Problem gambling is being tackled at the community level with postive results.
Like many people who attend Our ACE Community Beyond Gambling program, Afia, a refugee who arrived in Australia in 2008 with her son and husband, found that gambling began as a small problem and quickly became a large one.
The family thrived in their new country, Afia’s husband had found a good job and their son was doing well in school. After about two years her husband met some new friends who introduced him to the ‘Australian’ ritual of going for a drink at the casino after work. It seemed like a pretty harmless and enjoyable way of socialising.
Sadly, this soon escalated into gambling and alcohol addiction. The family began borrowing money and fell behind in paying their bills.
Afia decided to take part in our program and encouraged her husband to sign-up for workshops at their local neighbourhood centre, but he refused. In the end Afia stepped away from her marriage and the Beyond Gambling program was able to help her through a difficult period in her life.
The program began in 2015 when Linkwest – the peak-body for neighbourhood centres in WA – wanted to address problem gambling at a community level. A number of centres deliver the program in partnership with five expert agencies, including Centrecare where the workshops discuss alternatives to social gambling and provide information on financial counselling.
In addition, frontline staff participate in accredited training sessions on various aspects of addictive behaviour.
There needs to be a greater focus on the challenges of tackling problem gambling, particularly in this country with its passion for betting on just about anything.
Social gambling is a highly normalised pastime in Australia and, while many are able to enjoy it as a pleasurable activity, about 500,000 people are at risk of becoming, or are, problem gamblers. And only approximately 15% of problem gamblers actually seek help, with shame being the major obstacle.
Many people struggle to appreciate the complexities of this issue, regarding it as a lack of character or willpower rather than than an actual addiction.
In addition to financial problems, problem gambling is linked with depression, relationship breakdown, loss of employment, crime and suicide. It’s no surprise that people struggling with gambling are four times more likely to have problems with alcohol than non-gamblers.
The actions of one problem gambler have a negative, flow-on effect that can impact on up to 10 other people and add to the burgeoning social cost currently standing at $4.7b a year.
Neighbourhood community centres are a logical place to start conversations around this issue. They provide a safe, welcoming space, offer information, support, and referrals and – most importantly – encourage social interaction. For people such as Afia it was those very conversations that helped her work through her problems.
Any form of addiction is isolating, and programs such as Our ACE Community help to reduce that isolation.