Posts Tagged ‘gambling debts’

Australia has the highest gambling losses per head of population in the world. 

The Alliance for Gambling Reform says more than $1 billion has been saved in poker machine losses in the past five weeks.  This is $200 million a week not being spent on gambling in Australia.

– John has self-excluded from hundreds of venues, but they continue to let him in to gamble away his pension and his mother’s money.  Self-exclusion is a facade and a joke.  Pubs and clubs and the government doesn’t want the gambling machine to slow down or stop, and the most vulnerable are the gambling addicts who aren’t getting the promised help and support.

Lives have been lost, jobs and businesses have been wiped out, and individuals have had to come to grips with being isolated from family and friends.

No industry has felt the strain more than pubs, clubs and casinos. From March 23, they had to close their doors at short notice, throwing the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of Australians into turmoil.

But for some Australians these closures have proved a blessing rather than a curse.

ABC Investigations has been in contact with hundreds of people affected by problem gambling, and we asked whether coronavirus shutdowns have changed gambling habits.

Many of them have described the past five weeks as one of the most peaceful periods they can remember.

Here are three of their stories.

The mineworker

Corey* is a mineworker from Queensland. He knows too well the pain that a gambling addiction can cause.

His father lost the family home through betting on the horses when Corey was a small boy.

“All these years later, it still causes fights in my family,” he said.

“Knowing my family history, I became a staunch anti-gambler. I’d never even bet on the horses.”

The 29-year-old avoided the issues his father had. Until July last year.

“My father got diagnosed with a form of dementia and I went into a dark place. I started drinking heavily and began to play the pokies.”

The Queenslander had been working hard as a fly-in fly-out mine worker and was saving for a home.

Within two months of taking up the pokies his $25,000 deposit was gone.

“I’d wake up at 10:00am, go to a pub or club, and play the pokies, sometimes until 3:00am.”

He would repeat this pattern during his week off in the city, before flying back to a mining camp to work for two weeks.

After another two months, he sold his prized 4WD for $17,000 to feed his new habit.

Soon that cash windfall was gone. With no money in the bank, and nothing else to sell, he started borrowing money.

By the time the lockdown started Corey owed the banks and same-day lenders close to $20,000.

“COVID-19 has been a blessing for me, with pubs, clubs and casinos closed, I’ve been completely unable to play the pokies at all,” he said.

He’s now putting aside 80 per cent of his income to pay off his loans and feels that he has his gambling under control.

“Since the lockdown started, I created an online gambling account and put $100 into it. I lost that $100 straight away, so I haven’t put any money back into it since,” Corey said.

“I’m hoping this is the end of my eight-month gambling habit. It’s cost me so much, from my health and happiness, to pushing away friends for the sake of gambling — it’s really impacted me on every level and set me way back financially.”

The mother

For Sonia, the 58-year-old mother of a pokies addict, the lockdown has been one of the best months of her life.

“It has been a blessing for me and my son because he’s suddenly not being tricked, deceived and robbed by the poker machines,” she said.

Sonia’s son John* has twice attempted suicide in relation to his gambling addiction.

“We are both experiencing a peace we haven’t experienced for over a decade. I’m able to live each day without the constant fear that my son will try to take his life again.”

“He told me that God’s answered his prayers with the lockdown, that a heavy weight has been lifted off him and that he feels like he has been set free.”

The 28-year-old has MS and is on disability pension. Sonia says at around 2:00am on a Saturday he goes to a local Sydney pub or club knowing his pension will be in his bank account by then.

“By the time the sun comes up he’s lucky if there’s anything left in his account,” Sonia said.

Once John blows all his money, Sonia has to make the most awful choice. Does she give him more money to help him get through the week knowing he will probably put it through the pokies?

Invariably she gives in.

“People ask why I give him money. It’s because I’m scared that he might commit a crime to pay for his habit,” she said.

“You have to realise the habit overrules normal thinking. Do you know how many people are in jail because of a pokie addiction? I’m scared he could end up in jail.”

Sonia says she’s on the verge of losing her house and has borrowed tens of thousands of dollars from the banks and from family to pay for her son’s habit.

She says John has self-excluded from hundreds of venues, but they continue to let him in to gamble away his pension and his mother’s money.

Sonia says she has used the lockdown to pay back money she’s borrowed.

“In the past five weeks I haven’t had to give him money. But it’s so much more than the money, it’s the emotional roller coaster as well.”

Australia has the highest gambling losses per head of population in the world. Sonia hopes the lockdown will lead to a rethink on poker machine policy.

Over the past 25 years, she has held a number of senior positions in the manufacturing industry, and says that the absence of poker machines is not just good for the families of addicts, but for small business as well.

“Over $6.5 billion is lost to poker machines each year in NSW alone. If this money was spent in small business the economy would thrive and many jobs would be generated.”

The small businessman

Andrew runs a small business in rural Queensland.

Much of his work is done on the road, and when he drives into a new town, he finds it difficult not to pass the local pub.

“If I’m driving for work, something in me gets triggered and I will drop into the pub and start putting money through the pokies,” he said.

The businessman finds himself being drawn to something he hates.

“I can’t stand the pokies. But I started playing them 20 years ago when I was struggling with anxiety.”

Andrew suffered trauma as a child that led to anxiety in adulthood. In his late teens he started drinking, then playing the pokies, as he tried to deal with his past experiences.

“It terrifies me to think how much I have lost. Outside my food, my rent and my phone bills, I was probably putting around 60 per cent of my income through the machines.”

He says in the past month he’s felt more at ease than any other time in the past two decades.

“This isolation has been an absolute godsend. Prior to the pandemic I was still visiting pokie rooms two or three times a week, but in the past five weeks I haven’t even thought about pokie machines,” Andrew said.

“Prior to this, my anxiety levels were up and down constantly. Now, I’m so much more relaxed and less anxious.

“Today I had a beer and put $20 on the horses on my phone and I was content with that. Before I could pour $3,000 into the pokies in a couple of hours.”

Andrew is worried about what might happen when the pubs and clubs reopen.

“I do have concerns about what happens down the track, but my hope is that my time away from the pokies has given me strength and gets me to see what life is like without them.”

*Not their real names

ABC Investigations By Steve Cannane 26/4/20

$814 million was lost on sportsbetting in 2014-15, which equates to $2 230 137 being lost by punters on sports EVERY DAY in Australia.

So if you think you can beat the system then well done and good luck for the future, as the hard evidence clearly shows that a lot of money is being lost by people betting on sports.  With the odds structures always favouring the sports betting agencies, they are taking their cut whether you win or lose, and then with the fickle nature of sports results, picking a winner is still no easier.

The only recommendation I can make to those who enjoy a punt on sports is to bet smart, look for value and ‘good bets’ and seek help if you are losing more than you are winning beyond the budget you have set for yourself.



Punters lose $23 Billion

Richard Willingham and Benjamin Preiss
Published: August 22, 2016 – 8:02PM

Australian punters lost nearly $23 billion last year, with a 30 per cent growth in sports betting helping to drive a continued rise in annual gambling losses.

New Australian Gambling Statistics figures show Australians lost $1241 per head in 2014-15, with poker machines still the biggest cause of punter losses with $11.6 billion lost, an increase of 4.9 per cent.

The continued growth of punter losses reignited calls for state and federal governments to get serious about tackling problem gambling through action on sports betting advertising and pokies.

The annual compilation of all state and territory data shows that total expenditure, or gambler losses, hit $22.7 billion in 2014-15, an increase of 7.7 per cent on the previous financial year.

There has been an explosion in sports betting, with the sector growing by 30.1 per cent in 12 months – with predictions the exponential growth will continue.

But sports betting is still one of the smallest segments of the market, worth $814 million, compared to pokies, racing ($2.8 billion), and Lotto ($1.7 billion).

Traditional betting on racing was the smallest growing sector at just 2.7 per cent.

The Victorian government on Sunday announced a ban on betting ads near schools and on public transport, while Canberra is moving to crack down on offshore bookies, as well as strengthen consumer protection for local online punters.

There are also renewed calls from Senator Nick Xenophon, the Greens and Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie for poker machine reform.

Gambling losses in total for Victoria hit almost $5.8 billion in the 2014-15, with poker machine losses surpassing $2.5 billion, propping up Treasury coffers by more than $1 billion.

In NSW, punter losses hit $8.9 billion, with $5.7 billion lost on the pokies alone, sports betting worth $162 million and racing $945 million.

Across the nation casinos raked in $5.1 billion of gambler losses, with Melbourne’s Crown Casino hauling in $1.8 billion.

Monash University Public Health expert Charles Livingstone said the growth in sports betting losses was “phenomenal”.

“It demonstrates why we need to better regulate promotion and advertising. Otherwise we’re facing big growth in gambling problems and harm from young men and women,” Dr Livingstone said.

“But the 600-pound gorilla of Australian gambling is still the pokies: $12 billion in losses per year, and still growing, year after year. If we’re worried by sports betting, we should be 13 times more worried about the pokies.”

Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesman Tim Costello said state governments could fix the “poker machine madness”

“[That is] if any of them really cared about the issue,” he said.

The Australian Gambling Statistics 2014-15 shows that in Victoria total per person gambling losses hit $1250. Pokies losses was the biggest segment with $558 lost per Victorian.

In NSW, per person losses were higher at $1517.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said the rate of problem gambling in the online sector was three times that of other areas.

“Many Australians love to gamble but we have to make sure the gambling environment is a safe one – that’s why we are cracking down on illegal offshore gambling providers and introducing much strong consumer protection for online gambling,” Mr Tudge said.

Deakin University associate professor of public health, Samantha Thomas, suspected sports betting had grown on the back of heavy marketing.

“While not all losses equal harm, a lot of them do. It’s time for governments to start to seriously consider the factors that are contributing to these growing losses and implement effective evidenced-based strategies to reduce harm,” she said.

“This includes addressing the factors from industry, such as prolific advertising or high intensity poker machines, that may be contributing to harm. Clearly, ‘gamble responsibly’ strategies are not having an impact on reducing losses or preventing harm.”

Victorian Gaming Regulation Minister Marlene Kairouz said the state government shared the community’s concerns about problem gambling. She said the government had invested $150 million over four years to support problem gambling services.

This story was found at:

With the idea being manufactured that gambling and AFL go hand in hand, the AFL is willingly normalising sports betting as an integral part of being an AFL fan.  Generations of young Australians will grow up believing that betting on the footy is a normal part of being an AFL fan, and the AFL is allowing this due to the revenue they generate from their affiliation and sponsorship with the sports betting companies.  Personally I think it is totally irresponsible to put the dollar ahead of the welfare of a generation of punters who could potentially have any number of gambling problems and addictions in the future.


Gambling ads dominate AFL’s round one broadcasts

Richard Willingham.  April 1, 2016

Despite a community backlash, gambling advertising continues during TV broadcasts.

Football fans watching round one on TV were bombarded with gambling advertising, with more than one in six ads promoting gaming.

Despite a ban on ads for gambling during game time, data shows it was the second biggest advertising category over the four AFL games shown on free-to-air TV in Melbourne last weekend. Automotive was the biggest advertiser.

Of the nearly 200 ads screened in the Richmond v Carlton, Sydney v Collingwood, Port Adelaide v St Kilda, and Geelong v Hawthorn matches, 34 were for gambling.

CrownBet, the “official wagering partner of the AFL”, accounted for half of the advertising, with other bookies including Sportsbet and Bet365.

There has long been community concern about the proliferation of gambling ads. This is particularly so in sport, where experts have raised concerns that the association between sports and betting is “grooming” children by normalising betting.

Under an industry code of conduct, gambling promotion is banned “siren to siren” but is allowed to be screened before and after matches and during quarter and half-time breaks.

The Victorian government and many interest groups have urged the review of online gambling laws to look at stronger rules governing gambling advertising. Its report has yet to be released.

Samantha Thomas, a public health academic at Deakin University, said gambling was “a very adult product” which was being prolifically marketed in matches promoted by the AFL as being “family friendly”.

“There is a very clear ethical tension here that the AFL and broadcasters have not adequately addressed,” Dr Thomas said. “Kids tell us that it is the marketing that they see during sport that makes them think that gambling is a normal part of sport.”

“The AFL and broadcasters need to respond to community concerns and start to show some leadership in this area; putting the welfare of the community over the money they are making from gambling sponsorship deals.”

Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation chief executive Serge Sardo said there was widespread concern about the relationship between sport and betting.

“We are concerned that gambling advertising is changing the way our youth view spot; we are worried about the long-term impact,” Mr Sardo said.

The foundation wants gambling advertising banned from all G-classified TV programs.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform chairman Geoff Lake has demanded the TV networks stop advertising gambling to children.

“It’s that simple,” he said. “This normalises an adult product in the minds of young and impressionable footy fans. If the networks aren’t careful, they could end up killing the golden goose, with parents just turning the TV off.”

The Australian Wagering Council said gambling advertising had to comply with a code of conduct.

“Australian Wagering Council members do recognise community concern in relation to wagering advertising and agree that advertising should always conform to accepted social standards,” a spokeswoman said.

“AWC members will continue to work with sport’s controlling bodies and government to address any concerns.”

Melbourne Football Club has become the ninth Victorian footy club to sign Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s responsible gambling charter, which includes a ban on a partnership with any sports betting agency or gambling promotion.

The charter has been criticised because most AFL clubs have poker machine venues, but the foundation says the charter requires extra levels of responsibility in pokies.

The AFL said it had no role in the operation of the broadcasting code, but it was the league’s understanding that broadcasts always adhered to the limits on advertising.

Channel Seven said it complies with the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice which contains extensive restrictions in relation to gambling advertising, particularly in programming directed towards children.

“Provisions introduced in 2013 also prevent the advertising of odds during live sports broadcasts,” a spokesman said.

“Commercial television free-to-air broadcasters are the only media platform with such comprehensive rules around the placement and broadcast of gambling advertising.”

Bookmakers were also contacted for comment.

“Australians love a punt. And since the first rule of gambling is that the house always wins, this is really another way of saying, Australians love losing money.”

Australians love a punt and the house always wins, whether you believe this or not, I’ll say it again, the house always wins.  Personally, I don’t love losing money and if you’ve read this blog you will find many examples of ways to gamble that reduce the house edge or even sway the odds in your favour.  But the point has always been made as we are not delusional and selling a fantasy, there is no such thing as a sure thing and every bet you make is a gamble, where the bookie always makes money whether you actually win or lose.  Be smart, be honest and have fun is how the Champ Bros approach gambling, and as Australians raised in a gambling culture where we get a public holdiay for a horse race and ANZAC Day is associated with 2-Up we don’t want to trash our heritage, but we also don’t want to be taken for suckers.


Australia’s gambling obsession, in one depressing chart

John McDuling
Published: September 3, 2015

Australians love a punt. And since the first rule of gambling is that the house always wins, this is really another way of saying, Australians love losing money.

Basically, some offshore outlets such as William Hill are offering Australian customers the ability to bet on live sports via their smart phones. Strictly speaking, ‘In-play’ betting is outlawed on online platforms, including smartphones.

Data from H2 Gambling Capital, a London based industry researcher, obtained by Fairfax Media last month, shows that Australians lose more money per adult on gambling than every other developed country.

Back in 2010, the Productivity Commission actually estimated the average loss for each Australian that gambled at $1,500.

For what its worth, that review found there was an overall net benefit (through taxes and enjoyment) to the economy from gambling of between $3.7 billion and $11.1 billion), but the costs to problem gamblers were substantial and devastating, ranging from $4.7 billion to $8.4 billion

That aside, what is clear is that Australians are leading the developed world on gambling losses. Whether a review of online sports gambling laws, and potentially, advertising of gambling during sports matches, does anything to curtail this, remains to be seen.

This story was found at:

To think that problem gamblers could end up owing money to the agencies they have already lost all their money too is very disturbing to me. Like the growth in payday loan companies, problem punters can get drawn to the idea that they can bet today and pay it back tomorrow, especially if they have the belief they are going to win. The reality though is that the majority will lose, and the few that may win this time will no doubt lose the next week or the week after, for if this blog has taught you anything, you’ll know that winning consistently on sports betting is difficult, and it is never easy to turn a profit no matter how good a tipster or insightful a gambler you are. The lure of landing the big payoff bet is a false hope too, for again, as many punters that do pull this off once in a while, there are many more that try and fail and end up losing all their money chasing the big one.

I read about a punter who had a big bet on the EPL soccer last weekend (22nd August 2015), betting $15 000 on Swansea to beat Sunderland at 2 to 1. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. A quick analysis under the good bet theory shows that they were betting on a match with 3 possible outcomes while only getting a 2-1 return, which is not a good bet. If they’d bet on the draw, they would have got odds of about 3.30, which is a good return over the 3 outcomes. And I don’t care how big a favourite one team is over the other pre-match, on the ground anything can happen and there is no such thing as a sure thing in sport, and to bet on an event believing you can’t lose is always going to be reckless. And if one team is heavily favoured over another to win, then the odds will reflect this and the return will be so low it would not be worth gambling on, for the likelihood of a small return does not outweigh the risk of an upset result.

You would hope that the government and authorities will take steps to block this option for punters to get loans from sports betting agencies, but there is a conflict of interest too as any drop in gambling revenue will mean a drop in the amount of tax the governments collect. It is in the government’s best interest for their citizens to gamble at the current levels to maintain the expected income, which would also be factored into the yearly budgets. As has been discussed before, governments are now reliant on this stream of income. I’ve no doubt they do have a desire to help problem gamblers, but they are also more than happy for the rest of the population to gamble just enough, just below the threshold of what is classified as a problem gambler. Move along, nothing to see here…


Sports betting: call to ban unsolicited credit offers as problem gambling rises
‘If this is the future of gambling, it is indeed frightening,’ says peak body for financial counsellors, concerned at tactics used to draw in punters

Michael Safi

Monday 17 August 2015

Sports betting agencies should be “urgently” banned from extending credit to punters, a new report has recommended, amid signs of a surge in gamblers seeking help for excessive online betting.
Inducements, unsolicited credit, tactically withholding payouts, and possible breaches of the Privacy Act are some of the alleged methods employed by sports betting agencies in a largely “uncontrolled” industry, according to the report by Financial Counselling Australia (FCA).

“If this is the future of gambling, it is indeed frightening,” the report said, arguing that if credit was not banned, bookmakers should at least be forced to comply with credit laws requiring them to formally assess whether a punter has any chance of repaying credit.

It also called for new punters to be required to nominate a maximum bet amount, a ban on advertising links between payday lenders and sports betting sites, and a national register for people who want to self-exclude (rather than each company keeping a separate register).

Betting revenues are thought to have surged since the proliferation of smart phones and legal changes allowing betting sites to advertise during sports broadcasts.

Just how much is being gambled online on sport is yet to be quantified, but the advertising spend by betting agencies increased fourfold between 2010 and 2013 to nearly $48m, according to monitoring firm Ebiquity.

Gambling help clinics in Melbourne and Sydney have reported a tripling and doubling respectively in the number of sports betting clients they have treated in the past few years, according to an investigation by ABC Radio’s Background Briefing.
Launching the report on Monday, the independent senator Nick Xenophon said he would introduce a bill shortly to ban betting on credit.

“[Online sports betting] turbocharges the risks of problem gambling. Internet sports betting firms are using aggressive, high-tech strategies to target young men, increasingly to the point of ruin,” he said.

One case study included in the report detailed how one man was offered up to $500 in free bets by one betting company, and went on to gamble away the proceeds of the sale of his home.

In another, a man attempted suicide due to his gambling debts and emerged from hospital to an offer by one company to take him to a boxing match.

At least one customer already in debt was encouraged to whittle down what he owed by betting more and was offered extra credit, according to an email obtained by FCA.

“We were also told by a former employee that sports betting companies swap customer account data, contrary to privacy legislation,” the report said.

“When a gambler ‘goes cold’ and stops betting with one company, the company swaps lists with another company, which then entices the person to resume gambling.”

The Australian Wagering Council (AWC), an industry group, said it would “carefully examine the issues” raised in the report, but said new regulations on the gambling operators were “unnecessary”.

“There is no evidence-based research to suggest that changes in consumer behaviour, including customers choosing sports betting in preference to other forms of gambling … has led to an increase in problem gambling,” it said.

“Wagering on sport comprises only 2.3% of Australia’s total annual gambling spend, with the vast majority, 52.4%, of Australia’s gambling happening on poker machines in pubs and clubs.”

The AWC said it agreed with the call for a national self-exclusion register and that credit – which it said had always been available from bookmakers – should never be offered unsolicited.

This was a radio broadcast on Radio National 621am on Sunday the 5th July 2015.  I happened to hear it while driving to a 10-pin bowling tournament.  It isn’t dealing with sports betting, but it examines the trend that is emerging between using free game apps to introduce kids and teenagers to gambling.  This early introduction combined with massive gambling advertising campaigns on radio, TV and the internet is grooming the next generation of problem gamblers by normalising the industry to be a part of everyday life.  It is all about getting people to spend money, to gamble on winning more money, or in the case of the game apps, to win prizes within the game itself that have no monetary value.

The broadcast can be located here, with the full transcript below.

Gambling techniques are permeating free online and mobile app games. Social casino games that mimic real slot machines are among the most popular, with no restrictions on children playing. Ann Arnold investigates the convergence of gambling and gaming, which is rendering Australia’s interactive gambling laws obsolete.

A couple of years ago Arthur, who’s now 13, got slightly obsessed with a particular electronic game. He wasted a fair bit of money on it.

‘There’s this one car game, it has hero cars and you can only get them from mystery boxes.’

In this free game, you had to pay to unlock the mystery box. Arthur gradually became disillusioned.

‘They’re the really crazy cars, which are amazing, but it’s not actually possible to get them,’ the Melbourne teenager said.

Arthur spent ‘probably a couple of hundred dollars’, provided by his parents in small amounts over time, trying to get those amazing cars. But after a bit of research, he concluded no one was winning those cars, anywhere.

Arthur’s not the only one who’s found themselves wasting money amid an emerging screen culture of unregulated gambling for all ages.

Lots of games that don’t ostensibly have a gambling theme still include its imagery and concepts.

Then there are social casino games—played with others, online, using virtual currency. Those games in particular form a lucrative and fast-growing mini-industry.

Advertisements for either virtual or real online casinos are scattered throughout app games and social media.

Anti-gambling campaigner Senator Nick Xenophon says: ‘I don’t want the kids of today to become the problem gamblers of tomorrow.’

He despairs that Australia’s laws and regulators are unable to meet the challenge.

‘The Interactive Gambling Act was passed in 2001. It’s 14 years old. It may as well be 140 years old, because the industry has been very clever in outsmarting regulators and the legislation.’

The convergence of gambling and gaming is happening so quickly there’s been little evaluation of it.

Dr Sally Gainsbury, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University, has led a ground-breaking research project, commissioned by Gambling Research Australia.

‘It’s looking at how social media, gaming and gambling are all converging. It’s really transforming the nature of gambling in Australia,’ she says.

The full report will be released by the federal government but preliminary findings have been made available to Background Briefing.

A cross-section of the Australian population was surveyed: over 1,500 adults, and 560 adolescents.

Most people were not affected by online gambling games and promotions.

One third of the respondents had played social casino games, with virtual currency, in the past 12 months. Of the adults who’d played social casino games, one in five were prompted by that experience to gamble for real money.

For adolescents, it was more than a quarter who went on to actually gamble. They played pokies and casino-style card games, and bet on the races or other sports.

People who reported a high level of gambling problems were the most likely to say their gambling increased after playing social casino games. Others said, however, that virtual gambling was a safe alternative for them.

For this project, Dr Gainsbury led a team of researchers from several institutions in Australia and Canada.

‘This is the first study. In fact, it’s the most comprehensive study that’s been done worldwide,’ she said.

The aim was to get a ‘really comprehensive understanding of whether social media, gambling themed games are impacting on how much people do gamble’.

As well as social casino games, which are legal, the study looked at real casinos sites online, hosted offshore. These sites are not permitted in Australia, but they’re still easily accessed.

Dr Gainsbury says Australian legislation is ineffective in preventing illegal gambling sites, and the law has been outpaced by technological developments. She points out that the Interactive Gambling Act was drawn up before Facebook existed. The Act allows lotteries, and wagering—such as sports betting. It bans the provision of all other online gambling.

But the international online casino operators have so far been out of reach of Australian authorities.

There haven’t been any sites prosecuted, which means Australians can access at any stage online casino sites, which include blackjack, poker, and electronic game machines, Dr Gainsbury says.

‘There isn’t actually anything stopping Australian residents from gambling on these sites, but it’s highly ill advised because, for example, if they do have a dispute, if they’re cheated or defrauded, there’s nothing they can do to get their money back.’

The study also looked at the proliferation of social media promotions for gambling and virtual gambling.

At one stage 13-year-old Arthur was playing a game called Temple Run. If you ‘died’ in the game, he says, you could watch an ad to get a second life. They were often ads for gambling games.

‘And I know they’re gambling games,’ he said, ‘because it shows pictures of slots, and they say you’ll win and you’ll win and you’ll win.’

Arthur has a relative with gambling problems, so his father Danny says he’s made a point of alerting Arthur to the risks. But he wonders how many parents are aware of the extent of exposure to gambling in their children’s game play.

Ann Arnold: It’s been one of the most popular mobile games in the world, Crossy Road. You have to get a series of colourful, block-like characters—Scruffy Dog, Mad Bull, Unihorse and the rest—across a busy road. And a river. And a railway. If your character dies, you go again.

Released late last year, it’s a big hit with primary school age kids, like Mika.

Mika: It’s kind of addictive, kinda. It’s just, like, so fast and you’re always trying to get between little gaps, and really fast fingers, and all sorts of cool stuff. And you can collect coins and different things, like they have new versions, they have lots of little upgrades and you can get new characters. And there’s some where…oh…I just died and I got a free gift as well. I just got 50 coins.

Ann Arnold: Crossy Road went to straight to number one in the family category charts in a dozen countries, including the US, Canada, France, Russia and South Korea. Little known outside the gaming world is the fact that it’s Australian-made.

It was created by a Victorian duo, calling themselves Hipster Whale. They’ve just won a coveted Apple design award in San Francisco:

Woman: Next up, a game from a classic genre. The winner is, Crossy Road, by Hipster Whale.

Man [voiceover]: Based in Australia, Hipster Whale was founded by Matthew Hall and Andrew Sum. The game was popular from day one, but it really struck a chord in schoolyards around the world. Since launching…

Ann Arnold: In its first 90 days, the game reportedly made $10 million. There’s a lot of buzz, and a lot of pride. But for some observers, Crossy Road is not ideal child’s play. Collecting characters in the game becomes a major focus for many younger players.

Ben Riley: The only way to get those characters is to essentially gamble for them, using the coins, the virtual currency within the game, feed them into the gaming machine, and pull the handle and see what you get.

Ann Arnold: Problem gambling therapist Ben Riley. While most players get their characters through the prize machine, as it’s called, they can also purchase them directly, with real money. But with Crossy Road‘s repetitive random chance, and a children’s version of a poker machine at its core, Ben Riley sees it as part of a growing trend.

It’s been little documented, but gambling or gambling ideas are permeating electronic games; video games, social media games, and mobile apps.

Mika: So I’m gonna win a prize…yeah, I just got a new one called the Grey Bunny. It might just be one that you’ve already got or one that you haven’t got. It comes up with random ones.

Ann Arnold: Hello, this is Background Briefing and I’m Ann Arnold.

There’s an emerging screen culture of unregulated gambling for all ages. Lots of games that don’t ostensibly have a gambling theme still have elements of it; imagery and concepts. Then there are social casino games, played with others, online, using virtual currency. Those games in particular form a lucrative and fast-growing mini-industry. Advertisements for both virtual and real online casinos are scattered throughout app games and social media.

Nick Xenophon: I don’t want the kids of today to become the problem gamblers of tomorrow. Our current legislative framework is simply outdated.

Ann Arnold: Anti-gambling campaigner Senator Nick Xenophon despairs that Australia’s laws and the regulators are unable to meet the challenge.

Nick Xenophon: The Interactive Gambling Act was passed in 2001. It’s 14 years old. It may as well be 140 years old, because the industry has been very clever in outsmarting regulators and the legislation.

Ann Arnold: There’s a convergence of gambling and gaming. It’s happening so quickly there’s been little evaluation of it.

Dr Sally Gainsbury has led a ground-breaking research project.

Sally Gainsbury: This study is commissioned by Gambling Research Australia. It’s looking at how social media, gaming and gambling are all converging. It’s really transforming the nature of gambling in Australia.

Ann Arnold: The full report will be released by the Federal government but preliminary findings have been made available to Background Briefing. A cross-section of the Australian population was surveyed, over 1,500 adults and 560 adolescents. Most people were not affected by online gambling games and promotions.

One-third of the respondents had played social casino games with virtual currency in the past 12 months. Of the adults who’d played social casino games, one in five were prompted by that experience to gamble for real money. For young people, it was one in three who went on to actually gamble. Adolescents bet on the races or other sports, and played pokies and casino-style card games. People who reported a high level of gambling problems were the most likely to say that their gambling had increased as a result of playing social casino games.

Sally Gainsbury is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University. For this project, she led a team of researchers from several institutions in Australia and Canada.

Sally Gainsbury: This is the first study, in fact it’s the most comprehensive study that’s been done worldwide. It took three years. It consisted of eight different studies. We’ve really looked at this issue across adults, across adolescents, to get a really comprehensive understanding of whether social media, gambling-themed games are impacting on how much people do gamble.

Ann Arnold: As well as social casino games, which are legal, the study looked at real casino sites online. These are hosted offshore and are not permitted in Australia, but they’re still easily accessed.

Sally Gainsbury says Australian legislation is ineffective in preventing illegal gambling sites, and the law has been outpaced by technological developments. The Interactive Gambling Act was drawn up before Facebook existed. The Act allows lotteries and wagering, such as sports betting. It bans the provision of all other online gambling. But the international online casino operators have so far been out of reach of Australian authorities.

Sally Gainsbury: There haven’t been any sites prosecuted, which means Australians can access at any stage online casino sites, which include blackjack, poker, electronic game machines. There isn’t actually anything stopping Australian residents from gambling on these sites, but it’s highly ill-advised because, for example, if they do have a dispute, if they’re cheated or frauded, there’s nothing they can do to get their money back.

Ann Arnold: Beyond these more overt gambling options, there are more subtle mechanisms at play in the fast-moving world of games.

Nich Richardson is the presenter of the ABC’s internet program Good Game Pocket, a daily update of game news and reviews. An ardent gamer, he is not happy about some of the techniques used by game developers to extract money out of players who’ve downloaded free or very cheap games. People are lured into paying to advance themselves within a game. And sometimes they’re simply buying the chance to progress. It’s a gamble.

Nich Richardson: It is worrying for me as a gamer of seeing how the industry is shifting towards those sorts of models that I go…it’s like a second form of gambling. It doesn’t necessarily need to lead you into the one where you’re throwing your life savings away in a casino, it can lead you into one where you just constantly are getting these huge credit card debts because you are just paying a bunch of money for something that isn’t a tangible experience.

Ann Arnold: Nich Richardson says in the games industry there is a term for the people who are willing to make significant or frequent in-game purchases.

Nich Richardson: Most players will not put any money into these sort of games but what developers are looking for are people called whales who are the people who will sink $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 a month into a game because they just are getting in that loop.

Ann Arnold: It’s no surprise to him that ‘whales’ is also the gambling industry’s term for big spenders.

Nich Richardson: It doesn’t surprise me. They both work off the same core idea of keeping you in an ecosystem in order to keep putting money into it.

Ann Arnold: Social casino games are providing a bonanza—for their operators. The players get no payouts, ever.

Sally Gainsbury: Social casino games are based on a social network site or through a mobile app, but they’re predominantly a gambling-themed game.

Ann Arnold: Sally Gainsbury, from Southern Cross University:

Sally Gainsbury: These are things that look like slot machines. They look like poker or blackjack. They really look at lot like…they’re actually referred to as simulated gambling games, so in some cases you can’t tell the difference between these games and actual gambling. But they also have really bright imagery, bright colours. They often have youth themes, so they might have lots of baby animals within them. So a slot machine with baby animals and lots of gold coins. So they’re very visually attractive and appealing.

Daniel Golding: If I go into the App Store and I actually look at this category called ‘top grossing’, so the games that have actually made the most money, we can see that the number one in Australia at the moment is an app called ‘Heart of Vegas: play free casino slots’.

Ann Arnold: Daniel Golding is a game reviewer and writer who lectures at Melbourne’s Swinburne University. Heart of Vegas is free to download. The spending comes later.

Daniel Golding: It’s a slot machine application where you pull the lever and the fruit rotates and you may or may not win. Now, of course this being an app you don’t actually win anything, you don’t get money out of this game. But you do have the option of putting money in. So if I look now at the list of in-app purchases, so the kinds of ways that you can put money into this game once you’ve downloaded it for free on your phone, we can see that it starts at like…you can buy a package of 150,000 coins for $3.79, all the way up to the quite phenomenal… you can buy a package of 105 million coins for $129.99. That $129 purchase is the eighth out of ten most popular purchase in this app. And so I think actually that is a real problem.

Ann Arnold: Game critic Dan Golding.

Heart of Vegas is owned by Aristocrat. Aristocrat is an Australian company which makes many of the poker machines you see in pubs and clubs around the country. It now has a strong foothold in the American pokies’ market as well. Aristocrat announced a 73% revenue growth in the six months to March this year. In the company’s latest annual report, the online portion of its business had the biggest increase on the previous year. The company attributed this to Heart of Vegas.

Researcher Sally Gainsbury says the growth of the social casino sector has been spectacular.

Sally Gainsbury: There was a study a few years ago that estimated that social casino games are played by about 173 million people worldwide. They’re hugely popular. It’s a massive market.

Ann Arnold: It’s also literally a money-spinner.

Sally Gainsbury: The social casino games (and keep in mind these are free-to-play games) is a hugely lucrative market. It’s estimated these games will make $3.4 billion this year worldwide.

Ann Arnold: Some social casino games encourage you to become a ‘VIP’ or a ‘high roller’ by buying virtual credits. Social casino games are more lucrative than any of the other games you find on Facebook and other social media. And slot casino games are the most popular of all.

Sally Gainsbury: So slot casino games look a lot like a regular slot machine. In fact, in many cases the makers of slot machines, including in Australia companies like IGT and Aristocrat that provide slot machines within gambling venues, they also provide free-play versions of these that are social casino games. The games look in some cases identical to the ones you’d see on the floor of a gambling venue.

Ann Arnold: Online games are a handy marketing tool for the gambling companies. And they can reach the punters of the future.

Sally Gainsbury: They’re often used as a promotional tool for companies who want to promote their gambling games, but when they are social casino games, they’re not age restricted at all. So young people can access these slot machine games as well.

Ann Arnold: The Aristocrat company refused an interview request.

Australians are especially inclined to spend money within these free games. Sally Gainsbury says they’re twice as likely to pay up as players in other countries.

Sally Gainsbury: Although in most countries around 2% of players actually pay, in Australia it’s closer to 4%.

Ann Arnold: In the Gambling Research Australia study, many social media players reported that virtual gambling was a safe alternative for them; they weren’t gambling real money. But there’s a concern that some people, especially younger people, will be misled by their success with virtual gambling.

Sally Gainsbury: The odds aren’t always the same as in gambling. Often the odds are over-inflated to make them fun, you’re more likely to win.

Ann Arnold: The study found a subset of people thought their social gaming experience would make them more likely to be successful at real-world gambling. Sally Gainsbury says social casino games are based on algorithms that give you a greater chance at winning than actual gambling does.

Sally Gainsbury: You might actually think that they’re the same as gambling and then go to gamble and then find out that you lose a lot more than what you thought.

Ann Arnold: Other kinds of electronic games which are not obviously associated with gambling were not part of the gambling research project. But they too increasingly have elements of random chance. Players can spend either virtual money or real money in the hope of a reward that they may or may not get.

Arthur: There’s this one car game, it has hero cars and you can only get them from mystery boxes. Then they’re the really crazy cars and stuff, which are amazing, but it’s not actually possible to get them.

Ann Arnold: Thirteen-year-old Arthur spent a lot of money trying to get those amazing cars from the mystery box. This was back when he was 11. He eventually wised up.

Arthur: I just figured, you know, you can’t get it. You don’t see it on YouTube, you don’t see them anywhere. It’s just you can’t get them.

Ann Arnold: You keep putting the money in, in hope?

Arthur: I stopped after a while because there was no point.

Ann Arnold: Do you know how much you would have spent?

Arthur: Hundreds I guess.

Ann Arnold: Hundreds of dollars, real dollars?

Arthur: Yeah.

Ann Arnold: How do you get the hundreds of dollars?

Arthur: I’d ask my mum or my dad to pay for it, over time though, not at once, they wouldn’t buy it like that.

Ann Arnold: This is called the freemium model, a free game with built-in but optional costs. Melbourne-based games critic Daniel Golding:

Daniel Golding: Now, this can be on a huge scale from the relatively benign where you might just pay to unlock an extra character or something like that. It ranges from that to the relatively pernicious in some ways, where you might need to essentially pay to continue playing the game, or to progress past a certain point once the game has started to get its hooks into you.

Ann Arnold: Because mobile games are often free, developers have to make money from them somehow.

Jack: Today I’m going to be trying to get characters on Crossy Road. You can see I’ve got 46 out of 53. I’ve not bought any of them. Apart from the piggy bank, which I bought yesterday.

Ann Arnold: The creators of Crossy Road have been congratulated for their approach to the freemium model. Money is made by small purchases, you can buy characters, but they’re not essential to advance in the game. The main revenue is from ads, which play before you can advance in the game. But there are no gambling or social casino ads. They pay very well, but Crossy Road‘s creators say they don’t allow them.

With in-game purchases also it was important to Matt Hall, one of the developers, to not be exploitative.

Matt Hall: With free-to-play games, there is somewhat of a…there’s starting to develop a stigma, like people are beginning to see through them a little bit and understand the tricks that they’re employing. There was quite a famous episode of South Park three months ago where they dissected the free-to-play market and exposed it for all to see.

[South Park excerpt]

Matt Hall: I think people are slowly becoming wary of that. We took a very different approach with monetisation, as in getting people to pay for things within the game. We only sell characters for somewhere between 99c or $3.99. There is no big $99 transactions in our game and people seem to really appreciate that. In that way they were happier to share Crossy Road with their friends.

Ann Arnold: Within a week of launching last November, Crossy Road had had more than 2.5 million downloads.

Matt Hall: We were trying to work out what it was and then we realised, it was Monday and all the school kids were starting to play and talk about it in the school yard, and from there it just went up and up and up.

Ann Arnold: And was that in Australia or around the world?

Matt Hall: All around the world, yep.

Ann Arnold: The characters are quirky and appealing, but most players don’t buy them. They prefer to earn or win virtual coins in the game, which they put into a ‘prize machine’ in the hope of getting a character they want.

Jack: So you know when I’ve got a new character because it says ‘new’ at the bottom. So here you can see it says ‘try again’. That’s because it’s not a new character. [Sigh] Oh, what is it with bunnies!

Ann Arnold: That’s Jack. One of the many reasons for Crossy Road‘s success is the YouTube phenomenon of ‘Let’s Play’, where game players film their own screens and narrate their moves.

Part of Crossy Road‘s appeal to adults is nostalgia. It looks like and has a similar road-crossing theme to a popular 1980s game called Frogger.

Ben Riley: I had a little bit of a play of the game myself, and it all looked pretty benign, and reminded me of my old Frogger days.

Ann Arnold: Ben Riley works at South Australia’s Statewide Gambling Therapy Service, where he’s a cognitive behavioural therapist. He’s also doing a PhD on gambling problems. At home, he monitors pretty closely what his two young daughters have access to on their screens. But he says Crossy Road caught him out.

Ben Riley: It was one Sunday evening, I was rinsing toothbrushes in the bathroom, and I heard these familiar sounds to me in their bedroom. They share a bedroom. I heard the clear sound of what sounded like a poker machine, a gaming machine. I walked in to the young one, she was six at the time, had a look on her iPad was a full-sized image of what looked like a one-armed bandit. She was pushing a button and pulling the handle, and it made all these noises that sounded just like a poker machine. She called it a prize machine, that’s what the game refers to it as. Pull the handle, and then it randomly distributes a little prize, so that’s the reward.

Jack: Try again. I’m not getting very lucky here guys. Oh, try again. Okay, I’ve spent 500 coins now. Spent 500 coins and not got anyone I need. Try again? Really?

Ann Arnold: The prize machine, has anyone suggested to you or are you conscious that it looks like and sounds like a slot machine, a poker machine?

Matt Hall: A slot machine, exactly.

Ann Arnold: Crossy Road developer Matt Hall.

Matt Hall: We made it look like a slot machine so that people knew that this part of the game, this is the grey area part of the game, yeah, but we wanted to be very upfront with it so that people knew exactly what they were seeing.

Ann Arnold: And are you comfortable with kids using a virtual slot machine?

Matt Hall: That’s an excellent question. We wanted to make sure that the prize machine doesn’t give out money. It’s just like those Gacha machines, those little toy machines where you put your coin in and a prize pops out. That’s probably a closer analogy.

Ann Arnold: You hear the tumbling coins.

Matt Hall: Yeah, but then the prize pops out of course, yeah. No, I am a parent myself, I have a six-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old. I’m very conscious of that, like I really do not like gambling. I do not gamble myself, for example. So the idea in this was not to promote gambling but to use that visual as a way of informing the player, the parent and the kid exactly what’s going on there.

Ann Arnold: A therapist who works in a gambling treatment centre in Adelaide who is also a father, he’s got two young daughters, says his girls have been totally hooked on Crossy Road and he was pretty annoyed though when he heard the sounds of a poker machine, as he thought, coming from his six-year-old daughter’s iPad.

Matt Hall: Right, yeah. I’ve had no complaints about that come through. We have a very open email line. The support system is very easy to get to. I’ve actually had no complaints from parents, believe it or not.

Jack: Right, come on chicken, come on lucky chicken. Try again. Come on. Oh my goodness, I needed him, now I get him twice? Wow. Come on chicken. Yay, someone new.

Ann Arnold: The Game Developers Association of Australia contacted Background Briefing, concerned about the way Crossy Road may be portrayed in this program. The CEO of the association, Tony Reed, said there are other games which use much more literal gambling techniques. He suggested the Crossy Road prize machine was more akin to a machine filled with toys in a shopping arcade, where you put coins in the slot and get a random selection.

I put that to gambling treatment therapist Ben Riley, in Adelaide.

Ben Riley: I would argue that that too is a form of gambling. Unlike the arcade, a parent might feed a coin in and allow their child to get a chocolate bar or a little fluffy toy or whatever it might be. That’s one dose of a random outcome or one dose of a gamble, if you like. With the Crossy Road game, there are literally dozens and dozens and dozens of doses within a pretty short period. While the child’s sitting there playing the game, they’re continually interacting with this simulated gambling-type game. The exposure to it is a lot different.

Ann Arnold: While Ben Riley sees Crossy Road as the thin edge of the wedge, other games he’s encountered have more overt gambling devices. He saw an adult client last year who was referred with an apparent addiction to the Castle Clash game. Castle Clash is a multiplayer online game.

Ben Riley: Our first response was, ‘Well, it’s not our area, we work with gambling, not gaming.’ The person said, ‘Yes,’ informed us that they’d lost some $20,000 in the previous six months.

Ann Arnold: Ben Riley says that in Castle Clash, players use the virtual currency of gems to gamble on a rolling screen similar to a poker machine. The man had spent $20,000 on gems.

Ben Riley: Those gems were used to spin the…it’s like a virtual slot machine, and the characters would all tumble around, and then you would win a certain character. This was the part of the game that this particular individual became addicted to. He was addicted to the game itself, but also the gambling element within the game. If you end up with a character that you don’t want, you don’t get the currency back, you don’t get your money back. You have to go again, just like in real-world gambling. He met criteria for both a gaming disorder, so addiction with a computer game, but also a gambling disorder.

Ann Arnold: This extraction of a vulnerable player’s money while they’re in the vortex of a game concerns Nich Richardson, the presenter of Good Game Pocket.

Nich Richardson: There’s a corruption of the games that we like. Some big franchises have started releasing games that have elements within them that you need to pay for to unlock more of, but you’ve already bought the game up front. So that’s bringing in that micro-transaction idea, about; I’ve already paid $60 for this game, why now do I need to pay another $15 to unlock more content within it?

It’s also just a really bad image. The gaming industry is constantly dealing with image from people who don’t play games and a lot of people who don’t understand them and this image of it being like gambling is not something that’s particularly helpful to gaming being accepted.

Ann Arnold: Why are the gambling elements there? Cognitive behaviour therapist Ben Riley:

Ben Riley: We know one of the most powerful forms of conditioning is what we call random reinforcement or intermittent scheduling. I guess if you build an activity within a game that is based on chance, it has that random element, it could potentially hook people in and make it difficult for them to stop playing or they’ll play it to excess.

Ann Arnold: There’s not yet conclusive evidence about the connection between problems with game playing and gambling. But Background Briefing has talked to health and youth workers who say they see obvious overlaps within a vulnerable population. Some services are either beginning to treat people for both issues, or educating young people about the risks.

Arthur: Post-apocalyptic survival game, it’s called The Fifth Day. Survive as a robot in a heap of other robots in a post-apocalyptic world. You craft weapons to defend yourself, find ammunition, and you can be detected by the enemy bots because of your radiation, and you can use solar panels as well if you don’t want to be seen.

Ann Arnold: Thirteen-year-old Arthur in Melbourne has been attending a computer group for young people organised by Headspace, the mental health service.

Arthur: I guess, yeah, it’s a bit of an addiction.

Ann Arnold: Does it stop you doing things like going to school or anything else that you should be doing?

Arthur: A bit it stopped me going to school. I was also having quite a hard time at school. But I haven’t really been taking care of myself much.

Ann Arnold: You haven’t been taking care of yourself?

Arthur: Not that well, no, not really.

Ann Arnold: What do you mean by that? What aren’t you doing?

Arthur: A lot of the time I haven’t been taking a shower or brushing my teeth and just simple things.

Ann Arnold: When he’s on social media and mobile phone games, Arthur often sees ads for gambling and virtual gambling, in games like Temple Run.

Arthur: You’ll die in the games I guess, ones like Temple Run and stuff where you have to run and if you die you can watch an ad to get a second life and do it again, just once. A lot of the time they are gambling ads in that game though. And I know they’re gambling games because it shows pictures of slots and saying you’ll win and you’ll win and you’ll win.

Ann Arnold: Arthur’s father Danny has made a point of alerting his son to gambling risks.

Danny: Ever since he was young we’ve had lots of discussions around gambling and gambling games because we had a relative who was a heavy gambler and I grew up learning about it and it was one of my hopes that he wouldn’t become a gambler.

Ann Arnold: Not all young people have had those warnings.

Danny: I just wonder about children who are out there who haven’t got parents who are telling them about this. I guess also that I didn’t realise that these gambling games were there for children and available to them, because I’m a parent who…I look at what he plays and I’m interested to see, but I don’t follow it all the time and I don’t know that these things are there.

Ann Arnold: The new Gambling Research Australia study found young people were particularly susceptible to gambling promotions. Overall, one in ten people said they gambled more as a result of seeing social media promotions.

The researchers analysed the Facebook page of a 35-year-old male. Lead researcher Sally Gainsbury:

Sally Gainsbury: We did a case study where we had a 35-year-old male look at his Facebook profile and capture the different types of ads he saw. He found a number of ads for gambling themed games, as well as illegal gambling sites and legal gambling sites. The illegal sites often had Australian cash in them. They were targeting Australian users. They had these fake users saying, ‘I’ve won $10,000. It’s so easy. You should join up. Click here to get straight to the site.’ They were very appealing and really looked at the winnings you could have and really pressured people into joining these sites.

Ann Arnold: Sally Gainsbury says Australian law-enforcement agencies seem unable to stop the ads. That’s down to Facebook to control the advertising of what are, in Australia, illegal online casinos.

Sally Gainsbury: Essentially they’re provided through Facebook, which is a global company. They have an Australian office, but how to get Facebook to stop displaying these ads? It’s difficult and very little action appears to be taken, which means that Australians are being exposed to these ads. They can click through and start gambling on them. This includes young people as well.

Ann Arnold: A Facebook spokeswoman said Facebook prohibits gambling ads where it’s illegal. In a written statement she said: ‘We require all gambling companies who intend to advertise with us to go through a vetting process where we review their gambling licence and compliance with local laws.’

In Australia there are restrictions for gambling advertising on billboards or television, but on social media the rules are often not applied.

Sally Gainsbury: We did an audit of social media sites used by Australian gambling operators and we found that the vast majority of posts did not have any responsible gambling warning, and many of the Facebook profiles didn’t actually mention responsible gambling or this was hidden away under some sort of drill-down menu.

Ann Arnold: When it comes to virtual gambling, one new game app ups the ante, according to Senator Nick Xenophon.

Nick Xenophon: When I was told about GiiUp, I couldn’t believe that it had been allowed on the marketplace. It’s a free app. When I opened it up, you can make a simulated bet on any horse, harness or greyhound race in the country in real time.

Ann Arnold: GiiUp is an Australian product. Senator Xenophon was alerted to GiiUp earlier this year. He believed the ease of use and the graphics (some of which have since been changed) made it accessible and available to children.

Nick Xenophon: I think that this is an insidious app. It actually pushes gambling onto kids, because there doesn’t appear to be any age limit for this app because under our current bookmaking and gambling laws, because real money isn’t actually involved, it doesn’t appear to be illegal.

Apps like GiiUp can condition kids, habituate them to take up gambling. It normalises gambling behaviour. The fact that these sorts of apps make it appear very easy for kids to think that gambling is a harmless pursuit, and as soon as they turn 18 they can open up an account with a betting agency and start using real money automatically without any barriers.

Ann Arnold: Nick Xenophon wants the Interactive Gambling Act amended to close what he sees as a loophole which allowing games that use virtual currency to be not classified as gambling.

GiiUp goes beyond the virtual. It has a link to Classic Bet, which is a betting company. In the app you can click on either ‘coin bet’ for virtual gambling, or, right next to it, ‘cash bet’ to go through to real betting.

GiiUp‘s Michael Castleman told Background Briefing that children’s access to his app is a shared responsibility between parents and his company, but he didn’t elaborate. The race betting app’s blurb is ‘learn a skill for life’.

Senator Nick Xenophon is not impressed.

Nick Xenophon: It’s in the interest of betting agencies to hook up with these seemingly harmless kids’ games, these virtual gambling apps, because there’s a clear symbiotic relation between the two.

Ann Arnold: The monitoring and regulation of game and app content falls between cracks in the regulatory system, which at this stage is lagging behind creative and technological developments. The chief responsibility for electronic media content sits with ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which, as Sally Gainsbury said earlier, has never prosecuted illegal offshore gambling sites. Background Briefing requested an interview with ACMA, which was declined.

So who’s watching the apps? Nick Xenophon says that with such a regulatory vacuum, it’s the electronic stores that sell apps that need to show corporate responsibility.

Nick Xenophon: Apple iTunes and Google Play can’t ignore the fact that many of their customers are being hurt by these apps, either directly or indirectly: directly through spending up big on virtual credits, and indirectly by being conditioned and introduced to real forms of gambling, betting agencies where people can lose their pay packets, lose an enormous amount of money very quickly. So I think that Google Play and Apple iTunes simply saying ‘we comply with current laws’, really doesn’t sit well with their corporate ethos of being socially responsible. Maybe they need to be encouraged with some legislative change to make this happen.

Ann Arnold: Background Briefing sought comment from both Google and Apple. There was no response from Apple. A Google spokesman cited policy that said ‘we don’t allow content that facilitates online gambling’. That included sports betting. GiiUp is not available in the Google Play store.

If you or anyone you know needs assistance with a gambling problem, you can get 24-hour help from the National Gambling Helpline, phone 1800 858 858.

Background Briefing‘s co-ordinating producer is Linda McGinness, research by Lawrence Bull, technical production by Martin Peralta, the executive producer is Chris Bullock, and I’m Ann Arnold.

In line with previous posts, this story today reinforces what David Schwartz warned the AFL recently.  I think it is great that Guerra can be so open about his past problems, as there are many out there struggling with gambling addiction and to have a high profile ex-AFL player tell their story may encourage others to seek help if they feel their gambling is getting out of control.


Hawthorn flag star was on top of the world… and in the grip of a vicious punting addiction

  • Herald Sun
  • June 23, 2015 9:00PM

IT’S Saturday, July 6, 2009, and Brent Guerra is spending the afternoon in a TAB on the Nepean Hwy.

He put on a Big 6, trying to land the big one, and got more excited with each race as winner after winner saluted. He didn’t drink, he didn’t really talk to any others punters. He just sat there and watched and waited. Race 3 became Race 4 and then finally, it’s Race 8. Guerra’s $50 has become $30,000.

He hadn’t felt like this before. Fifty bucks into 30k in less than four hours. He wondered, foolishly, did he have the knack of picking winners? Ticket in hand, he jumped in the car and drove straight to the MCG, where Hawthorn played Collingwood. The Hawks won and Guerra got a Brownlow Medal vote. The the next day he exchanged his ticket for $29,950 in cash.

It was the best weekend of his life and Guerra’s punting nightmare had begun.

“I ended up winning $30,000 and from that point I ended up giving every cent back, plus a hell of a lot more,” he said.

“I wasn’t a big punter, but that $50 turned into $100 and turned into $1000, and turned into $1500 on horses.”

He would be smart that first day. He kept $10,000 and paid $20,000 off his home loan. But soon enough, he had burned the $10,000 on the punt and began a horrible cycle of withdrawing from the home loan. He took back $20,000 and lost it. And then it was 50K. It didn’t stop.

A journeyman footballer at his third club, Guerra was on a contract worth about $200,000 at the Hawks.

It wasn’t a lot in relative terms, but it fed his addiction. And he was rapt to get a premiership bonus in 2013 because it meant he had more money to punt.

At the Hawks, he was paid on the 15th of every month and often his wage would be gone by the 17th.

He was a in cycle of winning and chasing. Win big. Lose more. Go again. On one end-of-season trip to Las Vegas, Guerra lost $20,000. At the end, he estimated he had lost $400,000 in four years.

His punting problems began when he arrived at Hawthorn for the 2006 season from St Kilda (his first club was Port Adelaide).

“When I got to Hawthorn it had a betting culture,” he said.

“There were a lot of guys in horses who didn’t mind having a bet. It became a thing where it was once a month, once a fortnight, to once a week to, in the end, I was punting every day.

“It was mainly horses, the greyhounds, the trots. If I could bet if it was going to rain the next day I would. It got to a point where I would drop three or four thousand on a weekend.

“I knew I had a problem and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was embarrassed to speak to my family, my girlfriend and now my wife Rachel, and my best mates.”

He recalls vividly, heart-breakingly, his life of deceit and lies, of self-loathing and anger.

Throughout, his best friends were the TABs and Channel 519 on Foxtel, Sky Racing. He would visit the TABs alone. Often he would be recognised so he concocted a plan to spread himself around.

“I could probably name every TAB from here in Richmond to Cheltenham,” he said.

“That’s the sad thing. If I had a spare half an hour to kill, that’s where I would kill it, in a TAB or a pub or even on my phone in the car waiting.”

Rachel was living with him while he was a gambling addict, but she never knew. Rachel is a midwife, working different shifts, so Guerra lived his secret world around her working hours.

“If she worked in the afternoon, it would be from 2pm to 9pm and I’d get home from training at 3pm or 4pm and I’d sit there punting until she walked in the door.”

Just before Rachel got home, he’d switch channels and turn off the TV, so when Rachel turned it on, it would be on the movie channel or a gardening channel.

“It’s sad. You don’t get out and about. You sit in your house and all you think about is winning money and before you know it, you’ve dropped three or four thousand dollars.”

He tried to stop himself by changing the PIN number to access Sky Channel. He’d cover his eyes and push any four numbers so he couldn’t log back in.

But the need to bet was greater than his conviction and he would ring Foxtel asking them to reset his PIN number. At these times, he would argue with himself.

“I’d always talk to myself, it’s amazing how much you talk to yourself as a gambler.”

He also put a restriction on how much he could withdraw from the bank — $1000. That didn’t work, either.

“I can remember nights at the casino — I also bet at the casino — and I’d be sitting there at the ATM at 11.50pm waiting for 12 midnight to arrive, so I could get another $1000 out.

“There was one month I probably lost $30,000. Every day was $1000 a day.”

He would bet on anything: Cards, roulette, horses, dogs, trots, rugby league, soccer and even badminton.

“I may have lost $2000 that day and I wanted a quick fix, so I’d bet on the next sport available and it was badminton … I couldn’t even tell you who was playing.”

Often, he’d be up until 2am in front of Sky Channel at home.

“I’d watch the races, betting on South African races, European races, Swedish trots, Perth races normally finish about midnight, Mandurah greyhounds … I was on all of them.’’

It was a hideous life. He would even bet when his was car was stopped at red lights.

Credit betting enticed and tormented Guerra. At times he had half a dozen accounts with online bookmakers and owed the lot of them.

“I would lie in bed and have the sweats,” he said. “I’d have accounts open with bookies and you owed them $5000 or $10,000 or $20,000, or whatever it was.

“More often than not the night before the game I was so exhausted because I hadn’t slept during the week. I’d normally get a good night sleep because I knew the next day I got to play footy.

“It was the one time, other than drinking three bottles of red, and that’s what I did sometimes to forget about it … football was the release. It was only time I didn’t think about having a bet.”

The punting eventually took hold in the bedroom. After Rachel would fall asleep, Guerra would get on his iPhone.

“I’d have my phone laying on the floor and I’d be halfway hanging out of the bed betting, trying to hide it, the phone on silent,.

“She never knew. There’d be times I would be sitting on the couch, I’d get a tip, and I’d say: ‘I’m going to the toilet or going out the front to do the gardening’, and I’d listen to a race or watch it.’’

Gamblers are liars. They look you in the eye and lie through their teeth.

Guerra was lying to Rachel and to his parents. Because he’d be broke, he would ask them for money. He’d tell them his money had gone off the home loan and he’d use their money to punt. Lies and losses dictated his life.

Guerra spiralled into depression.

“I had some demons in my head, to be thinking some of things I was thinking. You feel worthless,” he said.

Thoughts of self-harm?

“Yeah, I thought about it. It’s making me cry thinking about it. I actually thought: `What is the easiest way to do it?’ I was never going to, but I thought: ‘I wish I was dead, it would be easier.’

“I don’t want others to have those same thoughts. This is not just for AFL footballers, this is everyone.

“There will be people thinking about it right now. They’ve probably done their dough just today.

Brent Guerra says he has not gambled since January as he continues his recovery

“So, by me telling my story, if I can help anyone not have those thoughts in their head, then that is a positive. Just speak to someone. I found it easier telling someone first, then telling my family. They will support you.

“I may help one or two people. I may help many people.’’

Guerra eventually helped himself.

“I was lying in bed and I was crying,’’ he said. “Rach was asleep, she didn’t wake up. I was crying, thinking about what I had done. The stress I had put my body under, the pain I must have caused other people. So, the very next day I called Paul Connors, my manager. I couldn’t keep it going. I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing to myself, my family, the people who are very close to me. To look back now, it’s hard to know that’s what I was doing.”

After retiring in 2013, Guerra stayed at the Hawks as a part-time development coach.

He spoke to Connors at the end of 2013 and to the Hawks in early 2014, who put him in contact with Jan Beames, the woman who helped David Schwarz stop his gambling.

That was the professional help, his first step. His second step was to tell Rachel, his mum and dad and his best friends, Luke Livingstone and Luke Hodge.

How was Rachel? “Upset. She was very disappointed with herself she didn’t pick it up earlier.”

And Hodgey? “I found it hard because I was so embarrassed. You hear about people being problem gamblers, but you never think you’re one yourself until you need to face the facts. Telling your best mates is one of the hardest and then worse was telling your family.”

He credits Rachel and son Jack, who was born in March, for providing the strength to fight on. “I would’ve gone back to punting and lying,” he said. “I owe everything to Rachel, to all of them, for the support they gave me.”

Guerra weaned himself off gambling and has not had a bet, he says, since January. Rachel is in charge of the finances and she allows him $250 a week to live.

Now playing coach at Chelsea in the Mornington Peninsula League, Guerra will soon join the AFL’s overhauled responsible gambling program, which will be headed by Schwarz.

He wants to help footballers — some of whom he knows to have problems — and the TAC Cup kids.

“I want to help people, I see it as a problem across the whole of the AFL,” Guerra said.

“I’ve got no one to blame but myself and I’m not looking for sympathy. I just want to tell people there are dark days, very dark days, and make them think twice about having a bet.’’

For anyone requiring help, contact Gambler’s Helpline on 1800 858 858 or LIFELINE ON 13 11 14

I remember reading these articles about a month ago, and was thinking about it again on the weekend with the bye in the AFL, as Richmond weren’t playing.  Many young men are struggling with gambling addiction, and the young men playing AFL are not exempt from the same attraction to sports betting and gambling or the associated problems.  With the amount of money they earn allowing for excessive disposable income, combined with too much spare time and the sports betting environment that surrounds the AFL, it is little wonder there are players who end up becoming addicted to gambling whilst trying to forge a career in the AFL.  With about 800 AFL players in the system across 18 clubs, there are 30 players with known serious gambling problems, which accounts for 3.75% of all the players, or an average of nearly 2 players a club.

The hidden danger in this issue is that an AFL player in debt and desperate for cash could influence the result of a game or a bet type in their favour.  And to think that the AFL would be exempt from this type of behaviour would be naive in the face of what Hansie Cronje and many other professional cricketers have done in the past.


Reformed addict David Schwarz warns of major gambling problem in AFL

Tuesday 5 May 2015 – AAP

Former AFL star and high-profile reformed gambling addict David Schwarz wants government action on betting adverts, warning of a rapidly-growing problem among AFL players.

He has spoken to about 30 current players with serious gambling issues. Schwarz blew about $5 million because of gambling, but has not laid a bet for a decade. The former Demons key forward will soon front a revamped AFL program that aims to help players who are problem gamblers.

“I absolutely agree there is far too much advertising,” he told SEN. “But while it’s here and while it’s not legislated against, we have to deal with it as best we can. What we have to do is put pressure on governments to minimise advertising to the appropriate times, so the kids aren’t as influenced.”

Schwarz added that it would be counter-productive to put too many legal curbs on gambling. He said 99% of people gambled responsibly and it remains an individual choice.

“I understand that the gambling ads make up a big percentage of SEN, they make up a big percentage of the AFL,” he said. “But the last thing we want to do is drive betting underground. We need to have it regulated, so we can keep on top of irregular betting patterns.”

Schwarz said a key for the growing betting problem among AFL players is to drum the message into them right from when they join the TAC Cup Under-18 competition.

“When they get into the system, players need to understand the pitfalls – understand the things that can go wrong and how quickly it can escalate,” Schwarz told SEN. “It’s a really funny one, gambling, and people go ‘why don’t you just stop?’.

“But you can’t smell it, you can’t see it – it’s a little hidden thing that sneaks up on a lot of people. The last couple of years in particular, the increase of players and player managers and clubs, who are needing help and advice on how to help their players out, has been a real concern.”

Schwarz said it is no surprise that gambling would be an issue among AFL players. “These are young men who hit the key demographic for a lot of the problems out there,” he said.

“Many of them are young, single, they earn good money, they have a lot of spare time. So if you were to put together the perfect specimen for someone who might fall into a bit of strife, professional athletes hit the category most. They’re risk takers, they’re adrenaline junkies, they like the thrill.”

But he added that if problem gamblers receive the right help, they can stop. Schwarz said it was probably easier for AFL players to stop gambling, because they had club support around them.

“We have some great stories – players who have been right on the depths of despair,” he said. “Their financial position was in dire straits and they’ve turned it all around. They’ve turned it around really quickly.”

AFL players blowing thousands amid gambling epidemic labelled footy’s ‘hidden problem’

Mark Robinson – Herald Sun, May 05, 2015

A PUNTING epidemic has gripped the ranks of AFL players.

David Schwarz, a reformed gambling addict, who will front the AFL’s revamped gambling program, says he has talked to up to 30 current players with major gambling problems.

Horse racing and multi-bets placed across a range of sports, mostly American, are the biggest attraction.

The Herald Sun has learned of:

A PLAYER who dropped $30,000 in a day betting on horses.

ANOTHER player who lost $40,000 on a Saturday before playing the next day.

Schwarz said last night he had spoken to players who had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It’s an escalating problem … it’s bordering on being an epidemic,’’ he said.

“I know players who have lost three-quarters of their wages in a month through gambling, which is hundreds of thousands over time.’’

Leading player manager Paul Connors last night said of gambling: “It’s the hidden problem in footy.’’

And an AFL club chief executive, who did not wish to be named, said last night: “After training, the players go home and they are bored and start betting. American sports, that’s what they bet on: the NFL, the NBA.’’

In late March team captains alerted the AFL to the growing crisis, warning gambling was the No.1 problem with players in their spare time.

Some players aren’t afraid to lose up to $100,000 a year gambling, Schwarz says.

But many players don’t inform their clubs or the AFL Players Association because they are scared their names will be made public.

The AFL will shortly announce a new range of measures to help players.

“Ultimately, one player struggling with a gambling problem is one too many,’’ said Andrew Dillon, the AFL’s general counsel.

“David Schwarz has approached the AFL and put forward a proposal for a progressive gambling support program for players and the wider AFL community that is under consideration.”

Schwarz said growing numbers of players were contacting him for help each season.

“It affects their football,’’ he said.

“I’ve spoken to a number of clubs, a number of players and player managers, and they believe it’s the biggest problem with the players.

“It varies from managers who are concerned about their player, to players who are fully blown problem gamblers.

“They are on the verge of losing everything, or have hit a point where they will never recover,” Schwarz said.

“They will walk out of the game without having accumulated anything, and they have been in the system for eight to 10 years.

“The mindset is, they believe they are going to earn big money, so if they lose $100,000 in a year it’s not a big deal.

“Some managers take full control of their money and give them an allowance each week,’’ Schwarz said.

This article is worth sharing, as it highlights the pervasive nature of the sports betting agencies in Australia and how many young Australian sports fans are growing up with sports betting being normalised around their favourite sports.  We are bombarded with quirky gambling ads and odds information, live crosses to sports betting agencies during matches and even commentators speculating about odds and who deserves to be favourite in pre-game discussions.

The lack of infomation about the true nature of sports betting is frightening, and by selling the belief that you will win money betting on your favourite sport because everyone else appears to be, it is easy to see why many young and no doubt older Australians are ending up in debt and constantly losing money betting on sports and the racing industry.


‘Dramatic increase’ in online gambling addiction among young men, treatment clinic warns

By Lindy Kerin

28th May 2015

Some teenagers are racking up debts of $30,000 through online sports betting, and the number of young people asking for help has doubled in three years, the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment Clinic says.

The treatment centre’s operator says the bulk of their clients used to be poker machine addicts, but now they are treating mostly young men in trouble with online betting.

State of Origin is one of the most popular sporting events in Australia and Wednesday night’s game was watched by millions of people.

Just before kick-off viewers were given the latest odds and the following Sportsbet advertisement was played during the game:

“With Sportsbet for Origin Game 1, place a head-to-head bet and if your team lose by eight points or less — cash back up to $100.”

It is this sort of marketing of online betting that is being blamed for an increase in the number of young people developing gambling addictions.

Dr Christopher Hunt has been a clinical psychologist at the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment Clinic for eight years.

“When I first started, we pretty much never saw anyone of that 18 to 25-year-old demographic, but what we’ve seen is a dramatic increase, especially over the past three, four years,” he said.

“So in the past three years we’ve seen a doubling in the number of people from that demographic … in 2012 we had 23, and last year we had 50, and this year we’re on track to see even more.

“It seems to be young men who are getting themselves into trouble, and I guess that’s particularly related to the fact that it’s tied to sports and horse betting, because those sorts of gambling are almost always men’s preferred forms of gambling.”

Dr Hunt remembered one young man in particular, who took money from his employer to pay off gambling debts and lost his marriage and employment prospects in a health profession as a result.

“It got to the point that just before he came to see us he was thinking about killing himself and that was essentially the trigger that brought him into our clinic,” he said.

Using sports knowledge to make money ‘ultimately a false belief’

Dr Hunt said he believed the increased promotion of online gambling is to blame for the rise, as well as the easy access to online betting through Smartphone’s and tablets.

He said while sporting codes had introduced some measures to not talk about odds during a game, sports betting was still promoted during advertisement breaks.

“This escalation of this marketing of sports betting seems to have occurred just before we’re seeing this rise in gambling in young men,” he said.

“So while we haven’t done the studies to conclusively say that these things are caused by this increase in marketing, it definitely seems to have occurred at the same time.

“When you’re constantly pushing this message that betting is glamorous, betting is fun, betting is a way you can be a winner [and] you can turn your interest and knowledge of sports into money, it’s an incorrect statement essentially, but it’s part of the core that’s really getting people trapped into these gambling problems.

“It’s this belief that if I have an interest in sports, if I know something about sports, I can use that to make money, which at the end of the day is ultimately a false belief.”

Dr Hunt said community attitudes towards gambling must change and urged young people who have started getting into trouble to get help early.

“Really nip it in the bud now because the people that we do see in their 30s and their 40s and their 50s, they first started getting into problems with gambling in their early 20s,” he said.

“Whilst at that stage it might not have been as problematic for them, that’s when it started for pretty much all our clients and by the time we’re seeing people in their 40s and 50s, what we’re seeing is people that have lost houses, people who have lost jobs, people who have lost marriages, people who have lost custody of their kids as a result of their gambling.”

Support is available through the Gambler’s Help website or by calling the free Gambling Help Line on 1800 858 858.