Urgent action needed to curb problem gambling among young people

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There has been a rapid rise in problem gambling among young men driven by dramatic growth in online sports betting, adding to the urgency for the Federal Government to take a national leadership role in protecting consumers and weaning the states and territories off gaming revenue, according to the AMA.

In a Position Statement, The Health Effects of Problem Gambling, the AMA warns that problem gambling has become a significant public health issue, and could exact an increasingly heavy toll on health, family relationships, community safety and productivity unless urgent action is taken to regulate existing gaming activities and curb the growth of online and interactive gaming.

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said young people, in particular, were at heightened risk of developing problems with gambling, and there needed to be a comprehensive and coordinated response from all levels of government to tackle the problem.

“Online sports betting is Australia’s fastest growing form of gambling, and has been associated with a rapid escalation in young males seeking treatment for problem gambling,” Dr Hambleton said, adding that for every problem gambler, up to 10 other people – family, friends, workmates and employers – felt the effects, in strained relationships, financial problems, reduced productivity, depression and substance abuse.

“This means that up to 5 million Australians feel the health, social and financial impacts of problem gambling, including family, friends, work colleagues and employers,” Dr Hambleton said.

“Medical practitioners see first-hand the devastating consequences of gambling.

“Problem gamblers see their GP more often than the average, and suffer a range of stress-related conditions from hypertension and insomnia to stomach upsets, headaches and depression.”

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Dr Hambleton said up to 80 per cent of problem gambling involved poker machines, but the rapid growth of interactive gambling, such as online sports betting, mobile apps and gambling-themed games on social media websites posed a significant risk, particularly for young people.

“Young people are at heightened risk of developing problems with gambling, and are particularly susceptible to interactive gambling,” Dr Hambleton said.

Dr Hambleton endorsed the statement made by Senator Di Natale yesterday that sports betting advertising is out of control and kids are finding it hard to know where a game of sport ends and gambling begins.

In the Position Statement, the AMA calls for the Federal Government to work closely with its State and Territory counterparts to establish an independent national gambling regulator to oversee the industry and ensure consumers are adequately protected. It also wants the Commonwealth to provide incentives to encourage the states and territories to reduce their reliance on gambling revenue.

AMA Vice President and Chair of the AMA Public, Child and Youth Health Committee, Professor Geoffrey Dobb, said a succession of inquiries and reports had highlighted the harm caused by problem gambling, and it was time for action.

“Despite all this work, we are yet to see a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to tackle this issue,” Professor Dobb said.

“Poker machines continue to cause significant harm to individuals, families and communities, and more recently there has been a dramatic rise in online gambling and sports betting.

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“A coordinated policy response and political leadership is needed if we are to tackle problem gambling, and curbing this behaviour among young people must be a priority.”

“It is a serious problem, and unless action is taken now, it will only get worse,” Professor Dobb said.

Source: Australian Medical Association

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Date Created: February 20, 2013