BetStop: The National Self-Exclusion Register for Sports Gambling is on the Horizon, But Can It Deliver?

The imminent launch of a national self-exclusion register aims to provide support for problem gamblers, helping them resist the temptation of sports betting.

However, despite its hefty $40 million price tag, there is no guarantee that it will effectively minimize harm. The primary opponent in this debate is the de facto national regulator, who argues that their current system of PDF documents and a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet may be just as, if not more, efficient. Proposed by former South Wales premier Barry O'Farrell in 2015, the register, known as BetStop, was contracted by the Commonwealth government for development, with an initial projected launch in 2021. However, setbacks occurred when the software provider, Big Village, went into administration during testing. Responsible Wagering Australia has voiced concerns about the technical implementation of the register in their submission to the ongoing inquiry by the House of Representatives on online gambling. Despite these challenges, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) expects the launch of BetStop to proceed smoothly after successful industry trials. ACMA spokespersons have confirmed that the trials demonstrated the system's capability to handle over a million requests from wagering providers per minute, generating near-instantaneous responses. These simulated figures match the high-volume activity expected during periods like the Melbourne Cup.

System Functioning

The registration process allows individuals who wish to abstain from receiving gambling communications to enroll in the system. For instance, someone in the midst of recovering from gambling addiction may choose to register as part of their ongoing treatment.

Regardless of their location, all gambling providers are required to verify customers' personal information against the records in BetStop. If a match is found and the individual has self-excluded, they must be prevented from registering and placing bets.

However, the Northern Territory Racing Commission, responsible for overseeing companies with an annual betting turnover of $50 billion and currently operating its self-exclusion register, raises concerns about potential vulnerabilities in the system.

In his submission to the House of Representatives inquiry, chair Alastair Shields stated that most complaints received by the commission regarding the opening of new betting accounts by self-excluded individuals often involve intentional modifications to personal information. These modifications can include changes to name, date of birth, address, mobile telephone number, or other details.

The existing system used by the Northern Territory and its licensed betting & casino online au companies, such as Sportsbet, Bet365, Entain, and Betr, relies on a combination of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and a collection of PDF documents. Betting companies receive these documents and manually verify that new customers have not previously self-excluded.

Despite the ACMA's implementation of algorithms to identify similar records when a company attempts to verify a new customer with BetStop, Mr. Shields expresses concerns that this measure may not be sufficient.

According to Mr. Shields, if an individual with a gambling addiction, who has self-excluded, manages to alter their personal information in a way that BetStop does not recognize them as self-excluded, the system will not flag them as such. Consequently, the gambling operator will allow them to create a new account and engage in gambling activities.

While the ACMA has confirmed that the system design is complete, they have also mentioned considering adjustments after the launch, as reported by ABC.

Until BetStop has been established and proven effective, Mr. Shields advocates for the Northern Territory to maintain its "low-tech" approach.

The Path Ahead: Challenges and Hope

During the House of Representatives inquiry into online gambling, stakeholders voiced their concerns and highlighted potential issues. Wesley Mission has pointed out that getting on the BetStop register poses greater difficulty compared to opening a regular account.

Turning Point, an addiction treatment and research center, has emphasized that the success of BetStop relies heavily on the endorsement and advertising efforts of sports betting companies. They believe that the effectiveness of this technology will depend on licensed wagering services promoting BetStop and streamlining the sign-up process with minimal user effort.

Despite these concerns, the majority of contributions discussing BetStop have expressed support for the creation of a nationwide self-exclusion register. Associate Professor Charles Livingstone from Monash University sees this as a significant step forward in the field of harm reduction.

Rising Costs and Penalties

With the launch of BetStop, the industry will be responsible for covering both the startup and operational expenses, which are projected to reach $40 million by 2027.

Responsible Wagering Australia's spokesperson eagerly anticipates the swift launch of BetStop and proudly supports its ongoing expenses.

The recent decision made by the Northern Territory Racing Commission emphasizes that the effectiveness of self-exclusion technologies relies on the internal processes implemented by the involved companies.

As a result of Buddybet contacting 232 individuals who had self-excluded, the company faced a fine of $13,770, which was a reduced amount equivalent to 50% of the maximum penalty.

The company failed to check the NT's self-exclusion register before sending emails to over 3,000 customers who were attempting to update their information.

Under the BetStop legislation, a similar violation could potentially incur fines of up to $49,500 per email.