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Byron Shire
June 15, 2024

Gambling politics

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MP Peta Murphy.
Gambling advertising parliamentary committee chair, MP Peta Murphy.

A parliamentary committee led by federal Labor MP Peta Murphy has recommended strong action against gambling advertising, throwing new light on the pernicious relationship of gambling to Australians and Australian politics.

The committee’s report, which is called You win some, you lose more, and comes with a trigger warning, is full of shocking information which highlights our special status as a country devoured by the gambling industry.

For example, Australians spend the most in the world on all legal forms of gambling, per capita, losing $25 billion every year. We also lose the most money on online gambling, with Sweden coming a distant second.

To achieve these numbers, the gambling industry’s advertising spend across Australia in 2022 was $310 million. What a bargain.

The situation has got so bad that even Peter Dutton says he’s open to doing something about gambling ads, at least around sports matches on television, although the situation was allowed to reach its current crisis point during the last government’s term.

Gambling with Australia’s future. Unsplash.

Who’s winning?

Albo has also expressed his dislike of wall to wall gambling ads, but Labor’s only action so far has been to replace the tagline ‘Gamble responsibility’ at the end of ads with the words ‘Chances are you’re about to lose’ or ‘What’s gambling really costing you?’

While the Albanese Government is making tentative moves against online gambling, much of which is based overseas, they remain terrified of the domestic clubs/gambling lobby, having seen the way they heavied former PM Julia Gillard (who folded to their threats, and reneged on her harm minimisation deal with Andrew Wilkie) and Tasmanian would-be premier Rebecca White, who stood strong against the pokies and saw her career destroyed as a result.

As Tim Costello and others have pointed out, most serious gambling losses occur in Labor electorates, and hit those who can least afford it, with suicide a frequent outcome, along with the destruction of families and communities, but the ALP is deeply compromised on the issue, with Labor clubs among the venues with the most poker machines, funnelling millions of dollars back to the party, along with direct donations from gambling interests to Labor at a state and federal level (outspending donations from the industry to other political parties).

In NSW, Premier Chris Minns has made good his promise to ban VIP gambling rooms (or at least the signage), but his government’s one year limited trial of cashless gaming will only start this month, instead of going much wider and sooner, as recommended by the NSW Crime Commission. There are still more than 90,000 poker machines in NSW.

It’s worth remembering that Labor governments were originally responsible for legalising pokies in NSW (in 1956), introducing the machines to Victoria and Queensland (in 1992) and allowing pokies in NSW hotels (1997).

young man stares at phone
Into the sports betting vortex. Cloudcatcher Media with Midjourney AI.

Loot boxes

While pokies remain a serious threat across Australia, the big growth area in gambling now is in the online sector, particularly sports gambling, which is why the parliamentary committee’s new report is so timely.

Like cigarette advertising in the past, the report says gambling advertising is a health issue, with similar arguments being forwarded by both sides.

Among 31 recommendations, the committee says online gambling ads should be banned in four phases, with public education campaigns (to be funded by the industry) targeting those who are most at risk, new gambling warnings, and technological blocks on offshore gambling sites, along with improvements to BetStop to allow all problem gamblers to self-exclude, no matter who they bank with.

Chair Peta Murphy drew particular attention to the rise of ‘loot boxes’ and other simulated gambling elements in games targeting children, designed to normalise gambling.

The Victorian MP has been battling cancer for some years, and quoted the character Pippi Longstocking in her first speech to parliament, saying she admired Pippi’s strength and bravery in standing up to strongmen. Ms Murphy will need similar fortitude as she takes on one of the most powerful industries in this country; one with its hooks sunk deep into the major political parties, including her own.

David Lowe
David Lowe. Photo Tree Faerie

Originally from Canberra, David Lowe is an award-winning film-maker, writer and photographer with particular interests in the environment and politics. He’s known for his campaigning work with Cloudcatcher Media.

Long ago, he did work experience in Parliament House with Mungo MacCallum.

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