Gambling harm lobbyists have welcomed the impending release of BetStop, a new service that will allow problem gamblers to have themselves banned from Australia’s 150 licensed online and phone betting services once it launches on 21 August.

Designed to address runaway losses to online gambling and the social harm it causes, the national self-exclusion register will maintain a list of Australians who have nominated themselves to be barred from placing bets or opening accounts.

Those using the free service can nominate a ‘support person’ who will be notified of the BetStop registration.

The BetStop list also functions as a ‘do not call’ list for online advertisers, who will be banned from marketing their services to anybody who is registered with the service.

Bans can last anywhere from 3 months to a lifetime.

Anybody applying for an online wagering account will have to prove their identity through a new, instant customer pre-verification process that will prevent individuals from placing any bets until they have been identified using a government online verification service.

“These measures will help to minimise the harm we see as a result of online gambling,” said Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth, who flagged the government’s “significant action” on online gambling over the past year as BetStop was announced.

“We know minimising the harm caused by online gambling is not a set and forget exercise,” she said, but “for many people [BetStop] will change their lives.”

Developed based on public feedback from consultation during 2022, the new program will be managed by ACMA, funded by online wagering providers, operated by IXUP Limited, and regulated under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 and new rules laid down to manage its operation.

Licensed online gaming and betting operators must promote the service on their websites and apps, through contact centre staff, and via customer marketing materials.

This includes forcing providers to include a BetStop link in SMS messages – a requirement that is likely to drive a surge in BetStop-related ‘smishing’ scams that took over $1.7 million from unsuspecting punters last year alone.

Violations of the policies can attract penalties of more than $230,000 per day, Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said during a press conference announcing the new service.

“With a single touch, an individual will be able to self-exclude themselves from all forms of online wagering,” she said. “It is giving people better control and the tools to control their behaviours if they are susceptible to harm in this area.”

A full-court press against gambling

BetStop is the tenth and final interactive gambling reform to be implemented by the Albanese Government over the past year, with nine other measures under the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering – including banning the use of credit cards for online wagering, restricting use of payday lending, streamlining age and identity verification, regular gambling activity statements, banning online gambling ads and more – addressing problem areas and shoring up “inadequate” previous regulation.

While many of those reforms govern the industry’s behaviour, BetStop’s self empowerment makes it a “long-overdue” initiative to reduce the harm caused by what Carol Bennett, chief executive of advocacy group Alliance for Gambling Reform, called a “predatory industry” that has suffered from an “ineffective, patchwork of self-exclusion programs that have been poorly enforced.”

Previous regulations “allowed the predatory gambling industry to continue to offer unethical inducements to people who have said they wanted to stop gambling,” Bennett said, calling the introduction of BetStop a “very significant step”.

“We have been waiting years for such a reform to be put in place,” she said, noting that “each year gambling rips $25 billion in losses out of our communities” and pushing for an ongoing commitment to “greater government leadership and resourcing” to further tighten regulations and help problem gamblers – particularly as the government considers the final report of the Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs’s recent inquiry into online gambling.

IXUP Limited – whose purchase of bankrupt Big Village Australia Pty Ltd secured it BetStop’s intellectual property and exclusive ACMA contract – expects the program to contribute around $5 million in annual revenue, and to pave the way for other regulatory technology ventures.

The global RegTech industry has “exceptional growth potential,” IXUP chairman Julian Babarczy said, welcoming the BetStop win as “a key foundational contract that will increase IXUP’s credibility in its various related international commercialisation endeavours.”