Advertisements for online gambling platforms have become so ubiquitous that they barely register as noticeable to many Australians. In particular, they are seen as an integral part of the sporting landscape for a worrying proportion of young men. Here, we investigate just how dangerous these ad campaigns are and examine their startling similarities to anti-smoking campaigns half a century ago…
Online gambling is a behemoth of an industry, thanks in large part to the relentless marketing campaigns which are broadcast on television, online and – increasingly – on social media platforms, in particular TikTok.
It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Australians have higher per capita gambling losses than any other country (at $1,276 per year, by the way) and that losses nationwide nationwide are reaching a staggering level. $25 billion in 2019. Notably, the rate of problem gambling among online gamblers is three times higher than among slot machine gamblers. 3.9% versus 1.4%.
A recent article in The conversation highlighted fascinating and chilling parallels between Australia’s tobacco industry in the 1970s and the gambling industry today, which DMARGE says could pose a particularly acute threat to Australian guys.
In 1970, a tobacco advertisement aired on Australian television every eight to fourteen minutes. These ads portrayed smoking as a cool and cultured habit, especially for men. Think Paul Hogan telling Aussies “anyway, have a Winfield” or the macho Marlboro Man.
Advertisements like this have been used to push a new generation of young people to smoke and thereby dramatically increase the risk of cancer for individuals and simultaneously increase the burden that such a health epidemic places on the Australian state. .
Today, online gambling platforms use similar tactics, focusing on the malleable minds of young people. Deploying hand-picked celebrity endorsements via icons like Shaq and Mark Wahlberg, alongside quintessential Australian blokey humor, these platforms are aimed at men aged 18-24.
Despite the Turnbull government banning gambling ads before 8:30 p.m. on live sporting events and self-congratulatory attempts to internally regulate platforms that promote “responsible gambling”, recent research has shown that 75% of 8 -16 years old- Seniors believe that play is a normal and central part of sporting life.
Although the number of women using online gaming platforms is growing (as is the number of women who regularly indulge in sports content), sports fans and, therefore, gamers are overwhelmingly male.
Data shows that men account for nearly or more 90% sports players, depending on the specific category or sport. Similarly, men are twice as likely as women to have gambling problems, with 10% of male gamers suffering from a clinically diagnosed gambling problem compared to 5% of women.
More worryingly, young men are most at risk. The data of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that men aged 18-34 were the subpopulation most likely to sign up for new online gambling accounts, increase their gambling frequency and monthly spending, and be at risk of gambling-related harms, whether self-inflicted or by others…
So if the population at large and young men in particular are at such risk, why isn’t the government taking action to reduce the advertising or operating power of these platforms?
Well, for exactly the same reason the government turns a blind eye to an assortment of socially harmful issues: money.
In the 1970s, a large majority of the Australian public (74%) believed that cigarette advertisements should be banned. Today, 71% of Australians think gambling ads should be banned.
In the 1970s, the tobacco industry, alongside the mass media with which it spent the equivalent of $125 million a year to publicize its product, were powerful lobby groups with tendrils reaching into the Australian legislature. and the pockets of its elected representatives.
Today, the online gambling industry is becoming more and more political. Sportsbet donated $310,000 to political parties last year, hedging his bets by splitting freebies between the Coalition and Labor, ensuring a friendly relationship whatever the outcome.
Of particular interest was the $19,000 he donated to the campaign of current Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, whose remit covers – you guessed it – advertising regulation. Online gambling platforms rig the media landscape, getting close to the politicians they want in order to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.
In short, gambling platforms are paying politicians who are far too grateful for support to expose these platforms for their predatory practices. Who loses as a result? Regular Aussies and, in particular, Aussie guys.
We have overcome the tobacco epidemic, but we must learn from this battle lest Australians end up with an addiction even more crippling than that of nicotine: an addiction that could destroy individual lives and more economy. Come game day or election day, keep that in mind.