Posts Tagged ‘online gambling’

A lot of interesting ideas in this article, and it is hopeful that the federal government’s proposed changes to sports betting advertising will have a positive impact on the next generation of young sports fans so that they aren’t indoctrinated to believe that gambling is intrinsically linked with sporting events in this country.

Beaner

 

Wide-ranging ban on gambling ads during sport broadcasts will help those with problems

The Turnbull Government is reportedly considering banning the advertising of gambling during televised sporting broadcasts.

This is not a new idea: Senator Nick Xenophon has long championed a ban, as have many who work with problem gamblers.

It has been reported that more than one-in-six ads shown during AFL matches are gambling-related.

So, could advertising be linked with rates of problem gambling?

Evidence suggests ads have an impact

Increases in problem gambling linked to sports betting have been reported in recent years, particularly among young men.

The numbers of 18-to-25-year-old men with problems related to sports betting doubled between 2012 and 2015 at the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment Clinic (where I work).

At the same time, gambling odds and prices have become a central part of sporting culture.

Campaign to dissuade young gamblers

An awareness campaign that ran during the AFL finals series, aimed to counter a rise in problem teenage gamblers.

The “gamblification” of sport is now seen as both a normal and central component of it.

In pre-game reporting, the prices and odds are seen as being as important as player injuries and weather conditions.

Being able to draw a clear line between increased promotion of gambling and rates of problem gambling is not easy.

Given there are always multiple factors why someone develops a gambling problem, it is never as clear-cut as blaming advertising.

However, some evidence exists to suggest advertising has impacts on problem gamblers.

Interview research and large-scale survey work have both suggested that gambling ads during sport strongly affect many problem gamblers by increasing their desire to gamble when trying to cut down.

Therefore, restrictions on advertising may be effective in helping those with problems to manage their urges to gamble.

Another widespread concern about gambling advertising during sports broadcasts is the impact it might be having on young people.

There is evidence this advertising can have an impact.

A study of Canadian adolescents found the majority had been exposed to gambling advertising.

It also found this advertising was leading to the belief that the chance of winning was high, and that gambling was an easy way to make money.

These findings are particularly concerning. In our work with problem gamblers, we have found these beliefs are crucial to the development of gambling problems.

Typically, when examining a problem gambler’s history, we find they were exposed to gambling at a young age and developed positive attitudes toward gambling at the time.

In particular, a distorted belief in the likelihood of winning appears to be a key driver in many of our patients who developed problems.

Thus, advertising that promotes the idea that gambling is an easy way to make money is likely to prime our kids for developing gambling problems in the future.

What we can learn from tobacco ad bans

Would a ban on the advertising of gambling during sport broadcasts change attitudes toward gambling and gambling behaviour?

Here, evidence on the impacts of tobacco advertising is instructive.

Tobacco advertising has been progressively restricted or banned in many countries. Thus, considerable evidence is available to make conclusions.

There appears to be clear evidence that tobacco advertising does result in increased rates of smoking in adolescents.

It has also been found that bans on tobacco advertising appear to be effective in reducing tobacco use — but only in the case of complete bans.

In contrast, attempts to limit bans on advertising to certain mediums — such as banning ads on TV — appear not to be effective, as this simply results in increases in tobacco advertising in non-banned media (in print or on billboards, for instance).

This suggests that for any restriction of gambling advertising to be effective, it needs to be widespread.

Such displacement has already been seen with gambling. There is evidence of increased social media promotion of gambling, which has resulted in increases in positive attitudes toward gambling in those exposed to these promotions.

There is not yet any demonstrated definitive link between increases in gambling advertising during sports and problem gambling.

However, the research that has been conducted indicates that advertising may result in increased gambling by problem gamblers and increases in distorted beliefs about gambling in young people.

If the Government chooses to go down the path of increasing restrictions on gambling advertising, it is important that any restrictions are wide-ranging enough to have a clear impact on gambling behaviours and attitudes.

Support is available through the Gambler’s Help website gamblershelp.com.au or by calling the free Gambling Help Line on 1800 858 858.

Dr Christopher Hunt is a clinical psychologist working at the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology. He has worked at the University’s Gambling Treatment Clinic since 2007.

Originally published in The Conversation

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-17/why-all-gambling-ads-should-be-banned-during-sporting-matches/8363232

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In a move that probably doesn’t go far enough, the federal government has instigated a policy so that no gambling ads will be allowed before 8:30pm on Australian TV.  I personally feel gambling advertising is a blight on the enjoyment of sport, especially when commercial TV and radio sell out to the sports betting agencies, as the AFL has done, to line their pockets at the expense of problem gamblers.  Listening to 3MMM makes me feel ill with their sponsors seemingly more important than the games they are supposed to be covering.  Maybe one day our kids will be able to just enjoy being sports fans without constantly being bombarded with odds and deals and specials as well.

Beaner

 

Gambling advertising to be banned during live sporting events

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed the Government will ban gambling advertising before 8.30pm during live sporting events, and for five minutes before and after the start of play.

ABC News revealed last month that the plan had been taken to Cabinet.

It faced a backlash from the executives of some of the nation’s biggest sporting codes, who argued restricting gambling advertising would slash the value of the television rights their codes attract.

But speaking in the United States before his flight back to Australia on Saturday morning, Mr Turnbull said the plan would go ahead.

“Parents around Australia will be delighted when they know that during football matches, and cricket matches, live sporting events before 8:30pm, there will be no more gambling ads,” he said.

“There are no gambling ads allowed before 8:30pm generally, but there’s been an exception for a long time, of live sporting events.”

Mr Turnbull said the ban would not apply to racing.

Executives from the AFL and NRL had been lobbying Communications Minister Mitch Fifield to scrap the plans.

ABC News had also been told Cricket Australia was pushing against the change.

After 8:30pm, the status quo will remain.

“The gambling companies have actually been at the forefront of calling for just these types of restrictions,” Senator Fifield said.

“The Responsible Wagering Council have been urging the Government to look at this area because they recognise that there’s a need for change.”

Ban a ‘good, big first step’: Xenophon

The gambling policy could help secure Senate crossbench support for other media reforms dealing with ownership and reach restrictions.

Senator Nick Xenophon has long campaigned for restrictions to gambling advertising, and commands three votes in the Upper House.

He described the announcement as a “good, big first step”, but said he wanted further protections put in place to force regional broadcasters to produce local content as part of any broader media shakeup.

The Greens seemed unlikely to support the measures, while Labor maintained it needed to see the detail.

“We do want to see a diversity of voices available in the Australian media environment,” Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said.

“We need to see the details of what the Government is proposing, what we frequently see is that Malcolm Turnbull delivers less than people expect.”

The Coalition has also proposed changes to the “anti-siphoning list” which makes sure certain sports are broadcast on free-to-air networks, giving pay television a better chance of bidding for major events.

Government ‘scraps licence fees’ to fund lost ad revenue

The nation’s free-to-air television networks had also raised concerns it would eat into their advertising revenue, and demanded their Commonwealth licence fees be cut to fund the losses.

Networks pay about $130 million per year for their broadcast licences.

Under the new model, that would be replaced by what is called a “spectrum charge” of about $40 million.

“In the last budget I cut free-to-air licence fees by 25 per cent, my predecessors have also cut licence fees,” Senator Fifield said.

“So it’s been something that both sides of politics have recognised that the licence fees are something that are really from a bygone era.

“What we have done is taken the opportunity to not only provide a shot in the arm for free-to-air broadcasters, but we have taken this opportunity to provide a community dividend in the form of further gambling advertising restrictions.”

Free TV Australia said it was a “tremendous” package that had been agreed to by the industry.

“There’s nowhere else in the world that licence fees are charged like this, it was a complete anomaly,” chairman Harold Mitchell said.

Australia’s third largest network, Network Ten, had been hoping for a cut in its licence fees as it battles to survive in the tough television advertising market.

“The Government’s package provides very welcome, immediate financial relief for all commercial free-to-air television broadcasters,” Network Ten chief executive Paul Anderson said.

“It provides a boost for local content and the local production sector.

“Recent financial results and announcements from across the Australian media industry clearly demonstrate that this is a sector under extreme competitive pressure from the foreign-owned tech media giants.

“This package is not just about Ten or free-to-air television. It is about ensuring that there is a future for Australian media companies.”

By political reporter Matthew Doran, Updated 6 May 2017

 

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-17/why-all-gambling-ads-should-be-banned-during-sporting-matches/8363232

With the 2017 AFL season nearly upon us, the sports betting agencies are gearing up for another onslaught of advertising across TV, Pay TV, radio, newspapers and the internet.  It really depresses me that our local game is now in bed with the betting agencies, so closely linked that the AFL relies on the money, while at the same time warning the AFL players of the dangers of gambling.  It was pleasing that some of the players have made comments about this irony recently, and with many AFL players now family men, they are also acutely aware of the responsibility they have to raise their own children in a gambling free environment – which is difficult to avoid when their kids are watching daddy on TV and there is a sports betting ad or odds update during every commercial break after a goal has been kicked.

GAMBLING advertising during AFL games is “out of control” according to Western Bulldogs premiership captain Easton Wood.

Wood took to Twitter during the telecast of Friday night’s AFLW game between the Bulldogs and Adelaide to raise his concerns and asked fans whether they agreed.

Wood’s tweet was retweeted more than 1000 times and had more than 2700 likes. Most of the replies were strong in their support, however some queried whether he would be prepared to play for less money if the gaming industry pulled its financial support for the game.

In a note attached to the tweet, he said the Bulldogs this week had their annual education session with the AFL, which he described as “both informative and well run.”

But he questioned why there was so much gambling advertising if gambling was such a big issue that it required an annual information session from the League.

“Why – as an industry – do we support the onslaught of gambling advertising you’re now faced with when watching an AFL game?” he wrote in the tweet.

“The obvious issue here is the effect this advertising has on children every time we pull on our boots. The big question is do we think the normalization of gambling – particularly to kids – is acceptable in this day and age?”

Friday night’s match was broadcast live on Fox Footy in Victoria, but the gambling industry advertises across all forms of live sport. The industry standard is that 10 per cent of advertising during live sport broadcasts can promote sports betting.

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Easton Wood

RESOLVING the issues surrounding gambling in the AFL won’t be easy but the conversation needs to happen, Geelong veteran Harry Taylor says.

Taylor said it was a concern to him that the eldest of his three children was able to name the gambling-related advertisements he saw when watching sport on TV.

However he said further education and discussion were critical if answers were to be found on the appropriate relationship between gambling and professional sport.

“When my eldest can name a lot of the ads on TV, that is a bit of a worry,” Taylor said.

“It’s certainly something that we need to keep talking about [and] educating people about. It’s not as simple as just cutting them out of the AFL.”

Western Bulldogs premiership skipper Easton Wood put the issue back on the agenda at the weekend when he questioned the level of gambling advertising during televised AFL games.

Wood wrote on social media: “Do we think the normalisation of gambling – particularly to kids – is acceptable in this day and age?”

Taylor said more education was needed for AFL players and society in general.

$814 million was lost on sportsbetting in 2014-15, which equates to $2 230 137 being lost by punters on sports EVERY DAY in Australia.

So if you think you can beat the system then well done and good luck for the future, as the hard evidence clearly shows that a lot of money is being lost by people betting on sports.  With the odds structures always favouring the sports betting agencies, they are taking their cut whether you win or lose, and then with the fickle nature of sports results, picking a winner is still no easier.

The only recommendation I can make to those who enjoy a punt on sports is to bet smart, look for value and ‘good bets’ and seek help if you are losing more than you are winning beyond the budget you have set for yourself.

Beaner

 

Punters lose $23 Billion

Richard Willingham and Benjamin Preiss
Published: August 22, 2016 – 8:02PM

Australian punters lost nearly $23 billion last year, with a 30 per cent growth in sports betting helping to drive a continued rise in annual gambling losses.

New Australian Gambling Statistics figures show Australians lost $1241 per head in 2014-15, with poker machines still the biggest cause of punter losses with $11.6 billion lost, an increase of 4.9 per cent.

The continued growth of punter losses reignited calls for state and federal governments to get serious about tackling problem gambling through action on sports betting advertising and pokies.

The annual compilation of all state and territory data shows that total expenditure, or gambler losses, hit $22.7 billion in 2014-15, an increase of 7.7 per cent on the previous financial year.

There has been an explosion in sports betting, with the sector growing by 30.1 per cent in 12 months – with predictions the exponential growth will continue.

But sports betting is still one of the smallest segments of the market, worth $814 million, compared to pokies, racing ($2.8 billion), and Lotto ($1.7 billion).

Traditional betting on racing was the smallest growing sector at just 2.7 per cent.

The Victorian government on Sunday announced a ban on betting ads near schools and on public transport, while Canberra is moving to crack down on offshore bookies, as well as strengthen consumer protection for local online punters.

There are also renewed calls from Senator Nick Xenophon, the Greens and Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie for poker machine reform.

Gambling losses in total for Victoria hit almost $5.8 billion in the 2014-15, with poker machine losses surpassing $2.5 billion, propping up Treasury coffers by more than $1 billion.

In NSW, punter losses hit $8.9 billion, with $5.7 billion lost on the pokies alone, sports betting worth $162 million and racing $945 million.

Across the nation casinos raked in $5.1 billion of gambler losses, with Melbourne’s Crown Casino hauling in $1.8 billion.

Monash University Public Health expert Charles Livingstone said the growth in sports betting losses was “phenomenal”.

“It demonstrates why we need to better regulate promotion and advertising. Otherwise we’re facing big growth in gambling problems and harm from young men and women,” Dr Livingstone said.

“But the 600-pound gorilla of Australian gambling is still the pokies: $12 billion in losses per year, and still growing, year after year. If we’re worried by sports betting, we should be 13 times more worried about the pokies.”

Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesman Tim Costello said state governments could fix the “poker machine madness”

“[That is] if any of them really cared about the issue,” he said.

The Australian Gambling Statistics 2014-15 shows that in Victoria total per person gambling losses hit $1250. Pokies losses was the biggest segment with $558 lost per Victorian.

In NSW, per person losses were higher at $1517.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said the rate of problem gambling in the online sector was three times that of other areas.

“Many Australians love to gamble but we have to make sure the gambling environment is a safe one – that’s why we are cracking down on illegal offshore gambling providers and introducing much strong consumer protection for online gambling,” Mr Tudge said.

Deakin University associate professor of public health, Samantha Thomas, suspected sports betting had grown on the back of heavy marketing.

“While not all losses equal harm, a lot of them do. It’s time for governments to start to seriously consider the factors that are contributing to these growing losses and implement effective evidenced-based strategies to reduce harm,” she said.

“This includes addressing the factors from industry, such as prolific advertising or high intensity poker machines, that may be contributing to harm. Clearly, ‘gamble responsibly’ strategies are not having an impact on reducing losses or preventing harm.”

Victorian Gaming Regulation Minister Marlene Kairouz said the state government shared the community’s concerns about problem gambling. She said the government had invested $150 million over four years to support problem gambling services.

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/australian-punters-lose-23-billion-half-on-the-pokies-20160822-gqyiz5.html

April 3, 2016

Farrah Tomazin

Sports betting agencies are adopting similar marketing techniques used by the powerful tobacco lobby to convince people that online gambling is an intrinsic part of Australian culture, new research suggests.

As the Turnbull government prepares to unveil reforms to crack down on foreign bookmakers, a study has found that betting giants are increasingly using gender stereotypes, fan rituals and images of mateship to “normalise” online wagering through highly targeted advertisements.

“The same playbook that we saw in tobacco and alcohol is happening again,” said Samantha Thomas, a public health academic at Deakin University, which led the study.

“It’s being depicted in advertising as though it’s part of Aussie culture – this idea that if you’re a true Aussie bloke, you go to the pub, you hang with your mates, you watch your sport and now you also gamble on sport as well. We should all be smarter about the way these companies seek to normalise their product.”

The study analysed 85 advertisements from 11 local and international gambling companies, including Ladbrokes, Sportsbet, William Hill, Bet365 and Crownbet.

It found that over three quarters of ads used imagery relating to sports fan rituals (such as images of fans cheering for their teams at stadiums or while watching TV); about half contained symbols of mateship (such as gambling being something you do with your friends at the pub); and about a quarter objectified women (who often appeared in the ads playing a subservient service role to men).

One Sportsbet ad for instance, described the bikini as “one of man’s greatest inventions” while a man poked the breast of a woman in her bathers as she sat by a pool. In another ad by Betfair, a James Bond-type character in a suit played table tennis with a woman wearing a bikini while the voiceover states: “When you have power, you can do what you want. With whoever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, as many different ways as you want.”

The research found 10 main types of “appeal strategies” were used by betting agencies to market sports wagering, including sexual imagery; thrill and risk; sports fan behaviours; mateship; winning; social status; adventure; patriotism; happiness; and power and control.

But experts say the ads should serve as a cautionary tale, particularly in the lead up to the Olympics, which Associate Professor Thomas warned could end up being “one of the biggest betting events the world has ever seen”.

The research is likely to add to concerns about cashed up bookmakers pumping millions of dollars into advertising and corporate sponsorship in the hope of securing a bigger foothold in the lucrative sports betting market.

However, Sportsbet chief financial officer Ben Sleep said he “categorically rejects any comparison of our business to those of tobacco companies.”

“It has been proven that every single cigarette does you harm whereas it is only a very small percentage of consumers who are at risk of developing an issue with wagering. Sportsbet is continually developing world’s best practice harm minimisation measures and strategies to help consumers enjoy our product safely,” Mr Sleep said.

Betting companies are trying to normalise online gambling as an everyday part of Australian culture.

Standard Media Index figures show that in the first two months of this year, the gambling industry had spent $27.3 million on advertising. And as The Age reported on Saturday, football fans have been bombarded with ads since the AFL season opened last week, with more than one in six ads promoting gambling during round one.

A spokesperson for the Australian Wagering Council, which represents the sportsbetting industry, said the ads informed consumers of the identity of licensed Australian-based providers so they could participate in “highly controlled and consumer protected” betting, while avoiding the dangers of illegal offshore operators.

“AWC members recognise community concern in relation to wagering advertising and agree that advertising should always conform to accepted social standards, and not promote harmful behaviour,” the spokesperson said.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/sports-betting-giants-turn-to-sexual-imagery-and-mateship-to-normalise-gambling-20160401-gnwnen.html#ixzz44p541CdP

Is online sports betting the new frontier for problem gamblers?

March 26, 2016

It’s a turf war that transcends every major sporting event in the country, and anyone who watched Thursday’s AFL season opener between Richmond and Carlton would have caught a glimpse of how ubiquitous it has become.

We saw it shortly after the first bounce, when Hollywood veteran Samuel L. Jackson appeared on our TV screens, urging us to join him as a member of online gambling agency Bet365.

We saw it on Twitter throughout the game, with global giant William Hill encouraging us to have a wager through its controversial “in-play” service.

 

And chances are we’ll see it every week this season and beyond: cashed up bookmakers pumping millions into advertising and corporate sponsorship in the hope of securing a bigger foothold in the lucrative sports betting market.

But what impact is this having and how should authorities deal with it?

It’s a question Victorian Gaming Minister Jane Garrett has been asked several times before, and one that she’s been forced ponder as the mother of young children.

A few years ago, the Labor MP was holidaying in Queensland with her family when her daughter – then only aged around eight –called a friend in Melbourne and cited the odds of Buddy Franklin kicking the first goal. Garrett was shocked.

“I am concerned about the explosion of gambling advertising in our community, and I know from personal experience that children are talking odds instead of their sports idols,” she says.

“We do have to take a step back and admit there have been big changes in how these things are being marketed. There’s a pervasiveness about it and at every level of government we need to acknowledge it and deal with it.”

Within weeks, the Turnbull government is expected to unveil reforms designed to crack down on illegal offshore wagering. Among the changes, online betting on live sport – otherwise known as “in-play” – is expected to be banned at least until the federal election, and unlicensed offshore bookmakers will not be permitted to take bets from Australians.

But the issue of advertising is unlikely to be tackled in any significant way because it was taken out of the terms of reference following a backlash from media broadcasters.

“These bookies have very deep pockets and they’ve got a huge budget for advertising which is why the TVs and the sporting bodies love them so much,” says Monash University expert Charles Livingstone.

In Victoria, the Andrews government was deeply unimpressed when this year’s Australian Open became the first grand slam event to have a betting agency, William Hill, as its major sponsor (just as tennis was plagued by match-fixing claims). However, it won’t say what, if anything, it could do to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen next year.

In a bid to tackle betting ads more broadly, the state is considering restrictions on where billboards can appear, and has also flagged with Canberra the development of national regulations. But as Garrett admits: “there’s no easy fix”.

What is clear is that smart phone technology has helped reshape the industry dramatically in recent years, and companies are prepared to spend up big to target a new generation of gamblers. Standard Media Index figures show that in the first two months of this year, the gambling industry had spent $27.3 million on advertising – over 40 per cent more than the corresponding period. Turnover on sports betting has also increased: from $1.66 billion in 2004-05 to $5.89 billion in 2014-15.

But the impact on people is what worries Financial Counselling Australia policy manager Lauren Levin, who has seen more than a few lose their life savings, lured by incentives such as cash bonuses and credit. Her organisation suggests banning advertising links between payday lending sites; requiring customers to nominate a maximum bet when they set up an online account; and a national register for people who want to self-exclude.

In-play betting, however, remains the most contested issue within the industry and it seems the federal government is yet to decide whether it is for or against liberalising the practice. Traditional operators, pubs and clubs will be encouraged by Canberra’s decision to impose a short term ban until the election, but will want to see a permanent reform. Others, however, take a different view.

“In-play play wagering on sport is a product that already exists in Australia, within a well established regulatory framework, in many thousands of retail wagering and gaming venues,” says Sportsbet regulatory affairs director Ben Sleep. “It makes no sense that it is not allowed in an online environment.”

BETTING AND SPORT

Tennis: William Hill became the first betting partner of a grand slam when it sponsored the Australian Open this year.

AFL: CrownBet is a partner of the AFL. UBet sponsors Gold Coast Suns and Port Adelaide. Crown (which owns CrownBet) is a partner of West Coast

Cricket: Bet365 is a partner of Cricket Australia

NBL: Ladbrokes is the “Official Australian Sports Betting and Wagering Partner”

Soccer: TAB is the “Official Betting Partner of the FFA”. Crown Perth (which is part of the same company as CrownBet) is a partner of Perth Glory.

Rugby: William Hill sponsors Brisbane Broncos. TAB is a partner of Canberra Raiders. Crown Resorts is partners Melbourne Storm.

Racing: Ladbrokes is an official partner of the Melbourne Racing Club. William Hill is a major sponsor of the Cox Plate.
http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/bookies-battle-for-a-bigger-share-of-sports-betting-market-but-at-what-cost-20160326-gnrhbj.html#ixzz445fo1ZKl

It’s the Spring Carnival again leading into the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday (looking forward to the day off work for a horse race!), and the sports betting agencies are going into overdrive with advertising and incentives to win the punter’s dollar.  As you may be aware, making money from horse racing is nearly imposibble unless you have inside contacts to get information the rest of us aren’t privvy to, but even then the returns for the number of horses in the field always leads to ‘Bad Bets’ being made, and over time, they will bleed you dry.

Beaner

Melbourne Cup spurs online gambling as exotic products push legal boundaries

Anne Davies
Published: October 31, 2015

For most of us it’s a chance for a once-a-year flutter in a sweepstake or a plain vanilla bet at the TAB. By the time the Spring Carnival, horse racing’s most prestigious season is over, Australians will have bet nearly $1.5 billion since August.

There’s a war raging for the gambling dollar as multinational online gambling houses slug it out for a share of a lucrative but overcrowded sports betting market, worth about $750 million in revenue, but with turnover 10 times that. On top of that, offshore operators are trying to lure Australians – the biggest gamblers in the world – to part with their cash.

It used to be that to place a bet punters had to wander down to the dingy TAB or make a phone call. But increasingly online betting companies are testing the boundaries of the law to offer all manner of exotic betting: things like in-race betting – which allows punters to place bets up to 20 seconds after the horses start running, rebates on horses coming second and third, and cash or rewards schemes and other inducements to open an online account.

Simultaneously, mobile phones have made gambling more accessible anywhere anytime, particularly to a new demographic – young men – who have grown up transacting virtually every aspect of their life on the phone. And the companies want their business.

Over the last decade several big multinational betting companies have entered the Australian market, taking on Tabcorp with online betting shops. British giant William Hill took over Tom Waterhouse last year. Ladbrokes, also from the Britain is here, as is Unibet from Europe. Sportsbet, the home-grown online operator, has been taken over by Irish company, Paddy Power.

Before the Melbourne Cup, the online betting companies are offering all manner of inducements. For example William Hill is offering $150 free if you open a new account with $50, and Ladbrokes is offering up to $250.

The fine print says that the stake must be turned over at least two times before it can be withdrawn and because of laws prohibiting inducements in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, they are not available in those states. But by the time a punter realises he is ineligible, he will probably have signed up for an account.

Gambling is also the fastest-growing category of advertising on TV. Until 2009 advertising by interstate gambling companies was banned by NSW and Victorian legislation. Most online companies are based in the Northern Territory for tax reasons. Companies allegedly relied on dubious practices such as giving journalists free credit in their accounts to mention their name. But in 2009 the High Court ruled the laws were a restraint of trade and since then it’s been open slather – particularly during sports events – even those televised at times when children are watching.

In the first nine months of this year, from January to September, the industry spent $107.6 million on TV ads alone, up 38 per cent on the same period in 2014, according to Standard Media Index, a company which measures advertising spends. And those figures don’t include the massive spend for the Spring Carnival and the Melbourne Cup.

Gambling has become a lifeline for free-to-air television. Standard Media Index chief executive Jane Schultz says gambling ads have rocketed from the 15th-largest category in 2014 to eighth.

The companies are also active on social media. They tweet to the football codes’ hashtags and post funny shareable videos on YouTube, featuring their logos.

But anti-gambling campaigners warn that online gambling, and the way it is being marketed, has dramatically raised the danger for young people.

In researching this story, I discovered that my 19-year-old and most of her friends have online gambling accounts. “Of course, everyone does,” she said, as if I had asked about Instagram. “It saves you having to go to the TAB.”

But it is not so benign as Instagram. Deakin University researcher Samantha Thomas says online gambling effectively puts a gambling venue, open 24/7, in your pocket. The marketing for online gambling is targeted towards young men.

One campaign showed legendary Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer on the couch with two blokes, wearing green and gold scarves as the national anthem played and pulling out their phones to bet on their team.

“The message was ‘betting is patriotic and entirely normal’,” Thomas says. “It’s a step in the normalisation of betting among young men. They are shown in peer groups, and sports betting is being directly linked with common symbols surrounding the sport.”

Once signed up, online gamblers can expect regular correspondence by email or even phone calls if they are valuable enough.

A few months ago the online site New Daily published a first-person piece, the confessions of a “retention officer“. He described how his job was to ring people who had been inactive and offer free bets or credit. Often he would find himself convincing someone who was desperately trying to give up their habit.

South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, a long-standing campaigner for robust gambling controls, says online gambling and the way it is being marketed with matching free bets to get people to open accounts, free credit and saturation advertising aimed at young people, threatens to spawn a new epidemic of problem gamblers.

Because of its immediacy, online gambling, is as addictive as poker machines, he says.

“I am worried we will have a generation of young men who won’t be able to buy a car, go overseas, buy a house,” he says. “The scars of that will be long-lasting and have huge social consequences.”

In September the federal government finally initiated a long-promised inquiry into the Interactive Gambling Act 2001. It will be undertaken by former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell. Written in 2000, it’s clear the act is struggling to keep up with technology.

Take for example the issue of in-play betting – placing bets once a race or event has started – which is legal in TABs and over the phone but illegal online.

The policy reason behind the ban, Monash University researcher Charles Livingstone says, is that in-play betting online, unlike making a bet at the TAB, is instantaneous and continuous, offering a similar intense emotional experience as pokies. Punters can literally see the odds changing.

William Hill, headed by Tom Waterhouse locally, along with another British rival Bet365 have been operating a controversial service. It requires punters to keep their smartphone microphone on, while placing bets online. This they say, makes it a phone service, within the law.

A few months ago, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which has responsibility for internet services, referred William Hill to the Australian Federal Police after a complaint. This week the AFP said it would not investigate, based on resourcing issues, leaving the service’s legality still up in the air.

“This is a great outcome for Australian punters who will no longer be forced to bet In-Play via illegal offshore bookmakers which pose a huge threat to both consumer protection and the integrity of Australian sport,” Waterhouse said.

“Throughout the development and before launching In-Play, William Hill took prudent steps to ensure In-Play is a ‘telephone betting service’ that is 100 per cent legal and compliant under the Interactive Gambling Act,” he said.

“What sets William Hill apart as a company is its willingness to push the boundaries through technology and innovation to give its customers something much better.”

But whether the review will delve into this and other more pressing social questions arising out of the growth of online services remains to be seen.

The review makes it clear that its primary focus is illegal offshore based services which ignore the Australian laws. As well as offering prohibited casino games like roulette and pokies online, they sidestep licensing, tax and harm-minimisation codes.

“It is estimated that offshore wagering is a $1 billion annual illegal business in Australia,” then social services minister Scott Morrison said when he announced the review.

Xenophon says that there is no doubt that the illegal offshore sites have caused “enormous hardship”. “People have lost huge amounts of money especially to operators based in Gibraltar,” he says.

But that’s only part of the issue, he says, as evidenced by the 2013 report by the Department of Communications into online gambling and the submissions of Financial Counselling Australia.

The promotion and marketing, provision of free credit, unfettered by the consumer credit legislation, offering inducements and other aspects of the local online industry also need to be tackled, he says.

The fourth term of reference of the review appears to provide scope to look at locally based online gambling. It says the review will look at “the efficacy of approaches to protect the consumer – including warnings, information resources, public information campaigns and any other measures, regulatory or otherwise, that could mitigate the risk of negative social impacts on consumers”.

Interestingly, there is no mention of advertising, and The Australian has reported the TV networks argued vociferously against it being specifically included.

A spokesman for the new minister, Christian Porter, said term 4 was deliberately broad and what was anticipated is that it will draw out issues and inform the formation of future gambling policy.

But others, like Livingstone are more sceptical, particularly as the inquiry is meant to report by December 18.

He’s also worried by the choice of O’Farrell to head the review, pointing out that both sides of politics in NSW are close to Clubs NSW and the Australian Hotels Association, both big players in the gambling industry. In addition, O’Farrell also granted the second casino licence to James Packer’s Crown, which is also an emerging player in online gambling.

“What worries me greatly is that in order to tackle people being hoodwinked by illegal offshore operators, there will be a recommendation to deregulate to allow Australian online services and clubs to provide casino-style games.”

Tabcorp, which as the incumbent is feeling the pressure from the new competition, is backing a broad review and calling for it to explore not only offshore but onshore online gambling and the tsunami of advertising.

“This review presents the perfect opportunity to define the type of wagering industry we want in Australia and address the inconsistencies,” chairwoman Paula Dwyer said.

“We believe there needs to be a single rule across the country in relation to the offering of credit by bookmakers. Northern Territory-licensed corporate bookmakers can offer their clients lines of credit, although TABs cannot. We believe the easiest way to address this is to introduce a single rule preventing wagering operators from acting as lenders and providing credit to customers. Nationally consistent advertising and inducement laws would reduce confusion for customers and wagering operators,” she says.

“We agree with the community that it is too much and would support sensible solutions to reduce the extent of the advertising.”

The Australian Wagering Council, which represents a number of the big online bookmakers including William Hill and Betfair says it anticipates interested parties making submissions to the O’Farrell review that may also raise issues that address the broader regulation of the Australian online wagering industry.

The Australian Wagering Council considers the Australian regulatory environment confusing for both customers and operators.

“The promotion and delivery of responsible gambling and harm-minimisation measures is a key aspect of good regulation. The Australian Wagering Council has long acknowledged the importance of commercially sensible regulation of advertising, product offers and inducements and deferred settlement facilities,” it says.

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/melbourne-cup-spurs-online-gambling-as-exotic-products-push-legal-boundaries-20151030-gkmmm0.html

To think that problem gamblers could end up owing money to the agencies they have already lost all their money too is very disturbing to me. Like the growth in payday loan companies, problem punters can get drawn to the idea that they can bet today and pay it back tomorrow, especially if they have the belief they are going to win. The reality though is that the majority will lose, and the few that may win this time will no doubt lose the next week or the week after, for if this blog has taught you anything, you’ll know that winning consistently on sports betting is difficult, and it is never easy to turn a profit no matter how good a tipster or insightful a gambler you are. The lure of landing the big payoff bet is a false hope too, for again, as many punters that do pull this off once in a while, there are many more that try and fail and end up losing all their money chasing the big one.

I read about a punter who had a big bet on the EPL soccer last weekend (22nd August 2015), betting $15 000 on Swansea to beat Sunderland at 2 to 1. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. A quick analysis under the good bet theory shows that they were betting on a match with 3 possible outcomes while only getting a 2-1 return, which is not a good bet. If they’d bet on the draw, they would have got odds of about 3.30, which is a good return over the 3 outcomes. And I don’t care how big a favourite one team is over the other pre-match, on the ground anything can happen and there is no such thing as a sure thing in sport, and to bet on an event believing you can’t lose is always going to be reckless. And if one team is heavily favoured over another to win, then the odds will reflect this and the return will be so low it would not be worth gambling on, for the likelihood of a small return does not outweigh the risk of an upset result.

You would hope that the government and authorities will take steps to block this option for punters to get loans from sports betting agencies, but there is a conflict of interest too as any drop in gambling revenue will mean a drop in the amount of tax the governments collect. It is in the government’s best interest for their citizens to gamble at the current levels to maintain the expected income, which would also be factored into the yearly budgets. As has been discussed before, governments are now reliant on this stream of income. I’ve no doubt they do have a desire to help problem gamblers, but they are also more than happy for the rest of the population to gamble just enough, just below the threshold of what is classified as a problem gambler. Move along, nothing to see here…

Beaner

Sports betting: call to ban unsolicited credit offers as problem gambling rises
‘If this is the future of gambling, it is indeed frightening,’ says peak body for financial counsellors, concerned at tactics used to draw in punters

Michael Safi

Monday 17 August 2015

Sports betting agencies should be “urgently” banned from extending credit to punters, a new report has recommended, amid signs of a surge in gamblers seeking help for excessive online betting.
Inducements, unsolicited credit, tactically withholding payouts, and possible breaches of the Privacy Act are some of the alleged methods employed by sports betting agencies in a largely “uncontrolled” industry, according to the report by Financial Counselling Australia (FCA).

“If this is the future of gambling, it is indeed frightening,” the report said, arguing that if credit was not banned, bookmakers should at least be forced to comply with credit laws requiring them to formally assess whether a punter has any chance of repaying credit.

It also called for new punters to be required to nominate a maximum bet amount, a ban on advertising links between payday lenders and sports betting sites, and a national register for people who want to self-exclude (rather than each company keeping a separate register).

Betting revenues are thought to have surged since the proliferation of smart phones and legal changes allowing betting sites to advertise during sports broadcasts.

Just how much is being gambled online on sport is yet to be quantified, but the advertising spend by betting agencies increased fourfold between 2010 and 2013 to nearly $48m, according to monitoring firm Ebiquity.

Gambling help clinics in Melbourne and Sydney have reported a tripling and doubling respectively in the number of sports betting clients they have treated in the past few years, according to an investigation by ABC Radio’s Background Briefing.
Launching the report on Monday, the independent senator Nick Xenophon said he would introduce a bill shortly to ban betting on credit.

“[Online sports betting] turbocharges the risks of problem gambling. Internet sports betting firms are using aggressive, high-tech strategies to target young men, increasingly to the point of ruin,” he said.

One case study included in the report detailed how one man was offered up to $500 in free bets by one betting company, and went on to gamble away the proceeds of the sale of his home.

In another, a man attempted suicide due to his gambling debts and emerged from hospital to an offer by one company to take him to a boxing match.

At least one customer already in debt was encouraged to whittle down what he owed by betting more and was offered extra credit, according to an email obtained by FCA.

“We were also told by a former employee that sports betting companies swap customer account data, contrary to privacy legislation,” the report said.

“When a gambler ‘goes cold’ and stops betting with one company, the company swaps lists with another company, which then entices the person to resume gambling.”

The Australian Wagering Council (AWC), an industry group, said it would “carefully examine the issues” raised in the report, but said new regulations on the gambling operators were “unnecessary”.

“There is no evidence-based research to suggest that changes in consumer behaviour, including customers choosing sports betting in preference to other forms of gambling … has led to an increase in problem gambling,” it said.

“Wagering on sport comprises only 2.3% of Australia’s total annual gambling spend, with the vast majority, 52.4%, of Australia’s gambling happening on poker machines in pubs and clubs.”

The AWC said it agreed with the call for a national self-exclusion register and that credit – which it said had always been available from bookmakers – should never be offered unsolicited.

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/aug/17/sports-betting-call-to-ban-unsolicited-credit-offers-as-problem-gambling-rises

It is sad to see that governments in some states and territories are making it easy for people with gambling addictions to blow their money.  The gambling industry was opposed to the reforms of the previous Gillard government, and now that the LNP are in charge, those reforms are all but gone or being ignored as problem gamblers are once again encouraged to spend their money on poker machines and the TAB in venues, pubs and clubs.  The power of the gambling industry is making this possible, where they have made large donations to governments at state and federal levels to win government support, where in return the government takes no action on recommended reforms and guidelines to help problem gamblers and people with gambling addictions as the increase in gambling revenue equates to an increase in their tax revenue.  This article poses the pertinent question; if Australians spend more per head on gambling than any other country, why are governments encouraging further growth of a harmful industry?  And the simple answer is that governments are themselves addicted and reliant on the tax generated from the gambling industry, to the point where the cost of reforms and restrictions to help problem gamblers outweighs their need to generate revenue from this insidious source.

Gambling pays off … for Australian governments

By Mike Steketee

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-17/steketee-gambling-pays-off-for-australian-governments/6625170

State and territory governments increasingly rely on gambling tax for revenue, which helps explain why Australia is currently going backwards on the issue despite clear evidence of a public health threat, writes Mike Steketee.

Two weeks ago, the Baird Government in NSW introduced changes to make life easier for serious poker machine players. That is part of a trend, with governments in Canberra, Queensland and the Northern Territory going down the same path. After its comprehensive demolition of the Gillard government’s reforms to tackle problem gambling, the gambling industry has pressed home its advantage by extracting further concessions to increase its profits, guarantee its further expansion, and increase the misery of the estimated 115,000 mainly low-income Australians with a serious gambling addiction – one mostly caused by the pokies. However, there are signs of pushback.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has been formed to co-ordinate the activities of church and community groups who speak for the 70 per cent of Australians who said in 2011 that gambling should be more tightly controlled. Separately, Neil Lawrence, the ad man who created the Kevin 07 campaign, has left a significant legacy after his sudden death this week in the Maldives: a powerful documentary, scheduled to be shown on the ABC, revealing how pokies are specifically engineered to encourage addiction. In the meantime, as a result of the most recent changes, gamblers in NSW clubs can now store $5,000 in an account or a smart card – a 25-fold increase from the previous standard limit of $200. As well, they can receive up to $5,000 of their winnings in cash, whereas previously amounts over $2,000 had to be paid by cheque or electronic funds transfer.

Monash University’s Charles Livingstone, an authority on gambling issues, says it is hard to fathom why a player would want $5,000 so readily at hand unless they had a very serious issue with poker machine gambling. He describes the other measure – raising the threshold for cheques or EFT to $5,000 – as “a recipe to ensure that problem gamblers … simply pour their winnings back into the machine ASAP”. But wait, that’s not all. In what the government argues is a counter-balance, there is a reduction from $10,000 to $7,500 in the maximum amount pokie players can insert and store in machines and an increase from three to six months in the minimum period problem gamblers can ban themselves from venues. If that looks like tokenism, that is because it is. Livingstone told me that the reduction from $10,000 to $7,500 is meaningless: This is supposed to be a harmless entertainment. Why on earth would you need to put $7,500 in a poker machine in a club or pub if it were genuinely merely harmless fun?

The only impact of this is to make money laundering slightly more difficult, but only slightly. He describes self-exclusion as a useful strategy for a small number of people, but says it is far more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The changes stem from a pre-election commitment by the NSW Liberals and Nationals to secure the support of Clubs NSW, the most powerful part of the lobby that mounted an expensive campaign to torpedo the Gillard government’s plans for gambling reform. The measures are spelled out in a memorandum of understanding that also includes a promise to “retain existing gaming machine operating conditions”, with any proposals for change requiring “rigorous assessment” and consultation. In other words, don’t dare lift a finger without telling us or we’ll hit you with another campaign. Needless to say, the public were not party to this agreement. There are some common themes in the backsliding by governments.

In Queensland, the Newman government also changed the rules to allow winnings of up to $5,000 to be paid in cash. Previously, jackpots could only be paid out by cheque and the cheque could not be cashed at the gambling venue for at least 24 hours – tougher rules than those that used to apply in NSW. Like the Baird Government, the Newman government justified this and a raft of other changes in the name of reducing red tape. Livingstone and his Monash University colleague Louise Francis had a different explanation in a report last year commissioned by the Anglican Church: This is clearly in the interests of EGM [electronic gaming machine or poker machine] venue operators and against the interests of people experiencing issues with gambling… In our opinion, this is a wholly detrimental measure that cannot be justified on ‘red tape reduction’ principles. Instead it appears intended to increase the likelihood that EGM users, especially problem gamblers who win substantial amounts, will, in all likelihood, lose those funds at the same venue.

The Queensland changes also increase the number of poker machines allowed under a club licence from 280 to 500, with a maximum of 300 at one venue. Livingstone and Francis said the likely effect would be to increase the average size of venues with poker machines and that it was well established that larger establishments generated more revenue per machine. “There is significant potential for exacerbating gambling related harm in vulnerable communities as a result of increasing allowable machine numbers in venues,” they said.

Last December, the Northern Territory Government announced an increase in the number of poker machines allowed in hotels from 10 to 20 and in clubs from 45 to 55. What of the $150,000 donation by the Australian Hotels Association to the governing Country Liberal Party before the last election? We have the word of Gaming Minister Peter Styles that it did not influence the Government’s decision. These measures are on top of the Abbott Government’s repeal last year, with Labor’s support, of the few measures that survived the onslaught from the clubs on the Gillard government.

They included limits on withdrawals from ATMs, the installation of so-called pre-commitment technology on replacement poker machines so as to allow players to nominate beforehand the maximum amount they were prepared to lose, and a trial of a mandatory pre-commitment scheme. Together, these decisions represent a big step in the wrong direction at a time when studies by the Productivity Commission and others have confronted us with the reality of problem gambling – bankruptcies, family break-ups, crime and suicide. Addiction to gambling is as much a public health issue as smoking or drug addiction. What governments have done is akin to re-introducing smoking in restaurants and bars.

Total gambling expenditure per head in Australia grew after inflation from $577 in 1986-87 to $1,179 in 2011-12. That meant total gambling losses of $20.5 billion in 2011-12, 84 per cent of it on gaming, with the rest on racing and sports betting. Considering Australians spend more per head on gambling than any other country, why are governments encouraging further growth of a harmful industry? Because government policy on gambling is compromised on multiple fronts. State and territory governments increasingly have relied on it for revenue, with their takings almost doubling after inflation to $5.5 billion in the 25 years to 2011-12.

With the growth of the industry has come the increase in the power of the clubs and hotel lobbies, and that power has included making political donations. In the Northern Territory, the Australian Hotels Association gave the same amount – $150,000 – to the Labor Party before the last election as to the Country Liberal Party. The last time there were meaningful measures to control gambling was in Victoria more than five years ago. They included a $5 maximum bet – a change Livingstone says was introduced without industry opposition. He adds that a $1 maximum would reduce the harmful effects of gambling, given that 80 per cent of problem gambling stems from poker machines. Among the politicians, only independents like Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie are prepared these days to stand up to the gambling lobby.

Wilkie put a bill for $1 bets, among other measures, before Parliament last November but the Abbott Government refused to allow it to come up for debate. Xenophon plans to introduce into the spring session of Parliament a bill to apply restrictions to online gambling. This is emerging as a threat, even while the much larger one from poker machines remains to be tackled.

This was a radio broadcast on Radio National 621am on Sunday the 5th July 2015.  I happened to hear it while driving to a 10-pin bowling tournament.  It isn’t dealing with sports betting, but it examines the trend that is emerging between using free game apps to introduce kids and teenagers to gambling.  This early introduction combined with massive gambling advertising campaigns on radio, TV and the internet is grooming the next generation of problem gamblers by normalising the industry to be a part of everyday life.  It is all about getting people to spend money, to gamble on winning more money, or in the case of the game apps, to win prizes within the game itself that have no monetary value.

The broadcast can be located here, with the full transcript below.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/fair-game-gambling-in-free-online-and-mobile-games/6580088

Gambling techniques are permeating free online and mobile app games. Social casino games that mimic real slot machines are among the most popular, with no restrictions on children playing. Ann Arnold investigates the convergence of gambling and gaming, which is rendering Australia’s interactive gambling laws obsolete.

A couple of years ago Arthur, who’s now 13, got slightly obsessed with a particular electronic game. He wasted a fair bit of money on it.

‘There’s this one car game, it has hero cars and you can only get them from mystery boxes.’

In this free game, you had to pay to unlock the mystery box. Arthur gradually became disillusioned.

‘They’re the really crazy cars, which are amazing, but it’s not actually possible to get them,’ the Melbourne teenager said.

Arthur spent ‘probably a couple of hundred dollars’, provided by his parents in small amounts over time, trying to get those amazing cars. But after a bit of research, he concluded no one was winning those cars, anywhere.

Arthur’s not the only one who’s found themselves wasting money amid an emerging screen culture of unregulated gambling for all ages.

Lots of games that don’t ostensibly have a gambling theme still include its imagery and concepts.

Then there are social casino games—played with others, online, using virtual currency. Those games in particular form a lucrative and fast-growing mini-industry.

Advertisements for either virtual or real online casinos are scattered throughout app games and social media.

Anti-gambling campaigner Senator Nick Xenophon says: ‘I don’t want the kids of today to become the problem gamblers of tomorrow.’

He despairs that Australia’s laws and regulators are unable to meet the challenge.

‘The Interactive Gambling Act was passed in 2001. It’s 14 years old. It may as well be 140 years old, because the industry has been very clever in outsmarting regulators and the legislation.’

The convergence of gambling and gaming is happening so quickly there’s been little evaluation of it.

Dr Sally Gainsbury, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University, has led a ground-breaking research project, commissioned by Gambling Research Australia.

‘It’s looking at how social media, gaming and gambling are all converging. It’s really transforming the nature of gambling in Australia,’ she says.

The full report will be released by the federal government but preliminary findings have been made available to Background Briefing.

A cross-section of the Australian population was surveyed: over 1,500 adults, and 560 adolescents.

Most people were not affected by online gambling games and promotions.

One third of the respondents had played social casino games, with virtual currency, in the past 12 months. Of the adults who’d played social casino games, one in five were prompted by that experience to gamble for real money.

For adolescents, it was more than a quarter who went on to actually gamble. They played pokies and casino-style card games, and bet on the races or other sports.

People who reported a high level of gambling problems were the most likely to say their gambling increased after playing social casino games. Others said, however, that virtual gambling was a safe alternative for them.

For this project, Dr Gainsbury led a team of researchers from several institutions in Australia and Canada.

‘This is the first study. In fact, it’s the most comprehensive study that’s been done worldwide,’ she said.

The aim was to get a ‘really comprehensive understanding of whether social media, gambling themed games are impacting on how much people do gamble’.

As well as social casino games, which are legal, the study looked at real casinos sites online, hosted offshore. These sites are not permitted in Australia, but they’re still easily accessed.

Dr Gainsbury says Australian legislation is ineffective in preventing illegal gambling sites, and the law has been outpaced by technological developments. She points out that the Interactive Gambling Act was drawn up before Facebook existed. The Act allows lotteries, and wagering—such as sports betting. It bans the provision of all other online gambling.

But the international online casino operators have so far been out of reach of Australian authorities.

There haven’t been any sites prosecuted, which means Australians can access at any stage online casino sites, which include blackjack, poker, and electronic game machines, Dr Gainsbury says.

‘There isn’t actually anything stopping Australian residents from gambling on these sites, but it’s highly ill advised because, for example, if they do have a dispute, if they’re cheated or defrauded, there’s nothing they can do to get their money back.’

The study also looked at the proliferation of social media promotions for gambling and virtual gambling.

At one stage 13-year-old Arthur was playing a game called Temple Run. If you ‘died’ in the game, he says, you could watch an ad to get a second life. They were often ads for gambling games.

‘And I know they’re gambling games,’ he said, ‘because it shows pictures of slots, and they say you’ll win and you’ll win and you’ll win.’

Arthur has a relative with gambling problems, so his father Danny says he’s made a point of alerting Arthur to the risks. But he wonders how many parents are aware of the extent of exposure to gambling in their children’s game play.

Ann Arnold: It’s been one of the most popular mobile games in the world, Crossy Road. You have to get a series of colourful, block-like characters—Scruffy Dog, Mad Bull, Unihorse and the rest—across a busy road. And a river. And a railway. If your character dies, you go again.

Released late last year, it’s a big hit with primary school age kids, like Mika.

Mika: It’s kind of addictive, kinda. It’s just, like, so fast and you’re always trying to get between little gaps, and really fast fingers, and all sorts of cool stuff. And you can collect coins and different things, like they have new versions, they have lots of little upgrades and you can get new characters. And there’s some where…oh…I just died and I got a free gift as well. I just got 50 coins.

Ann Arnold: Crossy Road went to straight to number one in the family category charts in a dozen countries, including the US, Canada, France, Russia and South Korea. Little known outside the gaming world is the fact that it’s Australian-made.

It was created by a Victorian duo, calling themselves Hipster Whale. They’ve just won a coveted Apple design award in San Francisco:

Woman: Next up, a game from a classic genre. The winner is, Crossy Road, by Hipster Whale.

Man [voiceover]: Based in Australia, Hipster Whale was founded by Matthew Hall and Andrew Sum. The game was popular from day one, but it really struck a chord in schoolyards around the world. Since launching…

Ann Arnold: In its first 90 days, the game reportedly made $10 million. There’s a lot of buzz, and a lot of pride. But for some observers, Crossy Road is not ideal child’s play. Collecting characters in the game becomes a major focus for many younger players.

Ben Riley: The only way to get those characters is to essentially gamble for them, using the coins, the virtual currency within the game, feed them into the gaming machine, and pull the handle and see what you get.

Ann Arnold: Problem gambling therapist Ben Riley. While most players get their characters through the prize machine, as it’s called, they can also purchase them directly, with real money. But with Crossy Road‘s repetitive random chance, and a children’s version of a poker machine at its core, Ben Riley sees it as part of a growing trend.

It’s been little documented, but gambling or gambling ideas are permeating electronic games; video games, social media games, and mobile apps.

Mika: So I’m gonna win a prize…yeah, I just got a new one called the Grey Bunny. It might just be one that you’ve already got or one that you haven’t got. It comes up with random ones.

Ann Arnold: Hello, this is Background Briefing and I’m Ann Arnold.

There’s an emerging screen culture of unregulated gambling for all ages. Lots of games that don’t ostensibly have a gambling theme still have elements of it; imagery and concepts. Then there are social casino games, played with others, online, using virtual currency. Those games in particular form a lucrative and fast-growing mini-industry. Advertisements for both virtual and real online casinos are scattered throughout app games and social media.

Nick Xenophon: I don’t want the kids of today to become the problem gamblers of tomorrow. Our current legislative framework is simply outdated.

Ann Arnold: Anti-gambling campaigner Senator Nick Xenophon despairs that Australia’s laws and the regulators are unable to meet the challenge.

Nick Xenophon: The Interactive Gambling Act was passed in 2001. It’s 14 years old. It may as well be 140 years old, because the industry has been very clever in outsmarting regulators and the legislation.

Ann Arnold: There’s a convergence of gambling and gaming. It’s happening so quickly there’s been little evaluation of it.

Dr Sally Gainsbury has led a ground-breaking research project.

Sally Gainsbury: This study is commissioned by Gambling Research Australia. It’s looking at how social media, gaming and gambling are all converging. It’s really transforming the nature of gambling in Australia.

Ann Arnold: The full report will be released by the Federal government but preliminary findings have been made available to Background Briefing. A cross-section of the Australian population was surveyed, over 1,500 adults and 560 adolescents. Most people were not affected by online gambling games and promotions.

One-third of the respondents had played social casino games with virtual currency in the past 12 months. Of the adults who’d played social casino games, one in five were prompted by that experience to gamble for real money. For young people, it was one in three who went on to actually gamble. Adolescents bet on the races or other sports, and played pokies and casino-style card games. People who reported a high level of gambling problems were the most likely to say that their gambling had increased as a result of playing social casino games.

Sally Gainsbury is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University. For this project, she led a team of researchers from several institutions in Australia and Canada.

Sally Gainsbury: This is the first study, in fact it’s the most comprehensive study that’s been done worldwide. It took three years. It consisted of eight different studies. We’ve really looked at this issue across adults, across adolescents, to get a really comprehensive understanding of whether social media, gambling-themed games are impacting on how much people do gamble.

Ann Arnold: As well as social casino games, which are legal, the study looked at real casino sites online. These are hosted offshore and are not permitted in Australia, but they’re still easily accessed.

Sally Gainsbury says Australian legislation is ineffective in preventing illegal gambling sites, and the law has been outpaced by technological developments. The Interactive Gambling Act was drawn up before Facebook existed. The Act allows lotteries and wagering, such as sports betting. It bans the provision of all other online gambling. But the international online casino operators have so far been out of reach of Australian authorities.

Sally Gainsbury: There haven’t been any sites prosecuted, which means Australians can access at any stage online casino sites, which include blackjack, poker, electronic game machines. There isn’t actually anything stopping Australian residents from gambling on these sites, but it’s highly ill-advised because, for example, if they do have a dispute, if they’re cheated or frauded, there’s nothing they can do to get their money back.

Ann Arnold: Beyond these more overt gambling options, there are more subtle mechanisms at play in the fast-moving world of games.

Nich Richardson is the presenter of the ABC’s internet program Good Game Pocket, a daily update of game news and reviews. An ardent gamer, he is not happy about some of the techniques used by game developers to extract money out of players who’ve downloaded free or very cheap games. People are lured into paying to advance themselves within a game. And sometimes they’re simply buying the chance to progress. It’s a gamble.

Nich Richardson: It is worrying for me as a gamer of seeing how the industry is shifting towards those sorts of models that I go…it’s like a second form of gambling. It doesn’t necessarily need to lead you into the one where you’re throwing your life savings away in a casino, it can lead you into one where you just constantly are getting these huge credit card debts because you are just paying a bunch of money for something that isn’t a tangible experience.

Ann Arnold: Nich Richardson says in the games industry there is a term for the people who are willing to make significant or frequent in-game purchases.

Nich Richardson: Most players will not put any money into these sort of games but what developers are looking for are people called whales who are the people who will sink $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 a month into a game because they just are getting in that loop.

Ann Arnold: It’s no surprise to him that ‘whales’ is also the gambling industry’s term for big spenders.

Nich Richardson: It doesn’t surprise me. They both work off the same core idea of keeping you in an ecosystem in order to keep putting money into it.

Ann Arnold: Social casino games are providing a bonanza—for their operators. The players get no payouts, ever.

Sally Gainsbury: Social casino games are based on a social network site or through a mobile app, but they’re predominantly a gambling-themed game.

Ann Arnold: Sally Gainsbury, from Southern Cross University:

Sally Gainsbury: These are things that look like slot machines. They look like poker or blackjack. They really look at lot like…they’re actually referred to as simulated gambling games, so in some cases you can’t tell the difference between these games and actual gambling. But they also have really bright imagery, bright colours. They often have youth themes, so they might have lots of baby animals within them. So a slot machine with baby animals and lots of gold coins. So they’re very visually attractive and appealing.

Daniel Golding: If I go into the App Store and I actually look at this category called ‘top grossing’, so the games that have actually made the most money, we can see that the number one in Australia at the moment is an app called ‘Heart of Vegas: play free casino slots’.

Ann Arnold: Daniel Golding is a game reviewer and writer who lectures at Melbourne’s Swinburne University. Heart of Vegas is free to download. The spending comes later.

Daniel Golding: It’s a slot machine application where you pull the lever and the fruit rotates and you may or may not win. Now, of course this being an app you don’t actually win anything, you don’t get money out of this game. But you do have the option of putting money in. So if I look now at the list of in-app purchases, so the kinds of ways that you can put money into this game once you’ve downloaded it for free on your phone, we can see that it starts at like…you can buy a package of 150,000 coins for $3.79, all the way up to the quite phenomenal… you can buy a package of 105 million coins for $129.99. That $129 purchase is the eighth out of ten most popular purchase in this app. And so I think actually that is a real problem.

Ann Arnold: Game critic Dan Golding.

Heart of Vegas is owned by Aristocrat. Aristocrat is an Australian company which makes many of the poker machines you see in pubs and clubs around the country. It now has a strong foothold in the American pokies’ market as well. Aristocrat announced a 73% revenue growth in the six months to March this year. In the company’s latest annual report, the online portion of its business had the biggest increase on the previous year. The company attributed this to Heart of Vegas.

Researcher Sally Gainsbury says the growth of the social casino sector has been spectacular.

Sally Gainsbury: There was a study a few years ago that estimated that social casino games are played by about 173 million people worldwide. They’re hugely popular. It’s a massive market.

Ann Arnold: It’s also literally a money-spinner.

Sally Gainsbury: The social casino games (and keep in mind these are free-to-play games) is a hugely lucrative market. It’s estimated these games will make $3.4 billion this year worldwide.

Ann Arnold: Some social casino games encourage you to become a ‘VIP’ or a ‘high roller’ by buying virtual credits. Social casino games are more lucrative than any of the other games you find on Facebook and other social media. And slot casino games are the most popular of all.

Sally Gainsbury: So slot casino games look a lot like a regular slot machine. In fact, in many cases the makers of slot machines, including in Australia companies like IGT and Aristocrat that provide slot machines within gambling venues, they also provide free-play versions of these that are social casino games. The games look in some cases identical to the ones you’d see on the floor of a gambling venue.

Ann Arnold: Online games are a handy marketing tool for the gambling companies. And they can reach the punters of the future.

Sally Gainsbury: They’re often used as a promotional tool for companies who want to promote their gambling games, but when they are social casino games, they’re not age restricted at all. So young people can access these slot machine games as well.

Ann Arnold: The Aristocrat company refused an interview request.

Australians are especially inclined to spend money within these free games. Sally Gainsbury says they’re twice as likely to pay up as players in other countries.

Sally Gainsbury: Although in most countries around 2% of players actually pay, in Australia it’s closer to 4%.

Ann Arnold: In the Gambling Research Australia study, many social media players reported that virtual gambling was a safe alternative for them; they weren’t gambling real money. But there’s a concern that some people, especially younger people, will be misled by their success with virtual gambling.

Sally Gainsbury: The odds aren’t always the same as in gambling. Often the odds are over-inflated to make them fun, you’re more likely to win.

Ann Arnold: The study found a subset of people thought their social gaming experience would make them more likely to be successful at real-world gambling. Sally Gainsbury says social casino games are based on algorithms that give you a greater chance at winning than actual gambling does.

Sally Gainsbury: You might actually think that they’re the same as gambling and then go to gamble and then find out that you lose a lot more than what you thought.

Ann Arnold: Other kinds of electronic games which are not obviously associated with gambling were not part of the gambling research project. But they too increasingly have elements of random chance. Players can spend either virtual money or real money in the hope of a reward that they may or may not get.

Arthur: There’s this one car game, it has hero cars and you can only get them from mystery boxes. Then they’re the really crazy cars and stuff, which are amazing, but it’s not actually possible to get them.

Ann Arnold: Thirteen-year-old Arthur spent a lot of money trying to get those amazing cars from the mystery box. This was back when he was 11. He eventually wised up.

Arthur: I just figured, you know, you can’t get it. You don’t see it on YouTube, you don’t see them anywhere. It’s just you can’t get them.

Ann Arnold: You keep putting the money in, in hope?

Arthur: I stopped after a while because there was no point.

Ann Arnold: Do you know how much you would have spent?

Arthur: Hundreds I guess.

Ann Arnold: Hundreds of dollars, real dollars?

Arthur: Yeah.

Ann Arnold: How do you get the hundreds of dollars?

Arthur: I’d ask my mum or my dad to pay for it, over time though, not at once, they wouldn’t buy it like that.

Ann Arnold: This is called the freemium model, a free game with built-in but optional costs. Melbourne-based games critic Daniel Golding:

Daniel Golding: Now, this can be on a huge scale from the relatively benign where you might just pay to unlock an extra character or something like that. It ranges from that to the relatively pernicious in some ways, where you might need to essentially pay to continue playing the game, or to progress past a certain point once the game has started to get its hooks into you.

Ann Arnold: Because mobile games are often free, developers have to make money from them somehow.

Jack: Today I’m going to be trying to get characters on Crossy Road. You can see I’ve got 46 out of 53. I’ve not bought any of them. Apart from the piggy bank, which I bought yesterday.

Ann Arnold: The creators of Crossy Road have been congratulated for their approach to the freemium model. Money is made by small purchases, you can buy characters, but they’re not essential to advance in the game. The main revenue is from ads, which play before you can advance in the game. But there are no gambling or social casino ads. They pay very well, but Crossy Road‘s creators say they don’t allow them.

With in-game purchases also it was important to Matt Hall, one of the developers, to not be exploitative.

Matt Hall: With free-to-play games, there is somewhat of a…there’s starting to develop a stigma, like people are beginning to see through them a little bit and understand the tricks that they’re employing. There was quite a famous episode of South Park three months ago where they dissected the free-to-play market and exposed it for all to see.

[South Park excerpt]

Matt Hall: I think people are slowly becoming wary of that. We took a very different approach with monetisation, as in getting people to pay for things within the game. We only sell characters for somewhere between 99c or $3.99. There is no big $99 transactions in our game and people seem to really appreciate that. In that way they were happier to share Crossy Road with their friends.

Ann Arnold: Within a week of launching last November, Crossy Road had had more than 2.5 million downloads.

Matt Hall: We were trying to work out what it was and then we realised, it was Monday and all the school kids were starting to play and talk about it in the school yard, and from there it just went up and up and up.

Ann Arnold: And was that in Australia or around the world?

Matt Hall: All around the world, yep.

Ann Arnold: The characters are quirky and appealing, but most players don’t buy them. They prefer to earn or win virtual coins in the game, which they put into a ‘prize machine’ in the hope of getting a character they want.

Jack: So you know when I’ve got a new character because it says ‘new’ at the bottom. So here you can see it says ‘try again’. That’s because it’s not a new character. [Sigh] Oh, what is it with bunnies!

Ann Arnold: That’s Jack. One of the many reasons for Crossy Road‘s success is the YouTube phenomenon of ‘Let’s Play’, where game players film their own screens and narrate their moves.

Part of Crossy Road‘s appeal to adults is nostalgia. It looks like and has a similar road-crossing theme to a popular 1980s game called Frogger.

Ben Riley: I had a little bit of a play of the game myself, and it all looked pretty benign, and reminded me of my old Frogger days.

Ann Arnold: Ben Riley works at South Australia’s Statewide Gambling Therapy Service, where he’s a cognitive behavioural therapist. He’s also doing a PhD on gambling problems. At home, he monitors pretty closely what his two young daughters have access to on their screens. But he says Crossy Road caught him out.

Ben Riley: It was one Sunday evening, I was rinsing toothbrushes in the bathroom, and I heard these familiar sounds to me in their bedroom. They share a bedroom. I heard the clear sound of what sounded like a poker machine, a gaming machine. I walked in to the young one, she was six at the time, had a look on her iPad was a full-sized image of what looked like a one-armed bandit. She was pushing a button and pulling the handle, and it made all these noises that sounded just like a poker machine. She called it a prize machine, that’s what the game refers to it as. Pull the handle, and then it randomly distributes a little prize, so that’s the reward.

Jack: Try again. I’m not getting very lucky here guys. Oh, try again. Okay, I’ve spent 500 coins now. Spent 500 coins and not got anyone I need. Try again? Really?

Ann Arnold: The prize machine, has anyone suggested to you or are you conscious that it looks like and sounds like a slot machine, a poker machine?

Matt Hall: A slot machine, exactly.

Ann Arnold: Crossy Road developer Matt Hall.

Matt Hall: We made it look like a slot machine so that people knew that this part of the game, this is the grey area part of the game, yeah, but we wanted to be very upfront with it so that people knew exactly what they were seeing.

Ann Arnold: And are you comfortable with kids using a virtual slot machine?

Matt Hall: That’s an excellent question. We wanted to make sure that the prize machine doesn’t give out money. It’s just like those Gacha machines, those little toy machines where you put your coin in and a prize pops out. That’s probably a closer analogy.

Ann Arnold: You hear the tumbling coins.

Matt Hall: Yeah, but then the prize pops out of course, yeah. No, I am a parent myself, I have a six-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old. I’m very conscious of that, like I really do not like gambling. I do not gamble myself, for example. So the idea in this was not to promote gambling but to use that visual as a way of informing the player, the parent and the kid exactly what’s going on there.

Ann Arnold: A therapist who works in a gambling treatment centre in Adelaide who is also a father, he’s got two young daughters, says his girls have been totally hooked on Crossy Road and he was pretty annoyed though when he heard the sounds of a poker machine, as he thought, coming from his six-year-old daughter’s iPad.

Matt Hall: Right, yeah. I’ve had no complaints about that come through. We have a very open email line. The support system is very easy to get to. I’ve actually had no complaints from parents, believe it or not.

Jack: Right, come on chicken, come on lucky chicken. Try again. Come on. Oh my goodness, I needed him, now I get him twice? Wow. Come on chicken. Yay, someone new.

Ann Arnold: The Game Developers Association of Australia contacted Background Briefing, concerned about the way Crossy Road may be portrayed in this program. The CEO of the association, Tony Reed, said there are other games which use much more literal gambling techniques. He suggested the Crossy Road prize machine was more akin to a machine filled with toys in a shopping arcade, where you put coins in the slot and get a random selection.

I put that to gambling treatment therapist Ben Riley, in Adelaide.

Ben Riley: I would argue that that too is a form of gambling. Unlike the arcade, a parent might feed a coin in and allow their child to get a chocolate bar or a little fluffy toy or whatever it might be. That’s one dose of a random outcome or one dose of a gamble, if you like. With the Crossy Road game, there are literally dozens and dozens and dozens of doses within a pretty short period. While the child’s sitting there playing the game, they’re continually interacting with this simulated gambling-type game. The exposure to it is a lot different.

Ann Arnold: While Ben Riley sees Crossy Road as the thin edge of the wedge, other games he’s encountered have more overt gambling devices. He saw an adult client last year who was referred with an apparent addiction to the Castle Clash game. Castle Clash is a multiplayer online game.

Ben Riley: Our first response was, ‘Well, it’s not our area, we work with gambling, not gaming.’ The person said, ‘Yes,’ informed us that they’d lost some $20,000 in the previous six months.

Ann Arnold: Ben Riley says that in Castle Clash, players use the virtual currency of gems to gamble on a rolling screen similar to a poker machine. The man had spent $20,000 on gems.

Ben Riley: Those gems were used to spin the…it’s like a virtual slot machine, and the characters would all tumble around, and then you would win a certain character. This was the part of the game that this particular individual became addicted to. He was addicted to the game itself, but also the gambling element within the game. If you end up with a character that you don’t want, you don’t get the currency back, you don’t get your money back. You have to go again, just like in real-world gambling. He met criteria for both a gaming disorder, so addiction with a computer game, but also a gambling disorder.

Ann Arnold: This extraction of a vulnerable player’s money while they’re in the vortex of a game concerns Nich Richardson, the presenter of Good Game Pocket.

Nich Richardson: There’s a corruption of the games that we like. Some big franchises have started releasing games that have elements within them that you need to pay for to unlock more of, but you’ve already bought the game up front. So that’s bringing in that micro-transaction idea, about; I’ve already paid $60 for this game, why now do I need to pay another $15 to unlock more content within it?

It’s also just a really bad image. The gaming industry is constantly dealing with image from people who don’t play games and a lot of people who don’t understand them and this image of it being like gambling is not something that’s particularly helpful to gaming being accepted.

Ann Arnold: Why are the gambling elements there? Cognitive behaviour therapist Ben Riley:

Ben Riley: We know one of the most powerful forms of conditioning is what we call random reinforcement or intermittent scheduling. I guess if you build an activity within a game that is based on chance, it has that random element, it could potentially hook people in and make it difficult for them to stop playing or they’ll play it to excess.

Ann Arnold: There’s not yet conclusive evidence about the connection between problems with game playing and gambling. But Background Briefing has talked to health and youth workers who say they see obvious overlaps within a vulnerable population. Some services are either beginning to treat people for both issues, or educating young people about the risks.

Arthur: Post-apocalyptic survival game, it’s called The Fifth Day. Survive as a robot in a heap of other robots in a post-apocalyptic world. You craft weapons to defend yourself, find ammunition, and you can be detected by the enemy bots because of your radiation, and you can use solar panels as well if you don’t want to be seen.

Ann Arnold: Thirteen-year-old Arthur in Melbourne has been attending a computer group for young people organised by Headspace, the mental health service.

Arthur: I guess, yeah, it’s a bit of an addiction.

Ann Arnold: Does it stop you doing things like going to school or anything else that you should be doing?

Arthur: A bit it stopped me going to school. I was also having quite a hard time at school. But I haven’t really been taking care of myself much.

Ann Arnold: You haven’t been taking care of yourself?

Arthur: Not that well, no, not really.

Ann Arnold: What do you mean by that? What aren’t you doing?

Arthur: A lot of the time I haven’t been taking a shower or brushing my teeth and just simple things.

Ann Arnold: When he’s on social media and mobile phone games, Arthur often sees ads for gambling and virtual gambling, in games like Temple Run.

Arthur: You’ll die in the games I guess, ones like Temple Run and stuff where you have to run and if you die you can watch an ad to get a second life and do it again, just once. A lot of the time they are gambling ads in that game though. And I know they’re gambling games because it shows pictures of slots and saying you’ll win and you’ll win and you’ll win.

Ann Arnold: Arthur’s father Danny has made a point of alerting his son to gambling risks.

Danny: Ever since he was young we’ve had lots of discussions around gambling and gambling games because we had a relative who was a heavy gambler and I grew up learning about it and it was one of my hopes that he wouldn’t become a gambler.

Ann Arnold: Not all young people have had those warnings.

Danny: I just wonder about children who are out there who haven’t got parents who are telling them about this. I guess also that I didn’t realise that these gambling games were there for children and available to them, because I’m a parent who…I look at what he plays and I’m interested to see, but I don’t follow it all the time and I don’t know that these things are there.

Ann Arnold: The new Gambling Research Australia study found young people were particularly susceptible to gambling promotions. Overall, one in ten people said they gambled more as a result of seeing social media promotions.

The researchers analysed the Facebook page of a 35-year-old male. Lead researcher Sally Gainsbury:

Sally Gainsbury: We did a case study where we had a 35-year-old male look at his Facebook profile and capture the different types of ads he saw. He found a number of ads for gambling themed games, as well as illegal gambling sites and legal gambling sites. The illegal sites often had Australian cash in them. They were targeting Australian users. They had these fake users saying, ‘I’ve won $10,000. It’s so easy. You should join up. Click here to get straight to the site.’ They were very appealing and really looked at the winnings you could have and really pressured people into joining these sites.

Ann Arnold: Sally Gainsbury says Australian law-enforcement agencies seem unable to stop the ads. That’s down to Facebook to control the advertising of what are, in Australia, illegal online casinos.

Sally Gainsbury: Essentially they’re provided through Facebook, which is a global company. They have an Australian office, but how to get Facebook to stop displaying these ads? It’s difficult and very little action appears to be taken, which means that Australians are being exposed to these ads. They can click through and start gambling on them. This includes young people as well.

Ann Arnold: A Facebook spokeswoman said Facebook prohibits gambling ads where it’s illegal. In a written statement she said: ‘We require all gambling companies who intend to advertise with us to go through a vetting process where we review their gambling licence and compliance with local laws.’

In Australia there are restrictions for gambling advertising on billboards or television, but on social media the rules are often not applied.

Sally Gainsbury: We did an audit of social media sites used by Australian gambling operators and we found that the vast majority of posts did not have any responsible gambling warning, and many of the Facebook profiles didn’t actually mention responsible gambling or this was hidden away under some sort of drill-down menu.

Ann Arnold: When it comes to virtual gambling, one new game app ups the ante, according to Senator Nick Xenophon.

Nick Xenophon: When I was told about GiiUp, I couldn’t believe that it had been allowed on the marketplace. It’s a free app. When I opened it up, you can make a simulated bet on any horse, harness or greyhound race in the country in real time.

Ann Arnold: GiiUp is an Australian product. Senator Xenophon was alerted to GiiUp earlier this year. He believed the ease of use and the graphics (some of which have since been changed) made it accessible and available to children.

Nick Xenophon: I think that this is an insidious app. It actually pushes gambling onto kids, because there doesn’t appear to be any age limit for this app because under our current bookmaking and gambling laws, because real money isn’t actually involved, it doesn’t appear to be illegal.

Apps like GiiUp can condition kids, habituate them to take up gambling. It normalises gambling behaviour. The fact that these sorts of apps make it appear very easy for kids to think that gambling is a harmless pursuit, and as soon as they turn 18 they can open up an account with a betting agency and start using real money automatically without any barriers.

Ann Arnold: Nick Xenophon wants the Interactive Gambling Act amended to close what he sees as a loophole which allowing games that use virtual currency to be not classified as gambling.

GiiUp goes beyond the virtual. It has a link to Classic Bet, which is a betting company. In the app you can click on either ‘coin bet’ for virtual gambling, or, right next to it, ‘cash bet’ to go through to real betting.

GiiUp‘s Michael Castleman told Background Briefing that children’s access to his app is a shared responsibility between parents and his company, but he didn’t elaborate. The race betting app’s blurb is ‘learn a skill for life’.

Senator Nick Xenophon is not impressed.

Nick Xenophon: It’s in the interest of betting agencies to hook up with these seemingly harmless kids’ games, these virtual gambling apps, because there’s a clear symbiotic relation between the two.

Ann Arnold: The monitoring and regulation of game and app content falls between cracks in the regulatory system, which at this stage is lagging behind creative and technological developments. The chief responsibility for electronic media content sits with ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which, as Sally Gainsbury said earlier, has never prosecuted illegal offshore gambling sites. Background Briefing requested an interview with ACMA, which was declined.

So who’s watching the apps? Nick Xenophon says that with such a regulatory vacuum, it’s the electronic stores that sell apps that need to show corporate responsibility.

Nick Xenophon: Apple iTunes and Google Play can’t ignore the fact that many of their customers are being hurt by these apps, either directly or indirectly: directly through spending up big on virtual credits, and indirectly by being conditioned and introduced to real forms of gambling, betting agencies where people can lose their pay packets, lose an enormous amount of money very quickly. So I think that Google Play and Apple iTunes simply saying ‘we comply with current laws’, really doesn’t sit well with their corporate ethos of being socially responsible. Maybe they need to be encouraged with some legislative change to make this happen.

Ann Arnold: Background Briefing sought comment from both Google and Apple. There was no response from Apple. A Google spokesman cited policy that said ‘we don’t allow content that facilitates online gambling’. That included sports betting. GiiUp is not available in the Google Play store.

If you or anyone you know needs assistance with a gambling problem, you can get 24-hour help from the National Gambling Helpline, phone 1800 858 858.

Background Briefing‘s co-ordinating producer is Linda McGinness, research by Lawrence Bull, technical production by Martin Peralta, the executive producer is Chris Bullock, and I’m Ann Arnold.