Australian corporate bookmaker SportChamps has been convicted and fined after an eighth prosecution of the company for illegal advertising in six years, but without suffering a substantial penalty for repeat offending.
Melbourne-based SportChamps Australia pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal gambling advertising this week in the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney and was fined A$17,500 ($11,500) for inducing customers to gamble and open a betting account.
It was SportChamps’ eighth conviction in New South Wales (NSW) state after successful prosecutions in 2018 and 2019, and convictions in five cases spanning July 2020 to December 2021 that were announced on the same day in April 2023, according to previously unreleased regulator data seen by Vixio GamblingCompliance.
The latest conviction centred on SportChamps advertisements on its website and Facebook pages that urged customers to “Punt for free. Learn the game!” and “Receive a free bet each day”, Liquor & Gaming NSW said in a separate statement on Thursday (January 18).
The statement described SportChamps’ repeat offending as “unacceptable”, adding that the company “tried to attract a new customer base and increase its market share with no regard for the state’s gambling laws”.
“It’s extremely concerning that this operator has amassed multiple convictions for breaching laws which are in place to protect people from gambling harm,” said Jane Lin, executive director of regulatory operations.
“Offences like these have the potential to undermine the entire regulatory framework, which is why we take a zero-tolerance approach to this type of advertising,” she said.
However, the range of fines for SportChamps, most of which were not announced by the regulator at the time of conviction, point to ongoing problems with deterrence after years of similar lawbreaking in NSW by other bookmakers.
The latest fine of A$17,500, not inclusive of legal costs, is the largest the company has received, but it is only marginally larger than previous fines of A$10,000 and A$7,500 for the company for running illegal ads on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Play App.
The company has also been fined and reprimanded in Australia’s Northern Territory, where it is licensed.
When asked if the NSW regulator is concerned about a deterrence shortfall, a Liquor & Gaming NSW spokesperson referred Vixio to the office of gaming and racing minister David Harris.
“The NSW Government in 2022 strengthened regulations, allowing Liquor & Gaming NSW to issue fines directly to bookmakers,” the office said in an emailed statement.
“This resulted in a record penalty of A$210,000 being issued last year to Betr for serious breaches involving inducements to open a betting account or bet more frequently.
“Prohibitions on gambling inducements are an important harm minimisation measure. There is no excuse for wagering companies to advertise inducements in this way,” it said.
The government in December 2023 also issued an "industry alert" to betting service providers, chiding them for non-compliance, warning against certain business practices, and promising punishment if they persist.
Still, the data on convictions and penalty notices seen by Vixio also reveals several prosecutions in 2023 not publicised by the regulator, including for bookmakers Bet Nation, Actionbet and Baggybet.
Total fines from prosecutions in 2023 amounted to A$165,700, outstripped by $303,000 in regulatory penalty notices for five companies.
As with the convictions, some of the penalty notices were not apparently made public, including a A$30,000 fine for Ultrabet, two fines amounting to A$33,000 for Mintbet, a A$15,000 fine for Colossalbet and a A$15,000 fine for Dabble.
All offences were related to improper advertising, the data shows.
In late 2021, when Vixio asked Liquor & Gaming NSW if the government would consider charging individual directors or managers of gaming companies in the context of ongoing compliance failures and repeat offending, a spokesperson said this would be “strongly considered” if the breaches and the evidence supported it.
No directors or management staff have been prosecuted to date.
The regulatory environment in NSW contrasts starkly with the neighbouring state of Victoria, where the revamped gambling regulator is taking a hardline approach toward non-compliance in online gambling and every other gambling segment, backed by legislation allowing much tougher fines and closer scrutiny.
Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission CEO Annette Kimmitt also intervened last week in a national parliamentary debate on banning gambling advertising in its entirety.
Kimmitt told the Guardian Australia daily on Friday (January 12) that she supports a full ban now being considered by the federal government in light of a scathing parliamentary committee report.
“When people find out I am the head of the Victorian gambling regulator, I am bombarded with stories from parents of teenagers who have discovered that their children have online wagering accounts,” she said.
“The other thing that is constantly raised with me is ‘when are you going to ban the ads’?
“My response is, ‘I wish I could, but that is not up to me’.”