Sports betting firms offer to get out of the jersey game

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The sports betting sector has offered to remove logos from football club match-day jerseys amid an intense stand-off with the government over a looming clampdown on gambling advertisements.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland is preparing to announce curbs on TV, online and outdoor betting promotions and has been in talks with gambling, TV and sporting code executives.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland is weighing up new rules on gambling ads.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Three sources from these sectors, speaking anonymously to detail confidential discussions, said the gambling industry had offered to stop advertising on football jumpers. The industry has also floated taking advertisements off radio airwaves at school pick-up times and enacting Victorian-style rules prohibiting promotions on billboards and around schools.

About half of the clubs in the NRL retain partnerships with bookmakers, and across 14 elite sports in Australia there were 21 partnerships recorded in 2022, according to Swinburne University of Technology research. AFL clubs have moved away from jersey sponsorships with betting firms, as English Premier League clubs have committed to do by 2025.

The government has modelled the financial impact of a blanket ban on TV and digital advertising – the most extreme proposed intervention that has gained support from crossbench MPs and anti-gambling advocates. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton told this masthead in May he believed sports gambling promotion would one day be treated like the spruiking of tobacco products.

Multiple sources said government officials involved in the talks had been asking questions about a milder intervention, favoured by media companies and bookmakers, that would limit the volume and frequency of advertisements. An option mooted by officials, sources said, was a limit of between one and three advertisements per hour, per TV channel.

Labor MP Peta Murphy chaired an inquiry that recommended a ban on gambling ads and promotions across all media.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

The government is also working through how any such change would be applied to streaming services.

Rowland faces the complex political task of responding to heightened community frustration with advertisements, particularly linked to sports broadcasts, while softening the financial blow for the NRL and AFL and broadcasters that earn hundreds of millions each year from the marketing spending of mostly foreign-owned firms.

Labor MP Peta Murphy chaired an influential committee inquiry that in June recommended a complete ban on gambling ads and promotions across all media within three years, calling out the “grooming” of children and young people.

Murphy said on Sunday: “While any reforms are welcome, what the evidence clearly shows is that nothing short of a complete ban on advertising is needed to tackle the scale of this problem.”

Anti-gambling advocate Tim Costello says half-measures are not enough.

A well-placed source said Rowland was attempting to thread the needle and would probably opt for the path of least resistance.

“This won’t be about evidence and reports. It will be a high-level political decision driven by a desire to minimise blowback from TV companies and the sports,” the source said, noting Rowland was also under pressure over this masthead’s reporting of Sportsbet’s large donations to her personal re-election fund, which prompted calls for her resignation.

Some restrictions on gambling promotion already exist. Gambling ads cannot be shown during live sports events until 8.30pm, though betting firms use half-time and other breaks to advertise. Ads are also prohibited between 4pm and 7pm during shows rated C, P or G, but news and current affairs programs are excluded.

Comparing the gambling debate to that around tobacco, anti-gambling advocate Tim Costello said half-measures were tried in the form of warnings on cigarette packages, which were later ditched in favour of plain packaging.

“The equivalent to plain packaging here is the full ban. That’s where European nations are going,” he said.

“We want the ban, the public wants the ban, it’s the barbecue stopper.”

Rowland’s spokesman said the government was weighing up the recommendations of Murphy’s committee, while Coalition communications spokesman David Coleman said Rowland was moving too slowly to address the policy issue.

“It’s been almost six months since the Coalition called for gambling advertising in live sport to be banned, and still no action has been taken by the government,” he said.

Goldstein MP Zoe Daniel, a regular critic of the betting industry, said anything short of a full ban would prove “once again that the Albanese government is in the pocket of the wealthy gambling giants”, and that Rowland could be “culpable”.

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