By Zoe Ong
Gambling has become a part of Australian culture. Gambling rates have increased but has public awareness? Gambling can lure people into a never ending race of financial and social problems, especially when it integrates itself into all of our favourite events.
The Melbourne Cup is the day that ‘Stops the Nation’. Fervently anticipated nationwide, thousands flock to Melbourne and countless more watch on from local pubs, RSLs or even at work to observe what has become a principal event in Australian culture. Whilst the Melbourne Cup is often advertised as a day of revelry, celebration and fun, recent years have seen public awareness increase regarding the treatment of horses, but there has also been an increase in gambling surrounding the Cup. Whilst some Australians choose to refrain from the Melbourne Cup for personal moral or ethical reasons, gambling has boomed. But Australia has always had a rather relaxed stance around gambling, something that was a prevalent part of the races, or a ‘day out’. But when did gambling become integral around everything Australians hold fast as our culture? More importantly, has the increase in gambling also seen an increase in public awareness of how it has managed to find its way into seemingly every public event that we cherish as Australians?
Gambling has always been part of Australian culture and little stigma has surrounded it in regards to the races. Alexander Blaszczyski, Professor and Director of the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment Clinic believes that gambling as part of our culture has stemmed from Australian tradition, stretching back to Britain’s colonization of Australia in the late 18th century as a form of entertainment. For many Australians, gambling as part of our culture comes without heavy stigma about consequences or risks - but do the public need to recognise the dangers associated with it rather than taking the relaxed stance we have until now?
In the past year, the number of advertisements that promote online gambling have increased exponentially. It is hard to recall a time where gambling ads have been so prevalent in the media that we consume. If you’re watching prime time television, it is not uncommon to experience at least two ads for Australian online bookmakers such as BetEasy or SportsBet, or advertisements from foreign betting/gambling companies like Ladbrokes. Bookmakers often use slogans such as Ladbrokes’ ‘back yourself’, as a way of stimulating links between betting for a favoured sporting team as a form of support. This consistent advertising of gambling as part of our culture has crafted supporter betting into something complementary to the sport, part of the event itself. Gambling ads lack screens at the end telling people where to get help for addiction, and recently the phrase ‘gamble responsibly’ has been more and more prevalent. Is this half-hearted approach doing more harm than good? Promoting the idea of gambling responsibly seems contradictory and damaging to the easily manipulated psyche. Somehow, consistent subliminal messaging has further encouraged a ‘casual gambling culture’ in Australia, which has led to public ignorance regarding the risk involved - and consequences to those that have developed real problems.
Research conducted by the Australian Government Australian Institute of Family Studies has shown that as of 2015, 41% of all regular sports bettors (234,000 adults) experienced one or more gambling problems that year, and in a typical month, 46 cents from every dollar spent on sports betting by regular bettors came from a person with moderate to severe gambling problems.
The accessibility and promotion of betting in sports or races in recent years is of great concern to everyone in Australia, not just bettors themselves. Bettors who partake in ‘casual gambling’ can fall into deep trouble or addiction without realising it, and both financial and social repercussions of this can take years to recover from. Whilst the millions of dollars spent on sports and race betting still lies significantly lower than poker machines and casinos, Australia’s ingrained culture of betting is rapidly on the increase - and with the accessibility of gambling increasing, could ignorance be the downfall of a new generation free to explore mass online gambling with little to no restrictions or regulations in place by the government?
Sports-betting poses a real threat to Australia's rich sporting culture and all generations. Gambling is more accessible than ever, on phones, online - and the boom in the promotion of these dangerous practices as nothing more than part of a ‘good time’ or supporting a team is a toxic message that targets the vulnerable. The spike in advertising raises some key questions about our own nation. Do the people placing bets know the risks - and if so, why does Australia’s gambling industry continue to grow exponentially? How can people get help if they realise they have issues and why is this never brought up at big events? Can people ever really ‘gamble responsibly’? Is the government doing anything to help? They the ones that ultimately authorise gambling advertisements on so they have the power to stop it. Or is the lure of gambling as economic stimulation and the taxing of these million dollar book makers too attractive?
Like they did with smoking, the government must take steps to confront this growing issue head on, specifically through tackling advertising that glamorises gambling.