Geospatial Analysis of Gambling-Related Harm


North Darwin Beachfront Hotel

The Productivity Commission has estimated the rate of problem gambling to be 2.1% of the adult population with the associated social impacts, such as increased risk of mental health problems, bankruptcy, relationship breakdown, family violence, unemployment, criminal activity and suicide, costing over $4.7 billion per year.

Associate Professor Young's work over 15 years has focussed on the geography of problem gambling, particularly in the Northern Territory (NT), with an emphasis on poker machine venues because "the pokies" are more closely associated with problem-gambling than any other gambling activity. Up to half of all poker-machine revenue is derived from people classified as problem gamblers.

A/Prof Young's early work (2005) suggested that while problem gamblers spent on average over $30,000 per annum, these individuals were associated with particular locations, venues, socio-economic strata, and gambling type. An understanding of these geographic patterns of problem gambling is necessary to harm reduction, particularly via better-informed licensing and regulation.

In an effort to chart the geographic distribution and social consequences of poker-machine gambling, A/Prof Young's team has investigated the spatial distribution of poker-machine venues, the morphology and social composition of their catchments (or trade-areas), and the gambling outcomes they produce.

A graphical summary of key results of this research is presented in a gambling-venue atlas developed for the NT Government, titled Gambling Harm in the Northern Territory - Atlas of Venue Catchments, which provides evidence about the impacts of poker-machine gambling for evidence-based poker-machine licensing, the provision of support services to gamblers, and regulatory and policy decision making.


  • Northern Territory and other state governments including Victoria and ACT.
  • Northern Territory Licensing Commission
  • Social service providers (e.g. Amity Community Services)
  • Northern Territory communities at risk of gambling harm
  • General public through 23 articles in The Conversation

The atlas of gambling venues Gambling Harm in the Northern Territory: An Atlas of Venue Catchments measured the spatial extent of the service catchments of 50 poker-machine venues in the NT and the level of problem gambling within these catchments. The aim was to produce an explicitly visual document that communicated information in an easy-to-interpret format where mapping outputs serve as a ‘common language’.

The atlas has been useful to the NT Government, the NT Licencing Commission, various social-service organisations (e.g. Amity Community Services), and the communities that actually host poker-machine venues across the NT. For example, the research was a factor contributing to a four-year moratorium on licences for new poker-machine venues in the NT from 2011 to 2014. More recently, and post this moratorium, the team’s research has been instrumental in supporting licensing decision making.

The atlas has been used by the Director General of Licensing to assist with licensing decisions with regard to the supply of new poker-machines in the NT. As set out in the NT Parliamentary Hansard, the Minister for Racing, Gaming and Licensing in the Legislative Assembly in March 2015 stated:

“Again, that is all subject to community impact statements and the atlas of venue catchments. If someone wants to build a hotel somewhere and does not have any gaming machines, but wants them, they would be strongly advised to look at this atlas and figure out whether or not it is worth building there... The Director-General of Licensing will be using the atlas as a reference, along with many others, to determine whether or not a venue can have electronic gaming machines”.

As such, the atlas is now the cornerstone of the social-impact assessment process for gambling licensing in the Northern Territory.
The research program has also directly influenced licensing decisions in other jurisdictions. Follow–up research (2016) on the relationship between domestic violence and poker machine density was considered by the Victorian regulator, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, as part of the rationale for rejecting Woolworths’ application for more poker machines. Similarly, the research played a role in the ACT Government's decision to implement a limited electronic gaming machine (EGM) buyback (2018-2012).

More generally, the research has been used to frame public debate particularly through numerous articles in The Conversation that have garnered 175,000 readers and 760 public comments.

Since 2005 the research team of Associate Professor Martin Young (SCU), Dr Bruce Doran (ANU) and Dr Francis Markham (ANU) have worked together as a collaboration between SCU and the Fenner School for Environment and Society (ANU). During this time the team has conducted a number of research studies seeking to identify the most dangerous venues and map the local areas most at risk. The work has been funded by the Australian Research Council (Linkage Project LP0990584 - $150,000), the Community Benefit Fund of the Northern Territory Government ($2.1 million 2005-2015), and the Northern Territory Research and Innovation Fund, Department of Business, Economic and Regional Development ($22,500 2009-2011).


Predictive spatial models were developed (2010) using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyses to estimate venue catchments and gambling-related harm. These models were then tested using real world data sourced from large-scale household surveys in Darwin, Alice Springs and Katherine. The survey determined the distribution of gamblers relative to pokie-venues, the levels of harm experienced by these gamblers, and the social characteristics of their local areas. A total of 7,041 questionnaires were completed and the responses geocoded by linking them to the latitude and longitude information provided by the Geocoded National Address File.

These geocoded survey data enabled the research team to develop maps that illustrated the catchments for each gambling venue as well as the level of harm produced in that catchment. The team has used these datasets to develop local-level predictive models of gambling harm across the entire jurisdiction of the Northern Territory.
The team’s current research is developing a set of innovative spatial tools for predicting poker machine impacts at the level of individual suburbs at a finer-grained geographic scale. This new work, commissioned by the NT Government as a policy tool, extends the predictive spatial modelling in two significant directions:

  • The first is to estimate via multivariate modelling the incidence of gambling-related harm (i.e. problem gambling) at the suburban level which includes measures of accessibility, individual risk factors (e.g. sociodemographics), and contextual effects (e.g. socioeconomic status of the local area). These results will be reported via a mapping-style output for suburbs across the NT’s urban centres.
  • The second will be to apply the modelling to predict gambling venue catchments for a range of visitor subgroups (i.e. problem gamblers, recreational gamblers, poker-machine gamblers, non-gamblers etc) for all venues in the NT. This analysis will enable the identification of subgroup-specific catchments for which appropriate preventative or harm-minimisation strategies may be developed by NT regulators and community organisations.


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