Australia’s biggest gambling sites spruiked what have been called ‘risky’ betting practices through a torrent of commercials during primetime AFL and NRL broadcasts in 2023, an advertising audit by Central News shows.
Each advertisement displayed during eight AFL and NRL primetime fixtures across July and September was scrutinised as part of the audit, revealing a marketing strategy that downplayed losses while promoting the slim chance of a big win.
Betting on a same-game ‘multi’ or using the ‘Bet with Mates’ social betting function, made up 77 per cent of all TV gambling ads over the eight audited broadcasts. Under a recommendation by a Federal Parliamentary Committee in June, these ads would be outlawed in Australia.
Nationals MP Pat Conaghan, the deputy chair of a bipartisan Parliamentary Committee into sports betting, said it reflected the proliferation of “predatory” marketing strategies rife in the gambling industry.
He called the audit’s results “sadly, not surprising”, and added that gambling ads were “aggressively escalating”.
“Just as we restrict the advertising standards of cigarettes and alcohol, the same rules should apply to gambling due to its addictive and potentially harmful nature,” Conaghan added.
Sportsbet, the official wagering partner of the AFL and NRL, aired 112 of the 122 (92 per cent) total gambling ads across the eight broadcasts audited. With help from Ladbrokes, TAB, Neds and Pointsbet, gambling companies accounted for a fifth of all ads observed under the audit.
Gambling was easily the most-advertised product of all promotions audited.
The [findings reflect] the proliferation of online gambling advertising during live sport broadcasts.
Forty per cent of all gambling ads promoted a ‘same-game multi’ bet; an option that allows gamblers to place multiple bets on one sporting event. This was closely followed by the ‘Bet with Mates’ promotions (37 per cent), which position gambling as a social practice that can sustain banter between friends.
The promotion of live odds was a fixture on each TV broadcast. There were 21 market updates aired across the eight games, with 18 of these from Sportsbet. Each was usually aired at the start or end of a broadcast.
Sportsbet also regularly used its odds promotions segment to spruik its same-game multis, while those from TAB or Pointsbet promoted longer-term options, such as premiership odds or head-to-head gambling options.
Sports betting through online platforms has become an increasingly popular mode of gambling over the past decade, contributing to Australia’s record $25 billion a year losses – the most per capita of any country in the world.
About a third of Australian gamblers were estimated to be gambling online in 2019, compared to 12.6 per cent in 2011. Betting companies have adapted their products to accommodate online gambling in recent years, allowing punters to lodge bets from their smartphones, and to see gambling markets change in real time.
Sports gambling companies have insinuated themselves into the economy of some of Australia’s most popular sports.
Australia’s two largest professional sporting leagues – the AFL (Australian Rules Football) and NRL (National Rugby League) – each net millions of dollars each year from fees they receive on bets that punters make on fixtures in their respective codes.
Each code has defended these partnership arrangements, saying that the money gained is often reinvested into the game and used for grassroots sports programs.
Gambling amongst youth is out of control where I come from in Australia. It’s become normalised. Many kids can’t talk sport without associating gambling to it. Now legalised in the US, becoming more popular in Europe, it’s a money maker for the powers, a danger to the people. 3/3
— Adriano Del Monte (@adriandelmonte) October 18, 2023
However, there is a growing dislike for gambling ads during sports broadcasts among Australians.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is among those who has called the promotions “annoying”. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton went a step further during his Budget reply in May, calling for tighter restrictions on the airing of gambling ads during primetime sports matches, which he referred to as “family time”.
Gambling ads during TV sports broadcasts are regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Federal Government’s independent advertising watchdog.
Ads offering a ‘live market update’ are subject to special ACMA regulations. The organisation of the gambling representatives presenting the update must be clearly identified, and they cannot appear to be part of the regular broadcast team or at the venue of play.
There are also strict rules about when a gambling ad can be aired. No promotions can be aired during play, and only generic ads (those without a market update) can be run during breaks in play. Ads also contain information about gambling helplines, although this is often in small print across the bottom of the screen. Central News does not suggest any of the sports betting firms have broken those rules.
The status quo for gambling ads in Australia cannot continue.
However, ACMA’s rules don’t cover sports gambling signage displayed in stadiums, or on playing uniforms. Gambling ads can also be observed on backdrop banners at press conferences, and in change room facilities.
Dutton has criticised current broadcast regulations, saying they’ve done nothing to stop a “bombardment” of ads that “takes the joy out of televised sports”. He’s called for betting ads to be totally removed during matches, and for an hour each side of a match.
Gambling ads promoting same-game multis and social betting would be banned from TV under a recommendation from a bipartisan Parliamentary Committee in June.
The report offered the Federal Government 31 recommendations to reduce gambling harm in Australia. This was a unanimous report delivered by parliamentarians from the Government, Opposition, and cross bench.
The Committee recommended a three-year phase-out for all forms of gambling ads. This would begin with the ban of all ads with a promotion to encourage gambling uptake, such as a same-game multi, and extend to a ban on gambling ads in stadiums and on players’ uniforms.
Chair of the Committee and Labor MP Peta Murphy told Central News the audit reflected the “proliferation of online gambling advertising during live sport broadcasts”.
The Committee’s recommendations were handed to the Federal Government in June, and will require a response by the end of the year.
A proposed start date for the suggested ban wasn’t put forward. However, it could be in effect before the next AFL and NRL seasons begin in March 2024.
The Federal Communications Department oversees the regulation of gambling ads. Acting Communications Minister Mark Dreyfus recognised the “status quo” for gambling ads in Australia “cannot continue”.
“The Government is carefully considering the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into online gambling, which will inform future reforms to help reduce gambling harms.”
Sportsbet, Ladbrokes, TAB, Neds and Pointsbet were contacted for comment but did not respond.
Main image Dall-e/Canva.