The elephant in the room when it comes to problem gambling is nearly always in the room with us. We are talking of course of mobile phones and the unprecedented access they give gamblers to bet on just about anything at any time. With them has come the steady surge of sports betting cleverly tapping into the twin national obsessions of sport and barracking. The emotional hook; you love the sport; the vicarious pleasure; you love it anyway so a wager simply adds to the excitement. At the end is the old impossible lure of something for nothing.
It is an industry built on the glamorous illusion every player is a winner. Sadly the profit figures speak otherwise. Moreover it is those who can’t help chasing the illusion while the losses mount over and over, that one in six who are the true losers in this game and their misery resonates right through our communities
Australia’s love affair with gambling shows no sign of abating with almost $23 billion lost to gambling - now the biggest per capita losers in the world. Most gambling expenditure still goes on the pokies they swallow up $11.6 billion or 51%. The losses are colossal but the machines at least have the advantage of being heavily regulated, substantially taxed and in more simple terms in a fixed place where gamblers must still venture to.
No such problems with sports betting. It has skyrocketed; up 17 percent in 2014 and 28 percent last year. All that advertising is paying off, the losses are now $815 million.
All this while they have been in your living rooms, if not on your phone then certainly on your television. Yet the least attempts to regulate this behemoth even for the sake of children who are a major part of the major sports viewing audience, is met with a mealy-mouthed backdowns.
Responsible Gambling week is about harm minimisation but it must look seriously at the highest risk categories now and into the future and ensure an industry builds safeguards for them not looks at them as the next potential market. Pokies may be the pyrotechnic succubus of the old but sports betting are opening up a new realm of social harm in the young.
It may be churlish in the heart of the Spring Racing Carnival to carp about ease of access when most people are more obsessed with what hat they will wear or the fun of a day at the races. But the omnipresence of sports betting represents a far bigger realm of danger and for those at risk it could mean young lives ruined.