The Roar
The Roar


Did the horse just bolt on gambling reform?

There is a lot of good racing this weekend. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)
Roar Guru
15th May, 2017

A few months ago, I received a phone call from a betting agency that gave me pause for thought.

“I’m just setting up an account for you with $50 from us. You’re not going to say no to $50 are you?”

Well yes, actually, I did.

I hadn’t previously had anything to do with them and have no idea how they got my phone number. It was quite the hard sell, and according to the talkative operator, one of their selling points was that they would “personalise” my bonuses after going through my account.

We’ll come back to that story in a moment.

Obviously, gambling has been in the news this week, with the announcement of the restricting of advertising by online gambling companies during certain times when children are likely to be watching.

While there is a fair argument these restrictions are necessary, as children are restricted from gambling, will it really do anything for problem gambling?

Australians gamble a lot in comparison to other countries. However, the amount of money that Australians lost exploded in the 1990s, and when accounting for inflation and population, hasn’t been increasing over the timeframe that gambling advertisements have proliferated.

Here is a graph of our historical, real, per-capita gambling losses broken into pokies (not including casinos), racing and sport and the total in black:


Our gambling losses and the prevalence of problem gambling are dominated by poker machines. Despite the saturation of advertising that we’ve been subjected to by online bookmakers and the large amount of money they make, the lion’s share of the money still goes to pokies.

This isn’t surprising when you realise that gambling online isn’t any more addictive than other forms of gambling, and possibly less so. According to this 2015 review by Sally Gainsbury in Current Addiction reports, “Studies that have isolated Internet-only gamblers have found that these gamblers have lower rates of gambling problems than gamblers who only gamble offline and those who use both online and offline modes.

“Gamblers who engage in online as well as offline modes appear to have the greatest risks of harm, which is likely related to their greater overall gambling involvement.“

However, online gambling companies have something that previous forms of gambling such as TABs, old-school bookies, your local club and the like don’t have. They have your data.

They know what you put your money on, when you put your money on, and how much you put on.

And we can find out a lot about someone from their data, even if we only look at the first month after opening an account.



In this study of the first month of betting on the accounts of over 4000 gamblers of online betting firm bwin, it was found that, “In general, the results of this study suggest that it is possible to identify risk factors that are associated with future gambling problems based on actual online betting behaviour, and that it is possible to make this identification during the first month of gambling.”

In other words, online bookies can tell from your first month of betting whether you are at a greater risk of developing into a problem gambler.

This knowledge is a double-edged sword. Although the ethics and privacy concerns are difficult, it is not hard to imagine a situation where this information can be used in the prevention of problem gambling.

Alternatively, it can be the basis for a profitable business model.

So now we come back to the story at the beginning of the article. While it may sound great for incentives to be “personalised”, I am uncomfortable with the low level of protection people have when they’ve opened a betting account.

If a betting company sees that you only bet $5 a win on the horses on Saturday, and give you a set of $5 free bets to have on the horses, no problems.

But the incentives won’t necessarily be like that, and the huge losses from poker machines in Australia show how efficient they are at taking money from problem gamblers.


The idea that we can have a company own both online gambling companies and poker machines is a huge cause for concern.

It seems all too easy for such companies to identify potential problem gamblers and “engage in online as well as offline modes”, send the risky gamblers to the poker machines as quick as they can.

We should be thinking carefully about how the data of online gamblers is used, because at the end of the day, they’re pretty good at going through the data and restricting the betting activity of those who win.

Editor’s note: Yes, The Roar runs ads from wagering partners. However, this article is the opinion of Nathan, and we support his right to express it.