Betting company fined after emailing Melbourne Cup promotion to hundreds of people experiencing gambling harm

<span>Photograph: Jason Hosking/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jason Hosking/Getty Images

A sports wagering company has been fined $13,770 after sending a promotional offer to hundreds of gamblers who had asked to be banned from betting and associated advertising.

The Northern Territory Racing Commission, which regulates most online gambling companies in Australia as they are registered in the territory, described the breach as serious and a warning to other wagering operators.

Amused Group, which runs the BetNation brand, emailed 7,713 people as part of its “Who wants to be a millionaire?” campaign, telling them it would accept bets of up to $1,000 on any horse in the Melbourne Cup.

Seven hundred and seventy-two people who had asked to be banned through the commission or directly by the company were among the group contacted.

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The company then told customers that they could win bonus payments up to $50 if the horse they selected ran second to 10th.

In a decision, the commission said it had almost immediately received a complaint from someone who had self-excluded. A further 10 complaints were received from people with “varying levels of distress and anger at having received the email”.

The NT’s responsible online gambling code requires companies “to ensure they have in place suitable procedures to ensure correspondence or promotional material is not sent to any persons who are either excluded from their services, or who request that this information not be sent to them”.

Guardian Australia contacted Amused for comment. According to thedecision published online, the company told the commission that “emails [were] sent to the wrong client list due to human error”.

“Amused promptly sent an email retracting the promotional email, apologising for the error, and advising how to make a complaint about the error,” the decision said.

“No self excluded persons were able to open or reopen an account and place a bet.

“Corrective and preventative measures have now been put in place to prevent a recurrence of this type of error in the future.”

The commission noted the promotional material had not been sent intentionally. The $13,770 fine is half the maximum amount.

“The commission considers this to be a serious breach, noting the potential for harm to persons who have admitted that they have a gambling problem and have taken positive steps to prevent themselves from opening and operating a betting account,” the decision said.

Matt Stevens, an honorary fellow at the Menzies School of Health Research specialising in gambling policy, questioned whether the fine would enforce compliance.

“The fine of $13,770 is a minute amount in comparison to what the companies take from gamblers and particularly those who struggle with problem gambling, such as people who have self-excluded,” Stevens said.

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“In addition to increasing fines to actually make them a real penalty for the company, consideration should be given to suspending licences for a period of time. That would be more effective as a compliance approach.”

The commission is able to suspend or cancel gambling licences but decided not to in this case.

Dr Samantha Thomas, a gambling expert at Deakin University, raised concerns about a lack of national regulation for online gambling.

“A national gambling regulator is urgently needed and should be carefully considered by the current parliamentary inquiry into online gambling,” Thomas said.

“Consistent standards should be applied across the country to ensure that companies not only comply with robust regulations for these potentially harmful products, but also that they are appropriately penalised if they do not meet regulator standards.”