Australia’s pandemic gambling helped foreign-owned corporate bookmakers gain tens of billions of dollars in market value during the past year, sparking fresh calls for a new crackdown on sports betting advertising.
Global behemoth Flutter Entertainment, the parent company of Sportsbet, gained almost $30 billion in value during the course of the COVID-19 outbreak, with a 46 per cent boost in turnover and a 59 per cent increase in Australian revenue last year.
Foreign-owned corporate bookmakers gain tens of billions of dollars in market value during the past year.
Fellow foreign bookie Entain, the parent company of Ladbrokes, which is headquartered in the tax haven of Isle of Man, gained $8 billion in value during the same period.
Both corporates benefit in Australia from the light-touch, low-tax regulatory regime in the Northern Territory, which has a wagering tax capped at $575,000 annually. Flutter’s own gain in market capitalisation is more than the annual GDP of the NT.
Flutter chief executive Peter Jackson revealed last month Sportsbet had continued to “grow incredibly well” in Australia, increasing its online market share from 43 per cent in 2019 to 46 per cent last year, driven by the addition of more than 675,000 new customers. Flutter, which also owns Paddy Power, Betfair and Poker Stars, is also in a leading position in the booming United States market, where a ban on sports betting was lifted in 2018.
An Australian Institute of Family Studies survey of more than 2000 Australian punters in July last year found one in three participants - particularly young men - signed up for new betting accounts during COVID-19, and the number who gambled more than four times a week increased from 23 per cent to 32 per cent.
The Reverend Tim Costello, chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, has relaunched a campaign to end sports betting advertising, claiming the recent federal government reforms have not helped protect Australians.
“Constant gambling advertising promoting all sorts of ‘bonus bets’ undoubtedly triggered some people to gamble again, or gamble more, some with savings made during lockdowns, or even worse - with superannuation withdrawals,” Mr Costello said.
“We would be shocked to see a tobacco ad during football and cricket these days because we know children watch these games and naturally want to emulate their heroes and support their sponsors.”
He said sports wagering was the fastest-growing form of gambling in Australia, doubling in the five years to 2017-2018, with losses now exceeding more than $1 billion annually.
“We must nip this in the bud right now, and the quickest and easiest way to do so is to end gambling advertising. Other countries have done so, including Italy, because they recognise the harm gambling does, and that it is completely inappropriate to promote it,” he said.
“It’s time Australia did the right thing too.”
The Australian Taxation Office last year said cases of people spending their early super withdrawals on gambling were “extremely isolated” and most people used their super to get through the economic crisis.
Last year the parent company of Ladbrokes spruiked that its Australian business had performed “exceptionally well” in growing by 76 per cent during that quarter and, at one point, had accounted for half of its global sports business revenue.
Entain’s Australian operations, Ladbrokes and Neds, are its largest in terms of online gambling revenue outside of the UK. Deputy chief executive Rob Wood told shareholders last month that Australia had jumped into second position as Entain’s year-on-year growth rose 108.2 per cent with a market value of $8.47 billion.
Tabcorp, the market leader in Australian wagering, revealed in February that earnings from its wagering and media business fell 3 per cent in the six months to December 3. There was a massive shift away from its retail bookmaking operations in the half (turnover down 28 per cent) and towards online betting (up 43 per cent) due to COVID-19 related closures. Its market value increased $3.82 billion for the year.
Industry argues that Australian-licensed online wagering operators are now contributing more than $1 billion in taxes, through state point-of-consumption taxes, before GST, company tax and payroll taxes were levied. That figure is expected to have increased significantly over the past year as punters shifted to online platforms with the closure of traditional retail bookmakers.
Brent Jackson, the chief executive of corporate bookmaker lobby group Responsible Wagering Australia, said Mr Costello was entitled to his moral opposition to wagering but it wasn’t “a serious policy position”.
“This is just another self-serving attempt to mislead and to demonise responsible Australian punters,” Dr Jackson said.
“While sports betting is growing in popularity, problem gambling rates continue to fall, and wagering advertising complaints are at all-time lows, comprising only 0.31 per cent of all advertising complaints. The evidence shows clearly that Australia’s wagering companies are doing the right thing. Reverend Costello is pointing to a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher the Australian Communications and Media Authority would continue to monitor the effectiveness of the government’s 2018 reform as the environment for the broadcasting of live sporting events evolved.