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Gambling in a mobile era: a wrap on last month’s 5th International Gambling Conference in NZ

The recent 5th International Gambling Conference in Auckland had its focus on: Gambling in a Mobile Era: Developments, Regulation and Responses.

The biennial conference is a well-established New Zealand event hosted by three organisations; Maori public health provider Hapai Te Hauora Tapui, the Gambling and Addictions Research Centre at Auckland University of Technology, and the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand. It aims to focus on what can be done to eliminate gambling-related harm in families and communities. It also looks to build the skills of the providers who work in this sector, sharing knowledge about the latest research, public health interventions and treatment techniques, and encouraging national and international collaborations.

Andrée Froude  from the Problem Gambling Foundation  kindly provided this wrap of proceedings, which also looked at the operations and successes of the world’s first and only Gambling Treatment Court, in New York.

***

Internet gambling a threat…but pokies still biggest problem

Andrée Froude writes

According to the latest results from the Roy Morgan Gambling Monitor, 21 per cent (or 758,000 people) of the more than 3.5 million Australians aged 18+ who placed a bet of some kind over the past year, did so via the internet. This shows a marked increase since 2010 when online gamblers comprised 14 per cent of Australia’s betting population but this is hardly surprising given the ease of access and availability of devices that enable us to gamble online.

Globally, the growth of online gambling and keeping pace with the development of new technology poses challenges for regulators, researchers and those working to prevent harm from gambling.

Samantha Thomas, Associate Professor of Public Health at School of Health and Society, University of Wollongong, spoke in her keynote address at the conference about Australia’s experiences with the proliferation of sports betting advertising and the widespread concern about the impact of marketing strategies on the consumption of wagering products.

Although it hasn’t happened to this extent in New Zealand yet, it certainly put sports betting advertising ‘on the radar’ for local delegates, particularly the implications for young people where the impact of much of this advertising is felt.

Worldwide we are seeing exponential growth in sports betting where sport is becoming not so much about the game but about the odds. Samantha’s keynote address drew on the experiences from Big Food and Big Tobacco and aptly reminded delegates of the importance of a solid public health approach to prevent the potential long and short term risks associated with sports-based marketing strategies.

Several speakers provided an important ‘take home message’ from the conference for those working in the problem gambling sector about how the gambling debate is framed. They highlighted the importance of using language that did not position this as an individual responsibility or medical problem.  We need to be using language that recognises that this is more about product design and is a regulatory issue. For example, when we describe someone as a problem gambler, are we laying the blame only on the individual rather than the product?

The conference also addressed how best we help those whose lives are significantly impacted by gambling. Keynote speaker, Judge Mark G. Farrell, Senior Justice in the Amherst, New York Criminal and Civil Court, challenged our thinking about how we approach the treatment of gambling defendants within our respective criminal justice systems. Judge Farrell drew on his 12-year-plus experience of establishing the world’s first and only Gambling Treatment Court to assist legislative, governmental, and community coalitions who may consider implementing this type of court and applying the philosophy of Therapeutic Justice to gambling defendants.

He said it would be much cheaper to provide treatment for gambling addicts who commit crimes than jail them and it would reduce reoffending, Judge Farrell said it costs US$7,000 to US$10,000 to put an offender through a year-long gambling treatment program, compared with US$83,000 to keep a prisoner for a year in a New Zealand jail. Of the 92 people who have graduated from his gambling court, 90 per cent have not reoffended.

But while the conference examined the impact of mobile gambling and new technologies, it was clear that all those working in the problem gambling sector continue to be focused on what is creating the most harm from gambling right now – and that is still, for New Zealand and Australia, pokie machines.

More than 70 per cent of New Zealanders who seek help for a gambling problem do so because of pokie machines. Over 40 per cent of the money lost on pokie machines comes from people with gambling problems.

Recent data published in the Economist magazine from H2 Gambling Capital, an international gaming research agency, shows Australians gamble (and lose) more than any other country in the world on a per-person basis, with New Zealand ranked fourth. In both countries, the biggest chunk is spent on non-casino pokie machines.

The conference reminded us it is important not to lose sight of the impact of these dangerous addictive products on our families and our communities.

The 6th International Gambling Conference will be held in Auckland in February 2016 (TBC).