Problem gambling is an addiction that can affect anyone across all walks of life, turning a thrilling past time into a harmful obsession capable of crippling a person psychologically and financially.
Characterised by a consistent, and persistent urge to gamble regardless of gambling outcome. Gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder which makes it incredibly difficult to control a compulsion to gamble, despite the severity of any and all consequences it could inflict upon oneself or the ones close to a gambling addict. This has had and will continue to have consequences of varied acuteness, from straining one’s relationships, interfering with work, and even financial ruin.
The addiction has managed to affect an exponential amount of victims as of late, with the gambling industry being as diverse and powerful as it has ever been. Today there are a multitudinal plethora of options to gamble and an ever insatiable demand for them.
Online gambling fuelling the rise
Online gambling in particular has exploded and continues to grow, perhaps in tandem with the global Covid-19 pandemic. As of 2017 the online gambling industry was worth a global estimate of $50 billion dollars, comprising a significant portion of the over $400 billion sector.
Aggregated gambling statistics had 26% of the global population participating in gambling activities, with 1.6 billion individuals gambling on a regular basis and 4.2 billion gambling at least once a year. Such massively scalable numbers would suggest that the risks of problem gambling have never been higher. Thus as a global community we must look to legislative bodies, policy makers and regulatory actions to curb the issues stemming from problem gambling and control the phenomenon of an industry.
The most populous country for gambling is by some margin Australia, with 80% of Australian adults engaging in some form of activities related to their $25 billion industry. This spawns an estimated 200,000 Australians who have what is classified as a “high-level problem” with gambling addiction. An estimated twice as many in addition have a “lower-level” classification. On average an Australian will spend $1,300 per capita a year on gambling, twice as much as the next most involved country, Singapore.
After a deregulatory explosion involving the gambling sector in Australia in the early 90s, the vast and diverse opportunities to participate in Australia are nothing less than staggering. Poker, table games, slot machines, pokies, scratch tickets, lotteries, keno, online and live sports betting you name it, Australia has a sprawling infrastructure for any such inclination.
However, in the contemporary climate, gambling in Australia is seeing a variety of different forms of re-regulatory actions. In order to protect the consumer from gambling addiction.
The most recent of regulatory actions was the directives issued to Melbourne’s Crown Casino, capping the time an individual can gamble. The Casino, Gambling and Liquor Regulatory body stated that penalties to the tune of $100,000 would be suffered if Crown fails to comply.
A focus has also been placed on inducing gambling behaviours through advertising. Government inquiries are being conducted into the true effects of this advertising. It has been argued by Tabcorp CEO, Adam Rytenskild, that this practice is extremely harmful without question.
“The proliferation of gambling advertising has gone too far. This is not good for the broader Australian community, and it’s not good for the long-term sustainability of the wagering industry”.
Australian sports leagues such as the AFL and NRL have pushed back at these such statements, fearing for the funding of grassroot sports should gambling related advertising be regulated to the point of hindrance. Pleading for a balanced approach considering these issues. However, the obscene amounts of money gambling related entities are pouring into the leagues not only in sponsorship deals but also in the form of some extra curricular incentives has meant that these sports leagues have lost much credibility when commenting on regulation.
In a public survey conducted with a representative sample of the population, in order to understand Australians’ view on gambling advertising, an overwhelming majority of participants stated that this either induced betting or wagering for the very first time or had a tangible effect on pre-existing wagering behaviour. What’s more, advertising of this nature incited a large proportion of impulse betting, a gravely important factor related to problem gambling.
It was also found that ¾ of the participants believed that there were too many opportunities to gamble, and that they were all adeptly conscious of the consequences and risks gambling poses.
Prohibition of casino credit card payment
Under the Casino Control Act of 1982, the use of credit cards for payment in land-based casinos is strictly prohibited. A practice that at the very least one massively influential operator has skirted by for a good few years, with Queensland’s biggest casino operator, Star Entertainment, pleading guilty to 7 charges related to this offence.
Despite this seeming success in legal response, this does raise the concern about all forms of gambling and the use of credit cards for such purposes. The very real problem of financing activities such as gambling with payments that stipulate any sort of risk especially when the consequences are as costly as over drafted credit cards. Further adding to the financial burden problem gambling could pose to society on a multitudinal level. As the Australian Banking Association’s chief executive, Anna Bligh stated;
This is just a product that is not suitable for credit, you can accrue a very, very large amount of debt in an incredibly short period of time and have nothing to show for it
These issues are specific but not exclusive to land-based gambling so the question must be asked of why credit card payments are allowed for any sort of gambling activity, particularly online. The Australian banking sector has posed this very question to the Australian government as of late requesting a full ban on credit card usage in gambling activity.
This may prove difficult to legalise as a blanket ban would cause unwarranted hindrances to the gambling sector, nonetheless Responsible Wagering Australia have been working on solutions since August of 2021. Some banks have instigated their own bans on credit cards but without the support of law enforcement an industry wide shift towards financial protections will not be possible.
This is an issue that has also been brought to the attention of the European continent. 6 of the top 10 countries that gamble most in the world are located here and thus makes gambling regulation a significant factor in financial governance. What is important to note about the European Union especially is that gambling regulation is highly decentralised and anomalistic. As such, progress to effective regulation of gambling is still a ways away.
Nevertheless some select nations have made noticeable strides towards banning the use of credit cards for both land-based and online gambling. Germany stands out quite incisively, with a successful ban enforced for all forms of gambling activity receiving requests to fund or withdraw from betting operations using any Visa or Mastercard-branded credit card. This even extends to PayPal payments.
Germany as a whole has actually clamped down on the sector with their legislation so aggressively that many online gambling operations have been forced away from the central European nation. A factor that has hindered the progression of legislation in other nations such as Australia, perhaps rightly so.
Spain has also taken decisive steps to regulate their gambling industry. Successfully passing legislation to ban the use of credit cards, calculated to the individual finances of the gambler. There will also be further restrictions applicable to gamblers, classifying those who lose over €200 and a limit of €600 will be enforced for all players. The gambling industry will also be prohibited from targeting vulnerable players through advertising and brand marketing. Fines ranging from €1 million to €50 million will be wielded to enforce the law.
These measures are too early in their implementation to draw conclusive judgements, however criticism has been levelled by some operators who blame Spain’s poor growth rate and scalability related to the gambling sector on these new legislative measures. Complaining that they did not have adequate time to adjust to these swift amendments along with expressing grave doubt regarding the efficiency of these laws to protect individuals with a gambling addiction at all.
Elsewhere around the continent, the United Kingdom has made strides to eventually amend their already stringent, but possibly poorly enforced, gambling legislature. The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) is extremely powerful and is persistently mobilising legislature in order to protect those at risk from gambling addiction. In 2020 they also banned the use of credit card payment to online casinos and bookmakers.
Making headlines in early 2023, the UKGC fined the bookmaker William Hill, a record £19.2 million, along with another fine to Kindred Group worth £7.1 million.
These regulatory actions were prominent in the news media and brought light to the UKGC’s investigation into the gambling act of 2005. Resulting in the collection of data to be published in the subsequent white paper being devised to inform amendments to legislation.
An important factor was brought up through several contributions from UK gambling operators, and that was of regulatory two-way communication. As is almost certainly the case for much of the legislation that has been passed by governments across the world, a lack of consultation and feedback regarding the details of regulatory action has greatly frustrated gambling operators and has caused much collective concern. In countries such as the UK where case law is prevalent, an unjust silence between the entities could make compliance increasingly difficult.
A lack of cooperation may see like the strict approach that is required but ultimately if operators are unsure of not just the law but also on how it intended to function and be interpreted this will most certainly leave those with gambling addiction at risk.
Perhaps a healthy dialogue between regulatory bodies and key market operators on a global scale would benefit the process of effectively regulating the industry, preventing the vulnerabilities and mitigating the risks involved with the operations that lead to problem gambling. While also removing the hurdles that have prevented swift progress and amendments to legislation, which is the hindrance and in many cases the damaging of the gambling industry’s profitability.
Issues such as those raised in Spain and the shrinking of the sector in Germany should also be avoided. As the gambling industry is still highly profitable indicating there is most certainly still a healthy demand for such activities that create millions of jobs and provide highly beneficial economic infrastructure. Unlocking the balance between societal responsibility and protection and the safeguarding of the industry is the most effective and the safest route towards this goal.