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

ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Online gambling advertising should be banned say parents ahead of parliamentary inquiry

Rod's son Ollie was 18 when the first Covid lockdown began.

Bored, lonely and receiving an unexpectedly high income thanks to his part-time tennis coaching job being replaced by the JobKeeper payment, he began to bet on sports games via apps on his phone.

"Even though I thought I thought I'd brainwashed him into how bad these companies are, he just got sucked in," 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 effort to stop gambling but soon receive more ads and join another company to bet again.

"Ollie said in the end, he was betting on ice hockey in Estonia, because he could, they're always sending you a deal," he said.

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

"His mother ended up taking control of his finances just so that he couldn't bet anymore, and he went and saw this psychologist who deals with gambling addiction," he said.

Concern about advertising to young people

Ollie has now stopped gambling completely and is moving on with his university studies and his part-time job.

But the experience has galvanised his father to speak out, saying few people are aware of the extent of the problem and how it's affecting young people.

His goal is to see online gambling advertising completely banned, just as cigarette advertising was, arguing it's targeting children and young people who love sport and teaching them betting is normal.

"I've sort of made it my own little personal goal to have the gambling ads off 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 to look at laws and regulation

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 be looking at present regulations.

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

She said that would include looking at the volume of advertising.

"You just can't watch sport, particularly football, without feeling like it's everywhere," she said.

"And we're interested to see what the everyday person who is subjected to those ads and gets those messages, feels about whether or not [regulation] is working.

"You hear all the time parents' concerns that the way that children talk about who's going to win a game now is in the language of betting and they just see it as part and parcel of sport."

'A gambling ad every two minutes'

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

"Research shows that three quarters of Australian children between eight and 16 who watch sport, think that betting on sport is normal," she said.

"They can name one or more sports betting companies and, in fact, a quarter of kids that age can name four or more betting agencies.

"It's so normalised and Nielsen data shows that a gambling ad is shown every two minutes on free-to-air TV in Australia, so it's a huge issue."

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

Relentless contact

Sandra's son William has lost close to $100,000, both in savings and borrowed money and is still working on overcoming his gambling habit.

With the help of his parents, William applied to the Northern Territory Racing and Wagering commission, where many online betting agencies are registered, for self-exclusion, which is supposed to stop companies giving him an account and from receiving communications.

"But earlier this year, he was sent a text message by one of these operators who was soliciting business from him, and they dangle the carrot: 'spend $50 and we'll add $100', that sort of thing," she said.

Sandra made a complaint, and the company was fined $13,000, half the maximum penalty for contacting someone on the exclusion register, a penalty she believes is far too low for targeting someone with a known gambling issue.

"It's small change for them. They were fined $13,000 but the text would bring in an enormous amount of revenue, so it just doesn't matter to them."

She believes William's data has also been on-sold and he receives constant emails from betting companies despite his voluntary exclusion.

She has suggested changing his phone number and email address but he finds himself in bind: the marketing may stop, but he could also use a new phone number to set up fresh gambling accounts and bypass the block.

"There's no escape, there's absolutely no escape," she said.

Like Rod, Sandra would like to see a complete ban on gambling advertising and she's also hoping the inquiry raises awareness among parents about the extent of the problem.

"That's why I'm speaking out, because I really want people to be aware," she said.

"There's so much shame involved with this, people don't talk about it, they keep it in the family, they're trying to deal with it.

"People are in a really bad way with not being able to stop. It's like a drug addiction, it's a serious public health issue."

Enjoying footy again

For Rod and his son Ollie, giving up gambling has not just meant hanging on to his savings but also allowed him to return to the simple pleasure of watching sport.

"He said to me a few weeks ago, it's just great now that I can just watch the footy and just enjoy the footy," Rod said.

"Because previously, when he was gambling for a year, he couldn't really enjoy the footy 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 out the whole time because he had bet on it, he didn't enjoy watching it at all."

*Rod, Ollie, Sandra and William's names have been changed at their request for privacy reasons.

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