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AWC attacks “piecemeal, political” gambling ad ban proposals

Operator association the Australian Wagering Council (AWC) has attacked the Greens political party's proposal to ban sports betting advertising as an empty gesture, instead calling for discussions between governments, the industry and consumers on the matter.

The AWC, which represents major operators such as bet365, Betfair, Sportsbet, William Hill and Unibet, called the proposed ban a “piecemeal, political gesture”, and said that “a mature and rational discussion” should take place between various industry stakeholders over the issues of wagering advertising and sponsorship.

Last week the Greens aired proposals to end the "constant barrage" of sports betting ads to which it believes consumers are subjected by treating them in the same way as tobacco advertising, which was banned in 1992.

The AWC's chief executive Ian Fletcher stressed however that all wagering regulation, including regulation of advertising and sponsorship, had to be evidence-based and properly and rationally discussed.

“The proposal by the Greens to ban sports betting advertising is a piecemeal political gesture that does not deal with the realities of a global wagering marketplace and ignores the role advertising plays in delivering the benefits of competition to Australian customers,” Fletcher explained.

Fletcher said that comparisons between sports betting advertising and the promotion of products that cause cancer undermines the potential for collaboration between industry and the Greens to address concerns, as it “unhelpfully caricatures a genuinely complex issue of community concern.”

“A total ban on wagering advertising and sponsorship will also have detrimental commercial impacts on the racing, sporting and media industries in Australia, which the Greens fail to acknowledge,” Fletcher added.

He, and the association, believes that advertising is an important legal right for its members.

“Advertising informs consumers of the identity of licensed Australian-based wagering service providers through which they can participate in wagering in a highly controlled and consumer protected environment while avoiding the significant dangers which exist from wagering with illegal offshore operators.”

The AWC is aware of the fact that any right to advertise comes with responsibilities, supporting the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ call for a Wagering and Advertising Marketing Communications Code to set new regulations for the sector.

Its operator members all work to ensure strict compliance with all state and territory laws, as well as making sure all ads comply with the broadcasting and advertising industry Codes of Practive.

Fletcher accused the Greens of attempting to shift scrutiny away from poker machines to sports betting, making the vertical “the new political football,” in what he believes to be a “misguided” move.

“Sports betting has increased in popularity in Australia over the last 5 years, in line with global trends,” he said. “Australia’s official gambling statistics reveal that sports betting accounts for only 3 per cent of Australian’s total gambling expenditure.

“But, if you listen to its critics, you’d be forgiven for thinking sports betting has overtaken the pokies, which actually still account for more than half of Australians’ gambling spend and more than 80 per cent of Australia’s problem gamblers,” Fletcher continued. “And, of course, there is no advertising of poker machines.”

He also pointed to the recent Study of Gambling and Health in Victoria, which measures gambling participation and the prevalence of problem gambling in the state. He claims that the survey debunks widespread myths that sports betting has exploded in the country and created an increase in problem gambling.

The study shows that sports and event betting has grown from just 1.15 per cent in 2008 to 5.11 per cent in 2014, also observing no increase in participation in online sports betting by problem gamblers.

“AWC members invest heavily in responsible gambling and harm minimization initiatives, so it is encouraging to note from the study’s findings that the prevalence of problem or at-risk gambling in Victoria did not change from 2008 to 2014, with 0.81 per cent of people experiencing problems from their own gambling,” Fletcher added.

“There’s so much misinformation circulating about the sports betting industry that the potential for sensible discussion and regulation to be derailed by untruths is worrying.”

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