ACT online problem gambling bill causes problems

Canberra Weekly
ACT online problem gambling bill causes problems

Debate over Labor MLA Dr Marisa Paterson’s bill to protect online gamblers has been deferred after the Canberra Liberals accused Labor of profiting to the tune of more than $12.5 million from gambling.

Dr Paterson called on the ACT Government to implement the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering; to review the online gambling and advertising market, and its impacts on the ACT; to investigate ACT revenue sources that could minimise harm for the ACT community that target online gambling; and to raise community awareness around the risks of online gambling.

“The financial toll of gambling losses is heart-wrenching,” Dr Paterson’s motion (presented by fellow Labor MLA Suzanne Orr yesterday) stated. “Family homes are lost, futures are lost.”

The motion stated that although the ACT Government had an extensive reform initiative to address harm from poker machines (including capping bets and credit), it had limited levers to address the issue of online gambling and television advertising. (The Commonwealth government regulated online gambling, while most betting companies were registered in the Northern Territory and subject to minimal tax, the motion explained.)

Shane Rattenbury, ACT Minister for Gaming, said the government was committed to reducing harm caused by gambling while supporting sustainable clubs (for instance, by capping bets and credits), and would support Dr Paterson’s motion.

Liberal MLA Mark Parton, shadow minister for gaming and community clubs, wanted to introduce an amendment that “condemns ACT Labor for pocketing millions of dollars directly or indirectly from gambling companies over many years”.

“I find it remarkable that Dr Paterson can submit a motion to this chamber all about the woes of gambling harm while her party continues to benefit from the harm being perpetrated on others,” Mr Parton said.

The debate ground to a halt. Greens whip Andrew Braddock called for an adjournment until the next sitting.

Canberra’s problem gambling problem

Online gambling had worsened during the pandemic, Dr Paterson’s motion stated; the industry had advertised prolifically, targeting already isolated and vulnerable people.

Her motion, Ms Orr said, depicted “a sad world of people who have experienced great stress, mental ill-health over the past couple of years, and have been suckered into the advertising”.

Australia led the world in annual gambling losses per capita – expected to total more than $25 billion in 2021–22. One-third of people surveyed by the Australian Gambling Research Centre opened a betting account during the lockdowns.

“In stressful times, particularly financially stressful times, people turn to gambling,” Ms Orr said.

Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 38.5 per cent of the 9.7 per cent of ACT adults who bet on sports and special events were at-risk gamblers, and 3.2 per cent were problem gamblers.

Dr Paterson was concerned how easy it was to “place a bet on your phone, online, any time of day or night”, compared to poker machines, which were out of the house, better regulated, and had more decision-making points.

Almost 21 per cent of adults in the ACT (68,000 people) gambled online in the last year, Mr Rattenbury said. It was the fastest growing part of the gambling sector in Australia, increasing 15 per cent every year since 2004.

The reach of the online gambling industry also perturbed Dr Paterson.

“Ad after ad, on free-to-air TV at prime-time news hours, ads on social media, and on YouTube, were excessive,” Ms Orr said. “Two to three ads in one ad break were gambling companies. All offshore, international companies, that give nothing, owe nothing, care for nothing about this country or community.”

Meanwhile, the online gambling industry flourished. Sportsbet, the biggest operator in Australia, grew 20 per cent year on year over the past two years, and grew its average daily customer count by 86 per cent over 2020. NewsCorp is going to launch its own online wagering brand in Australia, while sports codes like the AFL and NRL are “beholden” to the gambling industry, Ms Orr said.

Labor’s ties to gambling

But in the Liberals’ eyes, Labor’s reliance on gambling is itself problematic. Mr Parton pointed to an ABC report saying political donations from the gambling industry had gone to ACT Labor, and that Labor had investments in a company linked to online gambling.

“The vast bulk of political donations from gambling entities at a state and territory level across Australia went to ACT Labor,” Mr Parton claimed.

The ABC stated that gambling groups donated more than $12.5 million to the ALP in the decade to June 2020: more than $6.27 million from the Canberra Labor Club group, and $6.48 million from the 1973 Foundation. (The Liberals received $33,190 from clubs and other gambling sources.)

“Nowhere in Australia is the flow of gambling losses to political parties more extreme than in the ACT,” the ABC stated.

It quoted Stephen Mayne, a gambling reform activist and business journalist, who said Labor had “tens of millions of dollars of equity tied up in being part of the clubs industry themselves”. “This is unique in the world,” Mr Mayne said. “No other major political party operates mini suburban casinos to help fund their operations and cocoon their asset base.”

“This government knows much more about money laundering through poker machines than any other government in Australia,” Mr Parton said. “If there is any political party in the country that fully understands the intricacies of funnelling gambling money through other entities so that it then becomes legal to access that money, it’s ACT Labor.”

Mr Parton also stated that the ACT Government (as of March 2022) has shareholdings in the Betmakers Technology Group, which created the software for online gambling companies Sportsbet, Tabcorp, Ladbrokes, Bet 365, and William Hill.

Former Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur was outraged by the ACT’s investment in gaming machines five years ago, Mr Parton said. He challenged her successors to live up to their principles.

“To the Greens members, this is your Donald Trump moment. Is this the moment when you just declare that this is fake news? You’re just going to look the other way because you’re in bed with Labor.”

Mr Parton claimed the Greens adjourned the debate to avoid upsetting their senior coalition partner.

“The one thing that the Greens can’t stand more than gambling is risking their relationship with ACT Labor. What we saw from the Greens in the Assembly today was a cynical effort to avoid debate and avoid a vote on my amendment until they had discussed it with Labor.

“When we resume debate on this motion, I fully expect the Greens to vote against it. labor won’t let the cabinet members support my amendment, and so none of the Greens will support my amendment.

“Ms Le Couteur would be disgusted in what the ACT Greens have become, and she said it best that they are now essentially a faction of the Labor party.”

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