The Alliance for Gambling Reform is set to spearhead another push for the Morrison government to ban advertising, outlaw inducements to gamble and stop credit cards being used for gambling online.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic some people are turning to gambling online and may not realise how dangerous it can be,” the alliance’s chief advocate, Tim Costello, said on Sunday.
“Families are at home watching television, watching the news more closely, enjoying family shows such as MasterChef, yet throughout these broadcasts at almost every commercial break are ads promoting gambling.
“And now we have proof that Australians are propping up foreign-owned corporate bookmakers.”
Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff and Greens senator Rachel Siewert pushed in May for a moratorium on gambling ads during the pandemic to protect the vulnerable.
Analysis by NAB’s economics team of internal data on consumer spending and payments made to merchants last month showed expenditure on gambling is 50.7 per cent higher since the start of the year.
An Australian Institute of Criminology report also found the proportion of online gamblers who had increased their spending grew from March (20 per cent) to April (33 per cent).
Its study found in both March and April, being male and being aged under 40 were associated with increased spending. However, living as a couple with children was particularly related to an increased likelihood of spending more in April.
The superannuation sector has also reported savings taken out in the federal government’s early release program has been splurged by punters on online wagering.
The Ladbrokes revelation last month that its Australia-based online gambling revenue was up 76 per cent was the first piece of hard evidence that despite the temporary suspension of major sport for three months, corporate bookies have still lured more customers online.
The share price of Flutter Entertainment, parent company of Sportsbet and BetEasy, has more than doubled since the pandemic began, with analysts predicting a 65 per cent turnover growth for Sportsbet.
Tabcorp, the market leader in Australian wagering, is yet to report its financial results, but analysts also predict an increase in online gambling.
A spokesman said while COVID-19 restrictions had impacted on TAB agencies and other forms of retail-based gambling, it did see a shift in activity towards digital channels.
Responsible Wagering Australia, which represents online bookmakers, has urged caution in interpreting headline figures.
“Historical consumer credit data is being used to create alarmist reports that gambling has surged during the COVID crisis,” chief executive Brent Jackson said last month.
“Without context people assume that increases in online gambling during COVID automatically mean an increase in overall gambling activity. With over-the-counter betting and gambling outlets closed by COVID restrictions, people have migrated to online platforms, as with nearly every retail business in the country.”
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra