The ACT Government has made significant inroads into reducing the harm caused by poker machines, but it hasn’t yet looked seriously at online gambling.
That’s the message from Labor backbencher Dr Marisa Paterson who will move a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly this week calling for a comprehensive review of online gambling.
“We need to understand more about this type of gambling and then look at ways to prevent that harm from occurring in the first place,” Dr Paterson said.
“We need a clearer picture of who the companies are that take bets in the ACT, how ACT residents are advertised to, and we need to explore additional revenue streams that can be accessed to ameliorate the harm caused by these companies.”
She noted the ACT Government had paid less attention to issues of online gambling than it had to poker machine reform.
Dr Paterson was previously an academic who researched gambling for 15 years and was the director of the Centre for Gambling Research at ANU.
In 2019, Dr Paterson and her colleagues surveyed 10,000 ACT residents over the age of 18 about their experiences with gambling.
Her research suggested one in four adult males gamble online in the ACT and 25 per cent of the people who mostly gamble online in the ACT are experiencing some kind of gambling harm.
Online gambling increased during 2020 and 2021 as COVID-19-induced lockdowns closed pubs and clubs where many people accessed gaming machines.
Instead of going out with friends, people signed up to online betting and gambling platforms. According to one survey, young males were most likely to spend more money and gamble more frequently when at home.
It’s estimated around 44,000 people are impacted by either first or second-hand gambling harm in the ACT.
“Australia is one of the biggest gambling markets in the world for these international betting companies,” Dr Paterson explained.
“They take our bets, pay very little tax and contribute absolutely nothing to our community, all the while causing quite significant harm.”
Her motion will call on the ACT Government to consider ways to raise community awareness around the risks of online gambling and investigate increasing the Betting Operations Tax before diverting funds to harm minimisation strategies.
The ACT Government will be asked to report back to the Assembly by December next year.
Dr Paterson’s calls follow an announcement from Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury that the ACT would introduce a central monitoring system and tighten limits on poker machines.
The government is currently consulting with poker-machine operators but clubs already have reservations about who will foot the bill.
Earlier this month, ClubsACT CEO Craig Shannon pointed the finger at online gambling and betting apps being more concerning than poker machines.
He noted this form of gambling is unlike poker machines because there are no watchful eyes.
“If we get rid of [poker machines] completely, we put people out onto the streets and into their homes, and there are no eyes and assistance models for them,” he told Region Media.
If gambling harm impacts you, a friend or a family member, you can get free, confidential online support at gamblinghelponline.org.au or speak to a support person on 1800 858 858.