Problem Gambling Less of Priority for Western Australia, as Gambling Revenue Goes Up

Despite the severe social distancing restrictions and on and off shut-downs of land-based gambling in Australia, a record amount of $1.6 billion (AU$2.4 billion) has reached the accounts of the Racing and Wagering authority in Western Australia. The state-owned body has increased the funding allocated to promotional activities and marketing by 22%, reaching $24.2 million in the past year. At the same time, there was a 15% drop in problem-gambling support funding that has now tanked to $567,000.

Impressive 332% Rise of All Punters’ Weekly Spend

In the context of a year when Australian punters’ average weekly spend went up by 332% compared to the pre-COVID-19 period, the drop in support funding is frowned upon by many officials. Moreover, Lotterywest has officially surpassed $1 billion in sales for the first time in history. Mobile gambling via WA TAB run by the Racing and Wagering authority in WA has also spiked in the past 12 months.

At least one MP has criticized government officials over the RWWA decision to invest more in its promotional materials during the pandemic. On the other hand, the head of the Financial Counsellors’ Association of Western Australia, Melanie Every, has spoken against the fact that the support funding has not increased consequently with the incredible growth in wagering.

Every also expressed her concern that this trend with higher weekly wagering expenses would not be able to go back to the pre-pandemic levels, despite a decrease in the number of actual punters. In other words, while the number of punters has started to drop, the number of active gamblers who choose to wager every week is by far the highest in history. This is a “new normal” as Every referred to the situation while emphasizing that funding for support services for problem-gamblers has not increased at a similar.

One potential factor responsible for this lack of balance would be the existence of a small number of specialized counselors in Western Australia, as compared to places such as New South Wales or Victoria.

Another problem identified by Every refers to the bad timing at which the government has chosen to increase funding for these counseling services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state grant funding was given at the same time with several federal stimuli such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper.

The fact that the number of Australian bettors online has doubled up in the past decade could also be used as an argument for the incredible wagering spend growth. However, the grant money has run out since it was allocated, and financial counselors have only recently begun to welcome in more consumers seeking help.

The Past 12 Months In Record Wagering Numbers

Approximately 50% of the revenue recorded by TAB in WA originates in 300+ retail outlets. At the same time, the turnover from mobile wagering spiked by 40% in the past year, in spite of the number of phone users going up at a slower rate of just 12%.

The WA TAB recorded an impressive $264 million margin from wagering in 2020-21. This was its all-time peak. The amount was $35 million greater compared to the previous peak in 2013-204, and $64 million higher than the 2019-2020 numbers.

Around $1.65 billion passed through the hands of RWWA, with $1.36 billion returning to customers. Also, race betting went 17% up, reaching $2.72 billion. All the numbers refer to the 2020-2021 period.

COVID had apparently offered an uplift in the wagering turnover at a national level. It is also presumed that the drop in travel expenses might have triggered this increase in wagering. Plus, the growth of the advertising spending by $4.30 million has made WA TAB wagering skyrocket. At the same time, TAB advertising also serves the interests of RWWA and the racing industry. Some of the profits go back into the sport and help maintain the health of the sector.

The TAB is up for sale after negotiations carried for the transfer of the entity to Tabcorp failed in 2020. Tabcorp continues to be the leading contender, but there are a few other companies that have expressed their interest in the TAB.

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