Problem gambling

Do you gamble regularly? Many Lotto buyers will have said no to this question, but of course the answer is yes. Lotto is gambling, as are sports betting, pokie machines, scratch cards, poker and other betting games to be found in casinos. The gambling industry is uncomfortable with the term, preferring “gaming” which allows them to emphasis the entertainment value of these activities.

So if “gambling” is a word that some seek to avoid does this mean that buying that Lotto ticket is a problem? Well, probably not. There is a continuum of gambling from minor, problem-free activities through to gambling that is seriously out of control and causing major harm.. One form of gambling stands out as being particularly hazardous: pokie machines. These have been described as the “crack cocaine of gambling”. Unlike Lotto, if you lose you don’t have to wait a week to play again, you can gamble as frequently as every few seconds and can spend large amounts of money doing so. People using these machines can lose track of place and time. This “zoning out” is what a lot of problem gambles describe as the appeal of gambling, so that for some it is less about the excitement of potential winnings and more about blocking out worries. Given the danger of pokie machines we should be concerned at how widely available they are, but at the same time pleased that the Christchurch City Council has instituted a “sinking lid” policy to gradually reduce the number of machines in our city.

Problem gambling is characterised by escalating levels of gambling in the pursuit of excitement, unsuccessful attempts to control gambling, using gambling to cope with negative moods, deceit, trying to win back (“chase”) loses and irritability when attempting to reduce. Rates of depression amongst problem gamblers are very high and there is a significant suicide risk for those with more severe problems. Often depression will increase when the person stops gambling, as they come to terms with the financial and other costs of their gambling without the (slim) hope of turning things around with a big win.

For many of us when we think of a person with a gambling problem one image that comes to mind is the person facing serious fraud charges after stealing from work, social/charitable organisation or relatives to fuel a gambling habit. It is often the case that people don’t seek treatment until these sort of problems emerge, partly because of the hidden nature of gambling and partly due to the thinking: if I can have one big win I’ll pay all the money back.

We want to encourage people to seek help for their gambling problem as early in the process as possible. As well as the problem gambler themselves, gambling treatment services are able to support the families of the gambler. It is often through the actions of family members that problem gamblers do eventually change. If you are concerned about your own gambling, or the gambling of someone close to you, call the Gambling Helpline 0800 654 655


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