Sports betting companies threatened to abandon the Northern Territory, their traditional home in Australia, if taxes were increased in explosive submissions to government obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information law.
- Industry submissions warn government that companies will leave the Northern Territory or go under if the cost of sport betting licences is increased
- The consultation process for crucial betting reform did not include community organisations
- Reform has been underway since 2018 but appears to have stalled
The threats were made by at least three industry members as part of consultation for a review of the Territory’s Racing and Betting Act in 2020.
The documents were not published and have only come to light after a Freedom of Information application by the ABC and appeal of an initial decision.
The majority of Australian online sports betting companies are registered in the NT, making the Northern Territory the primary regulator of the industry in the country.
The Territory benefits by having call centre, IT and other sports betting staff located in Darwin, increasing the number of local jobs and providing a boost to the NT economy.
Licensing NT ultimately released the documents, but only after redacting the names of the companies that made submissions.
The companies were responding to an independent review into the Racing and Betting Act by law firm HWL Ebsworth in 2018 that, among other things, suggested 20 per cent of labour costs of sports betting companies should be spent in the NT.
Otherwise, a company would pay an “economic contribution levy” equal to three times the dollar amount of the local labour deficiency.
One entity raised the prospects of companies going under.
Another described a suggestion that companies require 20 per cent of staff costs to be based in the Northern Territory as “not justified” and “likely to encourage licensees to look to move away from the NT resulting in the loss of industry and jobs”.
A third warned if costs were increased, “we believe it likely operators may choose to exit the jurisdiction or cease trading altogether”.
Responsible Wagering Australia, the industry body representing much of the industry, declined to identify which was its submission, but flagged it expected another round of consultation before there is reform.
Northern Territory Minister for Racing, Gaming and Licensing Natasha Fyles said work is continuing.
“This is a complex piece of legislation and it’s important that amendments reflect the changes in the industry over the last few decades, particularly with the move to online platforms,” she said.
The NT government stated in January that “work has commenced on the drafting instructions which will be provided to industry as part of the consultation process”.
Responsible Wagering Australia claims roughly $1 billion in taxes are paid by licensed wagering service providers each year, much of it in the form of state-based point-of-consumption taxes.
The existing Northern Territory bookmaker tax currently brings in around $10 million in revenue annually.
Matthew Stevens, a gambling researcher from the Menzies School of Health Research only discovered the consultation was open by chance when he visited the NT Licensing website.
He says the government needs to consult more broadly before making changes to a sector with such significant social impact.
“Every single submission was either from industry representatives or peak bodies, except the one that snuck in by me,” he said.
“This review has to go back to the drawing board and seek independent submissions from non-industry representatives, including social services, gamblers who have lived experience in problem gambling, and academic researchers from a range of disciplines from public health to business.”
The number of gambling ads on television in Victoria has skyrocketed in the past five years, according to Nielsen.
Research published in February found sports betting has become increasingly normalised, particularly among young men, who bet on sports frequently.
Also in February, the ABC reported a key recommendation from a 2018 independent review into sport integrity and online betting was to be watered down after pushback from the gambling industry.
Do you know more? Contact Jack Snape in Darwin: [email protected]