ads designed to entice punters towards more impulsive, high-risk bets with larger potential payoffs. Increasingly these companies are advertising inducements, offers and promotional deals such as ‘free bets’, bonuses and matched deposit, none of which feature age restriction or harm reduction messages (Torrance et al. 2021). And one rather insidious marketing technique is refer-a-friend bonuses that are regularly advertised.
We understand the harm that gambling causes in our community, we also understand the impact and effectiveness of marketing. Yet we continue to allow gambling products to be advertised with very minimal restriction and no consideration for harm minimisation.
This Gambling Harm Awareness week – I have two calls to action:
For people in the ACT experiencing harm from gambling, call 1800 858 858 for a chat.
Jenkinson et al. (2020) https://aifs.gov.au/agrc/publications/gambling-australia-during-covid-19
Paterson et al. (2019) https://csrm.cass.anu.edu.au/centres/cgr/2019-act-gambling-survey
Russell & Hing (2021) https://responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/resources/publications/gambling-advertising-and-promotions-before-during-and-after-the-initial-covid-19-lockdown-and-sports-shutdown-in-australia-972/
Image credit: Alliance for Gambling Reform: End Gambling Ads