No way you can gamble and win – you can bet on that

Border Mail Column Wednesday 25 May 2011

Our reputation for loving a flutter is legendary.

It’s so much a part of our culture we’d even bet on two flies climbing up the wall.

Sadly, what is seen as a bit of fun can reach serious proportions evidenced by our naming as the world’s biggest losers in the gambling stakes.

According to research by Global consulting firm H2 Gambling Capital the average adult in Australia lost $1290 a year, more than three times the amount lost in the US, well known for its big gambling.

The figure is disturbing especially when we stop to consider that this is an average amount which doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are those who do not gamble, many who have a flutter at events like the Melbourne Cup or buy a lottery ticket,  and then there’s the group for which gambling is an addiction and whose actions impact from ripple to tsunami proportions often leaving nothing to meet the everyday living expenses for their families.

But it’s the growth in gambling in the online environment and increasing interest by young people that’s ringing alarm bells and is the focus of Victoria’s Responsible Gambling Awareness week which runs until Sunday.

According to the Productivity Commission’s 2010 report into Australia’s gambling industry online gaming expenditure and use doubled from 2004 to 2008, with a 170 per cent increase on online poker and a doubling of the spending on internet-based casinos.

Visiting Canadian researcher Dr Jeffery Derevensky has dubbed online ‘the new face of gambling’ and warns youth gambling problems could lead to breakdowns in family relationships, stealing, poor academic performance and mental health issues.

Online gambling is an increasingly accessible way to hook young people, and especially young men, into what can grow into a dangerous addiction.

While banned in Australia, online casinos in other countries can be accessed with no mechanism in place to check the player’s age.

The player may have some success in the free trial period and buoyed by this signs up, and starts gambling with the odds stacked against them.

Also being highlighted is the further normalisation of betting, especially sports betting, both in the real and the virtual world, through a softening of the language around it.

The word ‘gambling’ is used less and announcements of betting odds are made by ground staff and sporting commentators.

According to Dr Samantha Thomas from Monash University’s Department of Marketing, Faculty of Business and Economics the ‘punt is sold everywhere we go’ including the well accepted footy tipping competitions.

Dr Thomas is calling for gambling to be viewed as a health issue to protect the most vulnerable, including children.

Acknowledging our love of sport she called for more of a balance, not a banning and consideration of the issues involved.

Dr Thomas applauded calls by representatives of Australia’s four football codes for the Australian Government to regulate sports betting.

While regulation may go some way to addressing the problems, a report by the Australian Psychological Society showed household exposure to gambling by adults, particularly fathers, increased the risk that children will develop gambling problems in later life.

Sixty per cent of 13 to 17 year olds had gambled at least once a year.

Authors of the study encouraged parents to talk to their kids about the risks, and especially to send the message that they can’t win.

While behavioural change to address any social or health issue is the hardest to bring about, experts and agencies who deal every day with the consequences of gambling addiction agree that unless we work together the odds of success are stacked against us.

Hear the interview about Youth and responsible gambling with Dr Samantha Thomas & Professor Alex Blaszczynski
on Radio National http://bit.ly/lAoHEN

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About Robyne Young

Writer, creative writing teacher, editor, columnist. Literary lover. Short story collections, The Only Constant and The Basket and the Briefcase available via website.
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