August 29, 2017

In Australia, problem gambling pervades age groups, socio-economic backgrounds and geographic locations. It’s everywhere. It can lurk behind a façade of happy family life or be out in the open as lives are destroyed in its wake.

It’s a burden that, in some way or another, is borne by everyone. For decades, governments have been clueless about how to combat it.

However, South Australia is leading the way with a new program that is proving to be so effective that before too long, other State governments may choose to follow suit.

Intervention program for problem gambling

Gambling – how big is the issue?

Problem gambling is an issue that has snowballed in recent years and the statistics are astonishing.

It is estimated that around 80 per cent of Australians gamble in some form. The opportunities to gamble are ever-increasing, with just a few examples being poker machines, sports betting, horse racing and online games.

The annual Australian Gambling Statistics publication is the most comprehensive collection of data in Australia. Its most recent report, covering 2014-2015, estimated that gambling losses in Australia amounted to a whopping $22.7 billion. Sports betting accounted for $815 million of that amount, while pokies made up $11.59 billion.

Even more alarming is the rate at which gambling activity is increasing. The overall gambling losses increased by almost 8 percent in the space of a single year.

Increased gambling activity is attributed to various factors including:

  • More access to gambling products and programs via mobile phones and other smart devices.
  • Betting apps offering inducements to users to continue betting.
  • Failure of some users to grasp reality when funding gambling activities via online accounts.
  • Consuming alcohol whilst gambling.

The need for action

By 2012, problem gambling had become so severe that the South Australian Government decided to take action. In a national first, it developed and implemented a trial program that was so successful that in 2015, the Gambling Intervention Program was permanently established.

Gambling Intervention Program

The Gambling Intervention Program (GIP) is a Treatment Intervention Court that operates from the Adelaide Magistrates Court. The purpose of GIP is to provide rehabilitation services for problem gamblers when their gambling has led to offending. For example, theft of money to pay for gambling activities. Once charged with a criminal offence and when appearing before the Court, a person becomes known as “the defendant” in the case.

If a defendant is ultimately found guilty of or pleads guilty to a crime, their participation and successful completion of GIP can be taken into account in the sentencing process. For example, their participation may help to avoid a prison sentence.

To be eligible for GIP, a defendant must be:

  • charged with offences that are mainly linked to problem gambling behaviours; and
  • prepared to plead guilty to the offending; and
  • prepared to engage in treatment.

GIP runs for six months with treatment taking about 12 weeks.

Summary and minor indictable offences can be referred to the Gambling Intervention Court from the general court list.

The Adelaide Magistrates Court decides whether a defendant is eligible to join GIP. If eligible, the Court then orders and receives a report regarding the defendant’s suitability for GIP and an appropriate treatment plan.

If accepted into GIP, a case manager will be assigned to the defendant.

Defendants are referred to services that aim to change gambling behaviour. They also have access to psychologists and services to assist with social and financial issues. Housing and employment services are also offered, as well as relationship counselling.

The case manager monitors engagement and progress in GIP. The case manager also provides progress reports to the Magistrate for Court reviews that are held every 2 months. The final review is 6 months after admission. The charges are then finalised and the Magistrate will impose a penalty taking into consideration the defendant’s progress and steps towards rehabilitation.

Does it work?

Programmes of this type usually require a significant period before it is known how effective they are. It will be years before statistics are available about whether GIP participants’ gambling behaviours have been permanently changed.

However, so far, so good.

Magistrate Brett Dixon has observed that:

Over the past two years only two participants have failed to complete the program successfully. Much of this has been attributed to the one-on-one therapy … . It is amazing to hear the diverse range of positive effects the program can have.

Overall the GIP seems to be a positive step in addressing underlying gambling issues and focussing on rehabilitation. If you have been charged with a gambling-related criminal offence, contact us today for a free first interview. Our outstanding team of criminal lawyers can assist you with legal advice, preparing a defence to the charges, and to work out whether you are eligible to apply for GIP.