World-first smartphone app may help gamblers during Spring Racing

Media release
05 November 2019

With the Spring Racing Carnival in full swing, a Deakin designed app-delivered treatment could help gamblers control their urge to bet excessively, saving an annual flutter developing into a harmful gambling habit.

Chloe Hawker, from Deakin's School of Psychology, is part of the team trialling the Curb Your Urge app-delivered treatment and believes that by offering a smartphone-based treatment program, more gamblers will access help.

"We know that gambling across the board, not just race wagering, is a significant public health problem in Australia costing between $4.7 and $8.4 billion annually and causing harm to people that's similar to the effects of depression and alcohol abuse disorders," Ms Hawker said.

Research by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation shows that so called 'low risk' and 'moderate risk' gamblers account for 85 per cent of gambling harm in Victoria. This includes gambling related to racing, gaming and sports betting.

Ms Hawker said past studies have also shown how gambling can be masked by the spectacle of the Spring Carnival, with many horse and dog race bettors risking far more than they can afford to lose.

"Spring Racing Carnival can be a difficult time for people who are at risk of gambling harm. Culturally, horseracing around this time of the year and the so-called 'flutter' are socially intertwined, which presents all sorts of problems for Australians who are susceptible to excessive gambling," Ms Hawker said.

"It's also a revered Australian social setting where people can get drawn into the lure of gambling from a seemingly innocuous introduction."

Ms Hawker said that up to 0.6 per cent of Australians engage in problem gambling, while a further 3.7 per cent partake in moderate risk gambling and 7.7 per cent in low risk gambling.

Curb Your Urge was developed by a group of Deakin researchers and is modelled on an evidence-based online program. It is hoped the app-delivered treatment will help with all problem gambling - including pokies, lotteries and sports betting.

"While face-to-face cognitive behavioural therapy is the most successful treatment available for gambling, a smartphone app provides unprecedented access to support for users at moments of vulnerability," Ms Hawker said.

Currently only a small proportion of people experiencing difficulties with their gambling seek face-to-face cognitive behavioural therapy.

"We know that the cost and travel time involved with treatment, as well as the shame and stigma of admitting to having difficulties with gambling deters many people from seeking clinic-based help," Ms Hawker said.

"Smartphone delivered treatments present a real solution to these barriers and have the potential to provide support in moments when gamblers need it most."

"In the past, research-based apps have successfully delivered help to people experiencing mental health, drug, and alcohol issues."

The Curb You Urge pilot study is seeking people who want to cut down their gambling to participate in a world-first trial of the app-delivered treatment. Potential participants are should head to the Curb Your Urge website for more information.

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