Edition #1: Youth and gambling

Serge sardo
Serge sardo
Serge Sardo, photo: Paul Jeffers

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When doing nothing is not an option

With the online gambling environment changing so rapidly, many argue that good harm minimisation regulation is lagging behind. The Interactive Gambling Act, which aims to regulate online gambling, was written 15 years ago.

Fifteen years ago we had no tablets, smart phones, apps or social media, nor did we have 20,000 gambling ads a year on free-to-air TV.

The rapid change in gambling technology and consumption also means that we don't yet have the full picture on how this new gambling environment is affecting gamblers and, in particular, youth.   

The University of Adelaide's Dr Daniel King presents emerging evidence in his latest work, which looks at whether playing simulated gambling games can lead teenagers into gambling problems later in life.

There are also plenty of expert opinions about the potential harmful impact on kids. However, we don't yet have the silver bullet that can convincingly tell us what the harm is.

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The lack of substantial and convincing evidence for the harm caused to youth poses a question for policy makers about what should be the default position.

Do we assume no harm is being done and wait for the evidence, or provide greater protections for our kids now while we gather the evidence?

Historically, public health campaigns aimed at reducing harm caused by various products have been hampered and delayed by overly cautious (or unwittingly complicit?) policy makers claiming there's not enough evidence to take action.

I remember as a kid not having to wear seatbelts in cars and enjoying the thrill of flying off the rear window ledge when dad braked suddenly.

At the time, this was considered OK because there was not enough evidence to show seatbelts could save lives.

Fortunately, over time, policy makers were convinced to act, introducing mandatory seatbelt laws in the 1970s and 1980s, with Victoria leading the way in 1970. 

Over and over again, however, emerging evidence or expert opinion is not enough for an issue to be taken seriously and for protective measures to be put in place to prevent harm.

Today's teenagers are growing up in a completely different world

Children born in this millennium are growing up in an unprecedented environment. They are digital natives who have grown up with laptops, smart phones and tablets.

They are switched on, plugged in and hyper-connected. They are chatting electronically with their friends, playing games and downloading more information in an afternoon than we did in a month  at their age.

Gambling has infiltrated their world in ways many parents don't yet understand.

They are essentially being groomed to enjoy gambling.

They are looking at a post from a friend in their social media containing the latest YouTube clip from the sports betting agency that has made a name pushing the boundaries of good taste.

They are being invited to play the latest 'free' casino game app where the inflated payout rates promote misconceptions about their real chances of winning – essentially being groomed to enjoy gambling.

They are playing games that use gambling concepts and encourage in-game purchases.

And they are being enticed to bet money on two gamers in separate parts of the world challenging each other in eSports competitions.

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Woman sits at desk and plays computer gamePhoto: iStock

They are also watching live sport with gambling company logos dominating the around-the-ground signage, the players' guernseys and even the football itself.

They are listening to commentary teams referring to the odds and they are being bombarded during breaks with pro-gambling advertising, which emphasises the fun, social side of having a bet but pays lip service to the risks.

There is some emerging evidence to suggest this environment will influence their future decisions around whether to gamble with real money, but it's early days and we may not yet know the impact for decades.

What we do know, however, is there is evidence of addictive behaviour developing at an alarming rate among young people. Screen addiction and addiction to social gaming are being increasingly documented by help services and researchers alike.

What can we do to reduce gambling harm?

In the digital space, real change needs to happen at a federal government level with changes to advertising legislation and requirements to do more than pay lip service to responsible gambling.

Our national sporting codes also need to be a part of the solution and look for ways to turn back the clock on the great gambling takeover of our favourite Sunday afternoon pastime.

If it looks and smells dangerous, then it probably is, so let's take precautions.

There is enough evidence and expert opinion that the current gambling environment these kids are growing up in may be harmful and create long-term problems.

As parents, our default position with our kids will always be conservative: if it looks and smells dangerous, then it probably is, so let's take precautions.

Federal policy makers have the same dilemma with kids and gambling. The environment looks and smells like it could harm kids, so our question to them is, what will be their default position?  

Find out more

This first edition of Inside gambling explores the issue of the changing gambling environment with a particular focus on the impact on young people. 

This edition includes Jake's journey, which tells the story of a young man introduced to horse racing as a 12-year-old, only to go on to develop a problem with gambling, as well as a Q&A with Dr Jeffrey Derevensky, who has spent 20 years studying children and gambling.  

Michelle Bryne looks at why parents should be worried about gambling ads on YouTube and Linley Kensitt takes five minutes with Gambler's Help Youthline counsellor Angie Soumilas.

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