Australian sports betting websites are at the centre of a debate currently ongoing in Australia regarding the acceptability of marketing cold calls, and how much freedom gambling operators should have in promoting their products and services to the public.
Players around the world have frequently debated the use of the intrusive marketing technique of cold calling by
website operators, some of whom use private communications channels, often at odd hours, to make unsolicited promotional offers.
ABC Online reported this week that the practice has the potential to reach problem gamblers and minors, and is therefore questionable.
The chief executive of Sportsbet, Matthew Tripp, told ABC that his company was using the technique to get around what it says are unfairly strict rules preventing it from advertising online gambling more widely.
"We had to come up with ways to get our name out there and basically brand ourselves to make people aware of who we were and basically try to find some customers," he said, adding that his company uses an SMS service that makes use of an extended database of potential customers.
"[We] send out a recorded message to that number offering them a $60 free bet," he explained. "It's obviously up to the person on the other end if they take up that offer or not, but if they do, they get sent a further SMS with our website details. It just explains to them to go onto the website and join up [to] Sportsbet to receive their free bet."
Tripp acknowledges the risk that the messages may reach some recipients with the potential to become problem gamblers, but claims that his company takes precautions.
"We run these checks on these people. Anyone who takes up an account gets put through the wringer by Sportsbet and we do full checks on them – credit checks, we ensure that they are who they say they are," he said. "We do everything in our power to ensure we have a hobby punter that is capable of paying a few losers and collecting a few wins so to speak."
However, the New South Wales Gaming and Racing Minister Graeme West described the [cold calling] marketing strategy as irresponsible
"Even if they may be within the law, they're certainly outside of what you would say is a decent response to these issues," he said.
West is determined to do something about the practice, but concedes he may not presently have the power to succeed.
"I've asked the department to see what we can do about making this strategy illegal. My understanding is that it's currently not illegal though," he said. "Telecommunications are regulated by the Federal Government, so we want to talk to the Federal Minister about it, but we also want to see if there are any state-based initiatives we could do as well."
Nick Xenophon, an anti-gambling MP in the South Australian Parliament next week takes up a seat as a Senator in the Federal Parliament. He is vowing to make the issue a priority, ABC reports. "This needs to be tackled via federal law, it needs to be tackled using the Commonwealth's powers under telecommunications and banking, and that's what needs to be done," he said.
"I want to put up a private member's bill once Parliament reconvenes in late August and then the Government and Opposition senators and cross-bench senators can have an opportunity to vote on it."
Xenophon claims that if the federal government is serious about addressing problem gambling then this sort of marketing is something that has to be reviewed.
Sportsbet decided to stop the random phone calls four weeks ago, but not because of any pressure to do so.
"We now feel there are better ways to market to the general public, therefore we don't want to continue with this SMS campaign," Tripp said. The messages will stop when the contract runs out at the end of the week.
Sportsbet's rival in the market, Centrebet takes a different view, explaining that although it is searching for more effective ways to broaden its market reach, cold calling is not a part of its plans.
"It's not something that we've done, and I don't believe it's something that's common in the industry," spokesman Neil Evans said. "There's a lot of promotional stuff goes out in this area, that's a choice they've made, and I'm sure it's being debated right around the industry quite heavily."
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