Calling full time on problem sports gambling

With millions of dollars gambled on the AFL and NRL grand finals in the last few months, and more recently on the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, sports betting has become one of Australia’s largest industries.

However, not everyone walks away a winner, with Flinders University and SA Health researchers now investigating methods to help those whose gambling has gotten out of hand – and more participants are needed.

“With the steady increase of internet-based gambling through online casinos and sport betting apps, Australians have become the world’s biggest gamblers per head of population, with total losses in 2018-2019 of $24.9 billion,” says study chief investigator Professor Malcolm Battersby, Head of Psychiatry at Flinders University and clinician with the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network mental health services.

“Between 1.5 to 4% of the Australian population have a gambling problem and in the case of sports betting it is largely an issue for young adolescent males. The results of a gambling addiction can be devastating, not just financial ruin but loss of occupation, family and in some cases even prison.”

Flinders University and SA Health’s Statewide Gambling Therapy Service (SGTS) are now looking for 40 participants across South Australia to receive ‘cue exposure therapy’ for up to 10 sessions via a mobile phone or the internet, to test its potential as a remote treatment for sports gambling addiction.

A type of behavioural therapy, cue exposure sees participants exposed to cues or stimuli that would normally trigger a compulsion to gamble, while learning new ways to respond and reduce the urge.

Expanding on a previously successful trial of face-to-face exposure therapy involving six people, run by SGTS’ Dr Ben Riley, also a Flinders University researcher, the trial will assess the treatment’s impact on gambling behaviour and the viability of providing the treatment remotely.

“Having a proven effective therapy delivered via the phone or internet over 6-10 sessions would be a breakthrough in Australia and world-wide,” says Dr Riley.

“Over the last 20 years, Flinders and SGTS have developed gambling interventions using cue exposure therapy and cognitive therapy, beginning with people addicted to pokies. Over time we have refined and adapted this model for all forms of gambling, with the most recent addition being sports betting.”

Should the trial prove successful, the next step will be to expand to a national randomised control trial, the gold standard of research trials.

“There are no proven treatments for sports betting internationally so we have an opportunity here to save lives, careers and families, should the treatments show to be successful,” says Professor Battersby.

The aim is to recruit participants over the next three months, who will receive up to 10 sessions (30-60 mins each) over two months and follow up for another three months.

Potential trial participants can contact or or visit for more information.

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College of Medicine and Public Health Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute