23 October 2023

'Chances are, there's more to life': Increased push for gambling harm to be recognised at home and online

| Claire Fenwicke
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Mature man using mobile app for live betting and online gambling and watching a sports match

The increased emphasis on socialising through gambling is cause for concern, according to Gaming Minister Shane Rattenbury. Photo: File.

It’s an issue hurting the relationships, health and wellbeing, friendships, work, study and finances of more than 17,000 Canberrans.

As Gambling Harm Awareness Week has drawn to a close, we’ve all been urged to recognise the signs of gambling harm, not just on ourselves but the people around us.

This came to a head at the Gambling and Racing Commission’s forum to let everyone know that “chances are, there’s more to life”.

“It is critical that we stop talking about ‘responsible gambling’ and instead talk about the responsibility we all share to prevent gambling harms,” Commission chair Paul Baxter said.

A 12-month campaign has been launched to educate the community about gambling products, the signs of gambling harm and the range of free supports available.

Gaming Minister Shane Rattenbury said it was important for governments to step up.

“There’s a need for a ban on online gambling advertising, and I think the avalanche [of advertising] that we’re now facing dictates that governments again must intervene,” he said.

“[However] we must not lose sight of the current reality that the bulk of gambling harm in the Territory still resides in more venue-based forms of gambling.”

The government is working with clubs to reduce the number of gaming machine authorisations in the ACT to 3500 by mid-2025, with the number already cut by 25 per cent in the past five years.

Mr Rattenbury said a key challenge was that many venues relied on gaming machines for revenue.

“The great dilemma is that those venues provide that significant social benefit, but they’ve also got the harm that arises from poker machines in the same venue,” he said.

The ACT Government is investigating what technological measures could be implemented in community clubs in the future, such as machines shutting down automatically after a person has spent a certain amount of time or money in one place.

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The impacts of online gambling and young people’s exposure to gambling have been receiving increased attention in recent years.

Central Queensland University Associate Professor and forum speaker Alex Russell said more and more gambling advertisements were trying to make gambling seem like a natural part of coming together.

“We see a lot of online betting companies having products like ‘Bet With Mates’, and when that becomes part of why you hang out with your friends, it’s pretty hard to get away from, and after a while, it can spread through a group pretty easy,” he said.

Mobile apps aren’t treated as gambling products as you cannot win money, which means they’re available to people under 18.

Associate Professor Russell said this was problematic as it exposed children to the mechanisms of how gambling works.

“You can still lose money, you still pay money to play and you can’t get anything back,” he said.

“But because they’re not gambling products, they don’t have to work like [them], they don’t have to have the same player return percentages, so you can feel like you’re very good at them.”

Having discussions about gambling at a young age is something 62-year-old Markus Fischer wishes had happened in his life.

The ACT Gambling Support Service lead peer support and community engagement worker has lived experience of gambling addiction and talked about how innocuous exposure to activities such as two-up, Melbourne Cup sweeps and using birthday dates as lucky numbers can all be pathways into gambling.

“My earliest gambling memories are of my uncle teaching me to play cards, poker and blackjack … when I was six and seven years of age,” Mr Fischer said.

“For people who have a propensity to either addiction or gambling, such things can be dangerous, so this is about … letting people know that it’s not about demonising gambling but about knowing what the warning signs can be.

“I wasn’t born to be a gambler.”

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More is being done in the casino and club space to educate staff and patrons on the signs and impacts of gambling harm.

Gambling harm prevention training content has been refreshed in the past financial year, with Lifeline Canberra and Vikings Group coming together to develop a new training program for industry staff so they can better support patrons.

Gambling and Racing Commission Board deputy chair Leanne Close said it was important there was a holistic approach.

“Getting people to actually be given information about support or being pushed to the Gambling Support Line, you do sometimes need that human intervention,” she said.

Mr Fischer agreed people needed to feel educated and comfortable enough to step in before behaviours became problematic.

“Let’s talk to people and support people before these things are happening,” he said.

The Gambling Support Service is a free 24/7 place to find help by calling 1800 858 858, with online support also available.

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William Newby9:45 pm 23 Oct 23

We are a bunch of complacent suckers, gambling ads are on our TVs all day long promoting gambling to kids and we have done nothing to stop it.
High school kids have some of these betting apps on their phones, what are we doing to save the next generation? Nothing.
Nothing from Barr, nothing from Albanese.

Max Scheckenbac4:37 pm 23 Oct 23

What about dealing with the more insidious gambling on mobile devices, pokies are so 1980’s. Utterly no control on these monsters devices

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