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UK’s big-data gambling study has lessons for Australia says CQUni co-author

Published:11 February 2021

Dr Philip Newall is a postdoctoral researcher with CQUniversity's Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory.

A landmark gambling study looking at data from millions of bank customers has linked regular gambling to financial hardship, unemployment and even early death, and the CQUniversity co-author says the findings have big lessons for Australia.

The research, led by academics and Oxford and Warwick universities, tracked links between gambling spend and problems experienced by 6.5 million Lloyds Banking Group customers over seven years.

CQUniversity Experimental Gambling Research Laboratory academic Dr Philip Newall co-authored the study, published in the prestigious Nature Human Behaviour research journal this month.

The research team found that the likelihood of missing a mortgage payment, taking a payday loan or being pursued by debt collectors escalated rapidly the more someone gambled, while there were longer-term links to job loss and mortality.

Dr Newall said the UK findings were relevant to Australians, and should sound warning bells for gambling regulators.

In the UK, gambling losses are £14.5 billion ($A25.85 billion) a year.

Australia, with 40 million less people, gambled away $24.9 billion in 2017–18. That’s $1,292.25 per person, making Australians the world’s biggest gamblers.

“Australians are the worst in the world when it comes to gambling losses, and that’s not going to change unless regulators look at these kinds of findings, and face up to the harms in the community,” he said.

Dr Newall backed the call from Australia’s Alliance for Gambling Reform Chief Advocate the Rev Tim Costello to replicate the study in Australia.

“I offer high praise to Lloyds Bank for sharing this anonymised data with the researchers to help us all get a better understanding of how big of an issue gambling harm is around the world. I also congratulate the researchers on their dedication, and for being published in such a prestigious journal,” Rev Costello said.

Rev Costello added: “I hope Australian banks will follow suit and offer their own anonymised data. They have nothing to lose in sharing this data with researchers, and they‘d be performing a public service in doing so.”

Other impacts revealed in the research included:

- A 10 per cent increase in gambling almost doubled the risk of a person missing a mortgage payment,

- Higher levels of gambling led to a higher risk of future physical disability and/or unemployment,

- High levels of gambling are associated with a likelihood of mortality that is about one third higher, for both men and women, regardless of age,

- Increased spend on gambling led to reduced spending on education, travel, self-care, fitness and, worryingly, filling prescriptions – all suggesting lower levels of overall physical and possibly mental health.

Recent studies by CQUniversity’s Experimental Gambling Research have found growing evidence of gambling-related harms, including that gambling exacerbates domestic and family violence.

Dr Newall’s recent research has highlighted pathways into gambling for young people, including crane-grab machines and loot boxes in video games. He’s also found that warning labels on pokies are skewing gamblers perceptions of their chances of winning.

Dr Philip Newall is available for interview, please contact Mary Bolling on 0419 398 667 or m.bolling@cqu.edu.au