“The sky didn’t fall in”

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'change' and an arrow pointing right

On 7 September 2023, CFA and the Consumer Policy Research Centre hosted a joint webinar featuring Financial Counselling Australia’s Policy and Campaigns Director, Lauren Levin, who shared insights she gained through her Churchill Fellowship on preventing gambling harm.

Lauren’s eye-opening presentation on gambling harm prevention demonstrates just how much Australian regulators and politicians can learn from their European counterparts.

While a lot of focus has traditionally been on “problem gamblers”, data from the UK and Australia show that even people who gamble low and moderate amounts experience harm. The type of harm experienced consists of financial pressure and distress, as well as reduced engagement in self-care and social activities, and poorer general wellbeing and physical health.

Lauren explained that European gambling regulators are making positive changes to prevent gambling harm, while little is happening in Australia. This is despite similarities in the amounts of gambling tax taken by respective governments. While there was initial trepidation in Europe to introduce gambling restrictions and an approach focused on consumer protection and public health, the presumed negative consequences did not transpire. Indeed, the ‘sky did not fall in’, and there is an attitude and conviction in Europe that addressing gambling harm requires immediate action.

Reforms – a change for good

  • Gambling regulation in France is defined as regulating a “harmful service”, not just a regular consumer service, as tends to be the case in Australia.
  • Norway’s top objective is to prevent gambling harm, as they consider profit to be secondary.
  • Controlling of inducements (bonuses) in countries such as Belgium and Sweden mean there are no VIP programs, which comprise a significant part of online gambler profits.
  • Countries including the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, France, UK & Ireland empower gambling regulators with anti-money laundering investigative powers.
  • Germany’s parliament has mandated that the maximum anyone can spend on recreational gambling is $1500 per month across all operators and all forms of gambling. This measure will likely be rolled out across many more jurisdictions in time.
  • Banks in the UK are obliged to have much more of a responsibility in proactively identifying risk to person’s spending towards gambling than is the case in Australia.

Clearly, much more work is needed to address gambling harm prevention in the Australian context.

Current regulation across Australia is fragmented and disparate, with different gambling legislation administered and enforced at the jurisdictional level.

As Lauren expertly identifies, establishing a national gambling regulation body in Australia, would be one very welcome next step towards finding a solution.

Source: Consumer Policy and Research Centre, in relation to the webinar event cprc.org.au/the-sky-didnt-fall-in/.