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Fears of a gambling bounce as footy seasons restart

As kick-off approaches for the rescheduled 2020 National Rugby League (NRL) and Australian Football League seasons, experts are bracing for a tsunami of gambling advertising and inducements. After a COVID-19-required break of more than two months from most premier sports and related betting, there are fears that the restart of gambling advertising will particularly appeal to bettors already experiencing gambling harm.

Dr Alex Russell, a Senior Postdoctoral Fellow in the Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory at CQUniversity is one of those experts.

‘Lockdown has created a perfect storm,’ says Alex, ‘with many people isolated, bored and stressed. The concern is that when these beloved sports start up again, bettors will “reward” themselves for what they’ve been forced to give up.’

That’s an attitude encouraged by sports betting companies, with at least one bookmaker recently using the promotional line, ‘Looking for something to bet on?’ Something? Anything? While horse and greyhound racing remained available, there were also reports of Australian bettors turning their sights on Ukrainian table tennis and Tajikistani basketball, with those substitute sports filling bettors’ perceived gambling ‘needs’.

The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s Victorian population gambling and health study 2019–2020 found that about six per cent of Victorian adults – eight per cent of those who gamble – participate in sports betting.

‘Sports betting has become so normalised through saturation betting advertising that many people see betting as part of being a sports fan,’ continues Alex. ‘And advertising isn’t just all-pervasive, it’s also an extremely competitive industry.

‘Come footy season, operators will be tussling to be the one to get your money.’

NRL matches will be played again from Thursday 28 May while the AFL season bounce is on Thursday 11 June 2020. With gambling venues likely to still be closed, online sports betting will offer an ‘escape valve’ for bettors with a pent-up urge. Alex was one of the authors of a 2018 Foundation-funded research report Effects of wagering marketing on vulnerable adults led by Professor Nerilee Hing.

Some of the key findings were that wagering advertisements and inducements encourage riskier betting, increase the amount of money bet, and elicit excitement that encourages people to bet even when they don’t want to.

At-risk bettors were found to be most influenced by direct messages from wagering operators, advertisements on betting websites and apps, betting brands promoted during live and televised sporting events, and commentary promoting betting or betting odds during events. Stake-back offers, multi-bet offers, and inducements for rewards program points were regarded by many bettors as risk free; something for nothing.

‘Inducements are now more restricted, partly because of the introduction of the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering,’ says Alex. ‘But in many jurisdictions, inducements can still be sent via text and email.

‘Because these messages are private, they’re harder to regulate than television ads. Operators may take the opportunity to bend the rules.’

And with more than 78 per cent of Victorians who bet on sport using online bookmakers or mobile apps, often with multiple operators – the highest for any gambling activity – that’s a lot of gambling enticement coming directly into bettors’ hands.

‘Before and after lockdown, the advice remains the same,’ says Alex. ‘Set a budget. Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose and reach out for help and support if you are concerned about your gambling.’

For free, confidential advice and support, Gambler’s Help is available 24/7 on 1800 858 858.

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