Serge Sardo, photo: Paul Jeffers
Opportunities to gamble have probably never been greater in Victoria than now.
Not because of an explosion in venues or pokies – they have been relatively constant for over 10 years – but because the internet allows a number of mostly interstate wagering companies to offer and promote their products here.
They have been doing so zealously for about five years now.
At the same time, the great proliferation of mobile devices, especially smart phones, means gambling apps and the promotions they bring are ever-present.
What this sort of environment does for responsible gambling is a major concern and it's why this year's Responsible Gambling Awareness Week is focused on the increasing normalisation of gambling and, importantly, what this means for responsible gambling.
The internet may both enable and undermine responsible gambling
While this new technology provides opportunities to support gamblers who want to be responsible by using apps and controls on their devices, the current fear is that what's happening is mostly the opposite.
The technology is undermining responsible gambling by providing both the means to gamble and an on-tap promotional channel for the sports betting agencies.
The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation has published new research on how inducements, like bonus bets and sign-up offers, and social media marketing are potentially undermining responsible gambling.
These two reports underline how the changing gambling environment presents a greater challenge for anyone who wants to be a responsible gambler, let alone someone who is vulnerable to temptation.
While internet gambling and its promotion is new, is it really just gambling repackaged and delivered differently?
If that's the case, it makes sense to look at what is already done here in Victoria to foster responsible gambling and think about transferring that to the online gambling environment.
So what are some of the rules that help foster responsible gambling in our state?
There are many, especially around poker machines, and it is worth noting that many are unique to Victoria, including:
- All gambling products must be approved and are regulated via the Victorian Commission for Liquor and Gambling Regulation.
- All gambling venues must abide by codes of conduct in the service of gambling that are developed in accord with ministerial directions and approved by the commission. These relate to a number of areas, including signage and, notably, the requirement for staff to be trained in how to identify and support people who are showing signs of problems with gambling.
- Poker machines have maximum bet limits of five dollars (compared to ten dollars in New South Wales) and all payouts over a thousand dollars must be paid by cheque to discourage the money going straight back through the machine.
- ATMs were removed from venues in 2012. The aim was to improve player control over losses.
- Credit cannot be offered by venues to gamblers.
- The number of machines in Victoria is capped at 30,000. There are also limits for council areas and special caps for localities perceived to be especially vulnerable to harm. All of these limit access to gambling.
- Information about poker machines is freely and transparently available to the public. This includes their numbers, expenditure on them, the taxes collected and where it goes.
- State-wide self-exclusion programs exist for hotels, clubs and the casino, where gamblers can ban themselves from gambling areas.
- All gambling advertising must meet prescribed guidelines. In the case of pokies, only simple signs outside venues are allowed.
- Prescribed signage about the potential risks of gambling and about responsible gambling must be shown in venues. Information about Gambler's Help services must also be available and displayed.
This year, the Victorian government is also introducing YourPlay, a new scheme to help pokies players stay in control by committing to time and money limits. The card-based system will enable players to track their spending and time on machines, across a venue and even between venues.
The Australia-first system also allows players to set warning limits for themselves around how much they want to spend and how long they want to play.
YourPlay is a responsible gambling initiative and is not designed to be a solution for problem gambling.
The foundation also has a number of programs and initiatives aimed at fostering responsible gambling, including:
- A statewide prevention program which funds 15 local organisations to run projects targeting key groups of people in a range of settings. These projects range from awareness raising to secondary prevention programs aimed at relapse prevention.
- Running marketing and educational campaigns to help people recognise the signs of problems with gambling and to promote tips for responsible gambling to prevent problems arising.
- A unique venue support program that trains venue staff to identify and respond to gamblers who are showing signs of being in trouble.
- The Gambling's not a Game sporting club program that works with around 150 sporting clubs across Victoria to send responsible gambling messages and keeping signage and promotions about gambling away from juniors.
- An information office to provide information for people interested in having a say about, or getting a better understanding of, the impact of gambling.
Our focus on prevention and fostering responsible gambling does not, however, take away from our very important role of providing services to those who are affected by gambling problems.
The foundation provides free face-to-face and phone counselling across the state, as well as online, to anyone who needs help with their own gambling problems or those of someone close to them.
There's always more to be done
While Victoria continues to lead the way, as it has done in the public health sector for decades, there is always more to be done to foster responsible gambling and reduce harm.
While we've made good progress by overhauling our service system and boosting prevention activities over the past three years, we know we have plenty of challenges to come.
The changing gambling environment presents a greater challenge for anyone who wants to be a responsible gambler, let alone someone who is vulnerable to temptation.
As our minister Jane Garrett told Neil Mitchell on radio station 3AW this week, much more needs to be done about the proliferation of betting advertising and how it's normalising gambling for young people.
What lessons from fostering responsible venue-based gambling could be applied to the online version?
Some of the answers might not need to be so new, just thoughtful and expanded applications of what we have. I'm interested in hearing from you, our readers, about what you think – please leave your comments below.
Welcome to the second edition of Inside gambling
In this edition of Inside gambling we explore the issue of responsible gambling and ask the question, is it getting harder to be a responsible gambler?
Two-time AFL premiership winner Brent Guerra tells his powerful story about experiencing gambling problems.
We report on two key events that kicked off Responsible Gambling Awareness Week 2015. Seven of Australia's largest sporting clubs pledged to keep kids and betting apart, and a panel of prominent Victorians hosted by Waleed Aly asked do we now love the odds more than the game?
A word on the first edition
As we publish this second edition, I would like to take a brief moment to say thank you to the many readers who provided positive and thoughtful feedback on our first edition of Inside gambling.
Our goal is to highlight important work and discussion on the prevention and treatment of gambling harm and we strive to include a range of perspectives with the aim of encouraging informed public debate.
We now have around 1500 subscribers and are looking for more, so if you know someone who is interested in this topic, please encourage them to subscribe.