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While Canberrans are spending significantly less on gambling than they were five years ago, problem gambling remains entrenched and almost half of losses come from problem gamblers, a new...

While Canberrans are spending significantly less on gambling than they were five years ago, problem gambling remains entrenched and almost half of losses come from problem gamblers, a new study has found.

Overall, gambling losses have dropped significantly in five years in Canberra, from $288 million in 2008–09 to $230 million in in 2014–15: a fall of 20 per cent. Nationally, spending dropped just 4 per cent over five years.

Poker machines take the lion’s share of gambling in Canberra, with 63 per cent of revenue coming from problem gamblers.

By far the biggest losses are on poker machines, with Canberrans losing $167 million on the pokies in 2014–15. Next is racing, at $22 million, the Australian National University study reports.

While spending is down, little or no progress has been made on problem gambling. Lead researcher Tanya Davidson from the ANU’s Centre for Gambling Research said about $60 million in losses came from just 1.5 per cent of adults with serious gambling problems.

About 1 per cent of gamblers, or 0.4 per cent of Canberrans overall, are in the extreme high-risk category gamblers. They accounted for 11 per cent of losses. When you include people with moderate and lower-level problems, 44 per cent of losses came from problem gamblers.

“People with problems are not just spending more than other gamblers, they are spending a great deal more,” Dr Davidson’s report, which is released on Tuesday, says. “On average, moderate and problem gamblers are spending seven and 20 times as much as non-problem gamblers.”

The situation is worse for poker machines and sports betting, which make most of their revenue from problem gamblers.

For poker machines, problem gamblers (low, moderate and serious problems) accounted for 63 per cent of losses.

In contrast, only about 20 per cent of spending on lottery and scratch tickets came from problem gamblers.

The 2014 survey covered adults, and compared results with the last survey in 2009.

The results show men spend much more on gambling than women, accounting for more than two-thirds of the overall spend. While poker machine revenue comes roughly half and half from men and women, practically all of the sports betting was done by men, along with 81 per cent of losses on racing. Women account for about half the spending on scratch tickets.

Losses are also heavier among people with lower education. People with less than year 12 education make up 7 per cent of Canberrans but 15 per cent of the gambling spend and 19 per cent of losses on poker machines. People with a degree or higher make up 49 per cent of the population but 33 per cent of the gambling spend overall and 25 per cent of the losses on poker machines.

“The diversity is not trivial and sometimes it is huge,” the researchers conclude. “Some of these differences … raise issues of appropriateness and fairness, given that patterns of expenditure do not correspond to any obvious indicators of affordability or obligation to the community.

“The greater amount spent on gambling by people with the least education is striking.”

Pokies, especially, took a very large proportion of revenue from the least educated section of the community, with people without year 12 or post-school qualifications spending six times the amount of people with degrees.

Overall, though, Canberrans are spending much less. In per capita terms, spending is down from $1057 for each adult in 2008–09 to $758 in 2014–15.

The biggest falls in spending were on the races, down 39 per cent to $74 a head, and at the casino, down 32 per cent to $55 a head.

Spending on poker machines was down 28 per cent to $551 a head.

Interest in gambling dropped markedly between 2009 and 2014, with 55 per cent of the population gambling in 2014 compared with 70 per cent in 2009. The proportion of people saying they played poker machines fell from 30 per cent of the population to 20 per cent, and lottery from 46 per cent to 33 per cent.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald