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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Henry Belot

Victoria’s gambling regulator calls for ad ban after being ‘bombarded’ by worried parents

Sportsbet signage seen at an AFL match
The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission’s Annette Kimmitt says she supports an advertising ban and is routinely asked by parents why one has not been introduced. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

Victoria’s gambling regulator is calling for the Albanese government to ban wagering ads after being “bombarded” with complaints, including by parents who have discovered that their children are secretly gambling.

The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission’s chief executive, Annette Kimmitt, said she supported a ban and was routinely asked by parents why it had not been introduced.

“When people find out I am the head of the Victorian gambling regulator, I am bombarded with stories from parents of teenagers who have discovered that their children have online wagering accounts,” Kimmitt told Guardian Australia.

“The other thing that is constantly raised with me is ‘when are you going to ban the ads’? My response is, ‘I wish I could, but that is not up to me’.”

Amid internal pressure from Labor MPs agitating for the prohibition, the government has spent six months assessing a parliamentary inquiry’s bipartisan recommendation – prompted by “powerful evidence of community harm – and consulting with gambling companies, broadcasters, sporting codes and tech companies. Some of these groups did not make submissions to the inquiry.

Kimmitt said she was “really waiting with bated breath for the federal government to respond to the inquiry’s recommendations”.

The gambling reform campaigner Tim Costello said the federal government should listen to the regulator.

“This issue is a barbecue stopper. It’s a once-in-a-generation chance for reform,” Costello said. “The public and parents are crying out for it and the regulator is in touch with the community and knows exactly how they feel.”

A spokesperson for the communications minister, Michelle Rowland, said the federal government was “firmly committed to minimising harms from online wagering”.

“The government is examining restrictions and engaging with stakeholders, including harm reduction advocates, health experts and industry, as we develop our policy,” the spokesperson said.

“The status quo of online wagering advertising is untenable and the government will announce a comprehensive response in due course.”

Several Labor MPs have urged the federal government to introduce a total ban and to not water down the recommendations of an inquiry led by their late colleague Peta Murphy.

The south-west Sydney MP Michael Freelander previously told Guardian Australia that legislating a “blanket ban” on gambling advertising was “the right thing to do”, and “strongly believed” there was support for that among his colleagues.

“It is insidious,” Freelander said. “It is all-pervasive and it is really impacting electorates like mine, particularly young people and young families. The social harm that it does is immeasurable.”

Kimmitt said she was routinely approached by parents, including after an alumni meeting for former partners at the consulting firm EY.

“I had three former partners call me and share their own experiences of teenage children being able to open their own wagering accounts,” Kimmitt said.

“At every function and barbecue I go to, I have parents tell me concerns about the ability of their children to access gambling products.”

Last month, Guardian Australia revealed the government had asked Google, TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook to estimate how much money they would lose if online gambling ads were banned.

• In Australia, Gambling Help Online is available on 1800 858 858. The National Debt Helpline is at 1800 007 007. In the UK, support for problem gambling can be found via the NHS National Problem Gambling Clinic on 020 7381 7722, or GamCare on 0808 8020 133. In the US, call the National Council on Problem Gambling at 800-GAMBLER or text 800GAM

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