Online Sport Betting Must be Tackled

This last week has been a tough week for any dedicated sports fan. There have been recent allegations that up to 16 “top” tennis players have been involved with match fixing while the Guardian newspaper in London has reported:

“Two ‘active’ former Test cricketers are believed to be involved in the fresh match-fixing scandal that hit South African cricket on Thursday. Investigators working on the case are understood to have interrogated 47 players and staff in the country.”

On top of this, the international body managing ‘soccer’ globally is under intense investigation.

There is little doubt that large international gambling syndicates are behind many of these problems.

These problems are not just for overseas based sporting bodies, the Advertiser reported on 13 August last year that gambling in the AFL is regarded by coaches, players and administrators as “the most widespread problem in the game.”

The reality is that sport and online gambling are now so intrinsically linked that the integrity of sports is under extreme pressure.

2016 will see the biggest ever gambling event in human history: the Rio Olympic Games.

Further to the threat to sport integrity, the human cost of online gambling is substantial, with gambling research indicating that levels of problem gambling through online gambling environments are even higher than pokies based problem gambling. Although pokies continue to be greatest source of problem and risky gambling in Australia, at the moment.

Reducing harm from pokies based gambling has been extremely difficult, yet reducing harm from online gambling particular sports betting is going to be even harder.

There are many reasons for online sports gambling harm being set to grow dramatically. The platform for online sports betting is the smart phone: 3.2 billion people are now connected to the Internet, while by end 2015, there were more than 7 billion mobile cellular subscriptions globally. Most people on planet earth now carry a 24/7 casino in their pocket. Online betting companies have also worked very hard to significantly increase the number of ‘events’ that can be gambled on during any sporting contest, so that it is possible to bet, in real-time, on just about every serve, ball bowled or goal attempt during a game.

In addition to the rapid acceleration of availability of online gambling and the range of ‘events’ to be gambled on, it is estimated that about 90% of online gambling is through illegal gambling providers, many operating on the ‘dark web’ and through ‘black markets’.

These illegal markets thrive on major international sporting events, as proven by online sports betting in poorer, developing countries on the 2012 FIFA World Cup. Gamblers in Nepal, for example, were spending approximately $420,000 per match through illegal sports betting sites, while the Thai government estimated that 10 illegal gambling sites took approximately $6 million per month from Thai gamblers in the lead-up to the World Cup. Illegal sports betting during the World Cup was so significant in Indonesia that the government introduced a complete ban on all forms of gambling in 2012.

What can be done to reduce the many harms that can flow from online sports betting?

The first priority is to better understand what we are dealing with. The Australian Commonwealth Government has recently received a report investigating illegal online gambling by a committee chaired by former New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell. A critical action that the Commonwealth Government must take is to establish a national gambling regulator to oversee and regulate online gambling provision in Australia to ensure that there are reasonable levels of consumer protection for those choosing to gamble online, and that taxes are paid by the online providers.

Our Australian Government also needs to be actively discussing online gambling regulation with other nations and ensuring that protocols are in place to share information and to establish an international set of consumer protections that are applied globally.

Despite arguments to the contrary, regulation is possible. For example, if a person loses money to an unregistered online gambling provider, then legislation can ensure that this provider cannot seek money from the citizen through any Australian based financial institution.

The other critical area for action is that our sporting administrators must take the threat of online gambling very seriously and strengthen all aspects of game integrity, including ongoing external advice and review. The trend of seeking to keep everything ‘in-house’ by sport administrators’ only serves to increase the threat to their sporting code.

Online gambling is a threat that can be dealt with if we act early. The immediate priority must be for the Commonwealth Government to establish an on-line gambling regulator to reign in the threat of gambling harm to individuals, their families and our sporting codes.

Mark Henley

Manager, Advocacy, Uniting Communities, a member of the Alliance for Gambling Reform

(The Advertiser 29 January 2016)