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When gambling becomes a problem – where to seek help

Frank Lilley
8th November, 2017

Bring me a quart of colonial beer
And some doughy damper to make good cheer,
I must make a heavy dinner;
Heavily dine and heavily sup,
Of indigestible things fill up,
Next month they run the Melbourne Cup,
And I have to dream the winner.
A Dream of the Melbourne Cup (1886), A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson

The iconic Melbourne Cup, ‘the race that stops a nation’ on ‘Australia’s most famous Tuesday’ is behind us for another year but the Spring Carnival is still in full swing across the country.  Millions of people are enjoying the events, the excitement of the big and smaller races, the fashions on the field and in most places outside of Melbourne the improving weather.  Many people who seldom indulge in gambling will be placing small harmless bets on the races, and not a few will be placing very large bets indeed.  At this time of the year it is easy to get caught up in the glitz, glamour and gloss of the Carnival, the racing seems almost synonymous with the Australian identity and is widely seen as an important part of our cultural heritage.    We can also easily forget that gambling is a very big business in Australia all year round.  And that the success of this industry is not without its victims.

A big business

Australians, it is fair to say, love to punt.  According to statistics published by the Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC) on gambling in Australian States and Territories, in 2014-15, the total spending on all racing in Australia was around $2.8 billion.  Here spending means essentially the total money lost by gamblers – or bets placed minus winnings.  Of note, some of this spending will have been by overseas gamblers, just as gambling overseas by Australians will likely not have been captured.  The same report shows a figure of approximately $11.6 billion for gaming machines (or ‘pokies’) alone and a total of $22.7 billion for all gambling, an increase of 7.7% on the previous year.  Australia apparently has the highest levels of gambling per capita in the world.  The very definition of gambling – as opposed to speculation or investment – is that over time due to the odds of the game the gambler must reasonably expect to lose more than he or she wins.  This should logically mean that Australians lose more money gambling per person than anyone else on the planet.

When gambling becomes a problem

Sadly, with so much of it going on, it is perhaps inevitable that gambling becomes a problem for some.  In their recent article in the Journal of Gambling Studies, Armstrong, Thomas and Abbott estimate that in 2010-11, there were 2 million Australians who ‘experienced one or more gambling-related problems’.  The Commonwealth Department of Social Security, estimates that 500,000 Australians either are, or risk becoming, problem gamblers, affecting up to 5 million others – family, friends, colleagues, employers – and that the social cost is $4.7 billion a year.

There is no universally agreed upon definition of problem gambling, however if a person is losing more money than they can afford to and/or their gambling is harming them, their family or others in any other way this could be regarded as problem gambling.  Some other signs of a problem with gambling may include:

  • Difficulty controlling the impulse to gamble
  • Spending more time or money on gambling than intended
  • Chasing losses by gambling more
  • Placing larger bets over time
  • Feelings that gambling has taken over causing neglect of other areas of life
  • Thoughts about gambling intrude when doing other things
  • Using gambling as a way to escape from issues.

Where to seek help

If you or someone you care about is, or is at risk of, suffering harm due to gambling, help is available.  Free, professional and confidential counselling, information and support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from the National Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.  There are an extensive range of information and resources, including email and chat counselling services available at gambling help online.  The site also provides access to face to face counselling.  These services are funded by State and Territory Governments and the Australian Government.

Frank Lilley is the Operations Manager of the ADF Financial Services Consumer Centre

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