FCA releases submission to O’Farrell review of the Interactive Gambling Act – consumer protection needs to improve dramatically

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8/12/2015

Financial Counselling Australia has today released its submission to the Barry O’Farrell review of the Interactive Gambling Act.

The submission sets out “12 Things that Need to Change” (attached) if Australian consumers are to be adequately protected from the harm associated with gambling.

“The current consumer protection regime is manifestly inadequate,” said Lauren Levin, FCA Director of Policy.  “For a start, we need a national regulator, as the current State-based approach is not working for consumers.”

“Gambling companies tell consumers to ‘gamble responsibly’.  But what responsibility are these companies taking? It is not responsible for gambling companies to offer credit to gamblers or inducements to gamble more. There is no limit to how much someone can lose.  We see what can only be described as grooming of gamblers.”

“Australian licensed wagering companies say they protect consumers and the illegal overseas companies do not.  But FCA’s report “Duds, Mugs and the A-List: The Impact of Uncontrolled Sports Betting” found egregious examples of poor behaviour – all of the case studies in the report were from Australian companies. The Australian industry needs to take its consumer protection obligations seriously.”

“Gambling is a dangerous product that destroys lives.  But advertising is ubiquitous, including when children are watching major sports broadcasts.  The normalisation of gambling through blanket advertising also needs to be restricted,” said Ms Levin. 

Australians already have the largest gambling losses per capita in the entire world. But the problem will get dramatically worse if the current review allows in-play betting or legalises offshore betting organisations.
“We are now in the insidious position where it seems there is no such thing as too much gambling,” said Ms Levin.  “As a community we need to say enough is enough.  The argument that individuals have an unfettered right to gamble is nonsensical. Problem gamblers, who have informed our work, are pleading for protections – for government to fetter their so called ‘right’ to wreck their lives.”

A stronger response starts with a suite of measures, including:

  • National regulation, a strong regulator, and an ombudsman – the state based approach is not working for consumers. (The online gambling industry operates nationally and wants a national approach too.)
  • Start with a ban on advertising, as we did with tobacco.
  • Ban all forms of credit (including gambling on credit cards) – we agree with the Liberal Party position on problem gambling that was taken to the 2013 election: ‘Responsible gambling is all about people gambling within their means. Extending lines of credit to gamblers runs contrary to this principle and the Coalition will legislate to prohibit the practice’.[1]
  • Introduce an online account aggregator (with compulsory loss limits) so people can set annual limits of amounts they are rationally prepared to lose. This will allow gamblers to see their gambling profit/loss balance across all accounts.
  • An Online Exclusion Register, extending to third party exclusion as well as self-exclusion. This would mean that family members can flag problems too, and when gamblers want to quit they only have to exclude once via the central register.
  • Levy the online gambling industry to fully fund the services that have to pick up the pieces, like financial counselling services, domestic violence services (there is a relationship between family violence and gambling), gamblers help and others.
 
Our submission includes this quote from a problem gambler that sums up the current problems:

 “Even though it is the gambler who keeps pushing the bet button ... and jumping off the cliff ... there is no need for the gambler to be chauffeur driven in a limo to the edge of that cliff by the betting companies.

Background

FCA’s August report “Duds, Mugs and the A-List—a report into the impact of uncontrolled sports betting” outlined serious and unethical practices in the online sports betting industry, particularly around credit and gambler grooming. Two weeks later, the Government announced a review into the Interactive Gambling Act.
 
MEDIA CONTACT: Lauren Levin, 0411 050 035  lauren.levin@financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au
After 9 December, Media Contact, Fiona Guthrie – 0402 426 835
fiona.guthrie@financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au
 
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