“Hidden” online gambling and problematic punting among older and younger cohorts were prominent regional issues that needed addressing, an industry lobby group has claimed.
Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation CEO Louise Glanville said the great unknown and hidden aspect of online gambling was a cause for concern for the organisation.
Speaking at a VRGF regional forum in Bendigo on Monday, Ms Glanville said the normalised gambling rhetoric, and the associations of betting to sport, were causing gambling-related harm, the results of which were more prominent in regional areas.
Bendigo West MP Maree Edwards said older, isolated individuals saw a trip to the pokies as a social outing.
“Some older people look for that social engagement without making the connection to perhaps having a gambling problem,” she said.
The VRGF introduced ‘libraries after dark’ sessions at local councils around Melbourne in an attempt to provide social alternatives for older demographics.
Regional areas had higher proportions of gamblers compared to metropolitan areas, according to Ms Edwards, who said anecdotal evidence suggested gambling problems may be a driving factor behind “high” local suicide rates.
The state’s gambling regulator recently rejected an application by Bendigo Stadium to install 44 poker machines at a White Hills hotel.
Binge drinking led to binge punting
Reformed gambling addict Dan was introduced to betting through sporting clubs.
As an impressionable 16 year-old, he did what he could to fit in.
Gradually, binge drinking led to “binge punting”, a downward spiral which he struggled to get out of.
“I was going through a horrible cycle of gambling anything I could get my hands on,” he told the forum.
“I wasted a heap of money and justified my behaviour thinking it was all ok, but didn’t recognise that I’d had a problem with gambling my whole life.”
Playing sport and working helped normalise Dan’s behaviour in his own mind.
It was once he retired that the gambling issues became more prominent.
“All of a sudden I’ve got all this time on my hands – and where did it go – to gambling,” he said.
“Instead of getting out of the cycle I got myself further into the cycle.”
The country Victorian, who spent most of his rehabilitation time in Bendigo, moved to Melbourne, taking up a better-paid job, in a bid to rid himself of his problems.
“More money meant more money going on the punt,” he said.
When plans to get a home loan fell through, Dan realised he needed help.
A week later he lost his job, was thrown out of the family home and was sleeping on his Mum’s couch.
“I had no car, no money, no family,” he said.
“I contemplated suicide on a number of occasions.”
His biggest regret?
An inability to tell anyone of his affliction.
“Not being brave enough to tell anybody – to not trust family and friends to tell them ‘I’m in a world of hurt here, I need some help’ was tough.”
Dan’s concerns for temporary gamblers is the accessibility of online gambling and the range of markets available to bet on.
The experience, albeit chastening, has made Dan “a better person, a better Dad and more aware of people who are struggling”.
He encouraged anyone who needed help to seek it, and not be afraid to talk to people, but more importantly, to recognise they had a problem.
The VRGF, which positions itself as a harm-reduction rather than anti-gambling group, came to Bendigo to get local ideas for future research.
Ms Glanville stressed the majority of people could enjoy gambling without it becoming a problem.