New South Wales giant The Lottery Corporation (TLC) has called on the government to grant it a credit card exemption. The request comes ahead of reforms recently brought forward by the federal government.
The new legislation was introduced following a parliamentary inquiry into harm caused by online gambling. Among the recommendations was a ban on using credit cards for gambling. This included the purchase of lotto tickets and ‘scratchies’.
In a rare display of alignment, almost all of the affected companies, including Tabcorp and Sportsbet, supported the ban.
But there was one hold-out – TLC, itself formerly part of the Tabcorp stable. In a further plot twist, TLC is itself government-owned, albeit by the NSW government rather than the federal government.
Why does TLC want a credit card exemption?
In a submission to the inquiry, managing director and CEO of TLC Sue van der Merwe highlighted the “low-harm nature” of lotteries.
“Despite very high participation, lotteries are associated with very low levels of gambling harm,” she argued. “This is mainly because they are infrequent, non-continuous and low spend. The game structure is not conducive to excessive or repetitive play.”
Ms Van der Merwe may well be right, but my own anecdotal experience does not quite accord with this view. As a friend of our local lotto agency owner in an inner-northern Melbourne suburb, I am a regular visitor. Almost daily, in fact.
On each visit I’ll buy a $1 scratchie or two, and on Saturdays the cheapest available Lotto quick pick. In truth, my visits are usually an excuse to chat with the proprietor about footy.
These near daily visits allow me to observe the habits of the agency’s other regulars. And many are eye-opening. Having never set out to ‘monitor’ their habits, I’ve noticed the visits of the majority of these regulars aren’t short. Their visits involve multiple transactions and when the final cost is tallied up, it often in the hundreds of dollars.
It’s possible that these are purchases on behalf of a syndicate, but my general impression is that’s not the case.
Almost all these customers pay by card, but whether it’s a debit or credit card I do not know. However, if it is by credit card, that to me would be a concern.
The other side of the coin (or credit card)
While Ms Van der Merwe trumpets low levels of gambling harm, one might argue that no gambling harm at all would be an even better outcome.
Financial Counselling Australia’s Lauren Levin is one who makes such an argument. Ms Levin’s submission to the inquiry suggested that reported low levels of harm are the product of narrow focus. The focus of the gambling reform debate has been on online wagering, she said.
The online gambling spotlight allowed “the lotteries and newsagent lobby … to plant the seed that lotteries were benign”. This created the notion that “small newsagents were deserving of sympathy, simply for being small businesses,” Ms Levin said.
“They [claimed] they didn’t need the same consumer protections and claimed a special status. They were unchallenged as we were time poor and distracted. We were wrong,” she said.
Responsible Wagering Australia, which represents some of the biggest wagering companies including Sportsbet and Ladbrokes, found middle ground.
A Sportsbet statement said: “We share the government’s view that wagering customers should only be able to conduct their wagering activity with their own clear funds. There should be no capacity directly, or through the use of intermediaries such as digital wallets or pre-paid cards, for customers to use a credit card issued by a licensed entity to fund their wagering.”
The proposed ban forms part of the federal government’s Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2023, published last month. A decision on the passing (or otherwise) of the bill is expected later this year or early in 2024.
Are you a regular lotto or ‘scratchies’ player? Do you think a ban on credit card purchases of these products is a good idea? Let us know via the comments section below.
Also read: Shock gambling figures spur calls for reform