Today, Australia’s Prime Minister, announced a program of reform that purports to ban the advertisement of live odds during sporting telecasts. For those who have not followed the news on this the key aspects of the proposal announced today are:
* A new code will be developed collectively by the government, TV, radio and internet broadcasters that will outline the terms of the “ban” and how, if at all, gambling will be advertised during sporting telecasts.
* As noted in the preamble, the advertisement of live odds will be banned as part of the code proposed.
* Gambling will still be allowed to advertised under the code but will be restricted to breaks in play only.
* Bookmakers will not be allowed to be a part of the telecast of sporting events.
* If the TV, radio and internet broadcasters do not agree to this voluntarily the Prime Minister will seek to fast track legislation bring in the code before the election in September.
To quote Ms Gillard (as reported in the Daily Telegraph):
“Families are sick of gambling getting in the way of the game, that’s why we are acting to get live odds off our screens during all sports broadcasts. Enough is enough. Now we are acting to ensure our kids are talking about who is the best team, not who is the best bet.”
I have two very conflicting views about the introduction of the code / legislation introduced today. Funnily enough though a consideration of both of these views lead me to the same place: that the ban proposed is a monumental waste of money that could be used better for the education of those most at risk to gambling and the addiction that surrounds it.
Let me be upfront here: I have two internet betting accounts albeit both never have a balance of more than $50. I am not a customer of all internet gambling sites but I do read material that is posted on said sites from time to time. I have never placed a “live bet” because nothing frustrates me more than having to make a phone call whilst I am watching sport.
Let me also be clear: I am in no way seeking to diminish the seriousness of gambling addiction or its effects. As a sufferer of addictions, albeit not gambling, I have nothing but the utmost sympathy from those who struggle every minute of every day with the urge to gamble and those who are impacted adversely by gambling in all of its forms.
That said, why do I believe that what was announced today is a waste of money better spent on education? As I note above my reasons are two fold and, of themselves, diametrically opposed:
1. Part of my objection to that which has been proposed today is the intrusion it creates into the individual’s right to choose whether they view advertisements about internet gambling and then act on them. The impingement of that personal right and, by extension, the impingement on the business of the gambling houses is virtually guaranteed in my view to lead to litigation and, if the efforts of the tobacco lobby and companies is anything to go by, the new code or legislation to implement it will be mired in litigation for years to come. Such litigation could range from a constitutional challenge to the validity of any legislation introduced through to, arguably, a tortious claim under the little used tort of interference with contract (the government is, arguably, interfering with the contracts each of the betting houses has with a TV network for example by introducing this code and the betting house could suffer damage as a result). Where does that leave us? With a code or piece of legislation that is the subject of possible repeal and lawyers earning millions of dollars to either keep the legislation in place or to set it aside. That is not to mention the very real prospect of a repeal or change in policy that is likely to arise when the Abbott government comes in.
2. The other part of my objection is directly the opposite to an argument relating to personal freedom and ability to choose. It is simply that if the government is hell bent on the regulation of the advertisement of internet gambling during sporting contests why is it not going further? Does not allowing advertisement of gambling services before, during the breaks of and after games mitigate against the gains made by banning the live odds component of such gambling. Again, if the government wishes spend all of this money on a code / legislative instrument shouldn’t it go further to reduce the risk of children learning about gambling from television ads? The risk of litigation is still there of course but if the government is going to fight about something ought it not be fighting about a comprehensive ban based on its child protection imperative rather than a ban on one particular type of advertising that is not going to stop, at all, the prospect of children seeing ads about gambling rather it just changes the ads?
I know the weight of public opinion is against me here and it would appear that the government has listened to the “tribe” in the introduction of this proposed code / legislation. However, has the government really listened to those it is listening to? How many of those listened to object to the ad on the basis that they are irritating (there must be some … reread Gillard’s first sentence set out above if you need convincing)? Conversely, how many of those listened to object to the ads because of real and empirical evidence of the corruption of children of which Ms Gillard speaks (in the last sentence of the statement reproduced above)?
The argument that the ban is for the greater good does not wash with me: a ban for the greater good would be a ban of the type I note in the second part of my objection to the current proposal; viz, a complete ban of the style introduced relating to cigarette advertising. That is absolutely NOT what the government has proposed.
I give credit to the government for trying to tackle this issue head on but can not agree that this is the best way to go. The money that is going to be spent on this code / legislation could be used to fund a nation wide education program directed at both parents and children about gambling. Such a program could be in schools, could involve ads at the same time as those still being allowed under the code in any event and avoids the litigation risk of a ban on advertising.
One final point: the next time you are in the presence of a smoker aged in the 30 and older bracket ask this question … do you smoke because you saw an ad for Benson and Hedges cigarettes while watching the cricket with your Dad OR do you smoke because you Dad smoked while watching the cricket with you? I know that is a simplistic example but education starts at home so the other thing that obviously needs to occur is the taking of responsibility by parents for their own conduct whilst watching sporting telecasts with their children. It sounds simplistic but surely some responsibility rests with the holder of the remote control to turn of an offending telecast if they do not like the advertising on it! And, further, to not make a phone call to a gambling house whilst sitting on their lounge with their children watching Friday night football!
There are no perfect solutions to the problem of gambling addiction and, in particular, sports gambling. Again, I give credit where it is due for the attempt by the government but maintain that:
1. If the code / legislation is designed to stop children from watching ads about gambling during sport then it fails dismally because it does not ban all such ads.
2. The funds to be spent on the implementation and defence of this “partial” ban would clearly be better spent on the education of those most at risk.