Lifeline holds concerns about fallout from online betting

Lifeline Central West gambling help counsellor Warwick Harrison is ready to assist people struggling with gambling. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE
Lifeline Central West gambling help counsellor Warwick Harrison is ready to assist people struggling with gambling. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

The surge in online gambling options is increasingly becoming a concern for services that help people battling with addiction at Dubbo.

This week it was revealed poker machines in the Dubbo City Council area had an average turnover of almost $1 million a day in 2015-2016.

Lifeline Central West chief Alex Ferguson acknowledged it was “quite a significant” sum but on the eve of one of the biggest sporting events in NSW, he identified an emerging factor in the problem gambling issue.

He highlighted the way punters could readily access and bet heavily through online gambling, in a way that did not resemble gaming on the pokies at clubs and hotels.

“Can I also make the point that while today we’re focusing on poker machines, it’s interesting to note that today is also the third match of the State of Origin,” he said on Wednesday.

... the proliferation of online and internet gambling is of a far greater concern to all of us in the industry.

Lifeline Central West executive director Alex Ferguson

“I would suggest to you that there will be far more money wagered today via sports betting on tablets, computers, smartphones than would otherwise be the case in poker machines.”

Poker machines were “regulated in licensed premises”.

“Your iPhone and whatever, you can bet the house if you can get the credit stakes,” Mr Ferguson said.

“You can bet your house without anybody knowing about it.

“And the proliferation of online and internet gambling is of a far greater concern to all of us in the industry.”

Practical difficulties remain with regulating the online gambling industry.

“You can license and you can bring in transparency through the betting agencies, but again, once it goes online as you know with dark webs and every other component of the ether, it is almost impossible to put in the controls that you think you need,” Mr Ferguson said.

“...It’s not like a poker machine that sits inside a licensed premises, visible to anybody that wants to watch.”

The Lifeline Central West chief executive officer reported demand for help with problem gambling had been constant over the past couple of years.

He urged anyone from Dubbo struggling with gambling to connect with the service, which was provided at no charge.

They could call Lifeline on 1300 798 258 to start the ball rolling and link up with gambling help counsellor Warwick Harrison or someone like him.

“All we need is a name and a telephone number, and one of our highly-skilled counsellors will ring back, make an appointment and we can sit down and have a chat,” Mr Ferguson said.

“Gambling in a developed form is an addiction, the same as cigarettes, the same as alcohol and a whole bunch of other stuff.

“You need to sit down and there will be some, if not many, sessions to actually support you through the process.”

Family members could also seek help by calling the same phone number.

The annual turnover for gaming machines in clubs and hotels in the Dubbo City Council area was $339.3 million in 2015-2016, Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority figures show.

Mr Ferguson contested the figure did not necessarily mean Dubbo was in the grips of problem gambling.

“A lot of people as displayed by those figures for Dubbo poker machine revenue put quite a significant amount of money through the poker machine gambling structure,” he said.

“How many of those are problem gamblers? Once again, statistically very few.

“It’s thought that no more than about two per cent of those people that gamble would be classed as problem gamblers.”