A new research report has found consumers are potentially the big losers as sports betting companies and bookmakers fight to win market share.
The report, by Professor Nerilee Hing and colleagues from Southern Cross University's Centre for Gambling Education and Research, looked at how sports and race betting inducements target gamblers by offering free bets and bonuses to sign up or to play on.
Offers, incentives and bonuses
Nerilee says many different kinds of inducements are used to entice customers.
'The most common offer, at 27 per cent of those examined, were refund or stake-back offers, followed by sign-up incentives, then deals for bonuses or better odds.
The research found that while all offers were subject to terms and conditions, their complexity and lack of transparency would be a serious challenge to the average consumer. The terms and conditions for one Australian operator ran to 450 pages.
According to Nerilee, inducements may not only attract new customers, but also encourage people to keep on betting in a way that undermines responsible gambling.
'One of the key tips for responsible gambling is to set a limit, and stick to it.
'Offering bonuses for placing multi-bets, and for bets with a low likelihood of winning, encourages people to spend more time and money, and promotes risky gambling,' she says.
The terms and conditions for one Australian operator ran to 450 pages.
Many bonus bets also require a matching bet and complicated 'play-through' requirements before the punter can cash out. This means a player is encouraged to make more bets for more money.
Some punters may get caught in a cycle of losses, which may ultimately lead to the use of credit. Another key responsible gambling tip, use cash not credit, is therefore undermined.
The report highlights a confusing mix of state and federal legislation and codes of practice.
For example, punters in some parts of the country, including Victoria, can't be offered inducements to open accounts, while residents in other states can.
About the researcher
Professor Nerilee Hing works with the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Southern Cross University, Australia, and is also the founding director of its Centre for Gambling Education and Research.
Nerilee says her original industry and academic experience in hospitality management led her to gambling research.
'It was the early 1990s when I realised that little research had been conducted on gambling, and so I pursued my PhD on corporate social responsibility in gambling.
'This was at a time when responsible gambling was hardly in the lexicon, but it soon became an issue of prominence and the focus of government inquiries, new regulations and a steady stream of research,' she says.
This led Nerilee, along with colleagues at Southern Cross, to establish the Centre for Gambling Education and Research in 2003. The centre is Australia's longest standing and one of the country's leading gambling research centres.
Safer gambling environments for consumers
For over a decade the centre has researched many aspects of gambling, from responsible gambling codes of conduct, to new gambling technologies, to problem gambling and help-seeking.
Nerilee says the importance of understanding the impact of gambling on our society cannot be overstated.
'Gambling is an integral part of Australian society, bringing enjoyment to some but severe harm to others.
'Gambling harm occurs when a potentially dangerous product meets a vulnerable person. While we can work towards lowering individual vulnerability, much can and should be done to make gambling products safer for consumers,' she says.
Better evidence is needed on how gambling, including its provision and promotion, impacts on gamblers and significant others, and how harm can be effectively prevented or at least minimised.
A growing field of research
When asked what changes would make the biggest difference to reducing gambling-related harm, Nerilee cites access, game design and promotion.
'Reducing the numbers and accessibility of pokies in the community, redesigning them to make them much safer products, and substantially restricting the advertising of wagering products and associated inducements.' she says.
'Gambling harm occurs when a potentially dangerous product meets a vulnerable person.'
Professor Nerilee Hing
While gambling research is a relatively young field of study, Nerilee feels substantial progress has been made in understanding what contributes to gambling harm.
'We now have a good understanding of psychological, social and product-related risk factors for gambling problems, and knowledge is increasing about biological contributors.
'However, we still need more evidence on effective ways of dealing with gambling harm, and the political will to implement effective preventative strategies,' she says.