Jeremy Lasek – PHAA
Over the next 24-hours, Australians will gamble more than $200 million on a horse race. Last year, a record $221.6 million was bet on the Melbourne Cup. That’s up more than 17 per cent on the 2019 figure.
Research conducted by Deakin University and published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health has found young Australian women are gambling more than ever, and are significantly more likely to be problem gamblers than their older peers.
That study, based on online surveys with more than 500 women from across Victoria and New South Wales, found almost two-thirds of respondents (64 per cent) had engaged in horse betting, poker machines, sports betting, or casino gambling over the previous 12 months. That put them on par with previous estimated rates of gambling among men.
Worryingly, younger women aged 16 to 34 were 2.6 times more likely to be classified as ‘problem gamblers’ than middle-aged women aged 35 to 54, and 10.2 times more likely than older women, aged 55 and above.
The findings from the 2018 research prompted a more in-depth qualitative study to understand the range of factors that may influence the normalisation of gambling for young women in Victoria. The results just published in the Australian New Zealand Journal of Public Health, are based on 45 telephone interviews with women aged 18-34 years.
Australian and international prevalence studies show that women have similar gambling participation rates to men.
Women account for 30.6 percent of Australia’s annual gambling expenditure, however, prevalence studies were unable to determine or explain the full impact of gambling on the lives of women.
The telephone survey aimed to explore the factors that shaped the gambling attitudes, consumption intentions and behaviours in young women living in Victoria.
To be eligible for the study, participants were required to be living in Australia and to have previously gambled at least once in the past 12 months.
The study findings
Participants in the telephone survey gambled on a range of products. Most (64.4%) had gambled on three or more different gambling activities in the previous 12 months.
After lotteries and instant lotteries (73.3%), two-thirds reported betting on horse racing in the previous 12 months (64.5%), followed by gambling on pokies (57.8%), betting on sports (57.8%) and gambling at the casino (48.9%).
Why young women gamble
The study found a wide range of reasons why young women choose to gamble. Many participants were exposed to gambling from a young age which included attending community gambling venues for family dinners and special occasions.
There were also rituals associated with gambling when participants turned 18 years old (the legal age for gambling). Participants described that their parents specifically gave them money for gambling, took them to gambling venues, or held their 18th birthday party in a gambling venue.
Gambling was described as one way in which peer groups could be socially engaged with each other as a shared experience. Some participants said they felt pressured to conform to the social norms related to gambling in their social groups. Some women were introduced to gambling by a male partner, as an activity they could do as a couple to spend time together.
Participants described regularly attending casinos, horse racing events and community gambling venues. They observed that these environments were ‘female-friendly’ as they were associated either with glamour or with dressing up and having a day or night out.
Some participants described attending gambling venues because they were accessible and available at most times of the day. Some commented that this meant they gambled when they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Research participants felt gambling was typically portrayed and marketed as an entertainment opportunity with little consideration of the risk involved. Women attributed this to the excessive marketing and the widespread availability of gambling in the community.
Along with incentives to gamble, participants believed that the availability and accessibility of gambling contributed to its normalisation.
This study shows there is an increasing feminisation of gambling products, environments and marketing that facilitates young women’s acceptance of, and engagement in, marketing.
While there are clear recommendations in other areas of public health, such as alcohol, that parents should avoid supplying or exposing children to harmful products, there are few similar strategies that seek to warn parents of the risk associated with early exposure to gambling.
While research and public health interventions have focused on young men, this study signals that policymakers should be increasingly focused on young women as a group that is potentially at risk of engaging in regular gambling and experiencing gambling harm.
Disrupting normalisation pathways and implementing comprehensive curbs on marketing are both important public health strategies to reduce demand for products and to prevent harm.
For those planning to have a flutter on the Cup tomorrow, bet responsibly.
The ANZJPH article ‘It’s a tradition to go down to the pokies on your 18th birthday’ – the normalisation of gambling for young women in Australia’ was co-authored by Simone McCarthy, Samantha Thomas, Hannah Pitt, Mike Daube and Rebecca Cassidy