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Gambling industry now targeting and grooming children

Martin Thomas

13 June 2024

Our kids are being deliberately targeted and groomed by the gambling industry.

A new pilot study released by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education last week revealed children as young as 14 were being targeted by social media ads urging them to download gambling apps on their phones.

The pilot study by Deakin University researchers used an AI- based system to scan the screens of children for online marketing of harmful products such as gambling, tobacco, alcohol and junk food.

Of course, we knew gambling companies targeted our kids through the endless stream of advertising that now saturates our sports coverage, now this latest research gives us just a glimpse of the hidden campaign to entrap our children.

Many people now know Australia is the biggest loser in the world in terms of gambling losses per head of population. We lose a staggering $25 billion every year.

But what we still do not know is the extent to which the tentacles of the gambling industry is reaching into the lives of every Australian including our children.

We also lack a complete picture of just what our addiction to gambling is doing to our society.

You simply cannot tear $25 billion away from people, from families and from communities - especially amid a cost-of-living crisis - and not have an impact.

The simple fact is, unlike alcohol or tobacco, there is virtually no substantive government funding to fund either research or public education campaigns to reduce gambling harm in Australia.

But there is no shortage of personal stories of trauma. Like the father who read his son's, *Ethan, suicide letter to a group of Canberra parliamentarians in a closed-door meeting of the Parliamentary Friends of Gambling Harm Reduction last week.

Ethan had tried everything to give up gambling. He would self-exclude from gambling sites explaining he was on the brink of suicide. Their response was to lure him back to gambling with special offers and inducements.

In the end Ethan took his life.

We don't collect data on gambling when we record suicides in Australia. They do in Hong Kong, where figures reveal one in five suicides or 20 per cent of all suicides are in some way linked to gambling.

In Sweden, research shows that people with what academics technically call "a gambling disorder" are 15 times more likely to take their life than the general population.

One survey by Financial Counselling Australia showed 80 per cent of gambling financial counsellors had clients reporting suicidal ideation and 48 per cent had clients who had attempted suicide.

Even with the lack of research funding, gambling rears its ugly head in every aspect of our community.

The financial loss is obvious, but such losses also cause chronic health and mental health issues, family break up and partner violence.

We know from research that violence is three times more likely to occur in families in which there is problem gambling.

Gambling increases both the frequency and the severity of family violence.

And then there is *Michelle's story, she went to a poker machine venue to escape an abusive partner. She was plied with alcohol and bet continuously. She ended up losing her savings and her superannuation. She was so desperate she attempted suicide three times.

More than a million gambling ads aired on free-to-air television and radio in just 12 months last year with an estimated $238 million splashed on campaigns to lure people into betting.

Australia is the wild west when it comes to gambling and gambling advertising. Our current restrictions, regulations and regulators are failing us.

There is a blueprint for change, a plan to reduce gambling harm in Australia in the form of the Murphy Report.

The report was the result of a parliamentary inquiry into gambling chaired by Labor MP. Peta Murphy delivered the report and campaigned for change in her last days of life last year.

The government received the report almost 12 months ago and has yet to respond.

The report has 31 recommendations including a reasonable and phased-in ban on all gambling advertising over three years. Implementing this report in full will reduce gambling harm in Australia.

The other significant reform that is critical at state level is the introduction of a mandatory cashless gambling card with pre-set loss limits. Tasmania has proposed one, so has the ACT. If they succeed, they will lead the country and hopefully cause others to follow.

And they will be following the recommendations of the NSW Crime Commission which found such a system would not only reduce gambling harm but it would combat the billions of dollars from proceeds of crime that are fed through poker machines every year.

Despite the lack of research and public education there is no hiding the devastating impact of gambling to our community. The toll of gambling's impact to just too devastating for our political leaders to fail to act.

*Note the names of people impacted by gambling in this article have been changed to protect their identity.

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