Sports betting and advertising

AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4 – November 2014

Community concerns and government inquiries

  • A community backlash about sports betting promotions during sport prompted two government inquiries.
  • This led to curtailment of in-match commentary and on-screen displays of live betting odds.

The avalanche of sports betting advertising prompted a community backlash. Substantial concerns related to its potential impact on the estimated 39,000 children and adolescents who watch each live sports broadcast in Australia (JSCGR, 2013). Promoting gambling in a “family-friendly" environment may normalise gambling among young viewers, with gambling becoming an integral part of sport, potentially grooming a new generation of problem gamblers (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2013, 2014; Hunt, 2013; Lamont et al., 2011; McMullan, 2011). Young people may be unable to distinguish the persuasive intent of embedded promotions, which may be particularly influential during impressionable adolescent years when peer and media influence is especially strong (Hing, Vitartas, Lamont, & Fink, 2014).

This “gamblification" of sport may transfer images associated with sport to promote gambling as healthy, harmless fun that, like sport, relies primarily on skill (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2014; Lamont et al., 2011; McMullan, 2011). Sports betting is becoming culturally embedded among young males, who report that peer discussions now include betting odds and that they feel pressured to gamble to fit in with peers (Thomas, Lewis, McLeod et al., 2012). These promotions also undermine responsible gambling messages targeting young men, who are also the most at-risk group for gambling problems (Delfabbro, 2012).

These promotions can also negatively affect problem gamblers. Services report increases in the number of clients seeking help for sports betting-related problems (Hunt, 2013; Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, 2013). For example, at the University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic the proportion of clients with sports betting-related problems increased fourfold between 2006-07 and 2010-11, with sports-embedded promotions reported as contributing substantially to these clients' problems and relapses (University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic, 2011). One study has shown that one-sixth of problem/moderate risk Internet gamblers nominated sports betting as their most problematic gambling form (Hing, Gainsbury et al., 2014). Being younger, male, married and gambling on sports, races or poker predicted problem/moderate risk gambling among these Internet gamblers.

Community concerns about sports-embedded gambling promotions include that it …

  • may normalise gambling among children and young people;
  • may be grooming a new generation of problem gamblers;
  • promotes gambling as healthy harmless fun that, like sport, relies on skill;
  • has become part of young male culture;
  • undermines responsible gambling messages; and
  • may be contributing to the increase in problem gambling related to sports betting.

Source: Hing, Vitartas & Lamont (2014); Lamont et al. (2011); McMullan (2011); Thomas, Lewis, McLeod et al. (2012).

Concerns about sports-embedded gambling promotions led to a ban on in-match promotion of live betting odds

Community concerns about sports betting promotions during sports broadcasts were debated during three government inquiries:

  • The Inquiry into Interactive and Online Gambling and Gambling Advertising (JSCGR, 2011) subsequently recommended a ban on promoting live odds during sport, and a mandatory national code for wagering advertising covering inducements to bet, responsible gambling messages, and restricting certain forms of advertising.
  • The Review of the Interactive Gambling Act (Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy [DBCDE], 2012) similarly recommended an industry code to ensure related advertising is not contrary to community standards.
  • The Inquiry into the Advertising and Promotion of Gambling Services in Sport (JSCGR, 2013) recommended: legislation if industry does not make appropriate changes; the current exemption of gambling advertising for sporting programs be reviewed; nationally consistent requirements for responsible gambling messages to counterbalance promotion of gambling; the amount of betting advertising at sporting venues and sports betting merchandise for children be reviewed; and further research on the longer-term effects of gambling advertising on children.

Following community concerns raised in these inquiries, Australian government pressure led to amendments to broadcast advertising codes from August 2013 to stop in-match commentary and on-screen displays of live betting odds. Other promotional practices continue, including live odds promotions before match commencement. Ironically, airing of the statutory message to “gamble responsibly" has decreased with curtailment of live odds messages (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2014).