Why is Melbourne covered in gambling ads?

Melbourne: we used to call ourselves the sporting capital of Australia, but going by the current plague of gambling advertisements plastered across our trains, trams and railway stations, has sports betting capital become a more appropriate name? I say yes – but why have they suddenly become so common?

'Bet365' advertising for AFL betting plastered all over Richmond station

We begin at the first form of legalised gambling in Victoria – placing bets on horse races with on-track bookmakers. Until World War II a dozen or so racetracks were located in Melbourne, with many of them served by railway lines for the easy access of punters, but placing bets off-track was illegal. It took until 1954 for the availability of gambling to open up, when Tattersalls was granted an exclusive licence to conduct lottery draws in the state, and in 1961 increased further when the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) was established to provide off-track betting on horse races and to put the illegal SP bookmakers out of business.

Over the next few decades no additional forms of gambling were legalised in Victoria, but there were changes interstate: Tasmania with the first Australian casino and New South Wales with poker machines. It was the latter change that affected Victoria the most, with travel agents throughout the 1980s running pokies trips bound for the north bank of the Murray River, loading up the buses full of pensioners to play the one armed bandits.

The final changes to the availability of gambling came in the 1990s when the last of the current slew of gambling options was legalised: poker machines in 1992, the opening of Crown Casino in 1994, and the introduction of sports betting by the TAB in 1994–95. This leaves Victoria in the situation we are today, as described in this letter to the editor (The Age, October 9, 2012):

Give us back our community spaces

There’s much disapproval of the AFL regarding the promotion of gambling to minors during game time. I eagerly await seeing equal concern at the state subsidised rail system, which now has an entire train painted with a betting slogan. Who catches trains to school? Minors. At least matches on TV can be switched off.

Can we please dismiss this valueless economic model of marketing everything everywhere all the time and rediscover executives who regard themselves as pillars of the community. They would lead by example and really understand the concept of choice – such as the right not to be subjected to advertising in public spaces and the right of the community over that of shareholders.

David Cathie, Mordialloc

We see the betting ads on trains:

'Sportingbet' advertising all over a Metro Trains Melbourne train

We see them on trams:

'Sportingbet' advertising on a tram outside Flinders Street Station

We see blonde models handing out TAB flyers to morning commuters at railway stations:

Blonde models hand out flyers for TAB during morning peak

We have even seen the advertisements of one gambling company replaced by the advertisements of yet another gambling company.

Advertising banners for Bet365 blankets the entire station

So the cause of the plague? The Constitution of Australia and a 2009 High Court decision are to blame, as described in the Gleeson Review of Victorian Sports Betting Regulation released in 2011:

Until 2009, advertising by interstate bookmakers was illegal in Victoria. In 2008, the laws relating to advertising restrictions in both Victoria and NSW were challenged in the Federal Court by two interstate wagering service providers, Betfair Pty Ltd (licensed in Tasmania), and Sportingbet Australia Pty Ltd (licensed in the Northern Territory).

These laws were challenged in response to an earlier High Court decision in the matter of Betfair v Western Australia which ruled that certain laws in Western Australia were invalid as they were contrary to section 92 of the Commonwealth Constitution. The High Court decision made it clear that legislation must not treat interstate wagering service providers in a discriminatory fashion based on their location.

Following the decision of the High Court in the Betfair v Western Australia case and challenges to Victorian and NSW legislation, the Victorian Government undertook to review provisions relating to the prohibition of advertising by interstate wagering service providers. In 2009, both Victoria and NSW repealed their advertising restrictions, allowing interstate wagering service providers to advertise their services in both states.

So far this year we have seen advertisements from Bet365, Sportingbet Australia and the TAB plastered across Melbourne; and during the 2011 Spring Racing Carnival bookmakers Luxbet and Tom Waterhouse had trams covered in their advertisements – in the latter case it cost Tom Waterhouse $70,000 for the five month long campaign.

So where to from here? In December 2011 the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform delivered the results of their inquiry into interactive and online gambling and gambling advertising, but the flood of gambling advertising doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon.

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  1. [...] Last week I asked the question “Why is Melbourne covered in gambling ads?” and it seems that plenty of other Melbournians has been asking the same thing – the [...]

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