This weekend, Victoria will become the first Australian state to prohibit online bookmakers from offering bonus bets and marketing directly to customers.
The tough new laws are part of the National Consumer Protection Framework, which was created in November last year but has yet to be implemented.
As of Sunday, May 26, licensed bookies cannot promise Victorian punters any kind of inducement to sign up and start betting.
That includes extra credits, bonus bets, improved odds, promotional vouchers, or anything else that might be construed as a reward for registration.
Wagering requirements for free bets are also banned, as gambling operators will no longer have the power to offer existing customers any betting bonus where the winnings cannot be withdrawn as real cash.
Bookies can only market products to customers via direct messaging if they first opt in, while in-site tools that allow punters to set betting limits and close accounts easily are now compulsory.
According to Marlene Kairouz, the state gaming minister, the bonus bet ban and the other new restrictions put Victoria at the forefront of consumer protection in the gambling industry.
“These Australian-first changes are about tightening the rules for online betting operators and empowering consumers to make better choices – and I encourage other states and territories to follow our lead,” she told Fairfax Media.
“Victoria is the first state to sign up to the national framework because it offers greater protection to people who gamble online and gives them practical steps to better manage their gambling.”
The law changes are a direct response to the ever-growing popularity of online sports betting in Australia.
While poker machines and casino games make up the bulk of the nation’s gaming and wagering losses, lawmakers have appeared more troubled by the relative lack of protection for problem gamblers in the remote sector.
The new framework includes a commitment to creating a nationwide self-exclusion program – a move welcomed by bookmakers and reformists alike.
“Responsible Wagering Australia and its members have been amongst the biggest supporters of stronger protections for online wagering consumers and congratulate the Victorian government for leading the way,” said Stephen Conroy, chief executive of bookie lobby Responsible Wagering Australia.
“These new measures represent a significant enhancement for online wagering customers, and we encourage other state governments to now follow Victoria’s lead, so these measures can be rolled out efficiently and consistently on a national basis.”
Reverend Tim Costello also praised the Victorian government’s initiative, although the head of the Alliance for Gambling Reform added that the job was only half done.
“The most important reform to reduce harm caused by the global online bookmakers would be a complete ban on advertising like what applies to the tobacco industry, but we’re yet to see either side of politics show some courage and embrace that measure,” he said.
Others states, such as New South Wales, have already banned sign-up bonuses and introduced restrictions on gambling advertising, but Victoria is the first to enact the wider-ranging policies of the National Consumer Protection Framework.
It is not yet known how long it will take the rest of the country to follow the Daniel Andrews government’s lead.