Gender-based violence, gambling and the AFL's hypocrisy

By Tim Costello
May 10 2024 - 5:30am

Amid the national spotlight that has finally shone on Australia's domestic violence crisis, the AFL decided that in all their games last weekend they would highlight the issue with a minute's silence before play.

While it was poignant to see young men standing in solidarity with women against violence, for the AFL itself the move was hypocritical.

The AFL reaps multiple millions of dollars from gambling sponsorship and advertising - the losses from gambling are a substantial factor fuelling domestic violence - so without greater action against gambling the league is simply "virtue signalling".

Anthony Albanese has announced there will be an allocation of millions over five years to help Australians leave violent relationships.

Support is available for those who may be distressed: Lifeline 13 11 14; Men’s Referral Service 1300 776 491; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732; National Elder Abuse 1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374)

Research shows us that domestic violence is three times more likely to occur in families in which there is problem gambling than in families in which there are no gambling problems.

Yet the AFL, NRL and free-to-air television executives have all lobbied hard against any government action to curb gambling advertising. It seems the AFL and their ilk are all for tackling gender-based violence until it hits their bottom line.

The AFL's hypocrisy is just a snapshot of the challenges confronting our country when it comes to truly tackling gender-based violence.

Words and tokenism will not help us deal meaningfully with this scourge. Our best efforts will only work if there is a comprehensive approach.

And one element that must be a non-negotiable is we must have gambling reform in this country.

Australians lose more than $25 billion each year to gambling, the highest per capita spend in the world. These losses are staggering but often the diabolical social harm this reaps goes under the radar.

Little research is commissioned into the impact of gambling harm, government funding is glaringly absent unlike its spend on other social harms such as smoking or vaping and drinking.

Perhaps this simply represents how compromised governments are by gambling revenue, to the lobbying of a ruthless gambling sector that has very deep pockets and the pressure that comes from those who benefit from gambling.

But the impact of gambling on our society, on families, on relationships is incalculable. The $25 billion in annual losses brings not only financial hardship, health and mental health issues, relationship violence and breakdown as well as suicide.

Swans and Giants players, coaches and umpires form a circle as a show of support against gender-based violence before the round eight AFL match at the SCG on May 4. Picture Getty Images
Swans and Giants players, coaches and umpires form a circle as a show of support against gender-based violence before the round eight AFL match at the SCG on May 4. Picture Getty Images

Research from different countries has shown that among people receiving treatment for gambling harm, between 22 per cent and 81 per cent have thought about suicide and 7-30 per cent have attempted suicide.

Australian researchers have said that if we collected the right information on suicides, it is likely that up to 20 per cent of all suicides in Australia would be linked to gambling.

The financial burden and stress of gambling losses also make domestic violence both more frequent and more severe.

Research has found that more than one third of people with a gambling problem suffer domestic violence (38 per cent) while some 37 per cent were perpetrators of physical violence.

Last week the federal government pledged nearly $1 billion to combat violence against women, committing to permanent funding to help women escape violence.

It also pledged to pilot an age verification trial to block children accessing pornography. While a pilot is better than nothing - there is now enough evidence that they could roll out age verification immediately.

And it would be crucial that this measure also include blocking children from gambling sites. We know that the predatory gambling industry ruthlessly targets our children.

We must make this move to protect our children and to work towards stopping another generation of - mainly men - being trapped in the despair of gambling debt that often leads to violence.

This move to block gambling sites from children is even more important given a past government decision to effectively allow children over 15 access to loot boxes - which is essentially the gamification of gambling.

One thing that the federal government could do that would make a profound difference in tackling gambling harm and its impacts would be to accept all of the recommendations of the Murphy Parliamentary Inquiry.

This would include a reasonable, ban on gambling advertising phased in over three years.

Studies show that seven in 10 Australians believe there are too many betting advertisements, and that gambling advertising on television should be banned; and parents in particular are concerned about their children's vulnerability to gambling advertising.

The parliamentary inquiry found that the "inescapable torrent" of gambling advertising was normalising online gambling and its links with sport, grooming children and young people to gamble, and encouraging riskier behaviour.

The Murphy recommendations also include a raft of other changes to reduce gambling harm, including the creation of a national gambling regulator and increased funding for gambling harm support services.

I have often said gambling is Australia's blind spot - just as guns are a blind spot in the US. The tragedy is that both of these blind spots are lethal. In Australia, the impact of gambling may be often hidden, but it kills just the same.

And the violence and killing that gambling fuels is something we must not continue to ignore if we genuinely want to stop gender based and partner violence.

  • Tim Costello is chief advocate of Alliance for Gambling Reform.