Problem gamblers have been prevalent throughout Australia for years. Studies have shown that the majority of adult aged Aussies gamble in some form or another, with poker machines topping the list of most popular forms of gambling in most regions. As a result, a call for a reduction in the availability of pokies throughout NSW has overwhelmed the political headlines for some time now, but one expert in the field says its online pokies that pose the biggest threat.
Alex Ferguson is the CEO of Lifeline Central West, NSW, “a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.” Those services include free 24/7 counseling for problem gamblers who are addicted to online poker machines. According to Ferguson, “If we were really serious about stopping gambling we’d look at online gambling”.
Ferguson agrees that problem gambling certainly exists in land-based casinos, pubs and clubs, but that online gambling is different because “every other form of gambling happens in licensed premises.” He explained that land-based gambling destinations in Australia are required to monitor all of their patrons’ poker machine activity. Subsequently, there are numerous precautionary measures in place to help prevent gamblers from going too far. For instance, gamblers must use cash to play the pokies at a pub or club, while credit cards are acceptable forms of payment for online casinos.
When using a credit card online, it is up to the player to keep track of their own wins and losses and maintain a proper budgeting plan. However, Ferguson says it’s much easier to lose track of those figures when playing the online pokies. In Australia, poker machine manufacturers are required to integrate a screen that informs the bettor how much they played/lost over a certain period of time, suggesting that breaks be taken. Such technology is not mandatory when gambling online. “It seems there’s one rule for pubs and clubs and another rule for the rest,” said Ferguson.
The 2014 Melbourne Cup that took place yesterday is one of the most popular forms of gambling in Australia, but only occurs once a year. The majority of Aussies will place at least a few dollars on the outcome of this race every year, simply because it’s become sort of a tradition in the region.
In Ferguson’s words, “Australia does have a bit of a racing culture where people putting a few bucks on the ponies is basically what everyone has always done. It’s when this becomes a bit more regular that it becomes a problem.” Ferguson described the difference between Cup bettors and problem gamblers by stating that, for addicts, “If it weren’t Melbourne Cup day they’d still be gambling”.
The current laws of online gambling are a bit confusing in Australia. So long as an operator obtains the appropriate licensure, it is legal to operate an online pokies site, but it is illegal for those sites to accept players physically located in Australia. Interestingly enough, it is not illegal for Australians to access online pokies sites that are located offshore, but it is illegal for offshore online casinos to accept players from Australia. So long as there are no complaints from players regarding an offshore site’s honesty, however, the government generally leaves them alone.