There’s no authority keeping an eye on your gambling
Remember candy cigarettes? They looked like the real deal, but instead of lung cancer they just rotted your teeth. A fitting childhood introduction, really.
Those of us old enough to remember know that they were kind of fun, but they were banned, of course, because society woke up to the fact that they were simply Big Tobacco’s way of prepping kids for a future nicotine habit.
We are now seeing online gambling using a similar model for targeting kids – except it’s much, much cleverer.
It starts with free online gambling games, through Facebook, smartphone apps and websites.
The second most liked Facebook page in the world is (after Facebook itself) Texas Hold’em Poker.
How many of its 51,151,002 likes do you think are under-18s?
To start playing you simply click the page, allow the page to access some of your details, and away you go.
The page is free, but you’re only one click away from purchasing extra chips in your chosen currency “$, euro, pounds, AUD, CAD, RM and more!” the page screams.
While there has been a lot of talk recently about restricting pokies, I fear that a far greater trap for problems gamblers is waiting online.
Internet gambling is already big business, with industry estimating that Australians spent close to $1 billion on offshore casinos in 2010.
Online gambling now represents up to 10 per cent of the global gambling market and is growing by up to 20 per cent annually.
Let’s set aside the fact that internet gambling is barely regulated and not a dollar of the billions spent on offshore gambling sites are paid in taxes here in Australia.
The real concern is that online gambling has the power to become the home of current problem gamblers within a few years, while simultaneously grooming a much larger future generation to replace them.
US studies have shown up to half of American teenagers have played free gambling games.
You can play online with friends. You can play on your phone while catching a bus. Playing gambling games becomes an easy, free source of entertainment.
And you often win. Funnily enough, you win more often than if you were playing with money.
Online sites actually engineer early ‘big wins’ in free play sections to show you just how easy it is to win big.
And following a few “big wins” in the free play section, who wouldn’t start calculating what the reward would be if you had been playing with real money?
And so it begins. Whether teenagers use a parent’s credit card and start anteing up, or whether they wait until they are 18 and use their own funds, the grooming process has been successful.
Of course not every young person that starts gambling online will become a problem gambler – the majority won’t.
But we are entering a new, anonymous, isolated and vastly unregulated gambling realm that offers no protections for problem gamblers.
Online gambling is extremely accessible. Anyone with a credit card can be away in a matter of minutes.
A recent Australian survey of online gambling revealed that the most attractive thing about it was that ‘you don’t have to drive anywhere or leave the house’ with 62% of respondents endorsing this statement.
It is always accessible, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Gamblers are isolated and anonymous. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone and there is no one in authority keeping an eye on your gambling.
Research shows higher rates of problem gambling amongst online gamblers. Increasing numbers are now presenting for gambling treatment.
In a pub or a club, people notice if you have been sitting at a poker machine for six hours straight and come and have a word. Sitting in your bedroom at home on the internet, no one will ever know.
We can’t control the online world.
But we can look to ways of educating the public, particularly young people, and regulating online gambling where we can.
If we don’t, we leave ourselves exposed to a virulent new strain of problem gambling, the power of which is completely unprecedented.
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