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Albanese government federal budget must address gambling reform

Carol Bennett, AGR CEO

12 Apr 2023

Gambling losses in Australia amount to a staggering $25 billion annually - losses that, per capita, are greater than anywhere else in the world and 40 per cent greater than the next biggest losing country.

The harm from gambling reaches into every corner of our land, every community across Australia is impacted. This is not just a problem for a few, as critics of gambling reform often retort.

And the harms are significant, causing deep financial hardship, relationship breakdown and conflict, health problems, emotional and psychological distress, criminal activity and in some cases people take their lives, often amid a sense of shame, failure and isolation.

Yet despite these profound and wide-reaching harms, Australia's regulatory framework is an inadequate jigsaw of missing and ill-fitting pieces.

It is difficult to navigate which jurisdiction or regulatory body is responsible for the various areas of gambling including advertising, online gambling, breaches of codes of conduct, and unlicensed or prohibited gambling platforms.

It seems when there are gambling profits to be made, the laws and regulations can be largely ignored. Time and again we see state and territory regulators failing to hold large gambling companies to account to the point where many Australians rightly view gambling regulation as an ineffectual joke.

The recent NSW election put gambling reform, and in particular the critical need for a mandatory cashless gambling card, on the political agenda. Our analysis shows this issue resonated strongly across key electorates.

New Premier, Chris Minns, now that he has to navigate a minority government, will now come under significant pressure to move on real reform in addition to the limited trail he advocated for during the election campaign.

But despite the gambling reform spotlight being shone on the NSW election, this is undisputedly a national issue. It requires national leadership, it requires a coordinated national strategy and it requires national regulations with a national regulator.

This is the case with other harmful products such as tobacco and alcohol. Yet unlike other harmful products, we have failed to learn the lessons of history and understand those profiting from harmful products aren't going to self-regulate - instead, they will ruthlessly exploit any weaknesses in the system to maximise their profits.

It is why it is critical that in this May federal budget, the government earmarks long-overdue funding to finally curb gambling harm across the nation.

The Alliance has outlined a number of key measures in its budget submission to Treasury including an urgent need for a fit-for-purpose national regulator that also includes an ombudsman's office to handle disputes and complaints.

The states have shown they are either unwilling or unable to curb the power of the gambling industry. State governments are effectively captured by the industry due to their reliance on tax revenue and political donations.

Such a regulator would not be a significant cost, when one considers the huge gambling losses that rip billions of dollars out of communities across Australia each year.

The Victorian regulator, the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission received funding of $42.422 million for 2021-22.

The Alliance suggests a national regulator would need double this amount and believes an allocation of $85 million is appropriate.

The impact of such a regulator would be profound and the cost effectiveness is self-evident.

There have been numerous organisations calling for a national regulator in evidence to the national inquiry into online gambling and its harms.

But there are also other measures this federal budget should fund that are much smaller in cost but will still have a significant and positive impact.

Access to appropriate treatment for people experiencing significant gambling harm is woefully inadequate across Australia. There is a lack of specialist services, and an inconsistent approach to treating and referring people experiencing gambling harm.

Gambling has a vast range of co-morbidities ranging from mental health problems, alcohol harms and family violence. In practice this means there are many health professionals who need to be better trained in recognising, supporting or referring those who are experiencing harms from gambling.

The cost of new training programs and reforms to better utilise existing resources would be as little as $5 million per annum.

But the government should also start to fund public awareness about gambling harm as it has done for decades around tobacco and alcohol. And a comprehensive campaign would cost approximately $5 million.

And finally we must do more to undertake research into gambling harm in this country. Research into gambling and related harm is slowly increasing, however, much of the current research is undertaken by vested interests - usually commissioned and paid for by the gambling industry or state governments who receive substantial income from gambling companies and often have a strong relationship with the gambling industry.

This could be done with an initial allocation of $5 million per annum.

Federal leadership to combat gambling harm is long overdue.

And leadership starts with the commitment to start to fund initiatives that will make a real difference. With the Australian public clamouring for action to curb gambling harm, the May federal budget shapes as an opportunity the Albanese government must not miss.

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