Foundation CEO Louise Glanville, photo: Paul Jeffers
It’s easy to think that gambling harm is an individual’s problem. That someone who struggles to keep their gambling under control is deficient in some way, weak-willed, a loser. It allows us to blame and shame and wash our hands of any kind of responsibility.
In my view, this thinking is flawed.
It doesn’t take into consideration the fact that 85 per cent of all gambling harm in Victoria is experienced by people who gamble in a low or moderate way. Nor does it acknowledge that many factors can influence why and how gambling harm occurs, that certain groups in society may be more susceptible to harm, and that harm not only affects the individual, but can also affect their circle of family, friends, workmates and others.
Gambling harm is a community issue that is felt by different people in different ways. In this edition of Inside gambling, we are privileged to share the personal stories of several people who are intimately acquainted with gambling harm.
Each story is unique
Ken Wolfe started gambling at the age of 15. By 18, he was borrowing money to support his gambling activities. At 57, Ken, a former policeman, had been convicted of taking bribes in his post-service role in local government and was serving a 20-month prison sentence. This was the catalyst for Ken to share his struggle with his wife and to seek support. At 64, several decades after his first bet, Ken now volunteers with ReSPIN, using his experiences to inform young men about the risks and harms associated with gambling, and the benefits of the talking cure.
John Egan’s role at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service involves co-facilitating men’s groups and running camps at which Aboriginal men are encouraged to talk about their history and experiences as a way of understanding how their lives have been shaped. For many, gambling harm is the manifestation of a lifetime of pain and trauma. John supports these men on their journey to recover their health and reconnect with family and Country.
Gambling harm is a community issue that is felt by different people in different ways.
Vera Semjonov is a Gambler’s Help counsellor who is collaborating on a Foundation-funded prevention project with the Serbian Community Association of Australia to deliver information sessions about gambling harm and available support services. Vera, who speaks several Balkan languages, is particularly attuned to the vulnerabilities of Serbian migrants who came to Australia following the ethnic conflict in the 1990s.
Tony Wilson is a fantasy football fanatic. He plays in a league with 17 friends, exercising the ‘gambling bit’ of his brain without risking money. Tony recognises he is ‘obsessed’ and understands the temptation some might feel, especially young people, to indulge in a ‘real’ bet, to bet on any and every aspect of a game, and to do so daily. Free fantasy sports may sometimes lead to monetary betting as a young person grows older, urged on by the surfeit of advertising on sites.
Libraries After Dark, another Foundation-funded prevention project, offers communities in the Cities of Moreland, Darebin, Hume and Whittlesea some choice in relation to local, safe places to go on a Thursday evening. Since the pilot began six months ago, more than 6,000 people have taken up the opportunity to participate in a variety of recreational activities, and share a cuppa and a chat as an alternative to going to a gambling venue.
Supporting the community
In other news, the Foundation is providing $1 million to CQUniversity to conduct a study into the prevalence of low-risk, moderate-risk and problem gambling in Victoria, the findings of which will be used to inform the development of stronger and more targeted initiatives to prevent and reduce gambling harm. The project will build on previous studies conducted in 2008 and 2014 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.
Visitors to the Foundation’s website will find that we have redeveloped our online presence to improve the user experience. We have separated the Foundation’s corporate information (responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au) from our Gambler’s help content (gamblershelp.com.au) by creating two sites that sit side by side, allowing readers to easily find information.
In addition, the Foundation site includes a new section, Gambling in Victoria, which offers highly visual information about what Victorians think about gambling, who gambles and on what, what Victorians spend on gambling, pokies data by local government area, gambling advertising, and harm from gambling. The content includes insights from the Foundation’s 2017 community attitudes survey.
The Foundation’s third biennial conference, Gambling Harm 2018: Taking Action for Change, will be held in Geelong from 13 to 15 August. It will focus on capacity building through five streams: gambling in Aboriginal communities; lived experience; public health and gambling; research and practice; and regional, rural and diverse communities.
Finally, the first Gambling Harm Awareness Week will be held in Victoria from 8 to 14 October 2018. Previously called Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, the new name reflects the Foundation’s public health approach to gambling harm, and our vision of a Victoria free from gambling-related harm.