Nine could face a $420,000 fine from regulators if it does not improve its compliance with gambling advertising rules on its streaming platform. But gambling researchers are also concerned Australia’s new broadcast rules, which triggered the warning, may be diverting advertisements elsewhere online, where their impact is less understood.

During pre-match coverage of the 2019 NRL State of Origin, Nine showed a gambling advertisement on its 9Now streaming platform — a breach of gambling advertising rules.

Under the rules, broadcasters cannot show gambling advertising during live sport streamed online between 5:00am and 8:30pm. There are also rules for the period immediately before a match, which Nine violated, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

“Under gambling advertising rules, restrictions start five minutes before ‘kick-off’ if the broadcaster lets viewers know when the game starts at least 24 hours in advance,” ACMA said in a statement.

“In this case, Nine did not do this, so the rules applied five minutes before the pre-game coverage.”

The media watchdog issued Nine a remedial direction requiring it to train staff on the rules for gambling advertising on online platforms, and submit two written compliance reports over the next year.

If Nine fails to do so, ACMA says it may seek penalties of up to $420,000.

“I hope this sends a message to all streaming services that this is something they need to get right,” said ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

“One of the reasons these rules are in place is to allow families to watch live sport without exposing children to gambling.”

Nine declined to comment on the action.

Unintended consequences

Dr Sally Gainsbury, Associate Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic, University of Sydney, says the new rules are aimed at reducing the public’s overall exposure to gambling advertising — particularly children — as well as to avoid pushing problem gamblers to bet.

Importantly, they also give consumers a point of contact at a federal level — namely the ACMA — when they suspect the rules are being broken. 

University of Sydney Associate Professor, Dr Sally Gainsbury. Image: Twitter.

 

The rules are based in 2018 legislation and target major broadcasts. How effective they have been so far at reducing problem gambling is not yet clear, Gainsbury told Which-50. Gambling advertisements are only one piece of a “much broader society and cultural shift that needs to happen” to reduce problem gambling.

And while fewer gambling advertisements on broadcast media is generally a good thing, Gainsbury says, the focus on broadcast media may have unintended consequences.

Gambling operators’ advertising budgets may simply shift to other channels — including targeting users who already have accounts with direct promotion. And they are big budgets. Sportsbet, for example, spends $82 million on sales and marketing each year in Australia.

“If you make a restriction somewhere that doesn’t necessarily remove all gambling advertising, it may have just shifted the focus,” Gainsbury said. “So more targeted advertising using algorithms to then target parts of the population as opposed to more sweeping campaigns that don’t discern between different audiences.

“So there’s likely to be more optimisation.”

But operators aren’t required to disclose that information and, Gainsbury says, so far it is difficult to measure the impact of more targeted digital campaigns.

With digital advertising based on consumers’ information “here to stay”, Gainsbury says it is important for all consumers to understand how the practice works.

“[This is an] idea that what we need to be doing is educating people — not necessarily about gambling ads specifically, but about the type of targeted advertising they’re likely to encounter so they can see that for what it is, and actually increase their critical appraisal and skepticism around personalised, targeted marketing.”

According to Gainsbury, it would be particularly beneficial for at-risk demographics, including those attracted to potentially large payoffs despite the consequences of the costs of betting — like young people, young males, or people with financial hardship.

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