Australia and New Zealand’s peak medical organisations have tag-teamed at an Australian parliamentary hearing to lament the gaming regulatory landscape and support a ban on sports-betting advertising and the creation of a national online gambling regulator.
Representatives of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Australian Psychological Society (APS), the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians gave evidence to the lower house probe in Canberra on Tuesday (March 7).
Appearing before the inquiry into online gambling and its impacts on gamblers, AMA president Professor Steve Robson called the efforts of federal and state government regulators “largely ineffective” in protecting vulnerable gamblers.
“Almost ten years ago, the AMA called on the Commonwealth [federal] Government to establish an independent gambling regulator and that remains entirely relevant today. There has been little progress on gambling regulation over the intervening decade,” he said.
“Current regulations and licensing regimes for online gambling have been largely ineffective in helping harm minimisation and consumer protection efforts,” he said.
Robson said the gambling environment has proliferated without a tandem upgrade in regulation.
“We’re now dealing with many more online gambling platforms and users, amid the entrenched commercial relationship between gambling and sport, ease of access to online gambling for under-18s, lax regulatory frameworks around advertising and rapidly evolving digital technology.”
Robson reiterated recommendations that the AMA submitted to the inquiry in November, including imposing a complete ban on gambling company sponsorship of sports teams and a ban on sports-betting commercials during televised sports events.
He repeated the AMA’s call for the creation of a national online gambling regulator, and further research and data collection on the prevalence of online gambling, particularly for younger people.
Also at Tuesday’s hearing, the APS and the two joint Australia-New Zealand peak bodies laid out cases for a ban on credit cards and other credit mechanisms for online gambling, harmonisation of state and territory regulations and a total ban for gambling advertising in online channels and traditional media.
The three presentations add to growing demands in recent months for streamlining of online regulation across state and territories to prevent regulatory and taxation loopholes.
They also merge with the evolving demands of retail wagering monopoly and online bookmaker Tabcorp Holdings, which is pushing for tougher advertising restrictions and a national regulator or harmonised cross-state regulation.
On Wednesday, Tabcorp CEO Adam Rytenskild backtracked from a suggestion in his November inquiry submission that the federal government is the linchpin of an optimal regulatory regime, suggesting instead it would be more likely that state and territory governments will reach an agreement on their own.
Rytenskild was speaking at the second annual Regulating the Game conference in Sydney for regulators and industry, an event that attracted federal agencies and regulators from most states and territories, as well as from Singapore, Malta and Papua New Guinea.
Recent rising heat over regulatory reform has crystallised around several traumatic industry developments, including the disgracing of casino operators Crown Resorts and The Star Entertainment Group, probes into major money laundering in New South Wales (NSW) state’s slot machine industry, accelerating federal investigations into corporate bookmakers and wholesale reform or replacement of regulators in three states burned by their failure to hold casinos accountable.
Several political developments have added to the instability ahead of a NSW state election this month, with formidable slot machine lobby ClubsNSW being forced to sack its CEO over a derogatory religious reference to conservative NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, anti-gambling reform advocates attacking Labor party rival Chris Minns over his less than enthusiastic stance on gaming reform and ClubsNSW whistleblower and terminally ill activist Troy Stolz running against Minns as an independent candidate.
That heat was also occasionally palpable at Regulating the Game, where industry resentment and complaints about media coverage shared the stage with much tougher language from regulators on operator malfeasance and federal agency warnings of new probes into the industry.
Tension also emerged briefly in a private, four-letter-word-laced conversation on responsible gambling between a regulator and a gambling operator.
At the start of the conference, independent Australian journalism website Crikey launched a broadside on Monday at the conference and many of the participants, accusing organisers of the “five-day extravaganza” in “the world’s most gambling-captured city” of failing to invite reform-minded speakers.
Still, industry recognition of public anger over ubiquitous gambling advertising and several comments by conference organiser and former NSW gambling regulator Paul Newson were testament to the upheaval of recent years, and to the need for governments and industry alike to forge a new trajectory.
The time has long gone for operators to meet only the minimum standards of regulators and the community, Newson said on Thursday at the conference dinner.