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2021 could become particularly hazardous for those with gambling problems, Financial Counselling Australia director says.

COVID-19 has tempted people to make up for lost earnings and allay boredom through online gambling. Photo: Santeri Viinamäki
COVID-19 has tempted people to make up for lost earnings and allay boredom through online gambling. Photo: Santeri Viinamäki

WITH people keen to replace incomes ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 could become particularly hazardous for those with gambling problems.

The policies of governments and financial institutions play a key role in preventing gambling harm, according to Lauren Levin, policy and campaigns director for Financial Counselling Australia (FCA).

Levin recently received a 2020 Churchill Fellowship award, which she hopes to be able to use to study gambling regulation and advocacy in the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and the US.

She said the COVID-19 crisis has tempted people to make up for lost earnings and allay boredom through online gambling. “We don’t know why some people get addicted. But we do know that gambling companies have a social licence to operate and need to play by the rules … Australian regulation isn’t best practice.”

Levin is frequently contacted by people with gambling addictions or their families. In many cases, the wagering operators and banks funding gambling via credit have not complied with regulations.

With betting a tap away, Levin is concerned about the upsurge in advertising enticing people to bet around key sporting events.

“The gambling industry has increased its marketing to capitalise on people stuck at home, with access to early release of super funds and other government funding,” she said.

But she is encouraged that the legal onus is now shifting to these companies to “red-flag” an individual’s gambling behaviour when amounts spike or patterns change, and put spend limits in place, and that major banks now offer gambling blocks on credit and debit cards.

Levin became interested in developing gambling consumer protection five years ago when a woman approached her after her son had gambled away the proceeds of his house sale in four weekends. She looked at the legislation and saw it was deficient.

She compiled the landmark FCA report, Duds, Mugs and the A-List, and worked with the federal government to shape consumer protection policies.

It led to the O’Farrell Review of online gambling and ultimately to the National Framework being signed by all state and territory governments and the Commonwealth.

People seeking help should contact the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007, Gamblers Help on 1800 858 858, or Lifeline on 13 11 44.

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