Financial Counselling Australia welcomes the Government’s announcement of its inquiry into the Interactive Gambling Act legislation, but as the terms of reference stand, by focusing on offshore illegal betting, they fail to address the damage that legal online gambling companies are causing.

2600900333_e78047e30f“It is a welcome first step, but the review with the terms of reference as they were announced today, won’t really address the problems that our recent report brought to light,” said Lauren Levin, Policy Manager for Financial Counselling Australia.

The review also needs to be expanded to include the activities of legal onshore operators – many of these companies are overseas owned, but operate in Australia. If we are going to have a review of gambling regulation it should not just do half the job.

FCA’s report, ‘Duds, Mugs and the A-List’ showed that some Australian men are losing devastating amounts of their super, retrenchment payments, life savings, and money meant to pay their families’ mortgages and household expenses. Further, the ease of unregulated credit for gambling means that gamblers are not betting within their means, and becoming indebted to the gambling companies, credit card providers, family members and even payday lenders.

What we’ve seen is a ruthless debt collection process, where people can go from ‘bet to bankruptcy’ within a few weeks. Financial counsellors get calls from spouses trying to protect their joint assets from the debt collectors.

“There is nothing resembling harmless entertainment, from what we see at the financial counselling end – all with legal online sports betting companies operating right here in Australia. All the big companies that we see on TV advertising are making their not insignificant profits out of the losses and debts of professional Australians, young men, older men, working men, and retired men. And each of those men has people around them whose lives are impacted.”

“One man in his 30’s told FCA that because of his sports betting debts, he had planned to suicide. He got his affairs in order, set up his super beneficiary arrangements and his life insurance to make sure his young family were provided for. Luckily, he found his way to a financial counsellor who literally saved his life, by going through his mountain of debts one by one and coming to arrangements with his creditors. He had over $300,000 debt – his high fly-in-fly-out worker professional salary all went to the legal sports betting companies. Sadly his marriage didn’t survive the loss of trust.”

‘Financial counsellors are seeing a tsunami of harm – and although pokies still account for most of the harm in monetary terms, what we’re seeing in sports betting is the new frontier of harm” said Ms Levin. “Our report ‘Duds, Mugs and the A-list’ amply demonstrates the type of harm that legal onshore Australian based companies are causing.

“Each person that we talk to describes the power of sports betting advertising. It draws them in to try out gambling with inducements, then when they try to stop, the constant reminders, keeps them coming back to bet.“

“It is a real shame that sports betting advertising was removed from the terms of reference of the review.  The government has the power to tackle a form of advertising which most Australians deplore intruding into their living rooms, and everyone hates exposing children to the language of odds.”

We agree with the Minister that, the integrity of racing and sports in Australia is important, but the well-being of Australian families is even more important.

“Whether punters are losing money to illegal betting companies overseas or lose it to a legal betting company here, really doesn’t matter – in both cases, the damage is playing out in Australia to Australians.” said Ms Levin.

Financial Counselling Australia urges the Government to consider:

  1. An online National Self Exclusion Register – the Australian Wagering Council agree that there is a need for this.
  2. An online mechanism for gamblers to set pre-commitment limits (compulsory for companies to offer, voluntary for gamblers to tailor their individual loss/betting limits)
  3. Ban credit for gambling, whether gambling company provided, credit card, third party payment companies, or payday lenders.
  4. A mechanism to disrupt overseas financial transactions funding Australian gambling.
  5. Restrictions on the advertising of online sports betting, including on TV and via social media.

The report, ‘Duds, Mugs and the A-List: The Impact of Uncontrolled Sports Betting’ is available at http://www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au

Photo Credit: Bogdanz via Compfight cc

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