Gambling in Suburban Australia

Gambling in Suburban Australia

Overview

This study explores how the characteristics of local neighbourhoods and gambling activity interrelate. Its particular focus is on electronic gambling machines (EGMs, or 'pokies') and the venues that host them.

The report presents a novel mixed-methods study of a social phenomenon that has not yet been well explored: the relationships between place, social circumstances, gambling and harm. It compares two socially distinct areas of a major city (Melbourne, Victoria) to identify a range of issues that warrant further exploration for policy purposes. It considers:

  1. how socio-environmental factors may influence local gambling consumption
  2. how the characteristics of local communities may interact with local gambling opportunities to influence gambling consumption
  3. the localised effects of gambling on people who gamble and their 'significant others'.

The study found that high-intensity EGM gambling was easily accessible, especially in the site of higher disadvantage. It found that while gambling consumption is affected by a range of factors, the availability and nature of high-intensity EGM gambling influenced gambling uptake and participation by those who participated in this research, and contributed to a range of health, financial, relationship and emotional harms. These findings have led the authors to propose a range of harm-prevention and reduction measures that may improve public health and protect consumers from gambling-related harms (see section 10.4).

Key messages

  • Like other research, our study found that high EGM availability or saturation coincided with social stress and disadvantage. This poses a risk of higher and more severe levels of gambling‑related harm.

  • Community members and families are attracted to gambling venues by a range of heavily promoted, loss-leading, non-gambling activities and facilities including free or subsidised meals and drinks. The use of these promotions may lead to outcomes that are contrary to venues' Responsible Gambling Codes of Conducts.

  • Even in the less disadvantaged site, with relatively fewer opportunities to gamble, the nature of high-intensity gambling products in local venues may lead people who gamble there, and their significant others, to experience harm from gambling.

  • Local residents in both sites reported modest benefits and significant harms from the presence of gambling venues in their neighbourhoods. Analysis of clubs' community benefit statements found that benefits claimed by operators can be overstated.

  • Policies aimed at reducing harm from EGMs should consider the distribution and availability of EGMs in local communities, and the introduction of harm-reduction measures such as universal pre-commitment systems and the restriction of indirect venue promotions.
Key messages: 

Like other research, our study found that high EGM availability or saturation coincided with social stress and disadvantage. This poses a risk of higher and more severe levels of gambling‑related harm.

Community members and families are attracted to gambling venues by a range of heavily promoted, loss-leading, non-gambling activities and facilities including free or subsidised meals and drinks. The use of these promotions may lead to outcomes that are contrary to venues' Responsible Gambling Codes of Conducts.

Even in the less disadvantaged site, with relatively fewer opportunities to gamble, the nature of high-intensity gambling products in local venues may lead people who gamble there, and their significant others, to experience harm from gambling.

Local residents in both sites reported modest benefits and significant harms from the presence of gambling venues in their neighbourhoods. Analysis of clubs' community benefit statements found that benefits claimed by operators can be overstated.

Policies aimed at reducing harm from EGMs should consider the distribution and availability of EGMs in local communities, and the introduction of harm-reduction measures such as universal pre-commitment systems and the restriction of indirect venue promotions.

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to all participants for sharing their experiences and time with us. This study was made possible through the support of a range of organisations including Brimbank, Maribyrnong and Whitehorse City Councils, Health West Partnership, Disability Network Group MRC North-West Region Inc., Visy Cares Hub, Chrysalis Insight Inc., Sunshine Friday Traders Market, IPC Health (formerly known as ISIS Primary Care), Co-Health, Gambler's Help Eastern, EACH, Dr Charles Livingstone at Monash University and Professor Rebecca Cassidy at Goldsmiths University of London.

The authors are grateful to the following colleagues for their support and assistance during the conduct of this study: Rebecca Jenkinson, Stewart Muir, Marissa Dickins, Anna Thomas, Thai Ohtsuka, Thanh Lee, Andrew Armstrong, Jennifer Baxter, Kelly Hand and Anne Hollonds.

Disclosures

Angela Rintoul and Julie Deblaquiere are employed by the Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC) at the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). This study was funded through Commonwealth appropriations provided to the AGRC. The AGRC is funded by consolidated revenue from the Commonwealth Government.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this study. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and may not reflect the views of AIFS or the Australian Government.

The authors endorse the Auckland Code of Ethics for Gambling Research and adhere to the best practice principles described in that document.

Featured image: © GettyImages/mbbirdy

Research Report