Why our agency will never work with a betting client

With controversy around betting adverts continuing to make headlines Michael Abdul explains why his agency has decided to never work with a betting client.

As an industry we take a lot of criticism from the general public about our perceived lack of morals. On the issue of gambling advertising, I think they may have a point. Personally, I don’t want my agency producing advertising that might end up convincing a problem gambler to risk their home or the money they need to put food on the table for their family.


Michael Abdul

I don’t want to profit from other people’s misery and neither do my staff. That’s why we’ve decided to draw a line in the sand and declare that as an agency we will never work on a gambling account. I realise that this could impact on us fiscally but it’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

I’m not judging agencies that choose to work on such accounts – I understand the pressures of business and the need to keep the doors open. However, I would be delighted if this piece encouraged even just one such agency to reconsider their position.

After all, when you look at the research and statistics there is a compelling argument to be made against gambling advertising.

A 2010 report suggested that gambling was linked to almost one in five suicidal hospital patients at Victoria’s Alfred Hospital. Sadly this is just one way in which gambling can destroy lives, with there also being research suggesting it plays a role in other societal issues such as increased crime rates and family violence.

It’s clear that as a nation we have a gambling problem. Every year Australians spend almost $20 billion dollars on gambling. We call ourselves the lucky country but lose more money gambling than any other nation.

Does the advertising industry deserve any of the blame? Unfortunately, it would seem so.

Research typically shows that an increase in exposure to gambling advertising is a risk factor for the development of gambling problem. This isn’t an issue that is going to go away. Far from it. With the introduction of online gambling and an increase in the number of sports betting agencies, it will only get worse. 

Sports betting agencies spent almost $50 million on TV, radio and print advertising in the past year alone (according to Nielsen data). To put that in perspective – that’s more than double the amount Coca Cola spent during the same period. All of this advertising is clearly having an effect: since 2006 there’s been a 230% increase in online sports betting.

As an industry we need to stop and consider where things could lead if we continue down this path. Research shows young people are more susceptible to gambling advertising (teenagers are four times more likely to develop gambling problems than adults).

Teenagers are also tech-savvy with smart phones playing an increasingly large role in their lives – allowing them greater access to online gambling in isolation from parents and adults. With advertising helping to normalise gambling behaviour, especially in relation to sport, I fear we could be creating a recipe for disaster.

It’s for these reasons that I hope our industry starts to take a more proactive approach with increased self-regulation in relation to gambling advertising. To do anything less would be to gamble with people’s lives.

Michael Abdul is managing director of The Sphere Agency


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