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Australian Government's Reluctance to Ban Gambling Advertising Draws Criticism

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The Australian Labor government, under the leadership of Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, has signaled its reluctance to impose a complete ban on gambling advertising, a move that has been advocated by multiple parties. This decision comes as the government faces growing pressure to address the issue of pervasive gambling advertisements in the country.

Australian Minister Defends Position on Gambling Ads

Minister Rowland recently defended her actions, including attending a lavish birthday lunch with gambling executives in a private dining room at a prominent Melbourne restaurant last year, asserting that she did not violate any rules.

In her speech at the National Press Club in Canberra, Minister Rowland acknowledged the calls for a gambling advertising ban, drawing a parallel with the ban on tobacco advertising implemented in the 1970s. However, she emphasized that the relationship between the gambling industry and sports had evolved significantly.

She pointed out that certain sporting codes were heavily reliant on revenue generated from online gambling partnerships, a reference to the substantial sums received by sports like the AFL and NRL.

Minister Rowland clarified that no concrete decisions had been made regarding gambling advertising regulations, and she underscored the importance of harm minimization in any future policy developments.

The sports betting sector, concerned about the financial implications of an outright ban, has proposed alternative measures, including removing gambling logos from football club jerseys, restricting advertisements on radio during school pick-up times, and implementing rules to prevent promotions near schools and on billboards.

Earlier this year, a review led by the Labor party recommended a phased-in ban on gambling ads over three years. The review, chaired by Labor MP Peta Murphy, highlighted that gambling companies invested heavily in advertising due to its effectiveness.

The report also noted that online gambling had been strategically marketed alongside sports, normalizing it as a sociable activity and part of popular pastimes. It raised concerns about the impact of gambling advertising on children and young people, stating that it encouraged riskier behavior.

The review's recommendations aligned with the unanimous views of the parliamentary inquiry, but Minister Rowland's recent stance has raised questions about the government's commitment to implementing these suggestions.

Independent MP Zoe Daniel criticized Minister Rowland's position, questioning the purpose of the parliamentary inquiry if the government did not plan to accept its unanimous recommendations. She expressed concerns about the harm caused by gambling advertising targeting young people.

Scrutiny over Gambling Industry Ties

Minister Rowland faced criticism for accepting donations from Sportsbet ahead of the 2022 federal election and for her involvement in industry-related events, such as the birthday lunch organized by Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA). She had also received hospitality from Tabcorp and Star Entertainment. In response to these criticisms, Minister Rowland pledged earlier this year to no longer accept donations or hospitality from gambling firms.

The issue of gambling advertising remains a contentious and complex one in Australia, with stakeholders advocating for measures to protect vulnerable populations while also considering the financial interests of the sports betting industry. Minister Rowland's statements indicate that finding a middle ground may prove challenging for the government.

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