Mental Health

Most young gamblers at risk

A recent study has found 90% of young Australian gamblers are at risk of, or already experiencing, gambling-related harm.

With the AFL grand final just passed and the racing season upon us, experts are looking into whether the government is doing enough to combat this issue.

Woman checks online gambling app while watching horse race.
Apps make gambling more accessible than ever. Photo: Eliza McEwen

Australian Gambling Research Centre manger Dr Rebecca Jenkinson led a survey into the gambling behaviour of over 2000 Australian gamblers in June to July this year.

She said, overall, participants increased their frequency and spending on gambling during the COVID-19 period, and men aged 18-34 were the most likely to do this, partly due to boredom and social isolation.

“We found that one in three participants signed up for new accounts during COVID-19, but that 80% of those were young people,” she said.

How much these results can be generalised is limited as participants were existing gamblers who self-selected to participate and may not be representative of the wider Australian population.

Gamblers Anonymous Australia treasurer Peter B, who asked that his last name not be published, said COVID-19 had caused some people to sink back into their gambling addiction.

“They built some early recovery, but the loss of connection sent people into a spiral of depression and back into gambling,” he said.

Centrecare’s Gambling Help WA is a free counselling service for people experiencing gambling-related harm.

Centrecare’s executive manager of community services Rod West said an increase in online gambling services and advertising across platforms was likely causing the rise in gambling-related harm.

“I think there needs to be greater education and greater awareness around the potential risks and the harm that can come from gambling,” he said.

Peter B argued all gambling-related advertising should be banned, similar to tobacco and alcohol advertising.

“Those constant ads during football matches and cricket matches and things like that, sucks in, particularly, naive young men and then they get addicted,” he said.

When asked about the number of young Australians at risk of or experiencing gambling-related harm, WA’s Minister for Racing and Gaming Paul Papalia declined to comment.

Instead, Mr Papalia said the State Government has run the Show Gambling Who’s Boss Campaign since 2018 and funds a variety of support services for those experiencing gambling-related harm.

The only comment he made on the effectiveness of these measures was that the Gamble Aware website has had over 60,000 visits since it launched.

Mr West said campaigns that refer to ‘problem gambling’ indicate the issue is the responsibility of the individual themselves and instead a more balanced approach should be taken.

Peter B said such campaigns are “bullshit” and are “just window dressings to make it look like governments are doing something”.

He said the government was part of the problem because it profits from the gambling industry.

At the end of last financial year, the WA government reported revenue of $291 million from gambling taxes.

A spokesperson from Racing and Wagering Western Australia said: “The racing industry provides important economic benefits for the State.”

The spokesperson said RWWA had a Responsible Wagering Code of Practice and actively supported problem-gambling education and prevention initiatives. When asked about the effectiveness of these they made no comment.

Dr Jenkinson said horse racing was the main product participants gambled on during COVID-19 and as we enter the spring racing carnival this was likely to continue.

The study found one in five participants reported they were motivated to gamble on horse racing because of the promotions they saw from the wagering companies.

Dr Jenkinson, Peter B, and Mr West all suggested advertising of gambling should be more regulated to reduce the potential of gambling-related harm.

Dr Jenkinson said: “We need to be having these discussions to make sure that public health and population health is really considered and is at the forefront of decision-making here.”

If you, or anyone you know, needs help please contact the Problem Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.