Westpac Group has announced the expansion of its digital gambling block feature to St George, BankSA, and Bank of Melbourne debit cardholders.

When the feature was initially released in March, the gambling block feature was available to all Westpac Group credit card customers, as well as Westpac debit card customers.

The gambling block feature enables customers to apply an instant block on gambling-related transactions to certain gambling merchants, including casinos, sports betting agencies, and online gambling companies, through their mobile banking app or online banking.

Customers can also contact the banks’ customer care teams to apply the block.

As part of the update and to prevent underage gambling, a gambling block will also be automatically applied to all Westpac Group debit cardholders under the age of 18, Westpac added.

According to Westpac customer vulnerability and financial resilience director Catherine Fitzpatrick, since launch, the feature has been activated more than 30,000 times.  

“Problem gambling continues to be a serious issue in Australian communities, and as more people transact online during the pandemic, the digital feature gives customers the ability to manage their gambling spend whenever they might need it,” she said.

“The benefits of being able to apply a block in real-time also it gives customers more control and flexibility in the moment.”

Taking this next step by Westpac reinforces an argument that both Visa and Mastercard have each put forward in their response to a question on notice from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. The question was about who should be responsible for handling credit card gambling blocks, if it were to be implemented.

As Mastercard puts it, it does not see all card transactions that carries its brand — only the banks do, and therefore recommends if any form of payment blocking was to be mandated in Australia then the responsibility should fall with the issuing bank, rather than the card scheme.

“A typical transaction on the Mastercard network involves four participants in addition to us: The cardholder, merchant (a business who accepts payment for goods or services provided), issuer (the cardholder’s financial institution) and acquirer (the merchant’s financial institution) … in most cases, cardholder relationships belong to, and are managed by, our bank or financial institution customers,” it said.

“Mastercard understands some Australian banks have already made the decision to prohibit the use of credit cards to pay for gambling transactions. In some cases, the decision is based on commercial considerations as gambling transactions tend to result in a greater number of disputed transactions compared to other, non-gambling, transactions.

“Some card issuers have card controls that allow cardholders to block certain transaction types or issuers can do it directly at switch/card management level.”

Similarly, Visa believes banks can use their existing real-time monitoring capabilities to apply blocks based on merchant category, as they do in the face-to-face environment.

“Visa’s licensing and transaction processing processes do not distinguish between acceptance of credit, debit, or prepaid transactions. The Visa rules prohibit acquirers from submitting illegal transactions into the Visa payment system. To comply with this requirement, acquirers must ensure that their merchant’s transaction activity is legal in both the buyer’s and seller’s jurisdiction,” Visa said in its response.

“In the event of any conflict between the Visa rules and any applicable laws or regulations, the requirements of the laws or regulations of course govern. Based on the above, issuers would be best placed to execute the block should a regulation be introduced.”

This was the same argument Tabcorp put forward when it fronted the committee in early September. At the time, the gaming giant supported the call for banning credit card use by Australians on online gaming platforms, such as betting apps, but believes such mandate should be the responsibility of banks.

“If we got more information from the banks that a card was suspect, we could shut it down. If the banks notified us that this was a problem, we would be able to stop dealing with that problem, but this flow of information doesn’t happen,” Tabcorp CEO David Attenborough said.

Tabcorp reiterated the point again in response to a question on notice, outlining that banks are “best placed to do so, and many have already proceeded with restricting gambling transactions, even without legislation. Banks are also best placed to determine a customer’s credit worthiness”.

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