Bookies are still able to offer credit to punters, despite a Coalition pledge to ban it. Photo: Erin JonassonOnline bookmakers are still offering thousands of dollars in credit to punters more than two years after the federal Coalition promised to ban the practice because it was contrary to responsible gambling.
The August 2013 “Coalition’s Plan to Help Problem Gamblers” policy said responsible gambling was “all about people gambling within their means”.
“Extending lines of credit to gamblers runs contrary to this principle and the Coalition will legislate to prohibit the practice,” the policy stated.
Victorian Liberal MP Alan Tudge, now an Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Social Services, championed the cause of banning credit betting after a constituent racked up an $80,000 debt with online bookie Sportsbet.
The Wantirna man said he had been lured to the bookmaker by free bets. Sportsbet took him to court to recoup the debt but a settlement was made out of court.
It is illegal in many states, including Victoria, for bookmakers to offer credit to punters but most online gambling companies are registered in the Northern Territory where such a ban does not exist so Victorian punters can still get credit.
Bookmakers can offer credit to a punter to keep betting when they have exhausted funds.
Before the September leadership spill, the federal government announced a review of online gambling laws, to be chaired by former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell. The focus of the review was on illegal offshore bookmakers.
Mr Tudge told Fairfax Media that banning credit betting would be informed by Mr O’Farrell’s review.
“As a basic protective measure, you cannot get credit at a casino, and nor should you in the online space. It is too much of a conflict of interest for a gambling provider to also be a bank. It can lead to devastating consequences,” Mr Tudge said.
The peak body for financial counsellors in August called for urgent action to be taken against online corporate bookmakers.
“The most appropriate, and the strongest reform, would be to prohibit credit for gambling purposes,” the report said.
The Financial Counselling report Duds, Mugs and the A List, said without a ban government should change credit laws to include sports betting groups.
The n Wagering Council says it understands community concern around credit – what the industry refers to as “deferred settlement facilities” – but said the industry was already highly regulated.
“Any future policies developed to regulate the wagering industry must be evidence-based,” a spokesman said.
The council said that credit should not be offered to punters on an unsolicited basis.
Earlier this month the NT government set up a new code of practice for credit as condition of a bookmaker’s licence. It includes rules that credit can only be sought by the punter, not offered by the bookie.
Credit betting is not the only unfulfilled Coalition problem gambling election pledge.
In a move that enraged gambling reformers the Coalition promised to set up an advisory council made up of representatives from the clubs lobby to meet quarterly with the responsible minister to develop a detailed plan for the roll-out of appropriately targeted counselling and support services.
The states and territories would also be engaged to work on a self-exclusion process, where punters can have themselves banned from pokies venues.
The government is still considering establishing the advisory council and the Victorian government says it has had little correspondence with Canberra on other measures to curtail problem gambling.
The Turnbull government says the O’Farrell review will investigate the effectiveness of existing protection measures for gamblers, including warnings, information resources and public information campaigns.
The Coalition did quickly fulfil its promise to stop the trial of a mandatory scheme in the ACT which forced gamblers to preset how much they were willing to lose on the pokies before playing.
Instead it pledged to support a national system where punters could opt to preset a limit if they wanted to – the policy said it would talk to the industry on how best to introduce a venue-based system of precommitment.