Implementing Responsible Gambling Practices in a Regional Area

Article excerpt

In recognition that they largely control the context in which legalised gambling is operated, state governments in Australia have taken an increasingly active role in encouraging the gambling industry to implement responsible gambling practices. In the state of Queensland, the government introduced the voluntary Queensland Responsible Gambling Code of Practice in May 2002. This article reports part of a larger study investigating gambling providers' awareness of this Code, their implementation of its provisions and their views on its likely effectiveness in hotels, casinos and clubs in certain case study areas in remote, regional and urban Queensland. This article draws only on data for the selected regional area, Townsville. Semistructured interviews with managers and staff in 12 venues revealed mixed awareness of the Code, limited implementation of its component elements and variable support for its likely effectiveness. However, a committed group of five venue managers was much more proactive in implementing the Code than those in the remaining venues and much more supportive of its potential effectiveness. These five venues--two clubs, two hotels and the casino--subsequently formed a responsible gambling consultative committee, a regional network initiated by the local Centacare welfare agency. The experience of this committee points to numerous benefits that such a network can provide in addressing regional challenges regarding responsible conduct of gambling. As such, this study highlights some of the possible facilitators and challenges in implementing responsible gambling practices in regional areas, particularly those with similar characteristics to Townsville.

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As in many other countries, commercial gambling in Australia has shown significant growth over the last few decades. National expenditure on gambling is now over $15 billion, up from around $4 billion (in real terms) in 1977-1978 when the first national figures were collected (Tasmanian Gaming Commission, 2004). Accompanying this growth in gambling has been vocal public concern for its negative impacts, particularly problem gambling, given that per capita gambling expenditure has more than doubled to $1026 over the last 25 years (Tasmanian Gaming Commission, 2004). In Australia and elsewhere, some governments and gambling industries have responded by introducing a range of responsible gambling practices, typically aimed at consumer protection and harm minimisation in gambling. However, as Blaszczynski, Ladouceur and Shaffer (2004) note, there are currently no common frameworks guiding responsible gambling efforts, at either national or international levels. Thus, there is a great deal of variation in the nature and extent of responsible gambling practices in place, and their levels of implementation. Fuelling this inconsistency is the varying degree of willingness by governments and gambling industries to embrace responsible gambling practices. The inherent conflict between gambling as a major source of government revenue (10%-12% of state taxation revenue in most Australian states) and the responsibility of the state to protect the public, particularly its most vulnerable segments (Blaszczynski et al., 2004), means that some governments have been hesitant to legislate for practices which may reduce that source of revenue. Similarly, intense competition and reliance on gambling profits have undermined the willingness of some industry sectors to embrace their corporate social responsibilities in gambling. Other confounding issues include lack of conceptual clarity in defining and measuring gambling-related harm; no consensus on what responsible gambling means; unclear boundaries of responsibility among governments, industry and consumers; lack of empirical evidence to support the efficacy of responsible gambling practices; and confusion over who these practices should target (Blaszczynski et al., 2004).

Nevertheless, significant progress in responsible provision of gambling has recently been made. …