no warning: have TAB and News Ltd broken the law?

A number of ads for the Victorian TAB, placed in their sponsored section of News Ltd’s Herald Sun website, appear to have broken a key Victorian gambling law that regulates warning messages in gambling advertising.

Simply put: they’re advertising their products without any warnings. And that’s illegal.

Australian gambling laws and regulations vary greatly from state to state. It’s the reason why most bookmakers operate out of the Northern Territory (where the laws are lax), and why any ad that contains offers of free bets or bonus bets also carries a disclaimer listing the states where the offer doesn’t apply.

Victoria, in particular, has a raft of laws laid out in the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 that apply specifically to sports/racing betting and what can/can’t/must be done when advertising these products.

Bookmakers advertising in Victoria (no matter where they’re licensed) have to follow Victorian laws. That’s a given. Some bookmakers over the years have challenged this; Sportsbet, BetEzy, Betfair and Tom Waterhouse have all been fined in recent years for offering inducements (ie: bonus bets) to open gambling accounts. They’ve all challenged the fines in court, and they’ve all lost.

So it’s a little surprising to see that the TAB, in partnership with News Ltd, appear to have overstepped the mark. Surprising because unlike most Australian bookmakers, the Victorian TAB is licensed in Victoria. You’d think they’d know better.

Here’s the deal. Section 4.7.9 of the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 states:

4.7.9 Prescribed statement to be included in advertisements

A wagering service provider must not publish or disseminate, or cause to be published or
disseminated, in the course of business any gambling advertising in any form or by any
method of communication unless the advertisement contains a prescribed statement
(if any) in relation to problem gambling.

In other words, any gambling ad has to contain a warning. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a billboard, a newspaper, on the radio or on a tram… it needs a warning message.

The standard warning message in Victoria goes something like this:

Think! About your choices. Call Gambling Help Services 1800 858 858. Gamble Responsibly.

Most bookmakers include it, or something similar, in their ads… in teeny tiny text that is practically impossible to read without 20/20 vision and a microscope. But it’s there.

Most of the time.

The TAB knows about this law, because most of their ads include the message. Those enormous posters that regularly festoon Southern Cross station? They carry it, although it’s just about illegible. Their printed newspaper ads carry it too… in text so small and grey it looks like a smudge. But it’s there.

But not their online ads.

This is where News Ltd comes in. The racing section on all News Ltd news websites is called “Super Racing”, and is “brought to you” by the TAB. Yes, the TAB sponsors News Ltd’s racing news. This is a partnership.

The Herald Sun, as News Ltd’s Victorian paper, is no different. And so of course, every page in the Herald Sun’s “Super Racing” section is smothered in TAB advertising. In fact, there are at least seven readily identifiable TAB ads not only on the main “Super Racing” page, but on every article in the racing section.

And none of them contain a warning message. Not one. Take a look:

(appears twice)

(appears twice)

(appears twice)

(appears twice)

This is clearly illegal.

The only warning message to be found ANYWHERE in the Herald Sun’s “Super Racing” section appears down near the bottom of the main page, and looks like this:

This is not an ad. It’s not branded in TAB green, it has no TAB images, it’s not offering any services. It isn’t even located near any of the other seven TAB ads on the page. It’s a disclaimer, not from the TAB, but from the “Super Racing” section itself. Which is sponsored by the TAB, but is part of a News Ltd publication.

I’m sure that this disclaimer is supposed to be the “warning” for all seven TAB ads on every page of the website. But it’s not enough. And what’s more, it can only be found on the main page; it’s missing from all sub-pages and articles.

This looks for all the world like a deliberate attempt to advertise gambling in Victoria without the legislated warning messages. And if that’s the case, then both TabCorp (as owners of the Victorian TAB) and News Ltd are liable.

The sad thing is, very little is likely to happen as a result of this. News Ltd are not technically a gambling provider and so would escape any form of prosecution. And the maximum fine for each breach of section 4.7.9 is less than $3,000, so the TAB won’t care too much either. This is a classic case of the law being broken because the punishment is too lenient, too soft.

But I hope they are pursued over this matter. I hope they are prosecuted. And I hope someone takes a look at the laws governing gambling advertising in Victoria and makes the penalties fit the crime. Because until that happens, corporations like the TAB and News Ltd will continue to do what they want.

NOTE: it’s worth noting that News Ltd and TabCorp haven’t restricted this approach to Victoria. They’ve employed exactly the same strategy in NSW, in the pages of The Daily Telegraph. And in other states where the TAB doesn’t operate (as it can only operate in Victoria and NSW), the TAB ads have been replaced by LuxBet ads… because TabCorp also owns Luxbet. And there are no warning messages on them either.


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