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Why our online gambling addiction is growing

The AppStore is filled with apps that bring slot machines straight to you and let you bet on a huge range of sports. During a football broadcast it’s now more common to see an ad for online sports betting than it is to see an ad for meat pies. Given that Australians spend more than $20 billion every year on gambling, it’s hardly a surprise that ‘Heart of Vegas’ and ‘Slotomania Casino’ are among the top grossing apps nationally. And with this rise in access to gambling, there’s been a dramatic increase in reports of online gambling addiction, particularly among young men.

How easy is it to gamble online?

Seasoned gambler, Luke, 30, says it’s never been easier to have a flutter. He’s been walking into pubs and playing the pokies since he was 16. Because he was tall, no one ever questioned him. When he turned 18, he began gambling on horse races and now he plays online poker tournaments, too. ‘I spend $100 per fortnight and I’ve never gambled more than I could afford to lose,’ he says. Although he says he mightn’t have been able to manage the gambling so well if the online tools were around when he was younger. He explains, ‘Online gambling is more regulated than you think. Most online casinos require IDs. They won’t let you play or pay out without them.’

When gaming meets gambling

Increasingly gambling is being cleverly disguised in digital spaces. Online gaming companies are monitising their products, creating communities that are playing for financial rewards or gambling on the outcome of a given tournament. Bloomberg has reported that games such as ‘Counter Strike: Global Offensive’ are fuelled by $2.3 billion in online betting. The game wasn’t initially a runaway success, but when its creator introduced virtual weapons that could be bought and sold for cash, interest in the game spiked.

Greens Senator Tom Cummings recently called for a review of video games that technically fall outside the sport category and are therefore not subject to the same scrutiny of other interactive gambling products. He said, ‘Gambling with virtual items is a grey area in Australian regulation and this would need to be carefully considered, especially with the existing precedent of in-app purchases in mobile games, many of which are gambling games.’

How can problem gambling be controlled?

In 2016 the Australian Government announced plans to tighten legislation of online gambling, but there is still much to be done. According to Deakin University Associate Professor Samantha Thomas, approximately 130,000 Victorians have a gambling problem or are at risk of developing one. And there is a great deal of concern around the ‘normalisation’ of sports and online gambling in Australian media culture over the last few years. ‘Our research shows that children are able to recall the marketing for sports betting,’ Prof. Thomas says. ‘As a society we need to move away from the idea that problem gambling is only the fault of individuals, and acknowledge that gambling is a whole-of-community responsibility.’ New research released by Prof. Thomas and her team shows that three quarters of children can recall at least one sports betting brand, while more than a quarter can recognise four or more. We’re not asking for the advertising to be banned, but we do need to see a reduction and we do need to see a practical solution to make sure kids are not exposed to this to the extent that they are now,’ Prof. Thomas told The Age. 

'Our research shows that children are able to recall the marketing for sports betting'

Associate Professor Samantha Thomas,
School of Health, Deakin University

Former professional poker player, James, 33, agrees. He has a professional white-collar job, but he still gambles about four times per week and has been a keen punter since he was 16. ‘I strongly disagree with public gambling marketing. Watching The Footy Show and seeing the odds under each game – that’s not good enough,’ he says. ‘It’s become an epidemic in the past few years. Most gamblers lose more than they win.’

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Associate Professor Samantha Thomas
Associate Professor Samantha Thomas

School of Health and Social Development, Deakin Univeristy
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