16 May

OpEd: Australia Gambling Reform a Laughable Notion?

Australia Gambling Reform a JokeAussies are known for a lot of things, but none seem so prominent as our avaricious enjoyment of gambling. In Australia, at least 80% of us do it, in one form or another. According to “statistics”, we’re not just the most likely to gamble, but are the most prone to develop a “problem”.

If you’ve witnessed any form of local media lately, you’ve surely heard of the current efforts towards Australia gambling reform. Politicians say they’re determined to reduce the rate of problem gambling across the nation, and they’ve started by invoking a ban against online gambling ads during live, daytime sports broadcasts (just until 8:30pm, when the kiddos supposedly stop watching).

Okay, so we’re not going to air online gambling ads to children. Great! They can’t gamble anyway, and we certainly shouldn’t encourage them to do so. But is this going to have any effect on the rate of gambling addiction?

Personally, if I were a problem gambler, I don’t think I would need an advertisement to tell me I should go place a bet on the footy match I’m watching. I don’t suffer from the problem, so I can’t honestly speak for their mentality, but… I can clearly imagine that if I were a high risk gambler watching a sporting event, my brain would alert me to whip out my smartphone and place a wager.

That’s like taking a recovering alcoholic to the pub. Do you think it will cross their mind to purchase an alcoholic beverage? Watching sports induces gamblers to bet, the same as entering a pub induces drinkers to drink. And we certainly can’t prohibit the broadcasting of live sports.

The government has no interest in outlawing online gambling either. Gambling in Australia generates millions of dollars for local governments. The real goal here is to appease the anti-gambling masses, without giving up their precious revenue. And to be quite frank, limiting sports betting ads isn’t going to do the trick.

If you look at the real “statistics”, the problem isn’t sports betting at all. The problem is poker machines. And while there are many, many (and I do mean MANY!) of us who enjoy them responsibly, they attract the largest number of gamblers – and largest number of problem gamblers.

Check out this statistical graph published by the Queensland Government Statistician’s Office (QGSO), revealing Australia gambling data from 1989 through 2015.

Gambling in Australia 1989-2015

Sports betting is the least utilized gambling activity in the nation. Its prevalence has risen a bit since 2006-07, right about the time smartphones showed up, but gamblers are clearly spending more on the pokies than anything else, as they always have.

The proposed Australia gambling reform also intends to enforce a prohibition against online casino and poker sites. Okay, but that’s not going to stop the masses from flocking to the local pub, club, hotel or casino to play them. And let’s remember, studies have also shown that land-based gamblers are more prone to addiction than online gamblers.

In 2015, Dr. Sally Gainsbury, BPsy, PhD, published a Current Addictions report that indicated “isolated Internet-only gamblers…have lower rates of gambling problems than gamblers who only gamble offline and those who use both online and offline modes.”

Her research found that offline-and-online gamblers suffer the highest rate of addiction, “likely related to their greater overall gambling involvement”.

By that reasoning, cutting off a problem gambler from internet pokies isn’t going to help them, because they will simply play at the nearest pub.

I’m not arguing that Australia gambling reform isn’t necessary. But the way the government is going about it doesn’t seem like a genuine effort to solve anything. It’s merely a smoke-mirror designed to placate the nay-sayers while they continue collecting millions of dollars in revenue from punters.