The labels that describe people with gambling problems as irresponsible, uneducated and lazy, as well as greedy and selfish, are part of the reason public health researcher Associate Professor Samantha Thomas is committed to working in the area of gambling research.
The fact it’s a highly politicised issue with a powerful and well-connected industry is also a motivating factor for this academic.
But she says it’s people’s stories that really inspire her.
‘When you hear about the profoundly negative impact gambling has had on people’s lives, and the lives of their friends and family members, you realise this is a public health issue.
‘Hearing those stories really sparked my interest in getting gambling into the health literature and away from politics,’ she says.
Industry tactics and advertising loopholes
Since graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy in Community Health from the University of Auckland, Samantha has specialised in research relating to risk behaviours, and understanding the impact of industry tactics (including advertising) on health and social behaviours.
She is particularly interested in the health and wellbeing of children, young men and families.
Samantha says it’s unfortunate that gambling harm is seen as the fault of individuals and that this has been the focus of the harm reduction debate, rather than changing the broader environment.
She says the role of industry, government, broadcasters and sports organisations in perpetuating the problem and not being a part of the solution is concerning.
‘It’s unfortunate that gambling harm is seen as the fault of individuals and that this has been the focus of the harm reduction debate, rather than changing the broader environment.’ Samantha Thomas
‘In particular, we need to reform the promotion of gambling if we are going to raise awareness and prevent harm.’
Samantha cites advertising codes of practice as a good place to start.
‘We need to close the loopholes that allow sports betting advertising during sports broadcasts when children are watching.’
Creative strategies like using sports stars to sell betting or using cartoons in advertising that may intentionally or unintentionally appeal to children are also part of the problem.
Blurring the line between sport and gambling
Samantha says that while preserving the integrity of the game and responding to the problems of individual players are important, the impact on the wider community of blurring the line between sport and gambling isn’t being recognised.
This is a key focus of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s sporting clubs program, which sets out to help local clubs preserve the essence of their game by separating sports and gambling.
In less than two years, 82 local and elite clubs have signed up to shift the focus away from the odds and back to a love of the game.
Samantha is calling on the high-profile codes like the AFL, and the rest of the community, to step up and be part of the solution.
‘While some clubs are backing away from sports betting sponsorships, and this is a good thing, all sporting clubs and codes need to think carefully about their responsibilities.
‘Ideally, we would like to see them step away from poker machine ownership completely but at the very least they should be thinking very seriously about implementing good harm minimisation strategies, such as one dollar maximum bets on machines.’
Bryne, M. (2015). Gambling research – not for the faint hearted.Available: http://www.insidegambling.com.au/editions/1/articles/gambling-research-not-for-the-faint-hearted#.VcrwyyOHzLt.twitter. Last accessed 8th March 2016.