Advertising of live sports betting and simulated gambling in video games are in the firing line of a parliamentary inquiry that will tour the country to hear from victims of online gambling addiction.
Labor MP Peta Murphy, chair of the lower house’s standing committee on social policy, will head a probe into online gambling and its impact on problem gamblers, as well as children. Murphy, whose seat of Dunkley takes in Frankston in south-east Melbourne, has previously spoken in Parliament of her desire to crack down further on gambling advertising during sports matches.
Clinicians treating and researching gambling addiction are concerned by sponsored ads on online searches for help.Credit:iStock
“What we want to do with this inquiry is really interrogate how effective the current regime is in reducing problem gambling,” Murphy said. “It’s not about banning gambling, but it’s really about reducing problem gambling and seeing if we can stop it before it starts.”
The inquiry – which may inform government policy changes – will examine the effectiveness of current online gambling regulations and advertising restrictions, including advertising on social media and through sponsorship or branding.
It will also look at whether action should be taken to curb simulated gambling in video games. Parents and experts have expressed concern about the rise of “loot boxes”, in which gamers are encouraged by games to spend real or virtual money to access troves containing rewards such as weapons.
“I’m not a gamer, but people do talk about these in-game games which either are essentially gambling or mimic gambling and how easily they are accessed, particularly by children,” said Murphy.
From 5am to 8.30pm, laws enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority forbid gambling advertising or promotion of odds from five minutes before the scheduled start of play until five minutes after play, including during breaks.
Outside those times, other rules apply, including a ban on representatives of gambling organisations sitting on commentary teams or appearing to broadcast from the venue. No gambling advertising or promotion of odds is allowed during play, but gambling advertising is allowed during breaks.
“You would think that you wouldn’t see any sports betting advertising watching a live broadcast,” Murphy said. “But I think most people know that you absolutely do.”
The federal government is under pressure from the extra-large crossbench to take stronger action against gambling companies, including long-standing anti-gambling advocate Andrew Wilkie and teal independent Zoe Daniel, who called for an inquiry into the promotion of sports gambling.
“When children are having conversations about sports betting ‘multis’, wanting to set up sports betting apps on their phones and even betting on the federal election, we have an issue,” Daniel said last month.
The Herald and The Age also revealed last month that addicted punters searching for help online were instead being shown sponsored advertisements for betting websites, prompting an outcry from clinicians. For example, the ads appeared when a person searched for treatment at a specific facility, including at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney.
The parliamentary inquiry is accepting submissions until November and next year will tour the country to hear from victims of gambling addiction and their loved ones.
Any recommendations arising from the inquiry would ultimately be a matter for Social Affairs Minister Amanda Rishworth and the government to consider.
Rishworth said earlier this month the government was “committed to tackling problem online wagering and will implement the remaining measures of the National Framework by mid next year”.
Responsible Wagering Australia, the industry body, declined to comment on Thursday.
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