Australian Online Problem Gambling Rate Doubles In A Decade

October 14, 2021
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A landmark Australian study on the prevalence and impacts of interactive gambling has given ammunition to governments to impose heavier restrictions on online gaming, with the rate of problem gambling doubling to 1.2 percent in ten years.

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A landmark Australian study on the prevalence and impacts of interactive gambling has given ammunition to governments to impose heavier restrictions on online gaming, with the rate of problem gambling doubling to 1.2 percent in ten years.

Gambling Research Australia, a joint federal, state and territory government initiative, on Wednesday released the Second National Study of Interactive Gambling in Australia, conducted in 2019 and 2020 and a sequel to research conducted in 2010-2011.

The 579-page report, which describes itself as “the most comprehensive recent examination of interactive gambling in Australia”, said greater restrictions should be weighed for consumers to offset higher levels of online gaming activity, problem gambling and substantial use of illegal foreign gaming websites.

“A statistically significant increase in problem gambling in the population, and evidence of harm to gamblers and affected others, indicate that gambling harm has not decreased in the context of current policy, practice and regulations,” it said.

“Stronger responses are an area for further policy consideration, including mandatory improved practices for the safer provision and consumption of gambling.”

The Central Queensland University (CQU)-led report under Victoria state government oversight was peer-reviewed, lending weight to its findings despite much of its data relying on population samples that were unrepresentative of the wider community.

“Notable trends include growing participation, new products, the rise of smartphone betting, prolific wagering advertising and inducements, substantial use of illegal offshore operators, and limited use of consumer protection tools and help services,” it said.

A national telephone survey of 15,000 people found that the prevalence of interactive gambling in the wider community more than doubled from 8.1 percent in 2010/2011 to 17.5 percent in 2019.

“This growth in online gambling has been driven by faster internet speeds, the convenience of betting on smartphone apps, extensive advertising and inducements, and new betting options like multi-bets,” said Nerilee Hing, a professor at CQU’s Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory in a statement on Wednesday.

“New online activities have also been introduced, including e-sports, fantasy sports, skin gambling, and loot boxes,” she said.

For gamblers specifically, the use of interactive products increased from 12.6 percent to 30.7 percent of the response sample over the same period.

While the overall gambling rate for the wider population fell from 64.3 percent to 56.9 percent, the rate of problem gambling more than doubled from 0.6 percent to 1.23 percent, the survey said.

In addition, a much larger proportion of 9.1 percent of gamblers reported at least one example of self-harm associated with gambling.

In a separate survey of 5,109 online respondents, the report found that 47.1 percent had used an offshore gambling site in 2019, with low awareness of their illegality.

The rate of problem gambling for offshore bettors (38.5 percent) was also more than three times that of non-offshore bettors (11.4 percent), a finding likely to increase pressure on the national online gambling watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), to step up website blocking and other disruptive actions.

Other notable findings include in-play bettors on offshore sites being four times more likely to be problem gamblers at 33.9 percent against 9.1 percent.

The most common payment methods reported by respondents were debit cards (45.2 percent), credit cards (40.1 percent) and PayPal (25.4 percent).

The sizeable report also includes longitudinal data for respondents who took part in the latest and earlier reports, and a small number (49) of interviewees.

The report concluded that online race betting and sports betting are the most popular and harmful activities, but that tougher regulation and/or deterrence may be desirable for loot boxes, smartphone gaming, offshore website use, and wagering advertising and inducements.

The report also lamented the apparently weak impact of consumer protection tools, which have been a plank of recent federal and regional government reforms. It said such tools require greater promotion.

The release of the Gambling Research Australia report comes as a federal parliament committee considers tougher restrictions on credit card and digital wallet use for online gambling.

Some Australian banks have taken a lead ahead of possible new restrictions, with Macquarie Bank imposing credit card blocks on gaming products in 2019.

The most recent initiative saw Westpac Group introduce optional gaming product blocks to credit and debit cards for three of its subsidiary banks.

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