Betting companies will now be required to send clear statements of gambling wins and losses to their customers following the implementation of federal rules this month.
- Monthly financial activity statements are intended to help gamblers make more informed decisions
- The federal government hopes it will result in problem gamblers betting lower amounts of money
- A Gamblers Anonymous member who provides support to others considers it a tokenistic measure
With Australian gambling losses among the highest per capita in the world, the new monthly activity statements are intended to help gamblers make better decisions by providing a clear picture of their spending.
“For some people, they might look at it and say, ‘Well, this is just too much — I find it confronting and I need to do something about it,'” Financial Counselling Australia policy director Lauren Levin told ABC Radio Perth.
“It might lead to calling up [a gambling support group] or calling up one of the financial counselling services, or the national debt helpline, and saying, ‘I think that I need to talk to someone about this.'”
The change was among recommendations by the 2018 National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering, which came up with 10 measures to address rising social harms related to online betting.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the country’s losses from legal gambling totalled $25 billion in 2018-2019, creating severe consequences for the finances, mental health and relationships of problem gamblers and their families.
A study by the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government found people who received activity statements were more likely to reduce the amount of their bets, although it would not reduce the frequency of their betting.
A ‘tokenistic’ measure
Peter, whose full name has been withheld for privacy reasons, is a former gambler who lost his career and his marriage before finding support through Gamblers Anonymous.
Peter now provides support for others via Gamblers Anonymous and says the change is a “tokenistic” measure that avoids taking more drastic and controversial steps that will have greater effect.
“The single biggest impact that we can have in Australia would be for governments to ban electronic advertising of gambling, the same way that they did for alcohol, and cigarettes,” Peter said.
“They banned advertising of those because it was costing governments a fortune through the health system, whereas gambling is very much a hidden epidemic where the costs are largely borne by the gambler, the gamblers’ families, the gambler’s employer, the people they steal from.”
Peter said he had seen a “scary” increase in members who were young men betting on sport through phone apps.
He said providing activity statements might provide some “small benefit” for new gamblers who had not yet realised the extent of their spending.
“But for anyone who’s an established gambler or who’s got an established gambling problem, that will have no effect at all,” Peter said.
Gamblers focus on wins
University of Sydney School of Psychology Professor Sally Gainsbury is the director of the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic.
Her research on behavioural science and gambling helped inform the National Consumer Protection Framework that recommended the new rules around activity statements.
Professor Gainsbury said her research into the behaviours associated with gambling showed that “human bias” made gamblers focus on wins and forget how much it was actually costing them.
She said activity statements were a positive first step but additional information was needed to highlight negative trends and encourage action.
This included, for example, showing a customer the percentage of their spending increase over one year, or flagging customers if their spending seemed to be at a risky level.
She said the method was already used by utility providers, which sometimes provided feedback on energy consumption, such as a “smiley face” for low usage.
“[It is] something that provides a next-piece of information for customers to be able to then flag the next step, [and] consider setting up a deposit limit,” Professor Gainsbury said.
‘They just can’t tell’
Ms Levin felt the financial statements could be beneficial for people she had helped who found it hard to keep track of their spending.
“We start by saying, ‘Well, let’s have a look at your income, at your expenditure. With gambling, how much? How much do you think you’ve lost?,'” Ms Levin said.
“And with online betting they just can’t tell.”
She said prior to the change, activity statements were usually only provided on request, and most companies would provide a list of single-line transactions rather than a graph, table or “bottom-line” figure.
Responsible Wagering Australia said it supported the provision of activity statements, and was also running an advertising campaign encouraging Australian gamblers to set deposit limits.