Last week’s Gambling Harm Awareness Week has been labelled a public relations exercise and a non-event by a Canberra advocate for people struggling with addictions and destructive behaviours.
Mentor and founder of a Canberra social enterprise called The Hope Project, Kate Seselja said despite gambling being deemed a public health issue, the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission issued little more than a media release to mark the week.
“Gambling Harm Awareness Week has been a non-event, just like it is every year,” Ms Seselja said.
“It seems it [the awareness week] was just a PR exercise, whilst the industry has seen an increase in our nation’s losses to a new high of $27 billion per annum. When you consider we are a tiny nation of only 27 million-odd people, we are in real trouble.
“No one in power in this state or country has any desire to stem the flow of what governments for decades have seen as ‘free money’.
“There is nothing free about this money. It is at the cost of our community wellbeing, wealth, health and even lives.”
The comments come as the 2019 ACT Gambling Survey, released last week, found about 44,000 people in the ACT, or 14 per cent of the population, were impacted by their own or someone else’s gambling during the past 12 months.
The Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance (CGRA) also expressed concerns the ACT Gambling Survey showed that no headway has been made in reducing gambling harm.
Co-chair of CGRA Rebecca Vassarotti said the survey provides more evidence that the current regulatory regime is failing to protect Canberrans from gambling harm and needs to be strengthened.
“These results reveal that not much has changed in relation to the gambling patterns of Canberrans,” Ms Vassarotti said.
“Pokies continue to cause the most significant harm in the community. While there are small reductions in the money lost on most forms of gambling, this is offset by an increase in online gambling.
“We do not need to wait for any more research proving what we already know, that poker machines are causing a great deal of misery to Canberrans. What we need is action from the government to make pokies less harmful.”
The survey is conducted every five years by researchers from the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods and funded by the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission.
The survey, involving 10,000 participants, found 60 per cent of ACT adults participated in some form of gambling activity in the past 12 months.
Centre director and lead author Dr Marisa Paterson says the report shows the complexity around gambling activity and the impacts of gambling went far beyond financial losses.
Emotional impacts were also common, with loved ones reporting arguments, a breakdown in communication, feelings of anger, lack of trust, and stress or anxiety.
“These results are not something we should walk away from and say ‘we’re ok here’”, Dr Paterson said.
“We need to seriously consider gambling and its role in our community.”
The survey shows the level of harm for young men, in particular, is a major concern.
“Men in the ACT are classified as at-risk or problem gamblers at twice the rate of women,” Dr Paterson said.
The survey also found a significant increase in the number of Canberra men gambling online, with the number increasing from 8 per cent in 2014 to 21 per cent.
“Although online gambling is of particular interest and concern, the findings suggest poker machine use still predicts problem gambling more reliably than participation in any other type of gambling activity,” Dr Paterson said.
Kate Seselja told Region Media her addiction to poker machines cost her about $500,000 and 15 years of her life. She speaks openly about her addiction and has spent the last seven years working to remove the stigma associated with addictions. She now offers workshops through the ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) to help people explore constructive pathways out of adversity without having to reach crisis point or ‘rock bottom’.
“My speaking engagements and coaching provide me with the opportunity to educate people and to address the full gamut of struggles that people face. This helps people access help and new perspectives so that they can pivot from a place of shame,” Ms Seselja said.
As part of Gambling Harm Awareness Week, the Gambling and Racing Commission released its Strategy for gambling harm prevention in the ACT, which uses a public health approach to prevent gambling harm in our community over the next five years.
You can also seek help from the National Gambling Helpline by phoning 1800 858 858 or visit https://www.gamblinghelponline.org.au.