Without any evidence of an increase in gambling addiction to go along with the increasing traffic at online bookmakers and lottery sites, it’s difficult to see the talk of an “epidemic” as much more than media sensationalism. Since the government has approved the sites that are receiving the vast majority of the traffic, the success of these sites should be seen as a positive: the revenue made by these sites stays in Australia, as do the tax revenues collected by the federal and state governments.
As for the argument that the relatively low number of players participating on foreign sites means that online gambling liberalization is unnecessary, there are two issues with that point of view. First, expanding the games that can be offered by Australian firms will only serve to keep more players on their sites. This is particularly true in the case of online poker, which wasn’t covered in the recent report. Since Australian players can now play poker only at foreign sites, revising the Interactive Gambling Act to allow domestic poker sites will be a big windfall for licensed bookmakers, and could bring a lot of online poker money back into the country. Add those numbers to the picture, and it becomes clear that there’s plenty to be gained by keeping these players on Australian sites.
In addition, even many opponents of online gambling use “harm minimization” as a reason to give licensed Australian bookmakers more leeway in the games they can offer. Even if the number of players using unregulated foreign sites is low, even those players are deserving of the protections that come with offering regulated, domestic alternatives. It’s clear that online gambling reform will benefit players, companies, and governments alike – and that an increase in online gambling is certainly not an “epidemic.”