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Australian betting advertising on the brink, potential ban sparks concerns

Australia’s leading media, sports, and online bookmakers are steeling themselves for potential shifts in advertising regulations, with rumours suggesting a complete cessation of gambling ads could be on the horizon.

Anonymously sourced insights from the industry hint at a proposal for a four-year phased prohibition on such advertising, as recommended by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs.

This suggestion emerges from an inquiry into the pernicious effects of online gambling, although the government has yet to decide whether to adopt these recommendations.

The lion’s share of gambling-related harm in Australia can be traced back to poker machines, which are the primary addiction for the majority of problem gamblers undergoing treatment.

However, experts contend that advertising can spur young people and those already struggling with gambling issues to engage in betting activities they might otherwise avoid.

A potential total ban on advertising, whilst drastic, is seen by some as an essential step towards curbing this issue.

The industry has presented varying responses to this potential change.

On one hand, Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA), representing some of Australia’s leading online bookmakers, argues that curtailing regulated wagering providers’ ability to advertise might only drive those vulnerable to gambling harm towards unregulated operators (offshore bookmakers), who would likely flout the rules.

On the other hand, industry veteran Tabcorp has allied with harm advocates, demanding a comprehensive ban on broadcast advertising.

Despite accusations that this stance is merely a move to protect its market share, competitors concede that there is public sentiment against the deluge of betting ads.

The prospect of an ad ban has commercial television broadcasters on edge, as a significant chunk of their revenue hinges on gambling advertising.

The CEO of Free TV Australia, Bridget Fair, emphasised that any cuts to gambling advertising should be offset by reductions in other regulatory burdens.

The organisation has proposed a cap on the frequency of gambling ads, but the practicality of implementing this on broadcast video on-demand services is questionable.

In 2021, prominent broadcasters Nine and Seven were reprimanded by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for flouting gambling advertising rules during live sports coverage, illustrating the complexity of the issue.

Despite not being the largest advertising sector, gambling ranks among the top 20 in Australia.

Data from Nielsen’s Ad Intel Panel suggests that gambling and gaming companies shelled out approximately $310 million on advertising in 2022, a considerable increase from $287.2 million in 2021, $271.3 million in 2020, and a mere $89.7 million in 2011.

Over half of this expenditure was with commercial television networks, with the remainder largely funnelled into burgeoning digital advertising platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

When considering sponsorship of stadiums, sports clubs, competitions, and even podcasts, industry sources estimate the total annual spending by the wagering sector to be in excess of $600 million.

The potential ban could unfairly target traditional media like television and radio, which are already stringently regulated, whilst “new age media” platforms such as YouTube and TikTok could continue to flourish with little oversight.

There is evidence of online betting sites companies preparing for this eventuality, with at least four members of Nine’s broadcasting talent recently approached to make appearances on YouTube and TikTok endorsements.

This shift could have implications for major sporting bodies like Tennis Australia, Cricket Australia, NRL, and AFL, which have recently secured long-term broadcast deals, and may seek compensation for potential losses in advertising revenue.

The potential ban on gambling advertising in Australia could have far-reaching implications for the media industry, sports organisations, and the gambling industry itself.

While the measures are designed to mitigate the harm caused by problem gambling, the impacts on the broader industry and the potential for shifts in advertising to less regulated platforms are significant considerations that will need to be addressed.

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