Monday, 3 June 2013
Broadcasting Services Amendment (Advertising for Sports Betting) Bill 2013 [No. 2]; First Reading
The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Advertisements for Sports Betting) Bill 2013 is a timely and necessary intervention that is aimed at limiting harm to children and preserving the place of sport in Australian life. There has been much talk in recent times about gambling ads and betting ads during sports, but there has been precious little action. The Greens began the parliamentary debate earlier this year on this issue with our Senate inquiry. In the absence of action, the Greens will take the lead. This bill will ensure that children are able to watch sports on Saturday and Sunday afternoons with their parents and not be exposed to gambling ads.
Australians love sport. Sport is indeed at the centre of our culture. Organised sport is one of the primary ways we entertain ourselves, spend time with family and build community. It is an inherently healthy pursuit and one easily shared with friends and family of all ages. From playing backyard cricket to packing the stands of the MCG for the AFL Grand Final, many of us are passionate about our sport and make it part of our daily lives. We also make sport a priority in public policy. The Commonwealth spends over $170 million each year on elite sports through the Australian Institute of Sport, and Australia is famous around the world as a sporting nation. Despite being a small country we are consistently near the top of the Olympic medal tally.
Because Australians love sport so passionately, it is big business. Our major sporting codes such as Australian Rules football and rugby league have billion-dollar television deals. Huge sums are involved in the sponsorship of these events. In recent times, the involvement of gambling companies in sports sponsorship has increased. It is now virtually impossible to watch major sports without being subjected to multiple exhortations to bet on the outcome, either during the advertising breaks or, increasingly, by commentators during the event itself. The statistics reinforce the size and scope of the problem. Online betting, of which sports betting is a major component, has risen from $2.4 billion in 2007 to almost $10 billion in 2012. It is estimated that billions more are wagered by Australians on unregulated, offshore websites.
Having a bet is also part of Australian culture and betting on sport is an enjoyable activity for many people. For some, who become problem gamblers, it can be incredibly destructive. Because of this potential for harm, there are serious questions to be answered about just how much Australians want gambling to be part of sport. Somewhere, the line must to be drawn between a benign, family-friendly activity and one that is inextricably linked to gambling, such as horse racing.
In recent years this line has been crossed more and more frequently. It has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to avoid repeated exposure to betting advertisements and gambling odds when watching any major sporting event. The number of sports betting ads on free-to-air TV quadrupled in the last two years. In 2012 there were 528 individual ads, collectively broadcast more than 20,000 times. There has also been a blurring of the line between commentary and advertising when it comes to gambling. The recent inclusion of a prominent bookmaker as part of the rugby league coverage has caused concern for many.
This growing nexus between sports and gambling companies has not gone unnoticed by the Australian public. The saturation advertising has come to irritate many people who love sport and worry about the corrosive impact it might have on the game. In particular, they are concerned about the impact on children.
A recent inquiry by the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform has heard disturbing evidence into the problem. Academic researchers have recounted how children are now able to name an average of two or three sports betting firms simply by virtue of watching sport. Anecdotally, young children are discussing the odds of their favourite teams winning a match. Given the strictly adult nature of the product, many people are concerned about this overexposure of children and the way in which it may be normalising the connection between gambling and sport for them.
The potential for harm is obvious, and problem gambling already costs individuals and the community dearly. Where there are obvious harms, there is a need to regulate. How best to do so can be a difficult question when the activity involved is legal and, for many, both safe and enjoyable. However, an unregulated market is not appropriate where the product has such a high potential for harm. It is true that this is a problem the industry could solve itself without government intervention. In fact, the government in 2011 gave the industry an ultimatum with regard to the promotion of live odds, threatening regulation if the industry did not do something to curb the practice. The response by television and radio broadcasters has been change to their codes of conduct that places some limitations on the promotion of odds. These codes still allow promotion during scheduled breaks, and under this code the current situation where a bookmaker appears during editorial segments discussing gambling would not be prohibited.
There has been a recent reiteration of the threat from the Prime Minister, but even if action were taken—and we have not yet seen anything from the gambling industry to suggest that any legally binding rules will be in place before this parliament rises—it would still be possible during the quarter-time or half-time breaks when you are watching football with your kids on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for gambling ads to pop up.
The problem has escalated to the point where there is real potential for harm to children, setting them up as a new generation of problem gamblers. Industry self-regulation has failed to properly limit this harm. Under these circumstances, and given the level of disquiet in the community, it is appropriate and timely for parliament to step in and regulate this area.
This bill takes some modest steps to limit the harms of gambling advertising. That children should be protected from overexposure to gambling advertisements is incontestable. The bill puts restrictions on commercial radio and television broadcast licensees that limit their ability to broadcast advertisements for gambling services in a way likely to be consumed by children.
Firstly, the bill prevents the advertising or discussion of live odds at any time. Children and adults will no longer be exposed to a constant barrage of changing numbers as the game progresses, or the most intrusive inducements to bet in the lead-up to the game.
Secondly, the bill prevents any advertisements for gambling services before 9 pm at night. Although the broadcasters comply with a code that prevents the advertising of these services during children's viewing hours, they have left a loophole for sports broadcasts. But sports programs are among the most popular shows viewed by children. We would not tolerate the advertising of harmful products like gambling during Saturday morning cartoons. Yet for a sporting event being broadcast at the same time, with as many child viewers, there is no restriction. This bill closes that loophole once and for all.
Thirdly, the bill puts an end to so-called 'cash for comment', perhaps the most intrusive way that gambling has intruded into team sport. Under these provisions of the bill, licensees would not be allowed to accept payment for the promotion of gambling services by commentators on a sports broadcast or their guests. It would prevent such situations we have seen developing recently where bookmakers join the commentary team, or where commentators slip references to odds or gambling services into their remarks about the game.
In addition to now putting into law something that should be a law that is not appropriate for self-regulation, unlike the other proposals that have been circulated this bill would encompass those others for shows such as the footy show that can run summer up to half an hour before the game and still be promoting live betting. Also under this bill, unlike the government proposal, it would not be possible to cross to an online bookmaker during the scheduled quarter-time or half-time breaks.
The time has come for the parliament to take action on this issue. Along with legislation to restrict the promotion of odds during a sports broadcast by commentators and bookmakers alike, we also need to close the loophole that allows gambling advertisements during kids' viewing times. While gambling advertising is banned in programs that are likely to have a substantial child audience, an exception is still made for sports. A simple change preventing gambling advertisements before 9 pm is a simple, common-sense solution.
The Greens are pleased to have led the legislative campaign to protect children and to protect sport. This bill has been introduced into the Senate and I am very pleased to commend this bill to the House.
Bill read a first time.