Responsible Gambling Week: Too much to lose

October 15, 2016

Responsible Gambling Week challenges the myth that gambling is a normal part of Aussie life, writes Faye Michelson. 

Tim Costello’s throwaway line says it all—‘With online gambling you can lose your house without ever leaving it.’

The Alliance for Gambling Reform, headed by Costello and made up of organisations including The Salvation Army, speaks out strongly against the normalisation of gambling in Australian culture—not to mention its devastating effect on thousands of families.

It’s hard to argue against it being perceived as a ‘normal’ part of our lives when Australia claims the highest rate of gambling in the world. As South Australian senator and campaigner for gambling reform, Nick Xenophon, notes:  ‘That’s one “first” Australians shouldn’t be proud of—we’re number one in the world with per capita gambling losses and problem gambling.’

The most recent statistics (2014) show the average gambling loss per Australian adult was $1,279, followed by Singapore at A$1,243. The US came in third at A$705.

Poker machines still cause the most damage, taking more than $11 billion nationally, but sports betting is gaining traction. 

Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation figures show it is one of the fastest growing types of gambling. In 2014–15 Australians lost $815 million 
on sports betting, a staggering increase of 30 per cent on the previous year.

‘Online gambling is the next big wave of gambling addiction in Australia,’ Senator Xenophon says.

‘Poker machines cause too much damage already; online gambling—including sports betting—can dramatically increase the damage to the community.’

Online sports betting is more than just the relatively new kid on the gambling block, though; it is making the face of gambling more visible and accessible. But you’ll already know that if you’ve turned your television on during a sporting event.

The Alliance states it bluntly on their website: ‘If you feel like gambling advertising is everywhere during AFL matches live or on TV, you’re not wrong. Researchers at La Trobe University carried out a detailed study of the amount of sports betting advertising, and found that between sponsorships, scoreboards and ad breaks, gambling ads come in just behind major sponsors.’

Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation chief executive Serge Sardo agrees that gambling is ‘very visible now in our community’.

‘In 2015, the gambling industry spent $236 million on gambling advertising, making it extremely hard to avoid,’ he says.

‘During the recent AFL finals and now, in the upcoming summer sporting season, we’ll be bombarded with ads which promote the idea that gambling on sport is normal.’

Major David Twivey, manager of The Salvation Army’s Townsville Recovery Services Centre for people with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions, says the proliferation of gambling advertisements clearly has an impact, particularly on those already struggling with the issue.

‘During the football season, the increased amounts of ads are triggers to many clients, with some telling us they feel a sense of being drawn to gamble by them,’ David says.

One in five adults with gambling problems

started gambling before they were 18.


Three to four per cent of teenagers

have problems with gambling.


Teenagers are four times more likely to

develop gambling problems than adults.


Boys are more likely to gamble and

develop problems than girls.


Parents’ gambling behaviours and attitudes

may influence whether a teenager is
likely to gamble before they are 18.

‘At this time of year we also see an increase in calls from family members looking for help because their household budget has been reduced through one member who has gambled away much-needed money.’

Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, held 17–23 October, is an opportunity to talk about what it means to gamble responsibly. 

Serge Sardo urges parents to use the week as a springboard for discussion about gambling with their teenagers.

‘Advertising is changing the way our kids see sport. Research shows gambling advertising is having an impact on young people, with a recent study showing 75 per cent think that gambling is a normal part of sport,’ he says.

‘The significant increase in online betting and advertising has made it especially important to talk to young people about responsible gambling. Many kids, including very young children, are also at risk of being exposed to gambling concepts by online games and apps which distort the prospect of winning. 

‘It’s vital parents have a conversation with their kids to make sure they understand gambling myths and risks.’

David has also seen the effects of this normalisation of gambling through his work at The Salvation Army’s Recovery Services Centre.

‘The gambling ads during peak TV times are even leading younger people to gamble with money between themselves, which is “training” for future problematic gambling behaviour,’ he says.

‘There are stories of gambling in most families…be honest with your young people and don’t just tell them about the day somebody won; also tell them about the many times they lost.’


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Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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