Between 80,000 and 160,000 Australian adults have severe gambling problems and the estimated negative social cost of gambling to Australia is at least $4.7 billion, when measured in financial terms.[¹] In human terms, the negative consequences range from financial hardship to family breakdown and suicide.
The risks of problem gambling are low for people who only play lotteries and scratchies, but rise steeply with the frequency of gambling on table games, wagering and, especially, electronic gaming machines (EGMs). EGMs, known colloquially as ‘Pokies’, remain the key form of gambling that causes harm in the Victorian community, with more than three quarters of problem gamblers losing their money on the pokies. Of the money lost on Pokies it is estimated that a staggering 40% of the revenue comes from people with gambling problems.[²]
Total losses on gambling in Victoria in the 2008-2009 financial year were $5,110 million, of which $2,707 million was lost on the pokies, $1,218 million at the Casino, $729 million on wagering (racing, football and sports betting) and $448 million on lotteries.[³]
The Victorian Interchurch Gambling Taskforce
The BUV has been involved with The Victorian Interchurch Taskforce since it was established by the Victorian Heads of Churches in 1996. It currently has formal membership from the Anglican, Baptist, Catholic and Uniting Churches and the Salvation Army. However, it works with other churches in Victoria concerned about the harms gambling is causing in our community.
- To increase awareness amongst the Churches about the broadening gambling industry and to potentially harmful effects on the common good.The Taskforce has the following objectives:
- To provide critical analysis and interpretation of research on gambling and the gambling industry, in particular the social and economic impacts and any other projects undertaken by the government, the Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority and the gambling industry.
- At every level to communicate the alternatives to gambling as a solution to
- individual personal problems
- socio-economic development
- To call Government to further account for its integration of the gambling industry into its economic management.
¹ Productivity Commission (2010)
² Productivity Commission (2010)
³ Uniting Church Vic/Tas (2010)
The BUV is a participant in the Victorian Inter-Church Gambling Taskforce and supports the work and recommendations and calls to action of the taskforce
In 2013 churches passed a resolution to be presented at October Assembly.
The Rise of Sports Betting
The Inter-Church Gambling Taskforce has been concerned for some time about the growth in advertising related to betting on sport. Watching sport is a popular Australian pass-time and we acknowledge that people will occasionally want to have a bet on a game. However the ubiquitous advertising has seen a push for betting on sport become ‘the norm’ rather than an ‘occasional’ activity. The sport of horse racing has obviously always been synonymous with betting, but there is no doubt that popular sports such as AFL, Rugby and Cricket have been ‘hijacked’ by betting agencies.
The Taskforce recommends that advertising for gambling should be more strictly regulated as a potentially harmful product and should be banned before 9:30pm. Some of the latest advertising campaigns are explicitly promoting the notion that ordinary (non-betting) fans are not really involved in the game if they are not putting their money on the line. This sort of encouragement is a disgrace and sends a terrible message to young impressionable adolescents questioning their commitment to a team.
Of particular concern for the taskforce is:
- Odds being flashed up on scoreboards at games
- Odds being quoted and promoted by commentators during and after games on television and radio.
- Odds being telecast on Friday news bulletins
- Odds being promoted to help with ‘tipping’ on online sport tipping sites and sporting variety programs.
- AFL clubs promoting their ‘own brand’ betting agencies.
On 27 May 2011, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Select Council on Gambling Reform announced that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy would undertake a review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.
The final report on the review has recently been released and is available at www.dbcde.gov.au/igareview
The Taskforce welcomes the majority of recommendations made in the Report for strengthening the enforcement of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, although continues to oppose any expansion of online gambling opportunities in Australia. The Taskforce remains concerned the key risks in further liberalising online gambling are:
a) There will be a net increase in problem gambling and associated harms, primarily through an accelerated increase in the number of people gambling online. There is next to no evidence the available consumer protection measures online will be effective in reducing problem gambling, and those currently promoted by the online gambling industry and its allies are primarily a public relations screen to justify governments allowing a freer expansion of online gambling businesses. Any measures implemented by one provider can be easily circumvented by the gambler simply moving to another site, with over 2,000 to choose from. There are currently no measures that extend across a significant number of online gambling provider sites, and none that would apply across all providers. It is extremely disappointing the Interim Report has misrepresented the analysis of the Productivity Commission on this point.
b) Tax avoidance/evasion will remain very easy for many online gambling providers located in secrecy jurisdictions. This is highly unlikely to be changed by allowing Australian online companies to be established to compete with those located in secrecy jurisdictions.
Gambling was substantially liberalised in Victoria in the 1990’s, with pokies introduced in 1992. This changed the face of Victoria’s gaming industry and introduced a significant taxation base for the state government. Thirty thousand machines were made available with 2500 set aside for Crown Casino and the remaining 27, 500 to be distributed evenly between clubs and hotels throughout Victoria.
Ensuing years have seen a surge in gambling expenditure and industry growth, but also adverse impacts on many Australians and their families. Gambling remains a contentious issue on a number of fronts. It is a product that many Australians enjoy and yet has many social problems associated with it.
The consequent backlash within the community led to the Productivity Commission Inquiry in 1999. Since then, there have been significant changes in the gambling industry and its regulatory environment, with a greater policy focus on community awareness and harm prevention and minimisation. Notwithstanding this, community and political concerns remain evident.
A subsequent Productivity Commission Report was provided to the Australian Government on 26 February 2010. The Government publicly released the report on 23 June 2010.
The key points released were:
- Total recorded expenditure (losses) in Australia reached just over $19 billion in 2008-09, or an average of $1500 per adult who gambled.
- Most policy interest centers on people playing regularly on the ’pokies’. Around 600 000 Australians (4 per cent of the adult population) play at least weekly.
- The significant social cost of problem gambling — estimated to be at least $4.7 billion a year — means that even policy measures with modest efficacy in reducing harm will often be worthwhile.
- Recreational gamblers typically play at low intensity. But if machines are played at high intensity, it is easy to lose $1500 or more in an hour. 
The key recommendations of the report were:
- A more coherent and effective policy approach is needed, with targeted policies that can effectively address the high rate of problems experienced by those playing gaming machines regularly.
- The amount of cash that players can feed into machines at any one time should be limited to $20 (currently up to $10 000).
- There are strong grounds to lower the bet limit to around $1 per ’button push’, instead of the current $5-10.
- Shutdown periods for gaming in hotels and clubs are too brief and mostly occur at the wrong times. They should commence earlier and be of longer duration.
- There should be a progressive move over the next six years to full ’pre-commitment’ systems that allow players to set binding limits on their losses.
- Problem gambling counselling services have worked well overall. But there is a need for enhanced training and better service coordination.
A National Churches Gambling Taskforce was created to support reforms at a national level, led by Tim Costello. Federal independents Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie have also provided strong leadership on this issue and have campaigned long and hard for legislative reform in line with the independent productivity commission report.
Andrew Wilkie had a much publicised agreement with Prime Minister Gillard to support her minority government in return for passing legislation to limit the harm of pokies. She has since ‘back flipped’ on this agreement after pressure from a relentless campaign led by the gambling industry.
You can follow the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce on twitter @GamblingReform
You can keep up to date with the Victorian Interchurch Gambling Taskforce http://churchgamblingtaskforce.wordpress.com/
You may want to follow GET UP http://www.getup.org.au who undertake regular online campaigns for gambling reform.Gambling Letter Writing Campaign Feb 2014 (17.7 kB)
Letter writing Action on Sportsbet and Pokie License extension July 2014 (22.51 kB)
Who wins from ’Big Gambling’ in Australia. (March 2014) http://theconversation.com/who-wins-from-big-gambling-in-australia-22930
This article explains the current controversy over live gambling advertising in sport (May 2013). http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/tv-cant-afford-gambling-ad-ban-conroy-20130527-2n7k6.html