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Tips and rumours

Jan 7, 2014

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Crown staffer, responsible gambling man. Let’s join some dots here. Sean Armistead — a fine individual, we’re sure — has, a Crikey reader informs us, been drafted to the Victorian Liberal government’s Responsible Gambling Ministerial Advisory Council. It is no secret that Armistead works at gambling den Crown — his LinkedIn page says he’s the company’s group manager of indigenous programs. And isn’t that a nice appointment for the company?

But it’s worth noting, too, that Armistead is a Liberal himself; he ran against Green Adam Bandt in the seat of Melbourne at the last federal poll. Now, we’re just asking the question: how independent can the advice on responsible gambling from a Liberal-voting Crown employee ever be? We can only imagine.

Sports stars feel better on Swisse? What a weekend for Australian sport. And what a weekend for drug-pushers Swisse. The hyper-marketed vitamin empire certainly knows how to pick winners: it backs the victorious Ashes cricket team and veteran tennis scrapper Lleyton Hewitt, who managed to knock off Roger Federer on Sunday to claim the Brisbane International title.

Clearly you do feel better on Swisse, despite what those so-called experts might say. Remember, the company has in the past offered to financially supplement doctors who recommend its products. It also whipped out Delta Goodrem ahead of a contentious court ruling into whether or not its capsules were “clinically proven”. In 2012 the Therapeutic Goods Administration told Swisse to stop broadcasting television advertisements that claimed consumers would “feel better on Swisse”. In the end, Swisse won its appeal in the Federal Court. With Australia’s complementary and alternative medicine industry worth around $4 billion annually, it seems Swisse’s investment in Aussie sporting stars has finally paid off.

The uni heads can just FUC off. Yesterday we brought news that staff at the grandly named Federation University in Gippsland, Victoria, were warned not to use the university’s rather unfortunate acronym. Well, another campus mole notes: “Staff are also been urged to avoid abbreviations when making references to Federation University Churchill.” FUC? What’s wrong with that …?

Happy birthday, from your local MP. We’ve heard of pollies dispatching congratulatory letters for centenarian constituents, but how many MPs send birthday wishes for the not-so-big 3-0? Victorian state MP Clem Newton-Brown does, which the (grateful) recipient thought was rather odd …

“As you transition into another stage of life, I hope you do so with great memories of your roaring 20s and with anticipation of what adventures are still to come.”

Aw, isn’t that nice? And at minimal cost to taxpayers, no doubt. We do love a pollie letter — have you found one in the letterbox worth scanning? Drop us a line if so …

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

TV & Radio

Apr 22, 2013

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Free TV Australia’s announcement this morning that it plans to restrict the promotion of live odds during sports broadcasts is a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. Nothing meaningful will change — just the appearance and obviousness of the spruiking from the likes of Tom Waterhouse.

Under the new rules, commentators and their guests will be prohibited from promoting live odds during a game, and for 30 minutes before and after the game. But other persons — “including discrete and distinguishable representatives of gambling organisations” — can promote live odds before the game, during scheduled breaks and after the game:

  • A promotion of Live Odds for a live sporting event is not permitted during play.
  • Commentators and their guests will be prohibited from promoting live odds as part of a broadcast of a live sporting event:

– at any time during play (including during breaks in play);
– during the period 30 minutes before play commences; and
– during the period 30 minutes after play has concluded.

  • A promotion of live odds relating to a live sporting event by other persons, including discrete and distinguishable representatives of gambling organisations, is permitted:

– before play commences;
– during scheduled breaks in play;
– during a suspension in play; and
– after the cessation of play but only where that promotion is an advertisement or clearly identified.

Talk about a loophole. Or a yawning crevasse of opportunity for Waterhouse and other bookies to continue spruiking their odds.The cute line in the above about “discrete and distinguishable representatives of gambling organisations” in effect gives carte blanche for the existing situation to continue, but in a less obvious manner. And with more money flowing to the networks.

Making matters worse, the changes do not apply to horse, harness and greyhound racing. So the Seven Network’s racing broadcasts will be continue to be full of odds touting. Tommy was flogging his horse racing products during the rugby league last Friday night on Nine. And the proposed changes do not stop the commentators and others (if they are directed by their employers as part of an advertising/sponsorship deal) from telling us that Waterhouse is a fine chap, or that Tab.com.au is a great website to visit.

Instead of Waterhouse shouting and spruiking his wares on the commentary panel, we will now see the TV equivalent of touts and coat tuggers telling us the odds — but in a paid segment for the networks, meaning more revenue for them. We already have spruiking heads for Tab on Seven’s sporting coverage giving us odds before the game as part of a sponsorship arrangement. Waterhouse does the same for Nine. That won’t change, although they may have to tone down the Tab look and uniforms. But due to his frequency of appearance on Nine and in his ads, you could argue Waterhouse isn’t all that “discrete”, but he certainly is “distinguishable”.

This is a compromise that benefits the revenue and profit-challenged networks — not the viewer. Why did free TV bother with what amounts to a bit of meaningless fiddling? To be seen to be doing something, while really doing nothing and making sure its struggling members benefit financially from this fine example of non-self-regulation.

Federal

Mar 21, 2013

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Overshadowed by the debate about the government’s media legislation, the final report of the review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, published last week, received comparatively little attention.

Like the government’s response to the report, the sparse media coverage focused on measures to prevent problem gambling — undoubtedly an important issue — but failed to discuss the fact Australian gamblers, recreational or otherwise, continue to get a raw deal. The report seems likely to perpetuate a culture of high-margin, low-risk bookmaking, cutting Australians off from the global market under the guise of consumer protection.

Also missing from the debate are two other questions: are Australian gamblers getting value for money, and where do the growing number of social games fit into the regulatory landscape?

The review’s suggestions for expanding the industry are predicated on the adoption of a proposed “national minimum standard for harm minimisation”, which seeks to iron out differences between states by focusing on responsible gambling messages, credit, pre-commitment, age verification, spend-tracking and self-exclusion, as well as measures to ensure companies hold sufficient funds to pay out winnings. Among the review’s recommendations are measures to encourage unlicensed operators to agree on Australian regulations, along with further limits on advertising.

Underlying the recommendations is the review team’s belief that Australian consumers who uses overseas-based online gambling services “run the risk that their funds will not be afforded an appropriate level of access and protection” and “are not covered by Australian consumer laws if they wish to make a complaint about the actions of a service”. The reality, however, is that the level of consumer protection in the Australian gambling industry doesn’t always live up to the rhetoric. It seems strange, for example, the report, which runs to some 183 pages, makes no mention of Australian bookmaker Sports Alive, which collapsed in 2011 owing about $3.9 million, having allegedly traded while insolvent.

Earlier this month, Victoria Supreme Court Justice Ross Robson found Sports Alive had failed to keep customer funds segregated from operating expenses, and so had insufficient funds to pay customers at the point of liquidation. His ruling notes that the evidence suggests “a wholesale failure by Sports Alive to comply with its statutory obligations”, which led punters’ representative Dennis Tuan-Mu to complain the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission had failed to act for “more than eight years” and “that even rudimentary checks … would have uncovered these issues … and would have prevented the loss of $3.9 million from over 18,000 account holders”.

Australia excels in some areas of gambling regulation — the NT Racing Commission’s transparency regarding betting disputes is a good example — but the core objective of all regulators must be to keep customers’ funds safe. Before we ask internationally licensed operators to subscribe to Australian regulation, protection is needed to ensure there is no repeat of the Sports Alive fiasco.

Licensing and regulating is an expensive process, so it would seem logical for there to be some cross-recognition of best practice regulation. For example, would it not be feasible to allow UK-licensed operators access to the Australian market (and vice-versa) rather than requiring operators to apply for licenses in each jurisdiction? Doing so would promote competition, reduce margins, and encourage gambling operators to agree to some form of governmental oversight.

*Read the rest of this article at Inside Story

Federal

Nov 10, 2011

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Federal

Oct 31, 2011

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Voters support the concerns of the Occupy movement, but don’t support the protests themselves and are divided over whether police were justified in breaking them up, new polling shows.

The weekly online poll from Essential Research found 29% of voters support both the movement’s concerns and protests, while 13% didn’t agree with their concerns. Around 40% agreed with their concerns, but didn’t agree with the action. The only strong support came from Greens voters; 59% of whom supported both the movement’s concerns and the protests.

There was real division over the controversial police break-ups of the protests in Melbourne and Sydney. Essential found 42% of voters backed police action to break up the protests over the 41% who said they should have been allowed to continue, with Labor and Greens voters strongly supporting their continuation and Liberal voters equally vehemently opposed.

On the issue of coal seam gas, half of those polled wanted further restrictions on the mining exercise, compared to 20% who feel current regulations balance the rights of farmers and miners. This leaves a high “don’t know” vote for both sides to win over.

And on gambling, there’s been a fall in support for tighter regulation of the industry since April 2011 when Essential last asked voters how they felt about different forms of gambling. Support for tighter regulation of poker machines has fallen from 62% to 52% since April, with 35% saying the current level of regulation is about right. Support for more regulation of casinos and Lotto has also fallen, while there’s now greater support for regulation of sports betting.

Essential also asked whether voters thought the major parties favoured the interests of business or workers, or balanced them. Both the Labor and Liberal parties scored 14% on balance, and thereafter radically diverged: voters thought Labor favoured workers over business 41-28%, while the Liberals — despite Tony Abbott’s moves away from liberal economic orthodoxy on a range of issues — were considered to favour business over workers by a huge 61-8%, suggesting a possible area for Labor to exploit if it is adept enough to tap into the current anti-corporate mood running through the community.

On voting intention, the first good news for Labor for a while: a two-point lift in its primary vote to 34%, at the expense of both the Coalition (down one to 47%) and the Greens (down one to 10%). The two-party preferred vote, on a rolling fortnightly basis, remains on 55-45% to the Coalition.

Federal

Jun 22, 2011

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Much of Australia’s $22 billion gambling addiction has been well documented, poker machines, table games and wagering are all hugely popular with the punters. But what about online casinos? Untaxed, unregulated and under the radar, this so-called “unofficial” sector of gambling is increasing in popularity.

According to the Productivity Commission, the wild west of unregulated online gambling could be worth as much as $800 million annually. Industry experts recently pegged the number as high as $968 million — with a third of that funneling into online poker.

Dr Sally Gainsbury, a lecturer at the Centre for Gambling Education & Research, Southern Cross University, is currently undertaking a survey into online gambling, with the results set to be presented later this year.

As part of her research, Gainsbury has studied the growth of online casinos and their popularity with Australian gamblers.

“At the moment participation compared with other forms of gambling seems low, but it appears to be growing,” she told Crikey. “The thing about these offshore sites is that many are easily accessible to younger people and problem gamblers. There is also a lack of consumer protection.”

Under the Interactive Gambling Act passed in 2001, it is illegal for online casinos to accept bets from or advertise to Australian players.

But that does not seem to have to have stopped the growth of casinos. According to Gainsbury’s calculations, there were 2319 virtual casinos open for business in May this year — “although that changes all the time” — with 90% of operators offering play to Australian players.

One of the big operators is 888.com, who commanded revenues of $US221.7 million last year and profits of $US12.4 million (down from $US31.9 in 2009). Listed on the London Stock Exchange, its headquarters are based in the small English colony of Gibraltar — a popular location for online casinos.

At the time of her count, Gainsbury found Gibraltar had 291 online casinos operating in its jurisdiction. Gainsbury says the reasons for Gibraltar’s popularity could be due to its proximity to Europe and also its stringent regulatory body (a must for the legitimate operators).

There is also the small matter of tax, which at 1% of gambling income in Gibraltar is far more attractive than the 15% taken from the pot of operators in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, low taxes are a common theme among countries with the highest number of online casinos. English channel island Alderney charges 0% tax (only a license fee is required) and has 104 operators.

Tiny island republic Malta leads the way with 460 casinos and has an attractive tax rate of 0.5% gross amounts of bets. In Costa Rica — a country Gainsbury says doesn’t command many legitimate operators because of its lax regulation — online casinos are treated as call centres and face attractive offers also.

As well as an attractive tax rate, Gainsbury says suitable online casino locations need a good legal framework, an availability of workers that speak the required language and a decent telecommunications set up.

Aside from all that, the country also needs to sit in a compatible time zone.

But despite an explosion in the number of casinos competing for gambler’s dollars, the sector is not impervious to the odd economic shock.

According to figures recently released by gambling industry market research consultants H2 Gambling Capital, online gambling forecasts will amount to 23.66 billion euros this year, which amounts to a downgrade of year-on-year growth rates to 4.4%.

H2 attributes the recent FBI crackdown on online poker giants, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker (which the industry dubbed “Black Friday”) as one of the reasons for the drop in revenue.

Other key factors include slower than expected regulation, the Japanese earthquake and the economic slowdown in the US and Europe.

North America is still the major market for online casinos, however the Black Friday crackdown may see its importance dip. Gainsbury says Asia is being eyed off as a potential online casino goldmine, but only if they liberalise gambling laws.

With so many casinos on the market, things can get competitive. Online casinos offer myriad of bonuses to get punters to sign up. Inducements include “welcome bonuses”, which are usually the doubling (or sometimes tripling) of a player’s deposit.

Gainsbury says there are 200 different forms of payment at the online casinos she looked at. These options ranged from traditional credit car billing to PayPal to specialised casino deposit services.

But despite the illegality of offering play to Australians, there has yet to be a prosecution of a single operator. Gainsbury says she is surprised no action has been taken.

“Despite the Interactive Gambling Act strictly prohibiting these casinos offering play to Australians, there have been no prosecutions,” she said. “To me it seems odd. I know there have been complaints, but no action has been taken.”

Perhaps, with so many potential tax dollars flowing out of the country to overseas operators, the regulators will look to act. Presumably letting our gambling revenue go offshore may not sit well with the states. After all, in 2009-10, they took in $5.2 billion of tax dollars from gambling.

Federal

May 30, 2011

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Every Australian over 17 loses an average of $1300 a year on gambling – that’s about $22 billion for the whole country each year. As the fight over independent Andrew Wilkie’s pokies legislation hots up, over the next fortnight Crikey’s new series Last Bets will examine just how hooked our country is on having a flutter.

We’re not talking about the average problem gambler’s addiction here, instead, we’ll dig into our state governments’ reliance on revenue, the future of gambling online, its grip on sport, the burgeoning casino tourism industry and the role of pokies venues in local communities for starters.

Today, Richard Farmer on Communication Minister Stephen Conroy’s flagged crack down on commentators urging viewers to bet during live sport broadcasts:

They are playing rugby league tonight at Centrebet Stadium. Saturday had the St Kilda Saints out on Perth’s Paterson Oval displaying their Centrebet logo…

Friday had the Manly Sea Eagles in their Centrebet guernseys up in Brisbane…

Around the grounds in both major codes the bookmakers’ display advertisements were positioned at all the best camera angles. The only thing missing in this weekend betting advertising bonanza were the lime green Canberra Raiders reminding the fans that the city’s biggest poker machine palace, the Tradies club, was the place to meet the players after the game.

The Raiders had the bye.

If you are a parent worried about your little darling being influenced into thinking that having a bet on the footy is the most natural thing in the world, all this subliminal exposure must be making things difficult for you. And perhaps that is a far more worrying thing than the barrage of advertisements by bookmakers and the constant advertorials by commentators that now seem to dominate every football telecast.

Yet it is the plugging of betting odds during the game — something directed at those old enough to have a phone account with a bookmaker and thus presumably old enough to look after themselves — that governments state and federal decided to act against when they met in Canberra on Friday.

According to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy there will be no new contracts allowed for in-game betting – either on scoreboards or on television. Bookmakers and broadcasters will be given until the end of June next year to address the issue, or the government will draft firm legislation to ban live odds promotion for all sports with the exception of horse racing.

“All the ministers have agreed that we should put forward proposals, ultimately possibly legislation, to reduce and control the promotion of in-game betting,” Senator Conroy said in Canberra. “You won’t need to have Richie Benaud telling you and urging you, here’s the odds on who’s going to get out next, or who’s going to bowl the next no-ball … that kind of advertising that’s being pushed into people’s faces.”

Clearly taking advertising dollars away from television stations is more politically palatable than putting a stop to promotions like logos on jumpers and ground signage where the money ends up in the coffers of the football administrators.

Not that even a complete ban on advertising sports betting would have much impact on stopping the growth of such flutters if the American experience is anything to go by. Having a bet on the baseball might be illegal in every USA state bar Nevada, but every morning on the sports pages are the odds. Take this example from USA Today:

Fancy Baltimore to beat Kansas City? Put on $140 to win $100. Take your pick whether there will be more or less than eight and a half runs scored in the game and your friendly local SP bookie will pay you at the standard rate of -110 (put on $110 to win $100 is the way those Americans put the odds).

Similar in its own way to what Australia used to be like all those years ago before TAB’s made off-course betting on horse racing legal. And a reminder to those who would like to outlaw betting on Australian sports of what would happen here if they succeeded. Approve of the practice or not, having a bet is one of those things that people just like to do as the American newspapers well realise.

So much so that in the US, Nevada’s legal sports wagering represents less than 1% of all sports betting nationwide. In 2010, $2.76 billion was legally wagered in Nevada’s sports books; the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) estimated illegal wagers are as much as $380 billion annually.

While Americans seem happy to leave most of the business in the hands of the illegal operations dominated by organised crime, Australia has gone down the regulatory route as the increased coverage of sport on television has fostered the interest in sports betting.

Inevitably there have been a few minor scandals as the smarties try and steal an advantage over the legal bookmakers and, through them, other less informed punters. But most of the current crop of incidents causing concern among politicians, I notice, were actually failed attempts.

By all means have such incidents investigated as the stewards do at the race track, but don’t expect improper practices to stop. And don’t be sympathetic for the bookmakers. No one is forcing them to take a bet and history shows that most of them are quite capable of protecting themselves from the unscrupulous rorters.

*Richard Farmer has been a sports bookmaker and his firm once had a sponsorship arrangement with North Melbourne

Federal

Apr 27, 2011

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The dramatic extent of Labor’s reputational damage with the electorate is made clear in today’s Essential Report, which concentrates on the perceived attributes of the major parties and the Greens.

Essential has asked about a series of positive and negative attributes of the parties twice before, in 2009 and last year. Just over a year ago, Labor performed significantly more poorly than in 2009, but the party’s perceptions have dramatically worsened since then.

Seventy two per cent of voters believe “will promise to do anything to win votes” applies to Labor, up nine  points since March last year, while 66% believe “divided” applies — a massive 30-point increase since last year. “Out of touch” has increased 13 points to 61%, and “moderate” has dropped 12 points to 51%. Even otherwise uncharacteristic descriptions such as “extreme” now garner significant support, up 12 points to 38%.  And whereas even last year 52% of voters thought Labor had a good team of leaders, only 34% now feel that way.

For the Liberals, however, it’s all positive: a drop in the number of voters who think they’ll promise to do anything to win votes — down from 72% to 65%; a rise in “moderate” perceptions by five points to 55%; “out of touch” down to 54%, “divided” down from 66% to 49%. There was also a big improvement on “good team of leaders”, but off rather a low base, up nine points to 40%. The Liberals lead Labor on nearly every positive indicator and trail on nearly every negative indicator. Labor still has a one-point lead on “looks after the interests of working people.”

Essential also asked the same questions about the Greens. They did poorly on attributes such as “extreme” (61%) and “out of touch” (60%) but were lower than the major parties on “will promise to do anything to win votes” (52%). But they also performed as well as or better than Labor and Liberal on “clear about what they stand for” (51%) and “have a vision for the future” (49%). Labor only scored 28% on “clear about what they stand for” (the Liberals scored 44%) and 43% on “vision for the future” (Liberals 48%). There’s also little risk of the Greens being perceived as too close to corporate and financial interests — the Liberals were way ahead on that, on 60%; 46% of voters thought that of Labor, but only 22% (and what on earth were they thinking) of the Greens.

On other questions, the recent scandals around ADFA don’t appear to have tarnished the reputation of the military as a career option — 71% of people still think it provides a good career for young people, although it isn’t as well regarded as a trade, or ICT (both well over 80%) or teaching or nursing. And voters also strongly support greater regulation of poker machines — 62% want more regulation of pokies, second only to online gambling (68%) and well ahead of sports and horse racing betting.

On voting intention, it’s steady: Coalition primary vote on 47%, Labor on 35%; Greens down a point to 10%, the same 2PP as last week, 54-46% to the Coalition.