Industry code won't go far enough, says gambling ad expert

By Lucy Carroll | 12 November 2015
Associate Professor Samantha Thomas. Source: Twitter

A self-regulated advertising code that would block betting agencies from targeting children is unlikely to have any serious impact when it comes to protecting vulnerable audiences, says Australia's top online sports betting expert.

On Monday, the the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) launched a public discussion paper aimed at restricting gambling promotions, prohibiting ads that could influence children to gamble and implementing a new complaints procedure.

But Deakin University's public health and marketing researcher, Samantha Thomas, says there is no suggestion that an industry code will prevent harm caused by gambling products.

“We need to think seriously about closing the loopholes around when ads can be played, for example that promotions can be played during any sporting event,” she said.

“Research shows kids are exposed to gambling promotions on TV, sporting programs and online. At some point government regulations for traditional and online media need to be brought into line.

“History tells us that we need governments to step in and develop comprehensive regulatory responses for marketing promotions and there’s no reason that shouldn't occur now. We've seen with alcohol, tobacco and junk food advertising that it's very hard to enforce self-regulatory codes of practice.”

The AANA's public discussion paper, which is open until December 18, proposes a code that will deliver "a robust self-regulation framework", covering racing, sports betting, lotteries and casino games.

Sunita Gloster, CEO of the AANA, said: “The AANA wagering code would provide industry with a clear guide on what constitutes responsible marketing and advertising of wagering services and it would apply across Australia and across all platforms.”

She said the wagering code would aim to provide the public with a transparent and accessible complaints procedure via the Advertising Standards Bureau.

But Thomas warned that government-imposed restrictions are essential to ensure certain types of marketing - including the use of cartoons, cartoon mascots and celebrities - are banned in sports betting promotions because of the high appeal factor for children.

On Tuesday, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) released a new code of practice that knocked back the push by Free TV to allow the broadcast of alcohol advertisements at 7.30pm rather than 8.30pm.

Crucially, the code now allows alcohol ads on all sporting events from 6pm Friday and throughout the weekend, including reruns and replays. Previously alcohol advertising was only allowed on live sporting events on weekends.

And while the code prevents children seeing gambling advertising principally directed to them between 5am and 8.30pm, sport is exempt from this rule.

"As is the case under the old code, the general gambling restriction is not relevant to sport," ACMA chairman Chris Chapman told afl.com.au this week.

“Replays of events and sports news/analysis programs on weekends will be permitted to have alcohol advertising."

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