Edition #1: Youth and gambling

In the know, Sam Thomas
In the know, Sam Thomas
Samantha Thomas, photo: Paul Jeffers

In the know

Gambling research – not for the faint hearted

The labels that describe people with gambling problems as irresponsible, uneducated and lazy, as well as greedy and selfish, are part of the reason public health researcher Associate Professor Samantha Thomas is committed to working in the area of gambling research.

The fact it's a highly politicised issue with a powerful and well-connected industry is also a motivating factor for this academic.

But she says it's people's stories that really inspire her.

'When you hear about the profoundly negative impact gambling has had on people's lives, and the lives of their friends and family members, you realise this is a public health issue.

'Hearing those stories really sparked my interest in getting gambling into the health literature and away from politics,' she says.

Industry tactics and advertising loopholes

Since graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy in Community Health from the University of Auckland, Samantha has specialised in research relating to risk behaviours, and understanding the impact of industry tactics (including advertising) on health and social behaviours.

She is particularly interested in the health and wellbeing of children, young men and families.

Samantha says it's unfortunate that gambling harm is seen as the fault of individuals and that this has been the focus of the harm reduction debate, rather than changing the broader environment.

She says the role of industry, government, broadcasters and sports organisations in perpetuating the problem and not being a part of the solution is concerning.

'It's unfortunate that gambling harm is seen as the fault of individuals and that this has been the focus of the harm reduction debate, rather than changing the broader environment.'

Samantha Thomas

'In particular, we need to reform the promotion of gambling if we are going to raise awareness and prevent harm.' 

Samantha cites advertising codes of practice as a good place to start.

'We need to close the loopholes that allow sports betting advertising during sports broadcasts when children are watching.'

Creative strategies like using sports stars to sell betting or using cartoons in advertising that may intentionally or unintentionally appeal to children are also part of the problem.

Blurring the line between sport and gambling

Samantha says that while preserving the integrity of the game and responding to the problems of individual players are important, the impact on the wider community of blurring the line between sport and gambling isn't being recognised.

This is a key focus of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation's sporting clubs program, which sets out to help local clubs preserve the essence of their game by separating sports and gambling.

In less than two years, 82 local and elite clubs have signed up to shift the focus away from the odds and back to a love of the game.

Samantha is calling on the high-profile codes like the AFL, and the rest of the community, to step up and be part of the solution.

'While some clubs are backing away from sports betting sponsorships, and this is a good thing, all sporting clubs and codes need to think carefully about their responsibilities.

'Ideally, we would like to see them step away from poker machine ownership completely but at the very least they should be thinking very seriously about implementing good harm minimisation strategies, such as one dollar maximum bets on machines.'

Samantha is calling on the high-profile codes like the AFL, and the rest of the community, to step up and be part of the solution.

She says phasing out advertising and sponsorship of gambling won't spell disaster for the sport.

'We have a good historical template from tobacco that shows clubs don't fall over.

'If we want sporting clubs to end their relationship with gambling products and services, governments, the not-for-profit sector and public health academics need to work with them to seek alternative revenue or sponsorship,' she says.

'Everyone needs to be in this together to help sporting clubs be less reliant on gambling revenue.'

How gambling promotion influences young people

Gambling advertising and its effects on young people has been a key focus of Samantha's work. She says understanding the impact of the changing gambling environment on young people is crucial.

'We know young people are vulnerable to developing problems with gambling and we know they are now exposed to gambling products, and gambling promotion, in a way we've never seen before.'

In a 2014 study funded by a grant from the foundation, Samantha looked at how advertising influences perceptions about betting among parents and children.

The study found while parents were more likely to recognise gambling as risky and to identify the benefits as being limited to social opportunities, teens were more likely to see gambling as fun and a way to make money.

Parents in the study were concerned about advertising legitimising and normalising gambling, particularly through its connection with sport.

'Everyone needs to be in this together to help sporting clubs be less reliant on gambling revenue.'

Samantha Thomas

Samantha hopes her work will help equip parents with the knowledge they need to challenge the status quo.

'Parents are already unhappy about the amount of advertising.

'By making them aware of how influential this marketing is on their children, I hope they'll have the tools to put pressure on sporting organisations to reconsider their connection with gambling,' she says.

What's the big deal?

Watch the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation's new videos on talking to teens about gambling, and read why parents should be worried about gambling ads on youTube.

Samantha's latest research project for the foundation is mapping the range of tactics used by the gambling industry in Australia to promote their products and prevent regulatory reform.

The project includes analysis of the type, content and target audiences of the industry's marketing approaches. It will also develop a schema to enable other researchers to map and monitor how these tactics change over time.

Samantha says monitoring how young people respond to industry promotions is important to preventing future harm.

'We need to understand how these tactics affect young people over time, in particular, how they influence young people's attitudes towards gambling and their current and future consumption intentions,' she says.

Related articles

Posting guidelines

To ensure this page is friendly and welcoming for all visitors, we ask that you:

  • be respectful of others and their opinions
  • do not reveal any personal or sensitive information about others, including naming people who are affected by gambling problems
  • do not harass, abuse or threaten others
  • do not post comments that are likely to offend others, particularly in reference to an individual's race, age, gender, sexuality, political leaning, religion or disability
  • do not use obscene or offensive language
  • do not post defamatory comments
  • do not post repeat comments continuously
  • do not repeatedly post information which is factually inaccurate and may mislead others
  • do not promote anything that may constitute spam, such as commercial interests, solicitations, advertisements or endorsements of any non-governmental agency
  • protect your personal privacy by not including email addresses, phone numbers or home addresses.

Any comments that violate these terms will be deleted.