Westpac introduces new gambling prevention measure for its customers

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Westpac expands its digital gambling block feature

One Australian bank has taken a bold new move to curb its customers’ online gambling habits.

News.com.au reports that Westpac will allow customers to block digital gambling transactions, in a bid to stamp out rising problem gambling rates.

The major bank is integrating a new feature within its mobile and online banking platforms, which in real-time, prevents a customer from conducting a transaction with a gaming merchant from MasterCard-branded debit and credit cards.

Since its launch a few weeks ago, Westpac has recorded more than 2500 of its customers enabling the feature to curb problem gambling.

The implementation of the feature coincides with a boom in online betting and gaming during the coronavirus pandemic, which halted normal operations in the gaming industry.

Financial institutions have previously implemented safety measures to curb gaming transactions on credit cards, but the latest addition by the nation’s second largest bank is a further step tailored to online gambling services.

The measure is able to prevent bets on sites such as Sportsbet, TAB and Ladbrokes.

Families and social services minister Anne Rushton said the measure would allow Australians to have a “safe punt” while minimising harm from problem gambling.

“Westpac’s digital gambling block will give Australians a convenient, sensible and immediate way to manage their spending and minimise gambling-related harm,” Ms Rushton said.

“It’s great to see that groups in the industry have identified that gambling is a serious cause for concern and are taking steps to let their customers regulate the industry.”

Westpac director of customer vulnerability Catherine Fitzpatrick said problem gambling was a systemic problem across the country, which had a “ripple effect” on an individual’s family and friends.

She noted most serious gamblers would find any means necessary to find funds to make a bet but the bank enabled the feature to be available across transaction accounts and credit cards.

“We have seen through COVID-19, as an industry, that there has been a lot more people turning to digital gaming and a lot more people have been gambling,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.

“The new feature complements our existing service where customers can also call us to request a gambling block to be applied to their card to stop certain transactions, including at casinos, sports betting agencies and online gambling.”

Illegal websites prove problematic in Australia

New measures by one of Australia’s biggest banks come as online casinos that target Australian users but don’t have a local licence are being banned from operating in the country.

Ten online casinos that target Australian gamblers were banished in the past month because they didn’t have an Australian licence to operate, but could be accessed by customers, the Australian Communication and Media Authority revealed.

Many of those websites featured an Australian theme and local phone numbers.

Offering unlicensed online gambling services to Australian customers is not legal and can be punished with a fine of up to A$1.1 million.

The revenue generated by online gambling in the Asia-Pacific region is more than A$90 billion, with the popularity of gambling services skyrocketing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ACMA has long sought to block illegal gambling websites, with dozens of complaints received in recent years leading to more than 100 illegal companies leaving Australian shores after new illegal offshore gambling rules came into force in 2017.

Consumers can access a register for licensed interactive wagering services and information on how to protect themselves against illegal gambling operators via the ACMA website.

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