Suicide Prevention Australia has asked the federal government to do more to regulate the gambling industry, particularly when it comes to the behind-the-scenes data-sharing arrangements betting platforms have with one another.
The Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications is currently looking into the online gambling space.
The focus of the inquiry are the amendments to the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 that would prevent interactive gambling service providers from accepting payments by credit card, creating a criminal offence and civil penalty provision for those that do so, to be overseen and enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
But in its submission [PDF] to the inquiry, Suicide Prevention Australia has highlighted simply blocking credit card use is not enough to curtail the domino effects a gambling problem can have.
"While we welcome the reforms in this amendment, we believe the Commonwealth government should go further in reducing potential harms to the lives of Australians who engage in interactive gambling," it wrote.
The organisation shared with the committee the findings of a roundtable it hosted in October.
"Our roundtable identified the need for greater regulation of the gambling industry across jurisdictions in Australia. In particular, the need for restrictions on gambling companies use of personal information to target gamblers by offering incentives to gamble," it said.
Suicide Prevention Australia said that betting companies share client data among each other.
"For example, when a client ceases gambling with one company, the company trades client lists with another company who then offers targeted incentives or enticements to the person so they begin gambling again with a new company," the submission explained.
This alarming practice was detailed by the ABCin an article it published last year, which shared the experience of an Australian man who had closed a betting account only to be wooed back in by special treatment and VIP status. He also received unsolicited calls from a competing betting platform when his account with the first was frozen.
"The issue of data sharing and incentives has a significant impact on Australians who gamble, as problem gamblers are being actively incentivised to resume their problematic behaviours, which can extend to resuming other forms of gambling eg electronic gaming machines," Suicide Prevention Australia said.
"Gambling companies are further not required to conduct financial risk assessments on clients prior to opening an account with the company."
To that end, it has asked the committee to consider its recommendation to strengthen privacy regulations for people who gamble to prohibit companies from sharing or selling client contact data among the industry.
The organisation also called for more to be done around advertising regulation, pointing to a study commissioned by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation on young men and their gambling behaviours that found, on average, participants had four separate accounts with online betting companies. It said the report also found gambling uptake was driven by promotions from betting companies.
In its submission [PDF], the ACMA said the potential benefits of banning the use of credit cards for online gambling domestically needed to be balanced against the risk of consumers moving their gambling activities to offshore providers.
It noted that illegal offshore gambling services often allow consumers to use Australian credit cards to deposit money into their accounts.
"We have observed that these illegal gambling providers are increasingly using third party payment processors to mask their gambling services and the MCC [merchant category code] can reflect services other than gambling," it wrote. "This can make it difficult for credit card providers, or indeed those potentially charged with regulatory oversight, to identify the illegal activity and take disruptive action."
The providers of these illegal offshore services are typically located in jurisdictions with limited regulatory oversight and minimal or no consumer protections, it added.
IF YOU OR ANYONE YOU KNOW IN AUSTRALIA NEEDS HELP CONTACT ONE OF THESE SERVICES:
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- QLife on 1800 184 527