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AUSTRALIA
Over the Top
Down Under
Ross Ferrar of Australia's Gaming Technologies Association bemoans
the lack of genuine high quality research in the country, where the
anti-gambling lobby relies on outdated and inaccurate statistics for
ammunition.
G
aming, particularly on slot machines, has becoming problem gamblers, so that they don’t. In
long been very popular among Australia’s other words, provide expert help if and when it’s
21 million people. The State of New needed and let the rest of us get on with our lives.
South Wales legalised machines in 1956, Thankfully, the Federal Government recently
making it one of the world’s oldest legal decided to update the 1999 study to provide “a solid
gaming jurisdictions. evidence base for future national action on
Australia has a total of 13 casinos, mostly responsible gambling”. It will be an important
destination gaming venues with a strong focus on moment in the development of the gaming industry
international revenues and tourism. They range in in Australia and is expected during 2009.
size from 350 gaming tables and 2,500 gaming Since the 1999 report, extensive regulatory and
machines to 20 tables and 300 machines. In total, self-regulatory initiatives have been introduced.
casinos in Australia operate around 1,150 tables and Independent research commissioned by state
12,000 machines. governments reveals that the rate of problem
Another 187,000 gaming machines are operated in gambling has fallen by up to 50%.
around 5,800 of Australia's clubs and hotels. More But even in this climate of positive action and
than half of these venues were granted a licence to outcomes, anti-gambling rhetoric is the biggest
operate gaming during the 1990s, resulting in growth industry. Fuelled by sensationalist political
sustained growth during that period. However, in comment and false research which doesn’t stand up
recent years growth has plateaued, with recent to scrutiny, the more zealous critics have hawked
figures showing that total gambling expenditure has their views around the media. Self-proclaimed
fallen from above 3.1% to about 2.9% of household independent expert researchers have declared that
disposable income. gaming is about “operant conditioning” and
constantly repeat vague notions about sinister
The Price of Being Popular motives held by somebody – or anybody – who is
Popularity has attracted the constant gaze of those associated with gaming machines. They have a lot to
who dislike gambling, or perhaps disagree with the gain if they can convince people with money to
concept of leisure entertainment and hospitality. spend on research that they’re actually independent
Recent political events have seen a dramatic increase and expert – but they’re neither.
in criticism, some of it nonsense and not much of it Their efforts appear skewed toward prolonging
supported by any evidence. sensational negative media. They can’t tell the
The most recent national gambling study took difference between games. A recent analysis of a
place in the late 1990s and its report is research project said the subject report “failed to
monotonously quoted by anti-gambling adequately address or answer any of the research
commentators. The main issue seems to be the questions”. Yet they actively pursue media
proportion of the population which might be opportunities.
susceptible to problems associated with their
gambling activities. The report was published in 1999 Examples of Poor Research
and estimated that around 1% of the adult A self-styled “expert” said recently that about half
population had severe gambling problems and a of poker machine revenues are derived from problem
further 1.1% of adults had moderate problems. gamblers – “my most recent estimate is 53 per cent”
Of course, population surveys have an incredibly he said.
broad approach. What’s really needed is to (a) find But his “estimate” was not based on his own
out how many actual cases of problem gambling research work. It was based on a study done three
there are and help them, and (b) provide good years ago, where the researchers offered shopping
information to those who might be susceptible to vouchers to survey participants as an incentive. So it’s
38 NOVEMBER 2008
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