31 May 2022

Not 'appy: government told online gambling harm as dangerous as pokies

| Lottie Twyford
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Online gambling

The ACT Government has set poker machines in its sights, but it hasn’t yet looked comprehensively at the harm caused by online gambling. Photo: File.

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 Marisa Paterson

Labor backbencher Dr Marisa Paterson previously conducted research into gambling in the ACT and around the country. Photo: Region Media.

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.

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“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.

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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.

Under the proposal, individual poker machine bets would be capped at $5 and a player would only be able to put $100 credit in the machine at any one time.

The government is currently consulting with poker-machine operators but clubs already have reservations about who will foot the bill.

ClubsACT

ClubsACT CEO Craig Shannon had already pointed out that other forms of gambling – such as online apps – were not getting as much attention as poker machines. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

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.

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At least the Clubs with Poker Machines gave those out in the Burbs an affordable place to host a wedding or 21st, a place for a meal with a free live singer, reduced price kids sport and a free place to hold community meetings for the non-profits.

Online gambling on the other hand, still takes the money from the locals but gives them nothing back in return.

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