European Regulator Briefs Communications Minister on How Total Gambling Ad Ban Could Work in Australia Too

    Following in the heels of the total gambling ad ban introduced by the Belgian government last year, Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, has been briefed on the viability of a similar move for Australia. The briefing came via trusted European regulators, and has been largely welcomed. However, the possibility of a similar ban being implemented in places like Australia too traverses a more multifaceted discourse than initially meets the eye. 

    A need for harm reduction amid issues like irresponsible gambling and the financial and socioeconomic impacts it can have is well known. That being said, the global iGaming industry has also proven to be a massively lucrative one that provides many macroeconomic benefits too. Now, the question is, is such a ban the best way to balance the clashing societal interests at play?  

    Gambling Culture in Australia 

    Despite its often less than favorable reputation as a vice, gambling is one of the world’s oldest pastimes, and an activity that is deeply rooted within Australian culture. The simple truth is that gambling is extremely popular in the country and, as resources like Techopedia’s toplist here show, the vast availability of online pokies provides plenty of options for players. With gambling expert Vlad Grindu noting how these games can award massive jackpots with small bets and a bit of luck, it’s hardly surprising that they are so popular.

    Between the popularity of online pokies and sports betting in the country, and the huge incomes the platforms that provide them generate, there are plenty of positives that come from the industry. However, the tension arises because of the need to minimize harm caused by reckless and irresponsible online wagering. There’s been many people and organisations pushing back against gambling ads across platforms like television, radio, the internet, and social media. 

    The problem is that Australia’s gambling culture means it won’t necessarily be easy to push through a complete ban. Given the size and vast economic benefits of the industry, it’s unsurprising that everyone from players to sports broadcasters, tech companies and online gambling companies have been lobbying against the proposed ban. 

    Will A Complete Ban Be A Good Thing?

    The nature of gambling harm and the plethora of problems that it can lead to makes the idea of a complete gambling advertising ban an unsurprisingly attractive one on the surface. After all, the general idea is that with no advertising and more stringent regulations like mandatory limits and financial background checks, less people will be prone to irresponsible gambling. The idea isn’t a new one and seems all too familiar — probably because we’ve seen a similar one play out before. 

    Anyone old enough to remember that far back, will have vivid memories of the days when cigarettes were once freely advertised on television and across all major sporting events. Formula One cars were once emblazoned with the vibrant logos of tobacco companies, while everything from football matches to massive billboards on street corners once freely advertised smoking brands. 

    Once tobacco advertising bans went into effect across most major jurisdictions across the world, there were reductions in the habit. However, there were also economic impacts too. Cigarette taxes effectively passed the economic losses onto customers, while black markets also began springing up around the world to bypass them. According to the World Health Organisation, the illicit cigarette trade results in economic losses that range in the billions. 

    When it comes to online gambling, global revenues are estimated to be worth more than $100 billion. Those revenues cascade down to individual jurisdictions in a number of direct and indirect ways through job creation and taxes that help governments fund things like infrastructure, healthcare, and education. Given the vast economic positives associated with the industry at large, there’s certainly enough reasons to properly consider the impact that an outright ban on gambling ads could have. 

    No one is suggesting that seeking more harm reduction shouldn’t be a continuous objective. However, there’s also an argument to be made that the industry has simply grown too big to curb to that extent. While an advertising ban and other regulations would still allow online gambling to exist, it’s hard to imagine a way they could be implemented that wouldn’t cause massive economic losses for the companies that directly and indirectly rely on it. In light of these competing interests, it isn’t necessarily a cut-and-dry argument that the positives of a total gambling advertising ban would outweigh the negatives.

    The Way Forward 

    Given what a complex situation presents itself, it’s clear that such a ban should be carefully constructed, with the potential impacts considered from as many angles as possible. Another likely argument that will be raised is one of personal responsibility, and whether it’s the players or the platforms that should ultimately bear that responsibility when it comes to reducing harm. 

    Either way, it seems that someone’s interests will have to yield in some way. From a jurisprudential perspective, proponents for and against the ban will also have to weigh up an age-old philosophical debate — namely how far governmental power should be allowed to encroach into private enterprise?

    A possible way forward will likely have to include some kind of compromise to be viable. In that sense, since revenue losses are unavoidable if a complete ban is effected, a possible reduction in taxes may be extended to the gambling companies to mitigate such losses. However, that will also mean an erosion of the tax revenue government will be able to earn from the industry. 

    How Far Should it Go?

    Another chilling possibility is that if the country’s gambling culture proves stronger than the ban, players will simply turn to offshore platforms to bypass local regulations if they’re deemed too stringent. Just as banning tobacco advertising never resulted in most smokers quitting the habit, banning gambling ads won’t stop avid players from indulging in their favorite casino games. 

    The question is, what then? How far can regulatory bodies go? Do you then start curbing and policing what people can access on the internet? These kinds of questions make it clear that the concept of a total gambling advertising ban is likely not going to be as simple as just passing the required law.

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