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Online gambling– a global issue with no borders and very few barriers to prevent harm

17 August 2023
An op-ed from Andree Froude, our Marketing and Communications Director on her recent visit to the United Kingdom.
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Jurisdictions around the globe are grappling with how to effectively regulate online gambling, how to respond to the prolific and pervasive advertising and sponsorhip of gambling, and the increasing convergence of gaming and gambling that could negatively impact young people and those vulnerable to gambling harm.

These issues were discussed at length at a recent International Think Tank on Gambling Research, Policy and Practice. Attendees were gambling researchers, people with lived experience of gambling harm, treatment providers, and providers of other services that prevent and minimise the harm from gambling.

One thing was very clear - the conversations, issues and themes about gambling harm were all similar, regardless of where in the world we were situated. But there was variance in what different jurisdictions have done, or are going to do, to reduce harm, particularly with online gambling.

We have seen the recent release of the British Government’s white paper, High Stakes: gambling reform for the digital age, after a public consultation process that attracted 16,000 submissions. This white paper includes plans to update gambling rules and regulations to protect vulnerable people including online gambling protections and addressing the marketing and advertising of gambling.

In the gaming/gambling space, loot boxes and other similar forms of simulated gambling have seen countries around the world pull different levers to reduce harm, including the outright banning of loot boxes in countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

Australia is soon to introduce BetStop – a national self-exclusion register for all licensed interactive gambling providers (there’s a big long list of them online). What that means is that a gambler can self-exclude from these licensed online gambling sites for a minimum of three months and up to a lifetime. BetStop is part of a new National Consumer Protection Framework for online wagering “aiming to reduce the harm of online wagering to Australian consumers. It provides “strong, nationally consistent minimum protections for consumers of interactive wagering services licensed in Australia, in line with international best-practice”. Measures including restrictions on inducements, provision for training of certain staff in the responsible service of online gambling, and a requirement for customers to receive activity statements on their online gambling, all form part of this framework.

And this is only a snapshot of how some countries around the globe are responding to the harm caused by online gambling.

So where does this leave New Zealand?

For the first time, it seems we are lagging behind the rest of the world in regulation and consumer protection measures for online gambling. Our Gambling Act is old and no longer fit-for-purpose leaving online gambling largely unregulated. People are being exposed to aggressive gambling advertising on social media platforms, with overseas gambling operators offering inducements to encourage New Zealanders to gamble.

On the positive side, we may see some regulatory intervention to restrict gambling advertising and address simulated gambling such as loot boxes within games, through the Department of Internal Affairs’ Safer Online Services and Media Platforms consultation. This consultation aims to reduce exposure to harmful content on media platforms. PGF Group has made a submission on this and it can be viewed here.

While this is a start, there is much more that needs to be done and it needs to be done now before more people are harmed. The concern is that the horse may already have bolted.