Free bet crackdown as Victoria moves first to toughen online gambling rules

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Other measures include a ban on direct marketing promotions such as via text messaging unless customers opt in to receive them, and new rules requiring operators to provide “easy-to-use tools” for punters to set their own gambling limits or close their accounts.

“These Australian-first changes are about tightening the rules for online betting operators and empowering consumers to make better choices – and I encourage other states and territories to follow our lead,” Victorian Gaming Minister Marlene Kairouz said.

Victoria is the only state that’s got its act together. New South Wales is very far behind.

Gaming industry insider

“Victoria is the first state to sign up to the national framework because it offers greater protection to people who gamble online and gives them practical steps to better manage their gambling.”

The new online gambling standards come into force on Sunday. No timeframe has yet been set for when they will be introduced in other Australian states and territories.

“Victoria is the only state that’s got its act together,” said one wagering industry insider. “New South Wales is very far behind.”

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A spokesman for Liquor & Gaming NSW said the state had the nation’s toughest restrictions on gambling inducements, including a blanket ban on advertising of inducements to gamble or open accounts, and had hiked maximum fines for breaching the ban to $55,000.

“In line with this strong approach, the NSW government is considering options for introducing the National Consumer Protection Framework measures through legislation,” he said.

Although Australians lose less money betting on sport ($1.06 billion a year) and racing ($3.3 billion) than they do on poker machines or casino games ($17 billion combined), online wagering has become the fastest-growing form of gambling nationally, surging in popularity by more than 15 per cent a year.

The trend has worried lawmakers around the country some of whom believe a lack of sufficient protections exist online compared to land-based venues like pubs and casinos to prevent users developing problematic gambling habits.

Australia’s online-only bookmakers dispute the argument that risks are greater online but have agreed to a series of concessions as part of the national push towards tighter controls.

Through their industry group, Responsible Wagering Australia, they have collaborated with governments to develop online gaming reforms including the incoming measures in Victoria and a soon-to-be-established “national self-exclusion scheme” for people trying to quit gambling.

“Responsible Wagering Australia and its members have been amongst the biggest supporters of stronger protections for online wagering consumers and congratulate the Victorian government for leading the way,” said Stephen Conroy, the group’s chief executive.

“These new measures represent a significant enhancement for online wagering customers, and we encourage other state governments to now follow Victoria’s lead, so these measures can be rolled out efficiently and consistently on a national basis.”

ASX-listed Tabcorp, Australia’s biggest gaming company, which runs retail and online betting, said it strongly supported the new rules that would bring about a “more balanced and responsible way in which betting is promoted and offered”.

Gambling reform campaigners praised Victorian policymakers for “moving first” to roll out some of the important harm-minimisation measures in the new national framework but said they remained concerned that sports-betting losses continued to rise in Australia, singling out recent comments from Sportsbet which they claimed were “gloating about a 20 per cent increase increase in revenue from gamblers in the March quarter”.

“The most important reform to reduce harm caused by the global online bookmakers would be a complete ban on advertising like what applies to the tobacco industry,” said Tim Costello of prominent advocacy group the Alliance for Gambling Reform, “but we’re yet to see either side of politics show some courage and embrace that measure.”

Shane Lucas, chief executive of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, described the new requirements as “important steps in reducing and preventing gambling harm”.

Business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

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