Gambling is massively popular in Australia. Australians bet more than $23 billion each year on pokies, racing, lotto, scratchies, sport betting, casinos, online gaming and more.
Even though gambling is most common in poor areas, Australians spend more money per person on gambling than in any other country.
Why do people gamble?
Most people have gambled at some point in life. They might buy a scratchie, play the pokies, or place a bet on a horse. However, for many people, gambling can be a normal part of life.
People who gamble often or more than they should do it for many reasons:
- They believe it’s a way to win money, possibly because they’re in a bad way financially.
- It makes them forget about worries and stresses.
- It makes them feel better about themselves.
- It gives them a rush or thrill.
- It’s a way to deal with being bored or having nothing to do.
- It’s a way to be social.
- It’s fun.
- If they’re already hooked in gambling, it feeds their addiction.
When is gambling a problem?
Problem gambling is when the gambling is no longer something you do for fun. This is when it starts to cause problems in your life. If you hide or lie about gambling, spend money you shouldn’t, or you have arguments with your family about it, then you could have a problem with gambling.
It is common for people to deny, hide or lie about their gambling. Sometimes they will lie to themselves about it. They might even tell themselves that a partner is to blame for ‘pushing’ them into gambling.
Problem gambling is a trap. People caught in it can start to ‘chase their losses’. They believe they can win back the money if they gamble just a little more.
Many gamblers are also hooked on how it makes them feel. It’s an escape that takes them to another place where they don’t have to worry.
When gambling is out of hand it causes many common problems:
- Losing money and falling into debt. It gets worse if you gamble money meant for other things, like bills or groceries.
- Relationship problems. You might have arguments with family or friends. If you lie about how much you lost, people stop trusting you.
- Family violence. Arguments and disagreements can get out of control.
- Problems at work. Some people can’t stop thinking about it. They might get distracted or lose motivation. Others might gamble during work hours, on the smartphone or spend too long at the pokies during a long lunch break.
- Crime and imprisonment. Some people end up committing crimes when they become problem gamblers as a way to cover their debts.
- For some people, the gambling can get so bad that they feel there is no other way out.
Signs of problem gambling and addiction
You absolutely can get hooked on gambling. Gambling is a recognised form of addiction that can affect anyone, rich or poor.
People with a gambling problem often show common warning signs:
- Spending more time gambling (at the pokies, in the card circle, etc.) than doing other duties (like parenting or working).
- Feeling shame or guilt about gambling.
- Thinking about gambling all the time.
- Gambling more when they’re feeling down or stressed.
- ‘Chasing losses’ by trying to win back the money.
- Getting angry or irritable when they can’t gamble.
- Spending grocery, bills or holiday money on gambling.
- Trying many times to stop gambling but being unable to stop.
- Falling back on grog or drugs to cope with how they feel about gambling.
- Blaming someone else for being responsible for their own gambling.
Why don’t people get help for gambling?
There are many reasons why people won’t stop gambling or won’t get help. Some don’t understand (or don’t want to realise) that they have a problem. Others are embarrassed or feel shame about it.
Problem gamblers often have common reasons for not seeking help:
- Some people feel shame or embarrassment about their gambling. Others feel they cannot admit to having a gambling problem.
- Gambling addiction can affect the brain in a way similar to drug or alcohol addiction. Going cold turkey is not easy.
- They feel there is stigma or shame about gambling. They worry about what others will think. They may also be worried that, if they get help, their business or confidentiality will be known to others.
- Many gamblers are not familiar or don’t understand the idea of responsible gambling. It might be as simple as setting yourself a time limit (“I won’t gamble after 10pm”) or dollar limit (“I’m only going to spend this amount”) or not drinking any alcohol when you do gamble.
- People may think that gambling is someone else’s problem. In many places, it’s a community problem.
- Many problem gamblers believe that constant gambling or always being broke is normal. This might be because they grew up in a household where there was regular gambling. For non-gamblers, this is usually not a normal way of life.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online social and mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.
 Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Latest edition of the Australian Gambling Statistics, accessed 25 May, 2018, <https://responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media/latest-edition-australian-gambling-statistics/>