Loophole allows offshore gambling ads to flood EPL broadcasts in Australia

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A complaint filed with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has shed light on a concerning trend in the broadcast of English Premier League (EPL) matches in Australia. Investigative journalist Jack Kerr has raised the alarm over the heap of betting advertisements during EPL broadcasts on Optus Sport, a streaming service with over 1 million subscribers in Australia. Since 2016, Optus Sport has been broadcasting EPL games in Australia. They spent about $600m to retain the rights of EPL till the 2027-28 season. Kerr’s complaint highlights a glaring regulatory loophole that permits offshore gambling companies to exploit Australian screens despite legal restrictions.

The Guardian reported about Kerr’s investigation. According to Kerr, gambling ads featured prominently throughout a single EPL match between Aston Villa and Manchester City broadcast in December. Despite the Interactive Gambling Act’s prohibition of offshore gambling companies targeting Australians, these ads continue due to an exemption allowing them to be deemed “incidental or accidental accompaniments” to other content. However, Kerr argues that the deliberate placement and prominence of these ads defy any notion of being incidental, raising serious concerns about their impact on viewers, particularly people who are vulnerable to gambling.

Acma’s involvement reflects the gravity of the situation, especially considering past actions against similar offshore operators. Acma previously targeted 8XBet, an online gambling service advertised during Manchester City home games, for providing unlicensed services to Australians. Despite withdrawal from the Australian market, concerns remain regarding its status under Australian law.

Optus Sport, the broadcaster in question, maintains compliance with Australian laws and mentioned the standard practice of transmitting original feeds without alteration. However, Kerr’s complaint shows the broader issue of sports broadcasting becoming a vehicle for gambling companies to reach global audiences, exploiting the Premier League’s immense popularity and reach.

With significant sums involved in sponsorship deals between betting companies and Premier League clubs, the issue extends beyond just advertising regulations to the fundamental integrity of sports and the protection of viewers, particularly those susceptible to gambling-related harm. EPL attracts ads from gambling companies due to its massive global reach. The league is broadcast to almost 800 million homes in around 190 countries. EPL has a huge following in Asia, which is a big emerging market for online gambling worth billions of dollars.

While Premier League clubs have committed to banning match-day front-of-shirt sponsorship deals with gambling companies from 2026, the current scene remains full of challenges. The need for robust regulation and enforcement measures is needed, as sponsors need to deal with balancing commercial interests with public health concerns. As Acma continues its investigation into Kerr’s complaint, the outcome holds significant implications for the future of sports broadcasting and the regulation of gambling advertising in Australia.