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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.


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.

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.

  11. Yclept

    “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.”
    Or maybe they’re already busy enough and don’t have time to work for the gambling industry for free. Afterall, I’m sure the industry will offer a spirited defense with no dollars spared to counter any restrictions.

  12. Jimmy Johnson

    The two most over-used phrases which invariably attempt to obscure a lack of logical argument: “Nanny State”, “Political Correctness”

  13. old greybearded one

    Oh rubbish. That is unless you believe in no restriction on anything. The heart is taken out of the sport and we subsidise the gamblers with new facilities for wealthy sports paid out of the public purse. See what the sale of the land titles office goes to fund. You cannot stop gambling, but you can get it out of our face. Or do you want grog advertising everywhere? Ads for antibiotic and psychoactive drugs? Ads for escort services for 10 year olds? Come on.

  14. Dog's Breakfast

    Consistency can be over-rated.

    The ‘you’re either with us or you’r agin us’ line just isn’t apposite. While I generally support it, I welcome that cigarettes can’t be overtly advertised, that companies are obliged to be somewhat truthful in advertising (freedom to lie!) etc.

    But free speech, I draw the line everywhere. People who want to advocate for rape, for murder, genocide, domestic violence, holocaust deniers (climate change deniers?), actually it’s quite a long list – Yeah, damn right, I don’t want to argue with them, I want them modems broken, their tongues cut out and their fingers snapped off, at least.

    There are a whole lot of things that cross way way over the line and do not deserve the protection of the free speech ethos.

    Gambling, ah, don’t care muchly but god their ads are over the top.

    Consistency can be over-rated.

  15. Woopwoop

    “A tax on stupidity” is an unpleasantly elitist phrase from someone who seems sure he’ll never be accused of stupidity.
    Like it or not, Bernard, there are many people who find it difficult to calculate odds. You can call them, “stupid” but to my mind, they need to be protected against financial ruin.

  16. Craig Lawton

    I don’t like my kids watching AFL because of the constant gambling ads. Usually managed via the mute button. Once I can stream matches for $5 a go on Netflix my abandonment of free-to-air TV will be complete.

  17. rlynch01@bigpond.com

    Gee, Bernard, haven’t you read up on reinforcement of compulsive behaviour, in relation to electronic betting? The scope for corruption, and compulsive behaviour related to electronic betting must be included in consideration of free speech issues.

  18. Graeski

    Encouraging vulnerable people to self-harm goes outside the limits of free speech. Would it be acceptable on free speech grounds, for example, if the manufacturers of razor blades targeted their advertising at depressed people?

    “Feeling down, lately? Buy a box of Acme supersharps, and the answer’s in your hands!”

    1. Graeski

      PS: if gambling advertising is permitted to continue, it should be mandatory that all ads include an accurate estimate of the probability of winning.

  19. Agrippa

    Gambling advertising, like tobacco advertising, is designed to target highly susceptible individuals. Obviously, ’cause they can’t get the cash from the non gamblers, or the “genuine” social gamblers.

    If any sport needs gambling to survive, then it is not a sport, but simply a gambling vector. e.g. your favorite Bernard, the poorly named “horse racing”. Remove the gambling element, and the “sport” no longer has cash input, or relevance to draw a crowd.

    Restrict gambling to cards, balls, dice, etc. where there is no association with a sport, and go to town with all the advertising, flashing lights and pretty girls that the consumer so desperately craves.

    If companies that earn cash from gambling advertising should be allowed to persecute/annoy the sport viewing public, then you Bernard, should demand the government bring back tobacco, and why not have a go at APRA, ASIC, ACCC as they are always shoving their nose in and stopping companies from making an extra buck due to their nanny state attitude. ( OK ASIC has been a bit of a damp squib…APRA…. but I do have a lot of time for Rod Sims).

  20. Jimmy Johnson

    Just watching the a-league elimination final. It’s half time and Ricky Ponting is driving a red Ferrari to a luxury hotel on the Riviera and saying it’s not luck, it’s something to do with betting responsibly with Crown Bet. Free speech? Really?

  21. AR

    I can’t imagine what ‘Nanny’ did to BK to give him such irrational fear but his neolib monomania certainly takes him down strange paths.
    As pointed out by others, the wails & rending of garments over banning of tobacco advertising destroying sport didn’t amount to a pimple of a bull’s arse when it came to pass.
    If broadcasters have less money to bribe sports organisations the latter might have to seek some other form of support like, gee I dunno, maybe patrons at games organised at convenient times & places for the whole family.
    I loathe organised sport of any description but not as much as I do the advertising & gambling industries which are the real vampire squids wrapped around the face of civilisation.
    The former is tax deductible and the latter not taxed sufficiently and society pays for all the damage done.
    Litter collection could be very easily funded by simply changing those companies whose names appear on the crap.
    Cardio pulmonary units could be privatised and lavishly funded by the reintroduction of cigarette cards – the more you collect the better your inevitable treatment when dying from the use of the product.
    User pays so increase the tax of gambling to cover the deleterious consequences.

    1. AR

      … or even “simply charging those companies”

  22. Northy

    Isn’t it interesting that governments have been all too willing to clamp down on online gambling, but won’t touch the horrifically destructive pokies industry. Clubs and pubs have a wretched amount of influence with pollies, and no doubt see online gambling as a threat to their rivers of gold.

    1. AR

      Good point Northy, I didn’t, internally, twig that distinction in my visceral aversion to the whole ugly scene.

  23. Adrian

    Gambling advertising barely registers within my sphere of watching, my main dose is via Melbourne public transport. However, when my 9 year old son seems to be getting enough bombardment to ask me questions about it, I’d say bring on the nanny state, at least add far as to restrict what kids are watching.

  24. Rodger

    I have just read Andrew Leigh’s article followed by this one and it is enough to make me cancel my crikey subscription.

  25. ray lehrer

    you have not dealt with the corrupting or criminal element that this industry breeds


  26. Dan Hilvert

    I guess you’re right Bernard that this is an example of free speech curtailment.
    But that to me highlights that as a society (left and right) we support free speech curtailment (eg., we support it on terrorism promotion, paedophilia marketing, ciggies, racism to some extent and gambling to some extent).
    So the whole freedom of speech debate isn’t whether we should have carte blanche freedom of speech … everyone agrees that we should not. And the 18c repeal crowd should agree with that sentiment or otherwise they’d also be pushing for defamation reform and reforms to permit promotion of terrorism.
    But instead the debate is really where should there be have free speech curtailment. And back to gambling. By all means let’s restrict it. Bring on the nanny state i say. The more nannies the better in this area because saving a few 18 year olds from a life of misery is a good end.

    1. Rodger

      Humans have a right to free speech.
      Corporate advertising is not speech, but I am not sure what.

  27. litoralis

    hate to swim against the tide but ive watched footy for many decades and now use that knowledge to top up my income by sportsbetting. itsfun, its legal and i like doing it so get off my case.
    Believe me if you’re a successful punter – even a small one like me – you’re constantly at risk of having your account closed “for commercial reasons”. If you appeal – as i did recently after a half dozen small winning bets saw my new account abruptly closed- you get sent something saying they dont have to keep you as a customer. Far from being over-regulated, there are no protections for successful – dare i say it -“responsible” gamblers. Any appeals to government regluators hooked on gambling income are ignored – believe me on that front too.
    apart from that i agree with the free speech comments – corporations have too many “freedoms” already.

  28. Dave Yale

    Since when became crikey the mouthpiece of right-wing rednecks? With this logic we can advertise smoking on TV, as well. Of course, this is far worse that tobacco advertising. Kids who love their sport, will perceive gambling as an integral part of sports.

  29. Don Willoughby

    Cigarette advertising ban is a ban on free speech. Banning incitement to crime is a ban on free speech. Defamation legislation is a ban on free speech. Maye really free speech is inconsistent with society. Its a fine ideal but risky in pluralistic societies. Fine for isolationist tribes.

  30. Kevin_T

    I find it odd that Bernard Keane is outspoken on the subject of domestic violence in the defence of spouses and children who are abused in such situations, while he considers that advertising that effectively encourages an addict to gamble away their family’s finances should be subject to a total right of free speech and any effort to control or reduce that situation is deemed to be nanny-statism.

    While it would be nice to simply view gambling addiction as an extra tax on stupidity or innumeracy, Mr Keane on this occasion overlooks how a gambling addict can destroy their direct family and have severe effects on others around them (including in the worst cases stealing from their spouses, parents and even children, or some quite serious embezzling from the workplace).

    I do not agree that restrictions on advertising of addictive items that cause much wider problems to those around the addict, such as gambling or tobacco products reflect a free speech issue. And I don’t really care whether or not it is nanny-statism, as the outlawing and awareness raising that exposes and reduces domestic violence can probably also be called nanny-statism.

  31. Ken Dally

    The real issue is gambling ads during times when children and teenagers are watching. Constant exposure to young people does indoctrinate them into thinking gambling is normal healthy behaviour. The amount of gambling ads during the early evening is appalling. They should be treated as MA or AO programing and have the same age time restrictions.

  32. Bretto

    You are just plain wrong on this one Bernard. And equating gambling advertising with free speech is IPA-eske in it’s sophistry.

  33. Noodle Bar

    Gambling advertising should absolutely be banned. There is no social good in gambling, and it is incredibly destructive. It destroys lives, and families. It has a dreadful social cost. One effect of banning gambling advertising is that it reduces the normaisation of gambling in society. I remember the shift from tobacco ads being legal to them being banned, and it had quite a strong social effect. If it continues to be legal, it should only be permitted late at night, like (in the ACT) ads for sexual services.

  34. Noodle Bar

    Haven’t we banned books on how to make bombs out of household items? What is the problem with banning advertising that encourages destructive behaviour? Does Keane have a problem with banning such writing? Genuinely curious.

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