if gambling is shopping, ask for a refund

The TAB reckons gambling for men is just like shopping for women. Yep, you read that right.

Ah, spring. It’s a beautiful time of year. You can always tell when spring has sprung; the days are getting longer, the trees are covered in new blossoms and leaves, and sports betting companies have shifted into overdrive, spending their annual advertising budgets in a frenzy of gambling mayhem.

You see, spring is also racing season… and Victoria’s Spring Racing Carnival is the high point of the year for the army of betting companies that want your dollar. And so every spring, despite the fact that most Victorians care little about horse racing and wouldn’t know how to place a boxed trifecta if you paid them, we are subjected to a deluge of gambling advertising that gets worse each year.

Every train, tram and bus becomes a mobile billboard. Every major railway station, tram stop or bus shelter gets a makeover. Every newspaper, both online and in print, carries an endless stream of gambling ads. Bet365, TAB, Tom Waterhouse, Ladbrokes, Sportsbet, SportingBet, BetEzy, Luxbet, PalmerBet… the names may change from year to year but the onslaught grows ever larger.

The “why” of all this is simple. For a month or two every year, horse racing is acceptable. Trendy, even. Half of the population turns into instant armchair experts, and all the papers carry story after story about the horses, the jockeys, the owners, the form… so all the sports betting companies fall over themselves to get you betting with them, placing a bet (everyone does it) or two (all a bit of fun) and ultimately, signing you up.

So that when the racing is done, they know who you are. And they can flog all the other sports betting to you, which is their real business.

And it’s a multi-million dollar business. Unlike racing, where gambling revenue is slowly declining year after year, sports betting revenue continues to grow. Australians lose $1 billion a year on sports betting and that figure just keeps getting larger. It’s no wonder every bookmaking company wants a slice of the pie.

But the “how”? That’s a problem. Sports betting in Australia has become a cut-throat international business. Big foreign companies like William Hill and Paddy Power have moved in, buying out the local competition and setting up shop their own way. Remember Tom Waterhouse? Yesterday’s villain now works for William Hill, running what used to be his own company as well as Sportingbet and Centrebet. Chew on that for a minute.

And that’s not forgetting powerhouses like Ladbrokes and Bet365, who didn’t bother buying their way in… they just opened their doors and splashed their brand around for all to see.

So how does a local player like the TAB differentiate themselves from the crowd?

By lying. By breaking the rules. And by resorting to the type of smart-arsed tactics that they’re known for.

The TAB is well known for their stupid ads, trying to make gambling seem glamorous and cool. Remember the “magic moments” campaign? Grown men high-fiving and moon-walking in the pub, doing the Armageddon walk of heroes to the cashier while the womenfolk look on indulgently? That’s the TAB’s approach in a nutshell.

But their latest campaign has crossed the line. Take a look at this:

“It’s Betting Season”, the TAB declares. “Time To Go Shopping.” And the bearded blokes leaping in the air are clutching shopping bags stuffed to overflowing with betting slips… although you’d be forgiven for thinking it was cash.

The advertising world seems to think it’s a great campaign. “Fun and engaging”, they say. “Tongue in cheek”, they say. What they don’t say is whether or not it’s ethical, and that’s easy.

It’s not.

The “Betting Season / Go Shopping” campaign is predicated on the premise that “for men, the betting season holds the same excitement and passion as shopping does for women”, or as another review put it, “A good price for a designer dress for a woman is like a good price on the winning horse for a man at the TAB.”

There are so many things wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to start. I’ll get the whole gender-stereotype issue out of the way up-front; it’s a ludicrous position to take but then, the TAB have never tried to hide the fact that their target demographic is men in their 20s with disposable income. Of course all women love to shop, and so of course all men love to gamble. That’s the message, and it’s wrong.

Re-branding gambling as shopping is extremely problematic. The TAB (and other companies in their line of work) already go out of their way to avoid words like “gamble” and “gambling”, preferring to use the less-nuanced “bet” and “betting”. Gambling seems inherently risky, which is not the message they want to send. But now the TAB is taking it further and suggesting that it’s not even betting… it’s “shopping”. Come shop with us, they’re saying. It’s just shopping, no harm in that. Heck, even women shop!

No, I’m not drawing a long bow. Here are some more images from the TAB campaign:

Last time I checked, shopping involves finding the bargain, handing over money and getting the goods in exchange… whereas gambling involves handing over money and crossing your fingers. Not the same thing at all.

And just in case the gambling/shopping analogy wasn’t enough, the TAB are running a competition where you can win a makeover for a mate. A punting makeover. Oh those witty scamps, once again taking something the girls love and using it to sell gambling!

Then there’s the imagery. Never mind that these blokes look terminally stupid; look at the shopping bags. As I mentioned earlier, a casual glance shows them to be full of cash. Now, if they were, the TAB would already be in a world of trouble because that kind of imagery is definitely illegal.

On closer inspection, though, the bags are actually stuffed with betting slips. These blokes, these incredibly moronic men, have been “shopping” and they’ve bought… bags full of betting slips.

Thousands of betting slips. Each one representing a bet. These casual images represent hundreds of thousands of dollars gambled and, the way this business works, lost.

Not really like shopping at all, is it?

This is just the tip of the TAB iceberg. The campaign has TV ads ready to roll, showing blokes (and their partners) talking about gambling (and shopping). The strongest message these ads give is that your girlfriend is ok with you gambling. She thinks it’s just like shopping. See for yourself:

Or this one:

I wonder what your partner would say if you told her (or him) that you were getting rid of all your apps… except the gambling app?

All of this leads me to the biggest problem with these ads, the biggest, most dangerous and coldly unethical problem of all. By misrepresenting gambling as shopping, by using imagery that encourages reckless and excessive spending on gambling, the TAB is normalising gambling like never before. They’re pulling out all the stops to make gambling seem harmless and safe when in fact it is a restricted activity with the potential to cause serious problems – financial, mental, emotional, personal, domestic and legal, just to name a few.

This is how addicts are cultivated. This is where the saying “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into” comes into its own.

I’ve registered a formal complaint with the Advertising Standards Bureau. I’m not hopeful that they’ll do anything about it but at least they have to assess the complaint. I strongly encourage you to do the same.

And if gambling is really like shopping? Then every time you bet and lose, do what you would do if you were shopping and bought something that didn’t meet expectations.

Demand a refund.

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