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Odds stacked against young online gamblers


Billboard advertising live betting odds for a football matchWe turn a blind eye to online sports betting at our peril. And it's our young men who will pay the price.

While there has been some debate about the issue in Australia for over a decade, there is limited data about the current extent and impact. Gambling help services see relatively few people with online gambling as the main cause of their gambling problems — pokies still dominate gambling harm in Australia.

But there is emerging international evidence of the risks associated with online gambling. The Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre released a comprehensive report in 2009. They concluded that 'the prevalence of problem gambling is three to four times higher among internet gamblers than non-internet gamblers'.

They also reported that 'internationally, the prevalence of problem gambling is higher in European countries ... and that the Caribbean, North America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand have lower rates'.

Estimated international internet gambling (including online sports betting) prevalence rates indicate that the rate in Australia is 4.3 per cent for the population, 2 per cent for New Zealand, 3 per cent in the UK, 4 per cent in the US, 7 per cent in Sweden, 3.5 per cent in Canada and 14 per cent in Finland.

Sweden has some of the earliest research about internet gambling. Their first wave of a longitudinal gambling study (SWELOGS) reported in 2009 that for Sweden 13 per cent of men and 4 per cent of women gambled on the internet the previous year, and 18 per cent of the men playing poker on the internet were problem gamblers.

Of great concern is the revelation that 33 per cent cent of the men aged 16–17 who gambled on the internet were problem gamblers and 33 per cent were at low risk, while 21 per cent of the men aged 18–24 who gambled on the internet were problem gamblers and 38 per cent were at low risk.

This study reinforces the findings of the Canadian study and subsequent research that internet gamblers are more likely to be young males.

This is why the online sports betting industry aims so much advertising at young men, and also partly explains the low numbers of people coming to help services with gambling problems — young men are notoriously difficult to attract to any sort of help service.

The recent saturation advertising of sports betting, particularly during sporting broadcasts, has rightly attracted considerable public concern, but the question of what can be done is more vexed. Online and internet gambling is a global industry, with some responsible and some much less responsible operators.

Against this reality, gambling regulation in the public interest has, internationally speaking, almost all been at provincial or state levels, New Zealand being the exception. There are very few national gambling regulators, and no international regulatory structures. These regulatory gaps need to be filled.

The South Australian Premier has made a positive move. On Monday he said 'the advertising of live odds betting will be banned from South Australian television screens during sports broadcasting ... It is of great concern to me that we will end up with a generation of children who believe gambling is a normal part of watching or even playing sport.' Other states and territories, and our Federal Government, need to follow this lead immediately.

The Australian Government needs to extend the powers of the recently announced Australian Gambling Regulator to include regulation of online sports betting and other internet gambling. This global industry is currently way ahead of any regulator. There is a lot of catching up to do.

We then need to require all online operators in Australia to be licensed, with strict licence conditions, including rigorous mechanisms in place to check the age of online gamblers. All operators must have in place mandatory pre-commitment measures. And operators must disclose regularly to the Australian regulator. An industry funded Gambling and Wagering Ombudsman scheme must also be established.

Failure to hold a license and to meet license conditions would mean debts incurred by Australian citizens are not recognised, and are therefore not enforceable for payment.

In addition, the Federal Government needs to establish regulatory compliance and enforcement protocols and standards with other governments, most likely to be achieved through multi-lateral partnership like the G20, ASEAN or CHOGM. And to deal with sports integrity, we need to establish a National Sports Integrity Commission, to work with the sporting codes and their emerging integrity processes.

We can learn from overseas that in the future, the risk of problem gambling from online sports betting is likely to be greater than the harm created by pokies. We need to act now to reduce the considerable risk of escalating problem gambling from online sports betting. 

Lin Hatfield Dodds smilingLin Hatfield Dodds is National Director of UnitingCare Australia. 

Topic tags: Lin Hatfield Dodds, live betting odds, pokies



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Existing comments

In the 1950s I was fortunate enough to study Experimental Psychology at a tertiary institution. In the early 1970s I studied Political Sociology as part of a post-graduate Political Science course. I have tried to keep abreast as best I could with developments in both fields and they have been extraordinary. But the application of both these disciplines to socio-political problems is almost non-existent. However their application to the exploitation of human emotions and desires to sell things and sometimes ideas is immense. Take gambling for example. I bet on the races at the TAB in my local sports club about three times a week. I started when I was fiftyeight. I set myself a budget and a time limit (2 hours). Whichever one runs out first, I stop. I'm self-aware enough to know I started punting as a substitute for sport. The excitement I felt befor a game of squash or tennis or golf was gone. The adrenaline rush as my body got ready for "fright, flight or fight" was no more. I came to punting at a mature age. What hope do teenagers have? Many don't know what's happening in their own bodies, let alone their minds.

Uncle Pat | 24 May 2013  

Thank you Lin. What is staying the hand of our so-called governments? Are they being paid off to allow our young people to be sacrificed on the altar of great odds?

Bernadettre | 24 May 2013  

Young people, who may not have developed their full critical apparatus, took to computers like ducks to water. Sadly, this openness to learn also exposed them to the predators of the internet gambling industry.

Edward F | 24 May 2013  

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