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GAMBLING LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (ONLINE AND OTHER BETTING) BILL 2019

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
22 October 2019

I speak on behalf of The Greens in debate on the Gambling Legislation Amendment (Online and Other Betting) Bill 2019, which makes a series of amendments to the Betting and Racing Act 1998 and the Totalizator Act 1997 that are long overdue.

It will prohibit direct marketing to the holders of betting accounts without their express consent, make it easier to close an online betting account and to create prohibitions around the use of inducements to bet, keep an account open or encourage someone else to open an account. It is encouraging to see the Government taking some action to try to reduce the harms caused by online gambling. This bill has come about as a result of the New South Wales Government's commitments under the National Consumer Protection Framework for online wagering. Those agreed measures are mandatory and came into effect progressively over 18 months, beginning from 26 November 2018. Scope exists for additional or more onerous measures to be introduced at the State or Territory level, which The Greens amendments are designed to do. I will speak about that later.

The National Consumer Protection Framework contains 10 measures that address: the prohibition of lines of credit for wagering purposes; the discouragement of the use of payday lending for online wagering; a reduction in the customer verification period; prohibitions on specified inducements; greater and clearer accessibility and availability of account closure mechanisms; the implementation of a voluntary opt-out pre-commitment scheme; the provision of activity statements to customers; consistent responsible gambling messaging, if there is such a thing;training of staff in the responsible conduct of gambling; and the development and implementation of a national self-exclusion register.

We needed a national framework because online gambling is the fastest growing form of gambling in New South Wales, and it is quickly becoming the most harmful. New South Wales has the highest levels of gambling harm in the country and it is one of the worst jurisdictions in the world for problem gambling. New South Wales is already saturated with poorly regulated poker machines at clubs and pubs that account for 76 per cent of the world's poker machines outside of casinos. The only jurisdiction with more pokies than New South Wales is Nevada, home of gambling mecca Las Vegas. We must have lots of mini Las Vegases in pubs and clubs all around the State if we are second to it.

According to Australian Gambling Statistics data from 2016, the people of New South Wales lost more than $6 billion that year, accounting for nearly half of the nationwide total. The average annual loss by people harmed by gambling is $21,000 and for every problem gambler six to 10 other people are affected. Research by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation showed that 85 per cent of harm caused by gambling is experienced by low to medium risk gamblers. The advent of online gambling has caused problem gambling to evolve into an epidemic.

Online betting accounts have allowed gambling to move out of pubs, clubs and racecourses—actually it is still there, it is just expanding from those places—and into our workplaces, our homes and anywhere else people can conceivably use their smartphone. No longer do gamblers have to wait for the TAB to open or line up at the racecourse; online gambling is now available 24/7. Anyone who does not know that must be living under a rock. Sports gambling advertising now saturates our public spaces, as Sydneysiders going about their daily commute and anyone watching a screen over the past few weeks would have noticed in the lead-up to last weekend's Everest Cup. Online sports gambling is spiralling out of control in our State.

In the 10 years between 2001 and 2011, the amount wagered on horseracing via phone and internet increased 600 per cent from $625 million to $3.71 billion in Australia, while face-to-face bookmakers' turnover halved from $1.2 billion to $610 million. It is not just replacing traditional betting, it is exponentially growing the gambling market. Online gambling companies are particularly committed to targeting young men. Advertisements are now prolific across all forms of media. Online gambling advertisements sit in every ad break for every sporting event. "Sportsbet", "TAB" and countless other logos are plastered across the jerseys of our nation's sporting heroes. Social media is teaming with supposedly clever and quirky advertisements from the likes of Tom Waterhouse. His suited diatribes offer up the prestige waiting for those willing to take a punt. The advertisements are primarily targeted at young men and have been found to employ strategies such as appeals to mateship, gender stereotypes, sporting rituals, sexualised imagery, power and control, and patriotism. They are typically fast paced and upbeat, and focus on outcomes such as winning, adventure and happiness.

In 2019 the Australian Gambling Research Centre published its "Weighing up the odds" study, which sought to better understand the sports-betting behaviour of young men. The results were shocking. One-quarter of betters surveyed reported being under 18 when they first placed a bet on sports. Online gambling companies' sponsorship of sports clubs is particularly effective. Australian Football League and National Rugby League team sponsors have been shown to be highly recognisable to children. A 2016 study found that three out of four kids could name at least one gambling company and one in four could name four. Most gambling promotions lack any messaging about a responsible approach to gambling and do an excellent job of normalising online gambling as an integral part of the experience of enjoying your favourite sport.

When someone joins an online gambling platform, the platform does its best to drive problematic gambling behaviour in its users in every way. The accessibility of online gambling apps helps to drive addictive behaviour in those who are vulnerable to a gambling problem. Participants in one study indicated that gamblers place bets almost anywhere they use their smartphones: 86 per cent bet at home; 55 per cent bet at work, school or university; 56 per cent bet in licensed venues; and 50 per cent bet at sporting events.

Users are bombarded with promotions and direct messages designed to induce increasingly risky forms of gambling. Those inducements to bet include multi bet offers, stake back offers, match‑your‑stake or deposit offers, cash out early on a multi bet offers, sign‑up bonuses, rewards programs and better odds and/or winnings offers. Those promotions have been found to drive gambling uptake, with young men viewing them as an appealing, low‑risk or no‑loss betting option. That is why I will be introducing amendments on behalf of The Greens to expand on the Government's requirement to expressly opt in to direct marketing. One young man, describing the intensity of the promotions he received from online betting companies, said:

If you haven't put money in a certain account, they will start ringing you or they'll message you and they'll email you.

Over the spring racing carnival at least one of them will send you an email every day or send you a text message every Friday, Saturday, saying deposit money now - I'll give you this if you deposit money, so they're quite full on.

Those promotions lead to users signing up to multiple betting accounts to take full advantage of all promotions that might be on offer at any time. The end result is that users are constantly bombarded with offers too good to refuse, and constantly pulling them back in for one more bet. Although the bill does prohibit inducements to a person to keep an account open or to invite another person to open an account, it does not go far enough to stop the insidious promotional tactics of online gambling agencies. The Greens will move amendments that go further by prohibiting all promotions by gambling agencies to induce users to bet.

Participants in one survey reported having an average of four different accounts with online wagering companies. The accessibility of gambling apps and the temptation of promotions can lead to users doubling down on their losses, especially when 64 per cent of gamblers were found to bet whilst under the influence of alcohol. One problem gambler described his experience of trying to bet his way out of a loss at the races. He said:

So there were days when I'd probably lose, like, $100, $200 and I could've stopped at $50 but I chased it because you might've lost your money at race 5 at the races and you're still there for another three or four hours, so you wanna keep betting and you probably start to increase your stakes slightly to try to win back some of the money you lost.

That illustrates why the bill's introduction of schemes to limit deposits into accounts is so important and why The Greens support it. Betting agencies make a fortune out of online betting. However, the maximum fine a sports betting company can receive for an infringement is 500 units, or $55,000—a mere drop in the ocean for betting companies. Almost always they are fined less than the maximum penalty. For example, Sportsbet was fined only $10,000 for an illegal gambling advertisement posted on its website on 5 July 2018. The ad offered a $100 bonus to any user who referred a friend to the service, which was clearly illegal under our existing laws.

In its 2018 annual report Sportsbet reported an underlying operating profit of roughly $215 million and revenue of roughly $740 million. The company was fined $10,000 but even the maximum fine of $55,000 would simply be a cost of doing business for Sportsbet. In sentencing Sportsbet, the magistrate said that there was a need for a penalty to act as a general deterrent for all operators in the industry and to ensure other companies are vigilant in complying with the law. That is why The Greens will propose an amendment to introduce additional fines for each day that an infringement occurs and a three‑strikes system for repeat offenders. The Greens will support the bill. However, we hope that members in this place will recognise this as an opportunity to go further than the National Consumer Protection Framework and that they will support our amendments in Committee to strengthen measures to reduce harm from online gambling.

 

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
22 October 2019
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