While poker machines have been a perennial concern for problem gambling among older Australians, there is a slick and deceptive juggernaut quickly taking hold of young men — sports gambling.
According to Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesperson Tim Costello, the nature of watching live sport as a young man in Australia has changed dramatically.
Men are no longer taking an interest in just whether their team wins, they are financially invested in games they might have never watched because they have a wager on the outcome.
"Sports betting is the fastest growing level of addiction," Mr Costello said.
"Pokies target middle-aged women who are invited to go to a club, dress up and someone opens the door for you and you sit there and devastate your life.
"Sports betting targets young men and that's a rapidly growing area of addiction."
Mr Costello's thoughts have been echoed by an Australian Gambling Research Centre report into interactive gambling, which states that sports and race wagering are the dominant forms of interactive gambling in Australia, and interactive gamblers are more likely to be young men.
It is one of the key issues that will be discussed today at the University of Wollongong's Innovation Campus for The Spectrum of Gambling Harms Seminar.
Governments to blame for sports betting rise: Costello
Mr Costello said Australia had the highest rates of problem gambling in world, as well as being home to 20 per cent of the world's poker machines.
He rejected the concept that betting was part of the Australian character, and has levelled the blame for the prevalence of gambling in Australia at state governments.
"The immoral failure of state governments to protect the vulnerable and instead allow more pokies is one of the big reasons [for problem gambling in Australia]," he said.
"Incessant sports betting and the lax rules that allow kids to be targeted with what are gambling products when the footy and cricket are on — that's another one of the reasons."
But Clubs NSW spokesperson Anthony Ball said the majority of people who played poker machines did it safely and within their budget.
''There's a small fraction of the population that doesn't and we've been committed to looking for ways to help people who do have a problem to help themselves," he said.
"Australians are punters and it's part of our history and culture and there's no doubt pokies are a popular form of recreation for the working-class man."
He said problem gambling rates in NSW had been falling and were below one per cent of the adult population.
"Clubs for a decade have been heavily invested in providing education for their staff and becoming better at identifying problematic behaviour.
"There is an abundance of information and people to talk to, and we want them to understand how poker machines work and allow people to exclude themselves using a web-based interface — every club with gambling does that and they care about their members."
How interactive gambling can take hold
While a poker-machine player has the gatekeeper of a club employee, when it comes to interactive gambling it is done in private and on phones and home computers.
A problem gambler can place bets quietly and repeatedly without anyone seeing them to identify that there is something wrong.
ABC RN contributor Leigh shared his story of gambling addiction that eventually saw him convicted for fraud after stealing $130,000 from his employer to fuel his addiction.
"The bets would range anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000 a day. I would bet until 3:00am, try to sleep for three hours and bet again for another three hours on online racing in the United States," he said.
"I always thought the stereotypical gambling addict was a working-class, middle-aged man or woman, sitting at their local club, feeding their favourite pokies machine four or five nights a week, but I rarely ventured into the local TAB."
Mr Costello said each problem gambler in Australia will lose about $1,100 dollars per year, which is the highest in the world.
Singapore is next highest for losses ($800), then Ireland ($600).
"Having done this for 20 years, you start to think 'maybe it's time to give up', but the encouraging thing is that we now are seeing such disgust from the public at sports betting," Mr Costello said.
"We're going to get a ban on sports betting ads before 8:30 at night, and that's pressure the Federal Government has been brought under, so that's a win."