Online sports betting companies are using dirty tactics to reel in problem gamblers, take their money and spit them out again, betting addicts say.
A group of problem gamblers, who wished to remain anonymous, told The New Daily that betting companies were allegedly:
• closing accounts when a gambler was winning;
• stalling a bet until a horse race had started then accepting it when the horse had a bad start;
• exchanging databases of losing punters and contacting them if they hadn’t placed a bet in a while; and
• removing rewards if a punter won, and using “unfair” terms and conditions in the fine print.
The comments were backed up in a recent study by Financial Counselling Australia (FCA), which revealed the ruthless practices by legal online sports betting companies licensed in Australia.
The report highlighted other tactics used by the gambling companies, such as:
• delaying a payout to tempt a gambler to make another bet in the interim;
• offering credits to heavily indebted customers to keep them betting;
• encouraging betting using ‘free’ credits, with amounts up to many tens of thousands of dollars;
• exchanging customer account data between companies, contrary to privacy legislation; and
• denying the gambler the right to withdraw their own money without it being gambled first.
The revelations come just a week after the government removed any examination of gambling advertising from its review of the relevant act following a backlash from the commercial TV networks.
Watchdog bites Bet365
A case currently before the Federal Court of Australia between the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Bet365 Group has heard other claims which, if proven, could be damaging for the online gambling industry.
The ACCC says: “Bet365 made misleading representations … in relation to offers of ‘free bets’ and ‘deposit bonus to new customers who joined up online’.”
To qualify for the offers, for example, a gambler “who made an initial deposit of $200 and received $200 in bets was required to then gamble $1200 before being able to withdraw any money”.
The ACCC said it had noted Bet365 had “changed its website since the ACCC contacted it about its concerns”.
FCA policy manager Lauren Levin told The New Daily that the financial support group was pushing for legislation to introduce a ‘self-exclusion register’ which meant gambling agencies could not contact a person on the list with offers to lines of betting credit and deals.
“Regulating advertising of online betting is crucial to preventing a huge escalation of a new generation of problem gamblers,” Ms Levin said.
Govt backs down on ad curbs
But last week, it was revealed the Federal Government’s review of the Interactive Gaming Act (IGA) was stripped of all references to gambling advertising from its planned review of online wagering.
The decision followed a backlash by commercial television operators, who were misinformed that a ban of all gambling ads was being considered.
When asked by The New Daily why advertising references were removed from the IGA review, a spokesperson for Social Services Minister Scott Morrison would not directly address the question. Mr Morrison has now released the terms of reference for the review (click the owl for the full list ).
But Mr Morrison said illegal offshore gambling “leaves Australian punters without protection for payouts on their winnings”.
“It is especially important we look at what can be done to protect individuals vulnerable to problem gambling.”
Bet365 declined to comment on the court proceeding, but told The New Daily it welcomed Mr Morrison’s proposed review.
‘Not looking in the right place’
Ms Levin said the FCA welcomed the Federal Government’s review of the IGA, however the terms of reference were focused on the illegal offshore online companies when the problems described in its report were caused by the legal sports betting companies.
“We urge the government to focus on the local problem, that is easy to regulate with a national framework,” Ms Levin said.
“The current regulation is so full of holes, that it does little … and that’s why we see ordinary Australians losing their homes and being made bankrupt by sports betting debts.”
Anti-gambling campaigner, independent Senator Nick Xenophon, also welcomed the review, but warned that its terms of reference “shouldn’t hold back on confronting the exponential increase of the problem and the measures needed to tackle it”.
“It seems that the government has put up the white flag on advertising without putting up a fight in the first place,” he said.
Mr Xenophon is drafting legislation to reform the IGA which will seek to tackle illegal online gambling sites by providing mechanisms to disrupt their financial transactions.
It is estimated that close to $1 billion is lost on legal sports betting sites in Australia each year, with a similar amount lost on illegal sports betting and casino sites.
Help for problem gamblers is available from the National Gambling Helpline by phoning 1800 858 858, or Financial Counselling Australia on 1800 007 007.