Media Release: Gambling ministers agree to stronger online gambling protections

8 September 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services

Limits on inducements and ease of account closure were two new measures agreed, in-principle, by gambling ministers today as they progressed a suite of consumer protection initiatives. 

Commonwealth, state and territory gambling ministers met today in Melbourne for their third meeting to discuss reforms to online wagering, guided by the O’Farrell Review.

Nine measures were progressed with the aim that they be implemented throughout 2018.

Importantly, there was in-principle agreement for new limits on inducements to open an account or refer a friend to open an account.  They also agreed that winnings from a bonus bet be able to be withdrawn and not be subject to turnover requirements.

It was also agreed it should be easier for gamblers to close accounts with a simple process.

Other measures, which had been discussed at earlier meetings, were progressed. These include:

  • The introduction of a self-exclusion register to allow people to self-exclude from all online gambling sites and apps in a simple online registration process.  The aim is for the register to be fully operational by December 2018.
  • A voluntary opt-out pre-commitment scheme where consumers will be given the option to set and review their pre‑commitment regularly as well as being able to determine the time period for their limit. 
  • Regular and accessible activity statements which will allow people to monitor their gambling spend.

The communique of the meeting is below.

The reforms agreed by ministers today complement other steps already taken in the online gambling field including; the banning of gambling advertising from live sporting events before 8:30pm, the crackdown on illegal offshore gambling providers with the passage of the Interactive Gambling Act, and the prohibition of gambling companies offering lines of credit to their customers to continue betting.

The Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge who chairs the meeting, said that steady progress is being made.

“Many Australians enjoy a punt, but we want to ensure there are reasonable protections in place and that individuals can have greater control over their gambling expenditure,” Minister Tudge said.

“Online gambling is growing faster than any other form of gambling and the incidences of problem gambling is higher.  The gambling problems of the future will all come from the online space if we don’t put sensible protections in place now.

“Today, we agreed sensible limits on inducements so that people aren’t encouraged to spend more money when they may already be in trouble.

“A National Self Exclusion Register means punters can go onto one of their gambling apps and self-exclude from all gambling providers with one simple process.

“Along with the limits on advertising and the crackdown on the illegal offshore providers, these new changes will make a substantial difference to limiting the harm from excessive gambling.”

 

Ministers Meeting on Illegal Offshore Wagering Reform

Friday 8 September 2017, Melbourne

Communiqué

Commonwealth and state and territory ministers met today to continue progress on important reforms to online wagering.

At their third meeting, ministers reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring greater protection for Australians gambling online and to the final stages of the establishment of a strong, consistent and best‑practice National Consumer Protection Framework
(National Framework).

National Consumer Protection Framework

Ministers acknowledged the important work that Commonwealth and state and territory officials have undertaken through their engagement with the wagering sector, academics, the community sector and individuals. This has resulted in a set of strong options for each National Framework measure, based on evidence and stakeholder feedback.

Building on the previous meetings, ministers announced their intention for the National Framework to include stronger restrictions on inducements and mandating requirements on account closures.

Ministers noted that significant trial and testing of some of the measures will be undertaken to further improve the effectiveness of the consumer protections available, and to enhance the reform package.

Ministers noted there will need to be flexibility in the implementation of the measures, and expressed a strong commitment for the National Framework to regularly be reviewed and updated.

The Commonwealth Government has agreed to develop a performance and evaluation strategy for the National Framework.

Governments aim to release a final National Framework by the end of 2017. The measures of the National Framework will then be implemented in a staged approach over the next 12 months.

The detailed in-principle agreed position, subject to each jurisdiction’s formal approval processes, for each measure is:

A National Self-Exclusion Register for online wagering

Ministers agreed that a national self-exclusion register (NSER) is established through a centralised system across all wagering operators. The Commonwealth will coordinate this effort with the states and territories. We will aim to have the NSER operational by December 2018, supported by trialling and testing. The NSER will: 

  • be industry-funded
  • apply across all operators, with further work on modular options
  • be quick and simple to apply to and take immediate effect
  • be effectively promoted so consumers are educated about self-exclusion and aware of the scheme
  • be offered across all phone and web‑based digital platforms
  • allow individuals to choose their exclusion period and this will range from three months to permanent exclusion
  • allow individuals to nominate a sponsor
  • have information on gambling support services, financial services and counselling at the point in time a consumer nominates to self‑exclude, including information about land‑based self-exclusion tools
  • have information on gambling consumer protection available on the self-exclusion website
  • prohibit providers from providing any marketing and/or promotional material during the period of self-exclusion
  • ensure all funds held in active accounts are returned to the excluded consumer once all wagers/bets are settled, and then the account to be closed
  • provide a process for revocation of self-exclusion, with evidence that the consumer has seen a counsellor, and a further seven day cooling off period
  • require consumers to actively approach the wagering provider to open a wagering account.

A voluntary opt-out-pre-commitment scheme for online wagering

Ministers agreed the voluntary opt-out pre-commitment scheme for online wagering is implemented with nationally consistent features at the operator level. State and territory governments will implement this measure, with the aim for pre-commitment requirements to be fully operational by June 2018. The key features include:

  • be easily accessible and effectively promoted to consumers
  • prompt a customer to set a limit at account sign-up process
  • mandate deposit limits only, with other limits optional for operators
  • limits should be binding
  • decreasing of limits should apply immediately, with a cooling-off period for limit increases being seven days
  • all consumers should be prompted to set and review pre‑commitment limits at regular intervals, possibly every year, including to consumers who have chosen not to set a limit (subject to testing)
  • options will be available for the consumer to determine the time period for their limit, including daily, weekly, fortnightly and monthly
  • limit setting can be accessed online, using a mobile application, over the phone, and using a written form
  • the availability of the scheme will be promoted beyond initial account sign-up, with education and awareness of the scheme shown on a provider’s website and in promotional material.

Further enhancement to these features will be considered after trialling and testing has occurred.

Ministers also agreed to conduct a feasibility study into a multi-provider pre-commitment system, following the successful implementation of a provider based scheme.

Ensure offering of inducements is consistent with responsible gambling

Ministers have agreed to the following minimum requirements in relation to inducements:

  • Inducements to open an account or refer a friend to open an account will be prohibited.
  • Inducements not part of an approved loyalty program in a jurisdiction that only permits inducements as part of an approved loyalty program will continue to be prohibited.
  • The winnings from a bonus bet must be able to be withdrawn and not subject to turnover requirements.
  • All customers of wagering services must opt-in to receive direct marketing material.
    • All marketing communications must contain a functional and easily accessible option to unsubscribe from receiving marking material.

Some jurisdictions expressed support for additional forms of inducements to be prohibited and further restrictions on the advertising of inducements. Those jurisdictions reserve the right to pursue those measures through their own regulations and licensing arrangements.

Provision of activity statements on demand and on a regular basis

Ministers agreed that activity statements are implemented with a standardised approach at the operator level. The below high level principles will form part of the initial National Framework to be finalised by the end of this year, and will be mandated by state and territory governments.

  • be easily accessible at all times
  • clearly articulate the net win/loss for the specified period
  • provide practical information that is clear and not complex
  • be provided by operators free of charge, but operators should be able to recover the costs purely associated with sending a statement to customers by mail, if a customer elects this delivery method.

Further to this, ministers noted that extensive trialling and testing of this measure is already underway, with a scoping study being prepared by the Commonwealth’s Behavioural Economics Unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This will include consideration of responsible gambling messaging. It is expected that comprehensive trials of the effectiveness of various features of activity statements will be finalised in the first half of next year. The National Framework will then be further enhanced with the results of these trials in the second half of 2018, at which time the measure will become operational. 

More consistent gambling messaging

Ministers agreed that gambling messaging is implemented with a nationally consistent set of standards, based on evidence for gambling messaging relevant to online wagering. The below high level principles will form part of the initial National Framework with the aim to be finalised by the end of this year, and will be mandated by state and territory governments. The key features include:

  • that gambling messaging is easily understood and accessible to a wide range of groups across Australia and therefore be designed in consideration of the jurisdiction they are displayed
  • recognition that terminology of messaging is crucial to their effectiveness as a consumer protection measure, and messages should be designed in collaboration with experts (harnessing new and existing research).

This measure is two-fold: industry would have one set of gambling messages to use in its advertising nation-wide, and states and territories can tailor this message for their own respective campaigns.

Further to this, ministers noted that extensive trialling and testing of this measure is already underway, with a scoping study being prepared by Commonwealth’s Behavioural Economics Unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It is expected that comprehensive trials of the effectiveness of various features of gambling messaging will be finalised by mid‑2018. The National Framework will then be further enhanced with the results of these trials in the second half of 2018, at which time the measure will become operational. 

Staff training in the responsible conduct of gambling

Ministers agreed that mandatory, industry funded online training for the responsible services of gambling will aim to be developed by October 2018. This will be mandated as a minimum for all staff that are involved in the provision of online wagering services or have the capacity to influence the online wagering service. Compliance with the training obligations will be regulated by state and territory governments, and aim for the measure to be fully operational by December 2018. Key features include:

  • all staff who are involved in the provision of wagering services, or who have the capacity to influence the wagering service, must undertake responsible services of gambling training, to create a culture of responsible gambling within the organisation
  • the approved online training program is industry funded
  • an annual refresher training course is to be developed, which would refresh content knowledge and information on any recent changes in consumer protection and/or gambling harm
  • new staff must undertake the online training within one month of commencing work with the wagering operator, and staff dealing directly with customers would have to undertake the training before they interact with any customers.

Reducing the current 90-day verification timeframe for customer verification

Ministers agreed that customer verification is reduced to a maximum 14-day timeframe. This measure will take effect through Commonwealth Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Rules and will be operational by March 2018. The key features include:

  • customers to be verified within a maximum 14 day period to continue using an online wagering account
  • wagering operators must return deposited funds and close an account immediately if customer verification identifies a person is under 18 years of age or self-excluded
  • winnings are not able to be withdrawn prior to identity verification.

Ministers agreed that a 72 hour customer verification timeframe is preferable, and the Commonwealth will explore the feasibility of this by the end of 2017. 

Account Closure

Ministers agreed that the process for customer initiated account closure should be included in the National Framework. This will be implemented by state and territory governments with the aim to be operational by June 2018. The key features include:

  • that account closure information be included and clearly articulated within each customer’s ‘My Account’ window
  • consideration will be given to ensure the process for account closure is simple for customers
  • online wagering operators are prohibited from providing any direct promotional or marketing material to customers following the suspension or closure of an account.

Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 and disruption measures

Ministers noted that two important measures under the National Framework, banning lines of credit being offered by online wagering providers and stopping the links between payday lenders and online wagering providers, have been prohibited through the Interactive Gambling Amendments Bill 2016 (the Bill).

The Bill received Royal Assent on 16 August 2017 and will take effect in the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 from 13 September 2017. There is a six month transition period to allow industry and customers to adjust their business and betting practices for these two measures.

Ministers noted the progress of the other disruption measures, Internet Service Provider (ISP) blocking and financial payment blocking, to curb illegal offshore wagering activity.

Other wagering reforms

Ministers noted the work of the Wagering Working Group that is considering a common national approach on examining a point of consumption tax for online wagering and will report back to the next Council on Federal Financial Relations meeting later in the year.

Ministers also noted the progress for restrictions to gambling advertising and that the Commonwealth Government is working with industry to implement these restrictions through broadcasting codes of practice and legislative amendments to capture online services.