Stirling Griff cashless welfare
Senator Stirling Griff (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Australia’s gambling peak body is standing alone in opposition to a proposed law that would stop Australian betting companies from accepting credit cards for online gambling.

The bill, proposed by Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff, follows a similar ban in the UK that makes it a crime to accept, facilitate or promote credit card payment for online betting.

Online gambling in Australia is limited to TABs, bookmakers and betting exchanges. Chance games including pokies and casino-style games as well as in-play betting on sporting events are illegal. Online services licensed outside of Australia are illegal too.

Submissions for a Senate inquiry into the Interactive Gambling Amendment (Prohibition on Credit Card Use) Bill 2020 were published late last week.

‘No evidence of a policy failure’ in Australia’s gambling habits

Surprising no one, Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA) — which represents major betting companies bet365, Betfair, Entertain (Ladbrokes and Neds), Sportsbet and Unibet — has come out strongly against the restriction.

Its submission claims that there is “no evidence of a policy failure” regarding gambling using credit in Australia.

This would be news to the several other groups, such as Alliance for Gambling Reform, Suicide Prevention Australia and Relationships Australia, which made submissions about the significant harms from gambling in Australia.

Their submissions cite the billions of dollars of losses, gambling habits studies (such as a 2010 Productivity Commission report which found those experiencing high levels of gambling harm were four times more like to use their credit cards to obtain cash advances for gambling), as well as stories from those who’ve experienced significant harm as a result of current policies.

Alliance for Gambling Reform’s submission includes a case study of a 39-year-old legal professional who racked up more than $65,000 in credit card debt while gambling.

“It is far, far too easy to get what is essentially the equivalent of a pot of money with a huge interest rate associated with its withdrawal and no checking whatsoever as to the vulnerability of the applicant for credit,” the testimonial said.

How does using credit change how Australians gamble?

The RWA’s submission makes a very specific claim about a lack of evidence supporting the ban.

“There is a lack of compelling evidence of a direct link between the use of credit cards for online betting transactions and the incidence of problem gambling in the Australian market,” the submissions says.

While that may be true that this is limited evidence in a fairly new area of research, there is certainly evidence about how credit cards support gambling.

The Relationships Australia submissions cite a 2019 study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies which found that Australians were using their credit card to support their problem gambling. The study’s authors wrote that credit allowed people to accrue more debt while also having to contend with a high interest rate that led to a further debt spiral.

Relationships Australia said that this applies to online gambling, too.

“Many of our clients report that they do not feel like they are playing with actual money. They say that it’s ‘just a figure’, and amounts become ‘unreal’, and they easily lose track of what they have spent,” the group said.

And while the RWA claims that online gambling is no different to buying physical scratchies — a type of gambling that, coincidentally, you’re not allowed to do online in Australia regardless of whether you’re using credit or not — the gambling lobby group remains the only organisation so far to make the case for facilitating Australians gambling online with money they don’t have.

The Senate inquiry’s report on the bill is due by July 30.