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Aussie gamblers spend big online but it’s proving to be risky


5 June 2012
Australians are spending around $1 billion annually on illegal offshore gambling sites, yet with few regulations in place players are leaving themselves open to identify fraud, being ripped off or developing gambling problems.

Southern Cross University and the University of Sydney have launched the second phase of a national online survey looking at interactive forms of gambling technology. Interactive gambling technologies include the use of computers, mobile phones, wireless devices and smart televisions to access online gambling sites.

“Research shows online gambling can be risky, but that the best way to protect players is to provide a regulated environment that has harm minimisation and responsible gambling features and tools in place,” said lead researcher Dr Sally Gainsbury from Southern Cross University’s Centre for Gambling Education and Research (CGER).

Professor Alex Blaszczynski of the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology said the survey would help the research team develop a player profile.

“Gaining a full understanding of the extent, characteristics and patterns of involvement of internet users will assist in guiding the development of policies designed to protect recreational players and those at risk of developing problems,” said Professor Blaszczynski.

The research aims to recruit a large, representative sample of Australian gamblers to further the understanding of the impact of Internet gambling, including the contribution to gambling problems.

Dr Gainsbury said internet gambling had changed significantly in the past decade, with more and more Australians using illegal offshore gambling sites.

“The constant access of online gambling has critical social implications, particularly given its appeal to younger people,” she said.

“Unfortunately overseas sites may not have strong consumer protections or responsible gambling measures, meaning that Australians are vulnerable to being cheated, having their identity or financial details stolen or developing gambling problems.”

The federal government’s interim review of the 2001 Interactive Gaming Act, released last week, contained 30 recommendations to strengthen consumer rights and stop harmful online gaming practices. One of the recommendations was to legalise online poker.

“As increasing numbers of international jurisdictions look to legalise internet gaming, the recommendation to legalise online poker could encourage international providers to become licensed and abide by national standards for harm minimisation,” Dr Gainsbury said.

Professor Blaszczynski agreed.

“Legalising online poker is consistent with the Productivity Commission’s recommendation and in this context is aimed at allowing access to popular but less risky forms of gambling compared to other types of gambling that allow high frequency play,” he said.

“Overall, the recommendations of the Act will go a long way towards harm minimisation and consumer protection.”

The survey team is comprised of Dr Sally Gainsbury from the Centre for Gambling Education and Research (CGER), CGER director Professor Nerilee Hing, Professor Alex Blaszczynski from the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney, the University of Lethbridge’s Dr Robert Wood and Professor Dan Lubman from Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, a major Australian telephone and online gambling-help provider.

Gambling Research Australia, an initiative of the federal government, state and territory governments, has commissioned the survey, which is part of a larger research grant awarded to the Centre for Gambling Education and Research valued at more than $900,000. The research, which will be completed in 2013, also includes a national prevalence survey, as well as interviews and focus groups.

“We encourage individuals and organisations that support responsible gambling policy to support the online gambling survey through participating and also hosting links to the survey to enable further recruitment,” Dr Gainsbury said.

The results of the first phase of the research, funded by the Menzies Foundation through an Allied Health grant to Dr Gainsbury and released in January this year, found internet gamblers were more involved in multiple types of gambling and had significantly more positive attitudes towards gambling generally.

Dr Gainsbury, who is a clinical psychologist, explores the evolution, nature, impacts and regulatory options of internet gambling in her first book, ‘Internet Gambling: Current Research Findings and Implications’. This brief research text provides an overview of internet gambling, including a thorough review of the available literature and analysis of future trends. It is published by Springer.