The sports betting market continues to expand in Australia with strong competition between domestic and international betting agencies. The Australian market recently saw the entrance of bet365 in 2012 and subsequently of William Hill, through its acquisitions of Sportingbet and Thomas Waterhouse in 2013. Offshore operators are likely to continue to seek entry into the Australian market.
New entrants to the market should be aware of the current regulatory environment in Australia and associated restrictions on advertising and promotion of gambling in sports. The regulation of advertising and promotion of gambling in sports is currently under reform in Australia and has received substantial press coverage during 2013, particularly in relation to the promotion of "live odds" betting.
In February 2013, the Australian Senate established the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform (the Committee) to conduct an inquiry into the advertising and promotion of gambling services in sport and how to best regulate the industry. The Committee was also required to determine whether draft legislation regulating the advertising of gambling in sports should be passed in the form of the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Advertising for Sports Betting) Bill 2013 (BSA Bill).
The BSA Bill seeks to prohibit, during sports event broadcasts, the advertising of live odds for sports betting, in addition to the advertising of sports betting services before 9.00 pm and the promotion of sports betting services by sporting commentators and their guests. The prohibition would apply to both television and radio advertisements.
While the Committee was undertaking its inquiry into gambling reform, former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was prompted by increasing political pressure to impose prohibitions on the advertising of live odds during sporting broadcasts. She requested that television (TV) and radio networks ban the promotion of live odds for sports betting and restrict gambling advertisements during sporting broadcasts.
The Commonwealth Government had already commenced work with broadcasters to amend existing industry codes of practice, therefore the Committee's final report recommended that the BSA Bill not be passed until the completion of the review of the self-regulatory action that is being taken by the industry.
At the state level, the Independent Gambling Authority (IGA), the gaming regulator in South Australia, has recently published a review of gambling codes of practice which recommends that mandatory warning messages be included in gambling advertisements. An overview of the newly amended industry codes and of the recommendations of the Federal Committee and the IGA are set out below.
New Codes of Practice
Following the Commonwealth Government's directive to amend existing industry codes of practice, on 1 August 2013 the industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), registered five new codes of practice. The codes have been developed by commercial and subscription sectors of the Australian radio and television broadcasting industry and limit betting odds promotions and gambling advertising during live sports broadcasts on radio, free to air commercial TV and subscription TV.
Under the new codes, during a live sporting broadcast:
- commentators and guests will be banned from promoting betting odds during play and for half an hour before and after the game
- gambling ads are restricted to before and after play, scheduled breaks in play (ie half-time) and when play is suspended for an extended period (ie due to player injury or bad weather)
- promotion of betting odds by a clearly identified gambling representative 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after play is allowed
- gambling representatives are prohibited from appearing as part of, or as a guest of, the commentary team at any time and must not be at or around the venue, or look as though they are at or around the venue.
There are a number of exemptions to the above requirements, including:
- live broadcasts of horse or greyhound racing
- accidental and incidental references to gambling, for example, in-ground signage or players' uniforms
- limited exemptions for sporting events of extended duration, for example, tennis and golf tournaments or test cricket
- certain broadcasts originating outside Australia.
The registration of the new codes means that audiences of sports broadcasts can complain to ACMA if they believe the codes have been breached.
ACMA has indicated that it will "continue to gather evidence about prevailing community standards" and will consider if there is a need to review the effectiveness of the amended codes at the end of the coming Australian summer sporting period. This approach is consistent with the Committee's recommendation that the Commonwealth Government undertakes a review of the self-regulation of gambling advertisements being undertaken within the industry and legislate if necessary.
In addition to the recommendation that the BSA Bill not be passed until the completion of the review of the self-regulatory action, the Committee recommended that the Commonwealth Government:
- review and undertake public consultation regarding gambling advertising during sporting programs
- commission further study into long-term effects of gambling advertising on children
- implement nationally consistent responsible gambling message requirements
- review and undertake public consultation regarding the promotion of betting at venues and on sporting uniforms in family environments
- review the availability of sporting merchandise for purchase by children featuring sports betting logos
- undertake or commission further research regarding the effect of mobile phone applications on problem gambling and appropriate harm minimisation features
- increase amateur sport participants' awareness of risks and threats to the integrity of their sport.
However, there is doubt as to whether the Committee recommendations will give rise to a significant legislative response and the impending Federal election is likely to delay consideration of such legislative response.
IGA Review in South Australia
In its April 2013 inquiry, The IGA made 49 decisions in principle about the regulation of gambling. The IGA has indicated its intention to work towards implementing these decisions in principle by December 2013.
Significantly, the decisions in principle would require the inclusion of mandatory gambling warning messages in gambling advertising. The proposals include the following requirements:
- television advertisements to display a mandatory warning message for a minimum of one-sixth of the advertisement's length and which occupies at least 25% of the screen
- mandatory warnings to be spoken at the same time as the warning appears on screen
- print media and outdoor signs (including billboards) to have a prominent warning message occupying at least 10% of the advertising space
- sponsorship logos on sporting uniforms which are larger than 540 square centimetres to include a warning message that is at least half the size of the logo.
Although the IGA is a South Australian regulator, national operators would be required to comply with new regulations because operators must be registered with the IGA if they are to accept bets from South Australian residents.
Australian media coverage relating to the advertising of sports betting and gambling is likely to continue to be significant throughout 2013. At this stage it is uncertain what further legislative steps, if any, will be taken at the Federal level. Nonetheless, the new ACMA industry codes of practice will place a significant restriction on the ability to advertise and promote live odds or gambling services during sports broadcasts. In addition, if the proposed IGA regulations are implemented, mandatory warning messages will have to be included in gambling advertisements in South Australia.
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