Ban gambling advertising

Lately whenever I watch advertising-funded TV (including SBS), something like a third of the ads are for gambling, and all of these promote gambling in an irresponsible fashion.

In particular, the ads are now primarily for racing and sports betting rather than, as in the past, for lotteries. Decades ago, I did a lot of research into gambling and reached the conclusion that lottery gambling is mostly harmless fun, but that all the other forms (pokies, casinos and sports betting) are pernicious.

The majority of the revenue for these forms of betting comes from a small proportio of heavy gamblers (about 5 per cent of all gamblers, IIRC). These gamblers have lots of problems caused by gambling, ranging from marriage breakdowns to bankruptcy. Not all heavy gamblers appear as “problem gamblers”, but the observation I recall on this topic is “a problem gambler is a heavy gambler who’s run out of luck”.

It seems impossible to reverse the expansion of access to gambling that has taken . But we could, at least prohibit or strictly limit advertising, as has been done with tobacco and alcohol.

45 thoughts on “Ban gambling advertising

  1. I’ve suggested pokie machines should require people to correctly answer questions about probability before letting people use them, but now technology has progressed so far we should require all pokie machine games to have educational content. Granny may not be able to afford Christmas presents this year because of the pokies, but she can be damn good at solving quadratic equations.

    And, yes, no advertising would be a very good idea.

  2. Another possibility is to allow problem gamblers to register, and make it illegal for betting companies to accept more than penny ante wagers from them. Or cap the amount the companies can accept in bets from them.

  3. We should ban all advertising and related marketing activity (such as sponsoring events and institutions) by companies in the gambling, alcohol, and junk food industries.

  4. Economic theory assumes that only goods are traded. It can be argued that certain types of gambling are “bads” that is their utility is negative. Advertising of such “bads” – cigarettes, drugs and yes gambling – should be banned.

  5. Lottery gambling too has changed from decades ago. It’s still taxation by other means, but not for specific public goods such as hospitals or opera houses. The main function of lotteries now is to reduce taxation of the rich, and increase the wealth of large shareholders of profitable companies now running the lotteries in ppp scams. Lotteries also harm society if not as much as pockies. ICT and computing power has turned lotteries like racing from being a punt into being an acceptably reliable investment for those with the funds and organisation – likely also to be the rich.

  6. I think there is also a role for public education programs (perhaps including in school syllabuses) to demonstrate how gambling operations are designed in such a way that the punter must lose money in the long run. This could be supplemented by public education specific to particular sports on which large volumes of gambling take place. For example, in most horse races it is not possible to predict the winning horse. At best one can predict that a particular horse will be competitive, but there will be factors unknown to the punter prior to placing the bet that will affect the horse’s performance, and micro-events during the race (which cannot be predicted beforehand) that will make the split-second differences that are decisive in many races. This is even before we factor in the, er, colourful practices of people like Darren Weir.

  7. Two decades ago my book on gambling taxation published by the Tax Research Institute identified the insidious role of gambling promotion In corrupting our democracy especially when governments are involved in various ways as equity shareholders in the industry
    See Gambling taxation in Australia
    Australian Tax Research Foundation Research Studies
    Smith, Julie
    Abstract: Only 2% of national tax revenues come from gambling. But the ethics, economics, and fairness of gambling taxes are becoming a critical issue as ‘the global economy’ challenges the sovereignty of governments. The ever-narrowing range of revenue options has left state governments with little choice but to conform with nearby jurisdictions pursuing expansionary gambling policies. Over the decade to 1996, Australian gambling activity and taxes more than doubled in real terms. Gambling now provides at least one of every ten tax dollars collected by state governments. All Australian states are now equally dependent on gambling taxation. The boost to revenues arose from governments promoting gambling, not raising gambling tax rates.

  8. Julie, I remember going to Murwillumbah from Brisbane for a weekend away in January 2012. I went by public transport and the buses went through the Gold Coast and Tweed Coast urban areas where there are pubs. Every pub along the route and at my destination displayed a billboard or banner decrying the supposed attack on “your right to have a bet” in the agreement between the Gillard government and Andrew Wilkie to regulate pokies usage. As we know the agreement was scuppered by the Gillard government very soon after my weekend away. I reckon that amply confirms your argument.

  9. As any gambling prevalence study will attest, the vast majority of gamblers are not problem gamblers, and of those who are, the vast majority of problems are due to poker machines. How would banning advertising for sports betting help these people?

  10. Most people who gamble are not addicts
    But they aren’t the ones that spend all the money
    The vast built of industry revenues comes from addicts not from occasional gamblers
    Banning gambling advertising would reduce the number of people attracted to it by glitz, false hopes and promises of illusory wealth.
    The industry only survives by attracting new customers and creating addicts through marketing

  11. “Banning gambling advertising would reduce the number of people attracted to it by glitz, false hopes and promises of illusory wealth.”

    Sports betting advertising does not claim that winners will become rich. The message is that sports betting enhances the enjoyment of watching sports.

    Lottery advertising, on the other hand, explicitly says if you win the lottery you will transform your life with hitherto unimaginable and otherwise unattainable wealth. They really are selling the dream. But given the odds of winning, it’s a near-impossible dream. But the OP says that lotteries are mostly harmless fun. Well, they are harmless in the sense that, unlike with poker machines, you don’t get the dopamine hit that creates addiction, but on the other hand the advertising is misleading or at best incomplete.

  12. Smith9, some problem gamblers dies and some stop problem gambling. The ban on advertising is to reduce the replenishment rate and so reduce their total number. (I presume advertising works for this, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much of it. Of course, I could be mistaken.)

  13. Ronald

    Advertising for sports betting (the subject of the OP) is designed to attract punters to particular sports betting sites. We can confident of this because the ads emphasise the particular features they have and their competitors don’t, such as you win your beg even if the team you bet on loses, provided it was x points up at half time, blah blah blah. The bet with the special payout makes it more enjoyable to watch the match, more blah blah blah.

    Banning sports betting ads will do SFA for problem gambling. Banning ads for suburban pokie palaces could be more effective, but I don’t think they advertise much on mainstream media because their clientele is local. Maybe they do targeted Facebook ads – I don’t know.

  14. Smith Smith Smith Smith Smith Smith Smith Smith Smith,

    Think of the addictive substance tobacco. An ad for Winnie Blue Lung Durries isn’t just an ad for Winnie Blue Lung Durries, it’s also an add for smoking in general. Same as an ad telling me “Coke is it” can prompt me to drink lolly water that isn’t Coke.


    In 2015, 41% of all regular sports bettors – 234,000 adults – experienced one or more gambling-related problems (Table 1). That is, their gambling behaviour caused or put them at risk of harm. This was more than double the rate among regular gamblers nationally. This further means that one fifth of all regular gamblers who experienced problems in Australia regularly participated in sports betting.

    Around 23% of regular sports bettors – 134,000 adults – had moderate to severe gambling problems.

    Dr Hunt said around 35 per cent of his clients present with horse and sport betting problems.

    “It’s definitely the fastest growing area of gambling at the moment,” Dr Hunt said.

  16. Gambling and particularly sports betting causes harms to the integrity of our institutions
    It is well known the casinos and poker machines are used to launder dirty money
    But what is less thought of are two other harms
    The wider tendencies to corruption or regulatory capture such as we are seeing associated with the casinos and the favourable treatment by immigration and visa authorities and animal protection agencies of rich visiting chines tourists coming to Australia to shoot wombats and abuse women and thrown their money around to get whatever else gives them satisfaction
    And secondly in sports betting and racing such as horse racing, the potential contamination and incentives created by adding the betting element. Turning ‘sports’ into a gambling business may generate better prize money but raising the stakes by allowing better means that there is more intense competition focussed on the winning not on playing the sport. You only have to look at the widespread torture of live animals such as native possums as ‘bait’ to train greyhounds for racing and the regular exposure of brutal treatment of horses, or football players to see how the motivation and operation of a sport becomes systemicly corrupted when gambling profit takes over the sport.
    This sort of harm is harder to see on a day to day basis but is a harm that should be recognised alongside the destroyed lives of those hundreds of thousands of Australians who are hurt by gambling addiction
    Clearly some forms of gambling eg traditional are less addictive to gamblers than others eg pokies but let’s not pretend that governments and organisations are not badly corrupted and cause harm by getting involved with gambling as a way to boost their coffers

  17. “This was more than double the rate among regular gamblers nationally”

    Most regular gamblers are lottery players who have very low rates of problem gambling. This makes the national average rate low, so you’d expect other gamblers to be above the average.

    “brutal treatment of horses, or football players”

    All codes of football can be tough, but the coaches don’t give footballers a whack on their hindquarters with a whip (aka in racing circles, “the persuader”) to make them run faster.

  18. Could we fight fire with fire in some places by bringing back two-up? Thats a social undertaking rather than a lone tragedy. And the losses ought not be that heavy. I mean this only as a minor point and would not oppose a ban on advertising. The conversion of a lot of these pubs to gambling dens has subtracted from the social nature of the pub. Now the drink is really part of distorting the judgement of people under gambling fever. Rather than being there for a traditional role of making people more talkative.

  19. If the gambling industry was properly described as wealth redistribution it would attract the scorn of a peers. But it doesn’t, cause every one likes a punt.

    Slow racehorses ie those that don’t win are called wastage, I’ve heard that they often are taken to the doggers straight from the track. It’s a brutal and cynical industry and all paid for by the punter.


    Well over half a million Australian adults (574,000) placed bets on sports (excluding horse and dog racing) in a typical month of 2015.

    In 2015, 41% of all regular sports bettors – 234,000 adults – experienced one or more gambling-related problems (Table 1). That is, their gambling behaviour caused or put them at risk of harm.

    Around 600,000 Australians (4 per cent of the adult population) play on the ‘pokies’ at least weekly. While survey results vary, around 15 per cent of these regular players (95 000) are ‘problem gamblers’.

  21. In other words, roughly the same number of Australians bet on sports monthly as bet on the pokies every week.

    And monthly sports betters are *more than twice as likely* to have a gambling problem compared to weekly pokies betters. Hence the original quote I posted holds true.

    For some reason you’re determined to dismiss any word on the subject based on what exactly? Why do you care? Why the special pass for sports betting companies?

  22. “Slow racehorses ie those that don’t win are called wastage, I’ve heard that they often are taken to the doggers straight from the track.”

    At least they aren’t emitting any greenhouse gases, which they would be if they lived out their lives frolicking in a paddock. Think of them as fully depreciated assets (which is how they are treated for tax purposes).

  23. Nick

    your AIFS link says that 6.3% of sports bettors are problem gamblers, which is much less than the 15% of pokie players who are problem gamblers. Once one takes into account the greater frequency of pokie gambling vis a vis sports betting (weekly versus monthly) then sports betting problem gambling is an order of magnitude less than pokie problem gambling.

    End of Discussion.

  24. Amazing how big the push for gambling is.
    Just got my new pc operational and like most other lost souls tend to escape to the solitaire games. In the past these have been a safe haven but with the new set I am blocked from moving my game by Microsoft, who seem intent on hounding me big time to an induction called “Gambino Slots”, complete with false ad closer to prevent me from escaping assent as to their hectoring.

  25. Smith9, I’ll grant that I could have spent a bit more time looking for better figures.

    Electronic Gaming Machines – 1,418,000 monthly users, low risk 18.2%, moderate risk 17.2%, problem gambler, 6.0%

    Sports betting – 574,000 monthly users, low risk 17.3%, moderate risk 17.1%, problem gambler, 6.3%

    So – they suffer almost identical levels of problem gambling. And sports betting is growing in popularity at a much faster rate.

  26. Table 4.5 is interesting to compare monthly participation rates among problem gamblers for each activity type. I’d guess the difference is because sports betting would tend to be seasonal, whereas these figures were averaged over an entire year.

  27. “they suffer almost identical levels of problem gambling.”

    More accurately, they suffer almost identical rates of problem gambling. But there are 2-3 times more pokie problem gamblers than sports betting problem gamblers.

    “And sports betting is growing in popularity at a much faster rate.”

    Yes but off a low base. On the latest data pokie losses are $12 billion per year (not counting the pokie losses in casinos) and sports betting losses are $1 billion.

  28. Smith9 A lot of your arguments (eg advertising doesn’t recruit new gamblers) were also used by the tobacco lobby when smoking ads were banned. Different cases, or do you think tobacco ad ban should be reversed?

  29. John Quiggin

    Tobacco harms all that use it and kills15000 people per year. Gambling harms only a small proportion of gamblers. According to the study linked by Nick, even a majority of poker machine gamblers have no problems. In this respect, gambling is like alcohol. Should alcohol advertising be banned too?

  30. Should alcohol advertising be banned too?

    Indeed it should. Keep alcohol legal, but ban all advertising, marketing, and promotional activity connected it with it. Apply plain packaging requirements to alcohol as well. Total alcohol consumption would fall significantly, as would alcohol related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

  31. So, before I start I should point out that I find restricting gambling advertising on the basis that children currently see it who aren’t allowed to gamble compelling.

    However, I find the argument banning gambling advertising in Australia, in the absence of any other measure, will reduce the prevalence or severity of problem gambling to be much weaker than would be intuitively expected.

    The reason I say this is through the work I did for an article a few years ago, can be found here When you look at the per capita real expenditure on gambling during the period that advertising on sports betting took off, the effect was to take significant market share from poker machines and make a small reduction in the total gambling expenditure. This is in marked contrast to the 1990’s, where real per capita gambling expenditure exploded when poker machines were introduced in Victoria and deregulated in NSW so they could be placed outside of licensed clubs. If gambling advertising was to increase the prevalence or severity of problem gambling, why didn’t per capita real expenditure on gambling increase in the same way it did under the deregulation of pokies in the ’90’s?

    I think that the reason for this, as Smith9 has correctly pointed out, is because while John Quiggin rightly points out that betting on sport and racing is addictive and will lead to more people with problem gambling than lotteries, it is in no way comparable to the addictive potential of pokies. They don’t advertise pokies, but they still take the lion’s share of the money with an outsized contribution of problem gamblers.

    There are substantial risks from online gambling, particularly through the data that online companies hold. While they have been traditionally more willing to look at that data to ban winners rather than fleece as much as they can from losers, that is changing and the regulatory mechanisms are not set up to properly cope with this. As academics have demonstrated, it can be predicted if a gambler is likely to present with future problems by looking at only the first month of transactions in their account.

    It would be interesting to see how other regulations, such as mandatory display of overall profit/loss of account holders whenever a gambler is logged in to their account and promotions only being allowed to be offered to all account holders would compare to restricting gambling ads. Perhaps they would be more effective, perhaps they wouldn’t.

  32. NathanA: “it is in no way comparable to the addictive potential of pokies”

    Sports betting is comparable since it has identical rates of problem gamblers. It clearly has exactly the same addictive potential. Why would they be that different? As Smith9 remarked, they both offer an adrenaline rush at the touch of a screen.

    NathanA: “They don’t advertise pokies, but they still take the lion’s share of the money with an outsized contribution of problem gamblers.”

    I don’t think you’re accounting for the demographic differences. People who bet on sports on their mobile phones tend to be younger and have less money to lose, people who use poker machines tend to be older and have more money to lose.

    The issue is one day younger sports betters will also have more money to lose.

    As you suggest, it’s about trying to get them addicted young. The target market for online sports betting couldn’t have been made clearer. As JQ said, it’s not much different to tobacco advertising.

    What’s the downside of banning it? I can’t see how doing that could possibly cause more suicides and broken families.

  33. Let’s at least get ‘seatbelts’ and plain packaging. And no advertising. No Smith9, advertising or not won’t effect us, yet will alleviate “top of mind” incidious memes being placed in next generation. 

  34. Nick says “As you suggest, it’s about trying to get them addicted young. The target market for online sports betting couldn’t have been made clearer. As JQ said, it’s not much different to tobacco advertising.”

    Fortnite… (the rest of these stats are equally amazing. $100m prize pool!
    “traffic peak at 37 Tbps – five times that of 2016 US presidential election” (depressing for democracy )

    “Total global Fortnite playing time May-June 2018 was 2.7 billion hours”

    This one really gets me – just watching – “In May 2018, 8.9 billion minutes of Fortnite were viewed on Twitch”

    148m hrs. Watching.

    businessofapps dot com/data/fortnite-statistics/

  35. Nick,

    The statistics that you quote estimate the ratio of poker machine:racing:sports gamblers at 2.5:1.7:1. The Australian Gambling Statistics released by Queensland Treasury ( calculates gambling losses for all forms of gambling. The ratio of losses is 11.4:3.1:1. However, that figure includes all forms of gambling on racing (on course/TAB/off course) and does not include losses at poker machines at casinos, as those figures aren’t broken down by casinos. So, at a minimum, the average poker machine player loses 4 times as much as the average person betting online.

    Given the known, and very real, problems surveys have of getting accurate information of losses from punters, I think that the large discrepancy in losses is much stronger evidence that pokies are much more addictive than racing and sports betting. Pointing to demography doesn’t cut it, if online bookies are recruiting different demographics then the real overall gambling losses per capita will increase as these are a different group of people compared to those playing poker machines. But that isn’t happening, you have to explain the reduction by an external factor that is reducing poker machine losses (a ban on smoking in pubs, for instance).

    The difference between this and tobacco advertising is that it was clear that tobacco advertising increased sales of tobacco and therefore the adverse health effects that followed. While advertising by online bookies increases the amount of money wagered on racing and sports, it isn’t clear that real amount of money lost gambling per capita, the most obvious proxy for gambling harm, is increased. The opportunity cost arises if all political capital is spent on banning advertisements, rather than introducing regulatory systems that make it substantially more difficult for online bookmakers to target problem gamblers, something that is a lot easier in an environment where every bet by an individual is recorded rather than cash bets.

    I really don’t have anything more to add than I already have, people can agree or disagree with me but that’ll be my last post on the topic.

  36. NathanA: “I think that the large discrepancy in losses is much stronger evidence that pokies are much more addictive than racing and sports betting.”

    The qualified clinical psychologist I linked to disagrees with you. The AIFS statistics disagree with you and concur with the professional experience of the qualified clinical psychologist.

    “Pointing to demography doesn’t cut it”

    How much does demography account for then? It’s widely recognised sports betters are predominantly in their 20s. How much do you think your average 20 something has to lose compared to your average 60 something?

    “you have to explain the reduction by an external factor that is reducing poker machine losses”

    I’ll have to look at the figures in detail, but for starters, how about… a rapidly ageing and dying clientele, and the fact virtually nobody under 40 wants to hang out in an RSL club playing some large clunky piece of outmoded technology so dumbed down that even their great-grandparents can understand it?

  37. Alcohol ads are restricted in terms of the hours they can be broadcast and the restrictions are being tightened all the time.

    Then there’s the content. The typical gambling ad, if alcohol were the product, would show scenes of uproarious drunken fun, and would be banned immediately.

  38. If it was up to me there would be no gambling or alcohol advertising. Unfortunately the gambling industry has a truck load of money and will vigorously defend its interests: ***

    I imagine the alcohol industry would be just as vigorous in defending its bottom line.

  39. Australia fed and state govt Gambling Reseach org “… ceased on 30 June 2014”. La la la … do we really want to know? Some good research tho.

    And we need lots more research. And 11% problem gamblers.

    And the ‘itch’ – positive urgency followed by family and peers. Advertising seems like radiation … a small dose won’t effect you but cumulative (2+ billions views in one paper in gambling research) makes up the third support for family and peers.

    “The most recent five-year Gambling Research Australia research program (2009 – 2014) was established via a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by all gaming/gambling ministers in June 2009. .”

    “The major predictors of gambling frequency were the degree to which family members and peers were perceived to gamble, self-reported approval of gambling, the frequency of discussing gambling offline, and the participant’s Canadian Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) score. Age was a significant predictor of gambling frequency for certain types of gambling (e.g. buying lottery tickets). Approximately 91% of the explainable variance in the participant’s PGSI score could be explained by just five predictors: Positive Urgency; Frequency of playing poker machines at pubs, hotels or sporting clubs; Participation in online discussions of betting on gaming tables at casinos; Frequency of gambling on the internet, and Overestimating the chances of winning. Based on these findings, suggestions are made as to how gambling-related harm can be reduced.”

    “The prevalence of problem gambling found in the current study (11%) is considerably higher than that found in other surveys of the Victorian population (0.8% [4]; 0.6% [5]). It is possible that the elevated prevalence rate in the current survey may, to some extent, be explained by the fact that the participants understood that their responses would be completely anonymous, …”

  40. “And the ‘itch’ – positive urgency followed by family and peers. Advertising seems like radiation …”

    Watching smoking ads makes you feel like a cigarette. It makes it harder to quit, because it makes cigarettes harder to forget about.

    Betting ads promoting the latest ‘you can’t lose’ weekend specials aren’t just targeting new punters. They’re designed to lure problem gamblers back. To remind them all they have do is go to that website name flashing on the screen again. The one they’re all too familiar with and have been trying to avoid for the last few months.

  41. Scenic Path Casino Gambling Fatwa:
    This Fatwa applies to everyone, not just vetted members of the Scenic Path. Any member of a Parliment or its institutional equivelent in countries that reefer to it by another name, or any head of state or government in countries that do not have an elected institution to make laws shall be cursed if they do not support this Fatwa. The curse shall deprive the failures of thier sense of humor. They will not only not be able to laugh ever again they will not even be able to show their teeth.
    Part One:
    All games of chance between family and friends played outside of a casino are limited to 50 dollars per player per game. No more than 2 games can be played at one address per day. All players must bring cash for the total amount that can be risked during the game.
    All betting on sporting events between family members and friends may not exceed 20 dollars per game or match. Giving odds such as 3 to 1 is not allowed. But having a point spread is allowed.
    Part Two:
    All other games of chance or sports betting must take place inside a casino. All casinos must be owned by a government. To be allowed to place a bet in such an institution a better must recieve an ID card issued by the government equipped with a chip that will keep tracl of an individuals winnings and losses. A person will be prohibited from further gambling if losses exceed 150 dollars per month. A person will be prohibited from further gambling if winnings exceed 30,000 per month. A person will also be prohibited from gambling if their winnings exceed 3 million in a life time.
    Part Three:
    A casino is any location that allows government controled gambling. A gas station selling lottery tickets can have a casino inside of it. It would be the cash register and desk surronding that sells the lottery tickets.
    As a point of clarification an Indian reservation is clearly a government agency.
    Part Four:
    Winnings from the type of gambling that this Fatwa applies to are tax free as the money used to place it was already taxed. That and since the public overall is going to loose money, guaranteed, since the game is rigged, gambling itself is an entertaining way for many people to get taxed.
    Part Five:
    The state is required to put aside at least 2% of its gambling profits to provide free pyscology courses for people who have difficulty controling their gambling urges. A key aspect of these courses should be to show addicts how they can redirect their urges for risk taking in to more productive directions.
    Part Six:
    Wealthier people are subject to the same monetary restrictions as everyone else.
    Part Seven
    I am open to suggestions on what the punishment should be for breaking this Fatwa.

  42. “between 5.00 am and 8.30 pm (when children are more likely to be watching) include no gambling advertisements or promotion of odds from five minutes before the scheduled start of play” quoted as a reply to the advertising standards.
    9rush just last weekend, 4 add breaks in 1 hour and 9 of the 15 adds were gambling advertising during the exact time that was suposed to be free from all gambling advertising.

    Whatbhas to be done to have ALL gambling advertising not state owned, banned from advertising at all times, the same as tobaco and alchohol.

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