Smoke Signals

Smoke Signals

Banning early evening gaming ads on TV is like being ‘a little bit pregnant’

While gaming advertising will be banned before 8.30pm, the ban doesn’t extend to perimeter advertising or on-air mentions of betting odds. from www.shutterstock.com

Early this month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made his family friendly announcement that advertising for gaming, including sports betting, would be banned from television and radio before 8.30pm each night, plainly a message about reducing exposure to children.

The “siren to siren” ban, which will cover all sports broadcasts on TV and radio except racing, will start five minutes before matches start and end five minutes after full time.

We don’t know when this will start, but you can probably get low odds somewhere on implementation taking as long as possible.

Just as you can’t be “a little bit pregnant”, you can’t have a partial ban.

Turnbull’s announcement said nothing about on-ground and perimeter advertising, TV commentators and their guests mentioning betting odds or the many sneaky ways direct advertising bans were subverted by the masters of the art, Big Tobacco.

No kid watches sport after 8.30pm, right?

Just take a nanosecond to think about what has been promised. Yes, the policy will take direct advertising of gambling out of pre-8.30pm sport. But last time I looked, the State of Origin, all day/night cricket, major world events like the World Cup and the Olympic Games, and Grand Prix events all run well after 8.30pm.

While most seven-year-olds may be tucked in bed before 8.30pm, many older kids stay up much later. So picture the living rooms across Australia as armies of parents say to their 12-year-olds, “Look I know it’s the decider State of Origin match and the game kicked-off only 15 minutes ago, but the TV is going off now because the betting ads are starting up in a minute.”

That’s just certain to work very, very well. Perhaps exactly as well as the gaming industry’s public support for the package would predict.

Former Labor front bencher Stephen Conroy, now with Responsible Wagering Australia told Sky News that Sports Bet “absolutely welcomed” the new package.

This should set cynicism meters off the dial. If this move had even the remotest chance of having any impact on the betting industry’s bottom lines, it would fight it tooth and claw, in the way we saw with tobacco plain packaging.

Gamble responsibly

The relentless TV betting ad postscripts that remind us to “always gamble responsibly” are as sincere as Big Tobacco urging smokers to smoke lightly.

The 2010 Productivity Commission report on gambling in Australia estimated that problem gamblers contributed about 40% of gaming revenue via poker machines. The report identified about 115,000 Australians as “problem gamblers” with a further 280,000 people at “moderate risk” of being a problem gambler.

There is no definitive national estimate of how common problem gambling is among people who bet on sports. But a 2014 study in the ACT indicated rates of problem gambling among internet gamblers were three times greater than for gamblers in general and on a par with rates for people gambling on poker machines or on racing.

The bottom line is that problem gamblers are the backbone of the gaming industry’s fortunes. The industry would be devastated if these fortunes somehow dried up.

Incremental tobacco advertising bans

The history of restricting tobacco advertising is likely to point to what’s ahead in reforms on how gambling promotion.

The last time a direct tobacco advertisement was seen or heard on Australian TV or radio was in August 1976. The Whitlam government introduced the policy, which was continued by the Fraser government. Direct cigarette advertising on radio and television was phased out over the three years between September 1, 1973 and September 1, 1976.

The decision was framed as a way of reducing the exposure of children to tobacco advertising. Obviously, the proposition was that kids were a prime target for tobacco companies and their advertising was a powerful way of conditioning interest in smoking in young people.

So, direct tobacco ads on TV and radio could help kids take up smoking. But the very same appeals in ads in print, on billboards, in shops and as sporting and cultural sponsorship apparently could not. This was the bizarre logic in governments at the time banning tobacco advertising in only selected media, but not across the board.

As ordinary commonsense and research highlighted the inanity of this policy, governments incrementally increased the number of media where cigarette ad bans applied. It took from September 1973 until April, 30 1996 (when tobacco sponsorship of cricket finally ended) for all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion to end in Australia. That’s 22 years and 8 months from start to finish.

If we count branded packaging as a form of advertising (as the tobacco industry unequivocally agrees it is) then we need to add another 16 years and 7 months. That’s until plain packaging was implemented in December 2012.

Children seeing sports betting ads can’t participate in online gaming because they don’t have credit or debit cards. But they are a vital audience for the future of the industry. It is in the industry’s interests to beguile them about gaming as early and for as long as possible until the day they can open their first betting account.

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