Posts Tagged ‘gaming’

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

So when the president of the Hawthorn football club and Beyond Blue talks about the dangers of sportsbetting, we should take it seriously.  Nevermind his club collects the most money from poker machines of any AFL team, where poker machines have caused gambling addiction and wrecked lives ever since they were introduced into Victoria… by Kennett.



‘Biggest scourge’: Kennett takes aim at AFL’s betting stance

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett has lashed the AFL over its stance on sports betting, which he described as the “biggest scourge in our community”.

The former Victorian premier believes issues associated with gambling have overtaken mental health as the biggest challenge in the game, while his Greater Western Sydney counterpart Tony Shepherd has called for more regulation.

Kennett, whose club collects more money from poker machines than any other in the league, is concerned about the volume of betting advertising during broadcasts of games.

The AFL has an estimated $10 million deal with corporate sports bookmaker Crownbet, which runs live odds on the league’s website during games, while broadcasters Channel Seven and Fox Footy have their own betting partners.

Kennett described betting on sport and horseracing as a “very serious gambling threat”.

“I hold the AFL not responsible, partly responsible, I think sports betting is the biggest scourge in our community at the moment,” Kennett said at a business lunch in Melbourne run by club sponsor Bingo.

“It’s not restricted in terms of its promotion and advertising in the same way casinos or gaming machines are.

“So you’re now not only getting players but you’re getting children who are being indoctrinated from an early age to believe their future or future success and future wealth will come from gaming. The AFL is a major beneficiary from the money paid from sports betting.”

The federal government’s ban on gambling advertising during all live sports broadcasts between 5am and 8.30pm came into effect in March. The move is designed to reduce children’s exposure.

Kennett believes the widespread access to bookmakers on mobile phones is contributing to the problem.

“They train for a couple of hours, have an hour down, not long enough to leave the environment where they’re at, so they get on the new devices and that has caused a lot of trouble to a lot of players,” Kennett said.

“So they finish their career without anything at all in terms of cash. We’re very aware of that at Hawthorn … but it’s very hard to educate and encourage young men who are earning a lot of money what they can do in the privacy of their own time.”

Former players Brendan Fevola, Brent Guerra and Daniel Ward are among those who have spoken publicly about their gambling addictions.

Shepherd described betting as a “disease” in the sporting codes.

“This gambling issue could impact the integrity of the game in future. I see it as a significant issue that has to be dealt with,” Shepherd, a former president of the Business Council of Australia, said.

“I’m an anti-regulation person but I think regulation is probably the only answer.”

The AFL defended its betting partnerships, saying they helped the league in their integrity measures by giving them access to betting records of participants.

“The reason we have our agreements with various wagering partners is so the AFL can monitor all betting transactions in Australia, including whether players or officials are betting for integrity purposes,” an AFL spokesman said.

By Andrew Wu

2 August 2018 — 8:56pm

Australia has the highest rates of problem gambling in world, and the normalising of it through advertising and imbedded dialogue during live sport is going to affect generations to come.  Is it possible anymore to watch a game of AFL without a refence to the odds and the sportsbet favourite, from the commentators to the ads to the cuts to Sportsbet?



Online, interactive sports gambling addiction takes heavy toll on young men, says Tim Costello

While poker machines have been a perennial concern for problem gambling among older Australians, there is a slick and deceptive juggernaut quickly taking hold of young men — sports gambling.

According to Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesperson Tim Costello, the nature of watching live sport as a young man in Australia has changed dramatically.

Men are no longer taking an interest in just whether their team wins, they are financially invested in games they might have never watched because they have a wager on the outcome.

“Sports betting is the fastest growing level of addiction,” Mr Costello said.

“Pokies target middle-aged women who are invited to go to a club, dress up and someone opens the door for you and you sit there and devastate your life.

“Sports betting targets young men and that’s a rapidly growing area of addiction.”

Mr Costello’s thoughts have been echoed by an Australian Gambling Research Centre report into interactive gambling, which states that sports and race wagering are the dominant forms of interactive gambling in Australia, and interactive gamblers are more likely to be young men.

It is one of the key issues that will be discussed today at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus for The Spectrum of Gambling Harms Seminar.

Governments to blame for sports betting rise: Costello

Mr Costello said Australia had the highest rates of problem gambling in world, as well as being home to 20 per cent of the world’s poker machines.

He rejected the concept that betting was part of the Australian character, and has levelled the blame for the prevalence of gambling in Australia at state governments.

“The immoral failure of state governments to protect the vulnerable and instead allow more pokies is one of the big reasons [for problem gambling in Australia],” he said.

“Incessant sports betting and the lax rules that allow kids to be targeted with what are gambling products when the footy and cricket are on — that’s another one of the reasons.”

But Clubs NSW spokesperson Anthony Ball said the majority of people who played poker machines did it safely and within their budget.

”There’s a small fraction of the population that doesn’t and we’ve been committed to looking for ways to help people who do have a problem to help themselves,” he said.

“Australians are punters and it’s part of our history and culture and there’s no doubt pokies are a popular form of recreation for the working-class man.”

He said problem gambling rates in NSW had been falling and were below one per cent of the adult population.

“Clubs for a decade have been heavily invested in providing education for their staff and becoming better at identifying problematic behaviour.

“There is an abundance of information and people to talk to, and we want them to understand how poker machines work and allow people to exclude themselves using a web-based interface — every club with gambling does that and they care about their members.”

How interactive gambling can take hold

While a poker-machine player has the gatekeeper of a club employee, when it comes to interactive gambling it is done in private and on phones and home computers.

A problem gambler can place bets quietly and repeatedly without anyone seeing them to identify that there is something wrong.

ABC RN contributor Leigh shared his story of gambling addiction that eventually saw him convicted for fraud after stealing $130,000 from his employer to fuel his addiction.

“The bets would range anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000 a day. I would bet until 3:00am, try to sleep for three hours and bet again for another three hours on online racing in the United States,” he said.

“I always thought the stereotypical gambling addict was a working-class, middle-aged man or woman, sitting at their local club, feeding their favourite pokies machine four or five nights a week, but I rarely ventured into the local TAB.”

Mr Costello said each problem gambler in Australia will lose about $1,100 dollars per year, which is the highest in the world.

Singapore is next highest for losses ($800), then Ireland ($600).

“Having done this for 20 years, you start to think ‘maybe it’s time to give up’, but the encouraging thing is that we now are seeing such disgust from the public at sports betting,” Mr Costello said.

“We’re going to get a ban on sports betting ads before 8:30 at night, and that’s pressure the Federal Government has been brought under, so that’s a win.”


By Justin Huntsdale

Posted 6 Sep 2017

It is sad to see that governments in some states and territories are making it easy for people with gambling addictions to blow their money.  The gambling industry was opposed to the reforms of the previous Gillard government, and now that the LNP are in charge, those reforms are all but gone or being ignored as problem gamblers are once again encouraged to spend their money on poker machines and the TAB in venues, pubs and clubs.  The power of the gambling industry is making this possible, where they have made large donations to governments at state and federal levels to win government support, where in return the government takes no action on recommended reforms and guidelines to help problem gamblers and people with gambling addictions as the increase in gambling revenue equates to an increase in their tax revenue.  This article poses the pertinent question; if Australians spend more per head on gambling than any other country, why are governments encouraging further growth of a harmful industry?  And the simple answer is that governments are themselves addicted and reliant on the tax generated from the gambling industry, to the point where the cost of reforms and restrictions to help problem gamblers outweighs their need to generate revenue from this insidious source.

Gambling pays off … for Australian governments

By Mike Steketee

State and territory governments increasingly rely on gambling tax for revenue, which helps explain why Australia is currently going backwards on the issue despite clear evidence of a public health threat, writes Mike Steketee.

Two weeks ago, the Baird Government in NSW introduced changes to make life easier for serious poker machine players. That is part of a trend, with governments in Canberra, Queensland and the Northern Territory going down the same path. After its comprehensive demolition of the Gillard government’s reforms to tackle problem gambling, the gambling industry has pressed home its advantage by extracting further concessions to increase its profits, guarantee its further expansion, and increase the misery of the estimated 115,000 mainly low-income Australians with a serious gambling addiction – one mostly caused by the pokies. However, there are signs of pushback.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has been formed to co-ordinate the activities of church and community groups who speak for the 70 per cent of Australians who said in 2011 that gambling should be more tightly controlled. Separately, Neil Lawrence, the ad man who created the Kevin 07 campaign, has left a significant legacy after his sudden death this week in the Maldives: a powerful documentary, scheduled to be shown on the ABC, revealing how pokies are specifically engineered to encourage addiction. In the meantime, as a result of the most recent changes, gamblers in NSW clubs can now store $5,000 in an account or a smart card – a 25-fold increase from the previous standard limit of $200. As well, they can receive up to $5,000 of their winnings in cash, whereas previously amounts over $2,000 had to be paid by cheque or electronic funds transfer.

Monash University’s Charles Livingstone, an authority on gambling issues, says it is hard to fathom why a player would want $5,000 so readily at hand unless they had a very serious issue with poker machine gambling. He describes the other measure – raising the threshold for cheques or EFT to $5,000 – as “a recipe to ensure that problem gamblers … simply pour their winnings back into the machine ASAP”. But wait, that’s not all. In what the government argues is a counter-balance, there is a reduction from $10,000 to $7,500 in the maximum amount pokie players can insert and store in machines and an increase from three to six months in the minimum period problem gamblers can ban themselves from venues. If that looks like tokenism, that is because it is. Livingstone told me that the reduction from $10,000 to $7,500 is meaningless: This is supposed to be a harmless entertainment. Why on earth would you need to put $7,500 in a poker machine in a club or pub if it were genuinely merely harmless fun?

The only impact of this is to make money laundering slightly more difficult, but only slightly. He describes self-exclusion as a useful strategy for a small number of people, but says it is far more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The changes stem from a pre-election commitment by the NSW Liberals and Nationals to secure the support of Clubs NSW, the most powerful part of the lobby that mounted an expensive campaign to torpedo the Gillard government’s plans for gambling reform. The measures are spelled out in a memorandum of understanding that also includes a promise to “retain existing gaming machine operating conditions”, with any proposals for change requiring “rigorous assessment” and consultation. In other words, don’t dare lift a finger without telling us or we’ll hit you with another campaign. Needless to say, the public were not party to this agreement. There are some common themes in the backsliding by governments.

In Queensland, the Newman government also changed the rules to allow winnings of up to $5,000 to be paid in cash. Previously, jackpots could only be paid out by cheque and the cheque could not be cashed at the gambling venue for at least 24 hours – tougher rules than those that used to apply in NSW. Like the Baird Government, the Newman government justified this and a raft of other changes in the name of reducing red tape. Livingstone and his Monash University colleague Louise Francis had a different explanation in a report last year commissioned by the Anglican Church: This is clearly in the interests of EGM [electronic gaming machine or poker machine] venue operators and against the interests of people experiencing issues with gambling… In our opinion, this is a wholly detrimental measure that cannot be justified on ‘red tape reduction’ principles. Instead it appears intended to increase the likelihood that EGM users, especially problem gamblers who win substantial amounts, will, in all likelihood, lose those funds at the same venue.

The Queensland changes also increase the number of poker machines allowed under a club licence from 280 to 500, with a maximum of 300 at one venue. Livingstone and Francis said the likely effect would be to increase the average size of venues with poker machines and that it was well established that larger establishments generated more revenue per machine. “There is significant potential for exacerbating gambling related harm in vulnerable communities as a result of increasing allowable machine numbers in venues,” they said.

Last December, the Northern Territory Government announced an increase in the number of poker machines allowed in hotels from 10 to 20 and in clubs from 45 to 55. What of the $150,000 donation by the Australian Hotels Association to the governing Country Liberal Party before the last election? We have the word of Gaming Minister Peter Styles that it did not influence the Government’s decision. These measures are on top of the Abbott Government’s repeal last year, with Labor’s support, of the few measures that survived the onslaught from the clubs on the Gillard government.

They included limits on withdrawals from ATMs, the installation of so-called pre-commitment technology on replacement poker machines so as to allow players to nominate beforehand the maximum amount they were prepared to lose, and a trial of a mandatory pre-commitment scheme. Together, these decisions represent a big step in the wrong direction at a time when studies by the Productivity Commission and others have confronted us with the reality of problem gambling – bankruptcies, family break-ups, crime and suicide. Addiction to gambling is as much a public health issue as smoking or drug addiction. What governments have done is akin to re-introducing smoking in restaurants and bars.

Total gambling expenditure per head in Australia grew after inflation from $577 in 1986-87 to $1,179 in 2011-12. That meant total gambling losses of $20.5 billion in 2011-12, 84 per cent of it on gaming, with the rest on racing and sports betting. Considering Australians spend more per head on gambling than any other country, why are governments encouraging further growth of a harmful industry? Because government policy on gambling is compromised on multiple fronts. State and territory governments increasingly have relied on it for revenue, with their takings almost doubling after inflation to $5.5 billion in the 25 years to 2011-12.

With the growth of the industry has come the increase in the power of the clubs and hotel lobbies, and that power has included making political donations. In the Northern Territory, the Australian Hotels Association gave the same amount – $150,000 – to the Labor Party before the last election as to the Country Liberal Party. The last time there were meaningful measures to control gambling was in Victoria more than five years ago. They included a $5 maximum bet – a change Livingstone says was introduced without industry opposition. He adds that a $1 maximum would reduce the harmful effects of gambling, given that 80 per cent of problem gambling stems from poker machines. Among the politicians, only independents like Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie are prepared these days to stand up to the gambling lobby.

Wilkie put a bill for $1 bets, among other measures, before Parliament last November but the Abbott Government refused to allow it to come up for debate. Xenophon plans to introduce into the spring session of Parliament a bill to apply restrictions to online gambling. This is emerging as a threat, even while the much larger one from poker machines remains to be tackled.

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.