The Australian, September 2015 (Chip Le Grand)
Australia’s largest problem gambling counselling service has recorded a dramatic increase in the number of cases related to online sports betting and says early intervention is needed to stop teens being groomed to gamble through simulated poker machines and online games.
Gambler’s Help Southern Operations Manager, Alvin Efklides, who previously worked in the gambling industry as a pit box overseeing high-roller baccarat tables at Melbourne’s Crown Casino9, says poorly regulated sports betting is producing a new generation of predominantly young, male problem gamblers.
Mr Efklides said lax identity checks and easy access to credit meant tech-savvy high school kids as young as 16 were developing serious online gambling problems. “Sport is just the platform”, he said. “It is constant, it is global, it has a great following, it is masculine and it is glorified”.
Tony Clarkson, a clinical manager who works directly some of Gambler’s Help Southern’s growing client base, said the typical online problem gambler was between 18 and 24 years old; an age where the brain was still developing capacity to judge risk and consequence.
Although children were not allowed to open accounts with legal sports betting companies, Mr Clarkson said most teenagers with a smartphone were able to bypass online security measures. New account holders can start betting immediately before any checks are made to establish their identity.
Mr Clarkson said children were being groomed through popular online games which use the same iconography and stimulus as poker machines. These games carry advertisements and prompt social media notification for simulated slot machine apps.
“As treatment providers, we need to catch up and offer some early intervention services to younger people,” said Mr Clarkson, who also runs workshops for young people who spend up to 18 hours a day playing online games. The link between online gaming and gambling is recognised by gambling companies. When James Packer last month stood down as chairman of Crown Resorts, he said that one of his priorities was to improve Crown’s online strategies, an area where I believe we could be doing better”.
Amanda Murphy, Chief Executive of Connect Health & Community, which delivers Gambler’s Help Southern services, said there had been “exponential growth” in online gambling over the past five years. “It is available any time, any place”, she said. “It is instant”.
It is estimated that only one in ten problem gamblers ever seeks help.
Meeting with a qualified, professional counsellor face to face is just a phone call away. Gambler’s Help Southern have many locations across South Eastern Melbourne and Peninsula regions, offering help for individuals, couples, families and groups. Simply, call 9575 5353 Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm, or complete the appointment form > Book Now on the left side of this page.