RWA casts doubt on claims of Australian gambling "surge"

21 July 2020

Operator association Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA) claims that consumer credit data does not give an accurate picture of public spending on gambling, amid what it called “alarmist” reports of a surge in activity across the country.

RWA said historical consumer credit data was being used to paint a picture of a spike in gambling during the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis, something it said was simply inaccurate.

There have been multiple reports in the Australian media in recent weeks, claiming that consumers had increased gambling under lockdown, raising concerns of rising problem gambling rates.

“Without context people assume that increases in online gambling during [Covid-19] automatically mean an increase in overall gambling activity,” RWA chief executive Brent Jackson said. “This isn’t the industry experience, and credible data sources aren’t suggesting that either.”

Jackson explained that with over-the-counter betting and gaming outlets closed amid social distancing guidelines to halt the spread of Covid-19, players are migrating to online platforms. This, he added, was a trend seen across nearly all retail businesses in the country.

The real concern, Jackson continued, was that the growth in online gambling was centred around unlicensed offshore gambling sites.

“Online casinos and pokies operate illegally in Australia despite hundreds of overseas websites being accessible with the click of a button,” Jackson said. “While it’s against the law for businesses to provide these betting games to the Australian market, it isn’t actually illegal for Australians to access them, and this puts consumers (including children and vulnerable people) at major risk.”

He said the growth of smartphones, combined with a high number of illegal overseas sites targeting Australian consumers, meant that “many people are walking around with an unlicensed casino in their pocket”.

“Growth in online gambling has been a normal market response to a changing retail environment. If this growth is fuelled by unlicensed overseas gambling websites, then this is a major threat to responsible gambling in Australia,” Jackson added.

Australian authorities are working to block access to unlicensed sites. The country’s advertising watchdog the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) gained the power to have internet service providers block access to these sites in November 2019, blocking 66 domains since.

Last week it announced that 11 sites had been blocked in its most recent update.

Since 2017, ACMA also has the power to take action against the companies and executives behind offshore sites, such as by issuing daily fines to these businesses.

Under the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, operators that take bets from punters in Australia without a local licence will be deemed to have broken the law. Individuals face fines of up to AUD$1.35m (£751,124/)€833,509/$953,390) per day, while companies will be charged AUD$6.75m.