Sports betting ads are the cane toads of Australia’s broadcast media. Unwanted, unloved, they are multiplying at a rate of knots and marching across the landscape, devouring everything in their path and resisting all attempts to beat them into submission.
Recent opposition has focused on the incursion of betting reps (bookmakers or otherwise) into sports broadcasts. It’s been called the Tom Waterhouse effect but in reality, he’s just the latest in a long line of promoters that includes Matt Campbell, Glenn Munsie and Jaimee Rogers. The response has boiled down to a call to ban live odds in broadcasts… which, as I wrote last month, is a pointless exercise that will achieve nothing.
cane toads or bookies?
Sportsbet. Sportingbet. Tom Waterhouse. Luxbet. Betfair. Bet365. Unibet. In the past week I’ve seen ads for all of them and more, in and out of sports broadcasts, at pretty much any time of day or night. No mention of live odds in most of these ads, but the onslaught is relentless.
The real problem is that gambling advertising in Australia is regulated at the state/territory level, and generally only covers poker machines and lotteries. When it comes to sports betting, there are no laws. The only regulation is provided by the Commercial TV Industry Code of Practice, which states:
Except for a commercial broadcast in a news, current affairs or sporting program, a commercial relating to betting or gambling must not be broadcast in G classification periods Monday to Friday, nor on weekends between 6.00am and 8.30am, and 4.00pm and 7.30pm.
This is the loophole that let the bookies in. Sport betting agencies can advertise whenever they like, unless it’s a G classification period (6:00am to 8:30am, and 4:00pm to 7:00pm / 7:30pm). But if it’s a sport broadcast, they can advertise at will… no matter what time of day or night.
So all the fluff about banning live odds, about keeping bookmakers and sports commentators separate, is little more than a nod and a wink. It’s no coincidence that the wagering industry has barely made a whimper about these proposed changes; they know that there’s nothing to fear. “Ban Live Odds” has become the latest soundbite for those who want to appear concerned, but really don’t have a clue.
That’s about to change.
Yesterday afternoon, Senator Richard Di Natale introduced the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Advertising for Sports Betting) Bill 2013 to the Senate. When I reviewed this bill in its draft form back in April, I was disappointed to find it dealt only with the provision of live odds in sporting broadcasts.
So I was pleasantly surprised to read Greg Baum’s article in the Fairfax press yesterday. Titled “Call for drastic cut in sports betting advertising”, it stated that the impending Greens bill would include a call to “ban gambling ads before 9pm”. Excellent news, if true; and later that day, I had it confirmed by Senator Di Natale’s media advisor Andrew Blyberg.
The bill that was introduced to the Senate yesterday had two pivotal differences from the original exposure draft bill. First: in addition to preventing the broadcast of advertising or commentary pertaining to live odds, it also explicitly covers the broadcast of:
an advertisement about the provision of gambling services at any time
before 9 pm
This stipulation is made for free-to-air TV, subscription TV, and commercial radio. It effectively places all gambling advertising squarely in the MA rating classification (9:00pm to 5:00am), which is not unreasonable given the adult nature of the product and the fact that ALL gambling providers issue statements and disclaimers to the effect that customers MUST be over the age of 18.
And secondly, an additional condition has been included which specifically prevents commentators from talking about sports betting information during sporting broadcasts. Importantly, the definition of “commentator” is given as:
the host of a sports broadcasting program or a broadcast about a sporting event and includes any guests or other persons participating in the broadcast
This is far more inclusive than the Code of Conduct amendments proposed by Free TV Australia. If they had their way, bookmakers would still be able to spruik their wares with impunity as they are explicitly excluded from the definition of “commentator”; but the Greens’ bill makes no such distinction. When Tom Waterhouse pops up on the NRL broadcast, his company-branded microphone won’t stop him from being an “other person participating in the broadcast”. He, and his fellow bookmakers, will be unable to talk about sports betting at all.
This bill is the first time a serious attempt has been made to correct what has quickly grown into a major problem. It’s worth remembering that the explosion of sports betting advertising is a recent phenomenon, stemming from court cases in 2008 (Betfair) and 2009 (Sportingbet) which allowed bookmakers licensed in one state to advertise and provide services in other states. It’s why almost all major sports betting agencies are registered in the Northern Territory (where the laws suit their industry) but blanket the country in their ads and promotions.
New problems require new solutions. By proposing these amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act, Senator Di Natale has sidestepped the industry-friendly Code of Conduct and put the issue on the national stage. This is not without precedent; the Act already covers tobacco advertising (another legal but adult-restricted activity) as well as election and medicine advertising. Gambling will fit right in.
But these are still early days. The bill has just been introduced; it needs to pass both Houses before it can take effect, and that’s not guaranteed by any means. Still, there is a fair degree of political will at the moment to take action on the issue of sports betting advertising, so it may be that the time is right. Our major political parties both dropped the ball when it came to pursuing reform for poker machines; maybe this time they’ll come to the table and do what’s right.
I was contacted today about a new petition that has been started up at Change.org, calling for a ban on gambling ads during family TV times. This coincides perfectly with the changes proposed in this amendment. I’ve signed; please take a minute to click through and do the same.