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Punting on mugs: Australia’s dangerously deceptive gambling ads

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A grab from Ladbrokes' classy advertisement (video below)

The brazenness with which Australian commercial bookmakers promote their products seems to know no bounds, as cheekiness moves closer to plainly misleading.

Take a recent Ladbrokes advertisement, in which a group of young men freely traverse a weekend of excess and hedonism, albeit cleverly implied rather than explicit. Gambling, extravagant travel, partying and even what appears to be a scantily clad prostitute all feature, along with the message that all such expenses are easily accommodated by the boys’ betting account EFTPOS cards.

This ad is no exception. Rather, it is reflective of a new wave of gambling-related advertisements that portray the gambler as clever and prosperous; a man who has the world at his disposal — rich, sexually accomplished (even if having to pay for it) and without responsibility.

Although a more discerning audience might dismiss this portrayal of the gambler as absurd, many young impressionable males aren’t particularly astute. And one need only look to the staggering annual profits – hundreds of millions of dollars – taken by commercial bookmakers as testament to the adeptness of their marketing strategies.

But, irrespective of the success or otherwise of the ads, they surely cast doubt over the governments’ ability to regulate an industry in which it has such a vested interest. That is, why are gambling companies permitted to market a product that is so prone to abuse in such a misleading fashion? Misleading in that the general reality of heavy gambling is more closely aligned to desperation, hopelessness, crime ‒ and even suicide ‒ than it is power and women.

Detractors might argue that this is simply a question of ethics and it would be too interventionist for the government to control the character of gambling-related advertising.

But the government itself dismantles that argument in its approach to another product that is similarly prone to abuse.

The Alcoholic Beverages Advertising Code demands sensitivity to the issues of underage drinking and alcohol abuse. It also bans any implication that alcohol use can lead to success and prohibits ‘inducement’ based on higher alcoholic content.

How can the government feasibly reconcile this code with the gambling advertisements we’re currently subjected to, which unmistakably tie gambling to success in the form of tailor-made suits, limousines, jet-skis and prostitutes? And inducements? There are seemingly new sign-up offers and ‘better odds’ inducements every other day.

As a case in point, the ubiquitous Tom Waterhouse is renowned for his urging:

‘Take on Tom’.

Otherwise inexplicable, the governments’ reluctance to take a stance ‒ even if that merely means consistency in approach toward alcohol and gambling ‒ looks to stem from its reliance on gambling-generated tax revenue, totalling approximately $5 billion annually. The Victorian State budget relies on gambling for around 12 per cent of its revenue.

For there to even be a perception that the government is being reckless with the welfare of its people in favour of preserving tax-revenue is a position of intolerable compromise that must be swiftly redressed. 

Tom McCarthy’s debut book, The Dark Side of Punt, looks at a country flirting with a gambling epidemic.

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Punting on mugs: Australia’s dangerously deceptive gambling ads

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