It’s been a big year in the effort to #EndGamblingAds. Not even a global pandemic shutting down (almost) all sport could stop the gambling industry from plastering our television screens and news feeds with wall-to-wall ads. We now know that during COVID lockdowns, wagering companies spent more money on advertising and incentives to gamble, and it worked - the amount gambled online significantly increased, particularly among young men, and foreign bookmakers were one of the few industries to emerge from this crisis with millions in profit.
Our campaign to stop the rampant exploitation of Australian families through pervasive exposure to gambling ads became even more urgent this year, given 3 in 4 school-aged children increased their time spent on screens to more than 3 hours each day, and they are already high ‘consumers’ of TV’s 374 daily gambling ads. We have seen shocking new tactics deployed by the industry, including using snapchat filters during the Spring Racing Carnival and AFL Finals to promote and normalise harmful messages to young people.
In the absence of professional sport, our attention turned to the culpability of broadcasters, and in particular SBS, who continued to air gambling ads throughout the pandemic despite the known and disproportionate harms to multicultural communities. Partnering with our friends at Save Our SBS, more than 10,000 people have signed the petition and sent over 1,000 emails to the SBS Chair and Federal Communications Minister calling on our public broadcaster to take a stand against harmful advertising.
But it is stories from people personally impacted that bring the very real implications of gambling harm into sharp focus. Our community advocates who have been hurt by gambling were supported to write to the SBS Chair, to make their concerns known. Like Jenny* (name changed to protect privacy) who wrote:
As a migrant born in Zambia, gambling was just not part of our culture growing up. Gambling may seem a harmless activity to those who know little, but my son has been to hell and back and he took his family with him. It has taken years for him to resurrect his life and we all live with the scars. As a pioneer viewer of SBS, having been a keen watcher since the early eighties, I get knots in my stomach when I see these ads, knowing how much harm it has caused.
Recently retired AFL Player Allen Christensen has publicly spoken of the toll the COVID lockdown had on him and others harmed by gambling, bombarded with more gambling ads since they’d been ordered to stay indoors. Fortunately more and more sporting leaders are stepping forward to call time on gambling ads. Western Bulldogs premiership captain and AFL Players' Association delegate, Easton Wood, has been at the forefront of public conversations pressuring the AFL to sever ties, reminding us of the ethical responsibility the AFL and teams themselves also hold.
Momentum is undoubtedly building, with Geelong Stadium being the first AFL venue in the country to have implemented a gambling ad blackout in 2019, and gambling advertisements banned from Big Bash League matches in NSW just last month. Internationally, restrictions have already been introduced in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
As we recover from COVID, there will be increasing pressure for broadcasters and sporting codes alike to turn to the 'rivers of gold' from gambling, but at what cost? The only way to push against this tidal wave of normalisation and harm is to stand together as a community and demand better from our leaders in business and politics alike.
It's the fact that gambling has infiltrated all aspects of life including sport whether its online gambling or the odds being quoted, there's no escape. It's been normalised to the point that it's easy not to notice how insidious it is.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.