Online gambling advertising should be banned, parents say ahead of parliamentary inquiry

Rod’s son Ollie was 18 when the first Covid lockdown started.

Bored, lonely and receiving a surprisingly high income from replacing his job as a part-time tennis coach with the JobKeeper payment, he started betting on sports games through apps on his phone.

“Even though I thought I thought I had brainwashed him about how bad these businesses were, he just got screwed,” Rod said.

“He ended up losing $25,000 with about five different agencies or companies.”

Rod said his son would lose about $5,000 with one company, ban himself from the app in an attempt to stop gambling, but soon get more ads and join another company to bet again.

Parents say being able to play over the phone makes it too accessible to youngsters.(Provided)

“Ollie said at the end that he was betting on ice hockey in Estonia, because he could, they always send you an offer,” he said.

After about a year, Ollie confessed his gambling problem to his parents and got help.

“His mother ended up taking control of his finances just so he couldn’t gamble anymore, and he went to see this psychologist who deals with gambling addiction,” he said.

Concern about advertising directed at young people

Ollie has now stopped playing altogether and is continuing with college and part-time work.

But the experience has prompted his father to speak out, saying few people are aware of the extent of the problem and how it affects young people.

His aim is to have online gambling advertising completely banned, just like cigarette advertising was, arguing that it targets children and young people who love sports and teaching them how to bet is normal. .

“I’ve sort of set myself a personal goal of getting rid of gambling ads by the end of next year,” he said.

Rod is just one of many who plan to make a submission to a federal parliamentary inquiry into online gambling and the impacts on problem gamblers, announced last Thursday.

Parliamentary committee responsible for reviewing laws and regulations

Labor MP Peta Murphy, chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, told ABC Radio Perth the inquiry would focus on current regulations.

“[We intend to] take a fresh look and ask whether the legislative and regulatory regime is really doing enough in terms of harm reduction and helping people not fall into problem gambling in the first place,” Ms. Murphy said.

She said that would include looking at advertising volume.

“You just can’t watch sport, especially football, without feeling like it’s everywhere,” she said.

“And we are interested to see what the ordinary person who is subjected to these advertisements and receives these messages, thinks about whether or not [regulation] work.

“You hear parents’ concerns all the time that how kids talk about who’s going to win a game is now in betting language and they just see it as part of the sport.”

a website for the AFL with gambling ads displayed
The AFL website has many gambling advertisements.(Provided: afl.com.au)

“A game announcement every two minutes”

Kate Chaney, an independent MP for Curtin who also sits on the committee, believes there is a direct link between children’s exposure to advertising and stories like Rod and Ollie.

“Research shows that three-quarters of Australian children between the ages of eight and 16 who watch sports believe betting on sports is normal,” she said.

“They can name one or more sports betting companies and, in fact, a quarter of children this age can name four or more betting companies.

“It’s so normalized and Nielsen data shows that a gambling advert is airing every two minutes on free-to-air TV in Australia, so it’s a huge problem.”

For people trapped in a gambling addiction, they say the pervasive nature of marketing makes it even harder to break free.

Incessant contact

Sandra’s son, William, has lost nearly $100,000, both in savings and borrowed money, and is still working to overcome his gambling habit.

With the help of his parents, William applied to the Northern Territory Racing and Betting Commission, where many online betting companies are registered, for a self-exclusion, which is supposed to prevent companies from giving him an account and to receive communications.

“But earlier this year he got a text from one of these operators asking for business, and they’re throwing carrots at him: ‘spend $50 and we’ll add $100’, that sort of thing,” a- she declared.

Sandra sued and the company was fined $13,000, half the maximum penalty for contacting someone on the do-not-call register, a penalty she says is far too low to target a person with a known gambling problem.

“It’s a small change for them. They were fined $13,000, but the text would bring them a huge amount of revenue, so it doesn’t matter to them.”

She believes that William’s data has also been resold and that he constantly receives emails from betting companies despite his voluntary exclusion.

She suggested changing his phone number and email address, but he’s stuck: Marketing may stop, but he could also use a new phone number to create new game accounts and bypass the block .

“There is no escape, there is absolutely no escape,” she said.

Like Rod, Sandra would like to see a complete ban on gambling advertising and she also hopes the investigation will educate parents about the extent of the problem.

“That’s why I’m speaking out, because I really want people to know,” she said.

“There’s so much shame in it, people don’t talk about it, they keep it in the family, they try to deal with it.

“People are in really bad shape not being able to quit. It’s like drug addiction, it’s a serious public health problem.”

A packed Perth stadium in the early evening during an AFL match.
The 2021 AFL Grand Final was held in Perth for the first time last year but Ollie was unable to enjoy it due to betting stress.(Provided)

Enjoy football again

For Rod and his son Ollie, giving up gambling has not only meant clinging to his life savings, but has also allowed him to rediscover the simple pleasure of watching sports.

“He said to me a few weeks ago, it’s just great now that I can just watch football and enjoy football,” Rod said.

“Because before, when he was playing for a year, he couldn’t really enjoy football because it was all about the money.

“He confessed to me that when we watched the grand final together last year, he was totally stressed the whole time because he bet on it, he didn’t like watching it at all.”

*The names of Rod, Ollie, Sandra and William have been changed at their request for confidentiality reasons.

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