Apr 21, 2017

Gambling restrictions are an assault on free speech

If gambling advertising is so unpopular, then consumers should vote with their feet. Nanny state regulations are just another assault on free speech.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

It’s not a pleasant duty to stand up for the rights of the gambling industry, even if the harm inflicted on society by gambling is the subject of much hype and handwringing. Gambling is, mostly, a voluntary tax on stupidity, one that this writer never feels the urge to pay. My views on one of the primary gambling industries, animal racing, are well known to Crikey readers. And as a now-retired TV viewer whose couch potato habits relate to downloaded content, MASH, and the Big Bash over summer, nor am I particularly irked by gambling ads during televised sporting contests. So, arguably, I come to the issue with the air of a dilettante, or more of one than usual. But supporting free speech is only authentic when you support the speech of those you disagree with, and the leaked proposal to further restrict gambling ads merits strong opposition.

Gambling is already the subject of an extensive nanny state regime in Australia, particularly online, where the Howard government’s Interactive Gambling Act has been a spectacular failure that the current government is keen to prop up despite a series of reviews showing its failure. Now the government, it appears, is hell bent on further restricting sports gambling advertising on television. The main proposal, it appears, is a ban on gambling ads during live match broadcasts — the prime real estate for gambling companies.

Unsurprisingly, the free to air networks are trenchantly opposed — gambling ad revenue is one of the few growth areas in a market where revenue is flatlining. According to media reports, the major sporting codes are also opposed, and understandably: the amount that TV networks can pay for the broadcast rights of their sports depends on ad revenue, and significantly cutting ad revenue means less money for broadcast rights.

Bear in mind, the major sports are already the subject of another nanny state free speech curb — anti-siphoning rules, which prevent subscription TV channels from bidding for the broadcast rights independently from the free-to-air cartel. That anti-competitive mechanism significantly reduces the amount of revenue sports can command for their broadcast rights. Now the government, in an effort to get Australia’s most prominent anti-gambling politician Nick Xenophon to back its media ownership reforms, is proposing more cuts to major sports’ revenue.

As the codes have correctly noted, Australia can legislate all the nanny state nonsense it likes against gambling, but it won’t affect offshore gambling sites one iota. The result is to simply encourage Australian gamblers to go to those sites and not Australian sites, which are better regulated and which pay Australian taxes. Every attack on gambling sites in Australia simply means more money for foreign gambling sites, and less revenue for Australian governments.

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If consumers don’t like the ads, then they can boycott the product, stop gambling and stop watching sport until the TV networks respond to the market signal. But Australians gamble — a lot. There’s a gap between stated and revealed preference here — the twenty billion-plus dollars we lose gambling each year belies the visceral objections to gambling ads that so many people seem to have.

And, curiously, the free speech warriors who want to defend racist cartoons and homophobic abuse are as yet nowhere to be seen. Then again, that crowd are highly selective — they only defend speech they agree with.


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42 thoughts on “Gambling restrictions are an assault on free speech

  1. Paul Bendat

    This is exactly the same TV industry whining that occurred when cigarette advertising was banned. The industry survived and flourished notwithstanding.

    While I may be wrong, is your advocacy that cigarette ads be reintroduced on a free speech ground?

    1. Duncan Gilbey

      Dunno that free speech is such a black and white issue. There’s a case for gambling advertising to be restricted during ‘daylight hours’ – ie when kids are watching.
      But I’m with you on the taxation aspects (of gambling).
      A voluntary tax! What could be fairer?

      1. Duncan Gilbey

        Sorry Paul, my reply was meant for the OP. I have a medical condition called ‘fumble fingers’.

  2. Philip Amos

    Perhaps I don’t want to have to ‘boycott the product’. Why should I have to?

    Perhaps I want to enjoy watching a game of cricket on TV without worrying about the relentless normalisation of addictive gambling.

    Perhaps I want to watch the game with my son and not worry whether he will be able to grow up and avoid the perils of gambling addiction.

    Perhaps, some believe that gambling is not morally neutral. It’s a particular form of exploitation of addiction and weakness.

    Perhaps the Americans, those most ardent defenders of free speech, have it right on gambling advertising – don’t allow it.

  3. Bo Gainsbourg

    If its a competition between Nanny State and Big Gambling on this one I’ll take the Nanny State every time. I don’t want my kids getting preyed on by these advertisers and their mates. I think a bit more time spent working with the downside of gambling and its corrupting influence and bit less worrying over corporates as if they were oppressed individuals might lead one to a different view.

  4. Jimmy Johnson

    As the father of a 20 year old son, targeted and sucked in by these constant ads, I heartily disagree. There is a difference between free speech and a constant misinformation campaign that deliberately targets susceptible people. The gambling industry is simply a mechanism that mostly syphons money from people who can least afford it into the pockets of the big, rich gambling companies. Gambling provides no net social benefit, it promotes addiction and mental illness. The more controls on it, the better our society will be. Stop this nonsense “free speech” argument, it has no moral justification at all.

  5. drsmithy

    Fail #1: Corporations don’t have “free speech” rights because they’re not people. Thus, restricting their ability to advertise is in no way, shape, or form, an attack on “free speech”. And that’s before even considering whether advertising is a form of “speech” that should be “protected”.

    Fail #2: “They’ll just go overseas and do it anyway” is not valid justification.

    1. Stu Barton

      you can’t have it both ways – if corporations aren’t people, why do we expect them to have a support progressive social causes like marriage equality?

      1. drsmithy

        I don’t.

        I do expect them to not be discriminatory against people’s gender and sexuality because a) that’s the law and b) it produces the best outcome for society.

  6. Grumpy Old Sod

    I am having trouble in equating free speech with advertising, not withstanding that in this case the advertising is for a personally destructive activity in gambling. I may be simple but it appears that to use such an argument is to accept the validity of not having drug laws of any type for example and to allow free for all advertising for them as well. Call me a nanny state apologist but I do believe that there must be some form of social controls on some activities, especially those that can cause harm to the vulnerable (see Jimmy Johnson’s comment in this section for example). As a sport lover which in some eyes can make me a bit of a bogan, I get really pissed off when I see multinational companies giving the appearance of social responsibility by ending their ads with the ‘gamble responsibly’ admonitions which are obviously crocodile tears to mollify folk such as myself; or maybe they have to do this due to legislation and wouldn’t do it in a fit if it weren’t for that.

    And as for the ads themselves – either ex sport stars dressed to the nines to give an aura of respectability for those socially pretentious or else calls to the herd mind where a lot of the vulnerable reside. It’s bloody exploitative, make no mistake about that. Three cheers for laissez faire.

  7. mary wood

    I am unable to think of anything good that comes from the gambling industry. It is an industry that exploits the most vulnerable in society, turning them into addicts. Also, it is responsible for a great deal of the corruption of our politicians – I have just finished reading “Losing Streak”, an extremely well-documented expose of how the Farrell family bribed and corrupted Tasmanian politicians of both major parties to introduce poker machines, knowing that a very large majority of the population was against these machines. Pubs and clubs talk of the money they give to sporting associations and others, however if there were no pokies this money (and much more) would be circulating in the community. Even if gambling ads on TV are free speech, should we continue to allow the strong to exploit the weak. Nanny state it may be, but I think the greater good must be considered – as with vaccinations, compulsory education for children and rules for road users, to mention just a few.

  8. Lord Muck

    I agree 100% with most of the comments here. I don’t want to gamble responsibly. I simply want to watch sport and not gamble on the outcome. These gambling ads often show the punters to be incredibly stupid young men; no prizes for guessing who the target audience is. How much (what percentage) of this on-line betting becomes State revenue? Not much I reckon.
    And I’m not sure that gambling is truly an industry, BK. As we know, they produce illth more so than wealth.

  9. Chris Gulland

    Sorry Bernard, Gambling Adverts compared to Free Speech, give me a break. Broadcaster have only themselves to blame, the have killed the golden goose. Endless repeats of mind numbing advertising of no interest to a majority of viewers now approaching 25 minutes in in the hour just ruins the programme you are trying to watch.

  10. bushby jane

    Gambling promotes corruption, shouldn’t be any gambling on afl or cricket.

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